As someone who is nominally a restaurant critic, it’s difficult to get over the moments when you have to admit complete ignorance of a subject. Half the challenge of professional writing is to come across with an air of cool authority and erudition, when, in point of fact, you know next to nothing. It’s a tactic that can become a habit if you’re not careful.
I’ve discovered that the only way around ignorance is plough directly through it. Some say the solution is to ask questions, but I get nervous when I have to interrupt the normal flow of things with a question. I stumble, fudge my phrases, and generally get a pitiful look in return.
Usually I pick someone with limited command of English - perhaps because I empathize with the wary and alert look they habitually carry. They carry that look from dealing with people like me, who stop them in mid-order to ask a flurry of confused questions about the food.
So last Saturday, at Calories in Saskatoon, I decided not to ask the server what ‘moules frites’ was. I knew the ‘frites’ part just fine. But the ‘moules’ escaped me. So I decided to just order it. And even that bit didn’t go so well.
‘I’ll have the mool freet, please.’
‘The mool freet? Frit? Uh … Mool?’
And then I did the patented move, usually performed in Asian restaurants where the choices climb into the hundreds, of opening up the menu and pointing at the item. Pointing equals defeat.
‘Oh, the mooly frits!’ My server cried, clearly relieved that I wasn’t just drunk and trying to order the steak sandwich.
And off she went, speeding my order of mooly frits to the kitchen.
And when the mooly frits hit my table, I was still mystified.
But then I opened the giant pot of mystery food I’d ordered, and I was well pleased.
Frankly, mussels are the last thing I’d order for lunch, particularly at a table of people with whom I’d never before gone out to eat (I hadn’t). But they were absolutely perfect, soaked in butter and garlic and diced onions. The moules frites, not the people at the table.
Thanks to Jen McRorie for taking a photo of me over the mussels. Here she is, looking a little blurry and bokehed.