“I’ll have the left side of the menu,” my husband, the foodie, often says jokingly to the wait staff when he sniffs that we’ve sat down at a fine dining establishment.  And then, of course, we must rank the food. “Five stars” is a rarity, given the particularly refined palate of the man I share my life with. Good thing he doesn’t let me near the kitchen.

So, as you can imagine, surprising my dear husband for an exceptional “five star” birthday experience is not an easy task. One I honestly dread every August. 

But this year, the kitchen gods showed pity. It fell in my lap. Or at least the name of the place. A quick Google search and I learned that this exceptional culinary adventure required six-months to get a reservation. And, if you wanted a specific day, you had to mark your calendar and call exactly on the minute that the online reservations opened. A few minutes later, no go. Gone faster than tickets to a Harry Styles concert. 

So, I bookmarked my calendar. Cleared my schedule for 10:00 am. Reminded the kitchen gods that I still needed their assistance. And, open, point and click. Bam! I won the lottery. Or at least, two seats at this supposedly fancy, very popular restaurant at 7:00 p.m. on my husband’s birthday, six months in the future. 

We were the last to arrive. 7:01 on the dot. We, or shall I say I, underestimated the number of cars a Washington DC road can amass. Our table was waiting inside a small well-dressed room, part barn and part modern elegance. Twenty guests filled seven tables. Every seat was taken. 

Laura, the part-owner, part-cook, hostess and manager, greeted us personally. Not quite sure how many stars my husband was already imagining, but I was impressed. The stress of the traffic was long forgotten.

Once seated, we were presented a glass of bubbly and a printed card with all seven courses. There was no left side of the menu. There wasn’t even a menu. You ate what they served you. Or you at least dared to try it and, in my case, give the rest to husband. Through the open kitchen, we watched the five employees artfully decorate twenty plates per course. Then they presented it to us, announcing foods I never heard of, couldn’t pronounce or spell.  

Three hours later, my husband pushed back from the table and declared it to be one of the best culinary adventures of his life. I was just happy it ranked higher than last year’s birthday meal.

As we headed home, the traffic showed up again. This time for road construction. But I chose not to care. My stomach was full and my heart fuller. I was busy reflecting on the dining experience we just underwent.

Although an uncommon event, such pomp and circumstance, it reflects accurately our lives. We work hard to get a seat at the table. Most arrive to some form of celebration, even if lacking a name tag in fancy calligraphy. We don’t get the menu upfront, but courses are numbered, and the portions limited. Some dishes are better than others. Some we’d rather not have at all. Some we try, some we share, others we devour. But as the kitchen closes and the candles burn low, we hopefully push back from the table and say “it was well.”

So much for ordering the left side of the menu. Or, even finding the all-you-can-eat-buffet. We don’t get to tell life that we want the sweet and not the sour. The good and not the bad. Rather, we are served what is cooked, all seven courses. Things we didn’t expect, didn’t know existed, can’t pronounce or even spell. 

I wish it were different. That life was all joy without the suffering. Seems like a design flaw if you ask me. But what I can say is that even though some bites of our seven-course meal were preferable to others, the entirety of the meal was remarkable. Five-star quality. We walked away satisfied. 

If only we could go back and do it again.   

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