In Other Words / Doggedly determined to dine down-market
Updated 5:43 pm, Thursday, May 1, 2014
Call it mischievous, rebellious or simply being hungry. Whatever the reason doesn't matter. What does matter is that my friend, Harold, can't pass up a Sabrett hot dog, even moments before he is going to embark on a "real" meal at a favorite restaurant.
Harold, his wife, Sandra, and I meet in New York at noon Sunday. We are en route to lunch that guarantees us a fine dining experience, proper ambiance and the promise of a wine list that will have Harold lapsing into temporary euphoria. It is springtime, and we are strolling along with that feeling of renewal that accompanies the end of a long winter. Soon enough, we will be seated at a table with linen cloths, silver cutlery, crystal glasses and waiters whose jobs it is to pamper and serve.
But, wait: A blue-and-yellow umbrella interrupts our street banter. Harold spies a Sabrett hot dog stand and, as they say, the rest is history.
Harold is a man of discerning tastes. He takes big bites from life and makes every morsel count. When it comes to fine dining, he's the one we turn to. If we're in need of wine for a particular occasion, he's our man -- the one who dines unabashedly and without trepidation. "Raw" doesn't send shivers down his spine as it does mine. I've watched him devour a fish, whole, head and tail included, and when it comes to other creatures, large and small, au natural is the only way to go ... so says Harold. His steaks are blue; hens, practically squawking.
Once, at a cocktail party, I watched him smear rattlesnake mousse onto a biscuit, and not blanch. Braised eel is a gastronomic amusement; an octopus, slightly comatose, its tentacles writhing, produces utter delight. On another occasion, after shoving a chunk of pungent and smelly cheese into my mouth, and told me to "swallow it -- no questions asked." I did. Harold said I would be a better person for the experience. Perhaps I am.
So, why is it that this man who worships passionately and provocatively at the culinary altar, will impulsively allow himself to go slumming? And Sabrett is, without question, "The Grand Slum." It's a trip to the dark side where taking one's GI tract into his own hands might result in an abysmal outcome. And even though Sabrett's claim to fame is that no fillers or extenders are ever added to their meat, the brine in which the hot dogs float leaves something to be desired.
But Harold is fearless -- intent on instant gratification -- and Sabrett is willing to oblige. Sandra and I have our hearts set on loftier dishes, and our indulgence is only steps away. Harold, too, will undoubtedly succumb to a lunch fit for the gods, but for the moment, the temptation is too great. He's already hooked on the aroma of greasy hot dogs beckoning to him from the corner of Broadway and 46th. He's off and running, and practically leaves skid marks.
Sandra winces slightly. She is accustomed to her husband's antics and is not pleased. She vents her ire, reminding Harold that a meal before a meal will spoil his lunch. I remain mute, while a part of me understands that no amount of coaxing will change his mind. Sabrett rules.
Harold, the charming rascal that he is, ignores us. We stand by watching as he dips into his wallet to pay for his edible acquisition that he swabs with mustard, adds relish and onions in tomato sauce, then covers it all with a blanket of sauerkraut to complete the package.
The fact is that Harold's motives are not about misbehaving, or exerting control. It's an impetuous craving for something he's got to have, even though he might ultimately pay the price. He devours this with such rigorous delight, that even I, the observer, can't help but witness the scene without a modicum of naughty pleasure.
We reach the restaurant and are greeted by a warm and welcoming smile from Giuseppe, the maitre d' who seats us at a table by the window. Sandra and I are famished. Harold is already sated, but his appetite knows no boundaries. Menus arrive. Appetizers are ordered. A cork pops. Talk turns to the play we will see at 3 o'clock. Merriment reigns supreme, once again, and we are all aglow in a boozy red wine haze.
And then it happens: Harold emits a loud burp that can't quite be ignored. All eyes are upon him, as Sandra, embarrassed, fades back into her chair. My eyes dart around the room, while Harold, napkin tucked neatly over his shirt, whispers aside, "Nothing like a Sabrett hot dog to cleanse the palate."
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com.