“Do you want to hear the specials of the day?”
I had been following the waiter with my eyes, anticipating this moment. “Oh, sure,” I said, all casual, but my heart immediately started pounding.
“For starters, we have a burrata salad with heirloom tomatoes and a balsamic reduction,” he read off a chalkboard behind me.
I loosened my collar and looked down.
“We also have a steak tartar with crushed red pepper and shallots.”
Mmmm. Is it hot in here?
“For entrees, we have a branzino, served with lemon-rosemary new potatoes.”
I licked my lips and parted them slightly.
“And our dessert special is a flourless chocolate torte…”
“…with raspberry coulis.”
Suddenly I have an urge to go smoke a cigarette.
The urge can strike at even the most mundane of dining establishments. It can be a quiet dinner with friends. A rare date night with my husband. A work event with half my staff. But once the waiters start reading the specials, they might as well be quoting Tropic of Cancer. I squirm in my seat, my back sweaty against the booth’s vinyl, and pray that the chef is in an experimental mood today.
No one understands why the special alchemy of food preparation turns me on. I don’t understand it myself. There is something inherently erotic about learning how something sumptuous is broken down and then described, in intimate details, with adjectives that ratchet the tension and double the entendre. Tender. Braised. Whipped. Bubbling. Zesty. Raised without antibiotics. Anything that requires a French translator or artesanal dictionary to decipher.
I have kids, so spontaneous romance is hard to come by. There are no long walks on the beach (except to find the nearest bathroom because SOMEBODY refuses to pee in the ocean). No holding hands (except when crossing major highways). No casual smooching (except the occasional booboo). But food! The endless combinations, the mysterious colors, the impossible ingredients; hearing about it always cleanses my palate.
“What’s for dinner?” my kids ask from the couch. It’s up to me to twist “Macaroni and cheese, with some halved grapes” into “Delectable shells coated in a bright orange cheese sauce, with a grape salad tossed lightly in tap water.” And my family will dig in, while I wipe my forehead with a damp cloth and drag one fingertip along the lip of the cheese pouch.
My body has been through a lot. It’s been stretched to capacity, crushed and bloated, cut and stitched back together, milked and depleted hourly. It deserves a little treat, preferably one served medium-rare, wrapped in bacon, with a marsala demi-glaze. The piquant memory keeps me enraptured as I scrub two-day-old puke off the underside of a toilet.
Over the years, my husband has figured me out. “What’s for dinner?” I’ll ask from the couch. If he says “pork chops,” I’ll know tonight is most definitely not the night. If he yells back “chocolate-mole pernil with sofrito rice” it turns me into the gooey center of a chocolate lava cake, and puts me in the mood for anything.
My penchant for explanatory cuisine enhances our nights out together, as we get handsy under the table while the sommelier spouts cocktail ingredients and cheeseboard pairings. It’s perhaps a shade uncomfortable at Cousin Ron’s rehearsal dinner or at Rhonda’s retirement party. I have to look up the menus beforehand and strategize, because the minute my food options unfurl from the waiter’s lips, I’m a puddle of inappropriate longing that needs to be sponged up, stat (preferably with some garlicy naan).
Dirty talk is overrated. My bodice is not “heaving;” his muscles better not be “glistening.” I certainly don’t want to belong to a club that has “throbbing members.” He wants to nibble on my ear? Wouldn’t he much rather nibble on a grassy goat cheese spread thin over a crostini and drizzled with honey? Ah, he’s put his finger in my mouth. I’d love to replace it with an almond biscotti half-submerged in a Viennese cappuccino. His lips meet mine, but I’d rather swap his spit for a plummy Pinot Noir that clings to the side of the glass. And if his body’s main course turned into lamb meatballs with dill and tomato glaze, I’d absolutely go back for seconds. Or thirds.
It’s 10 pm on a Tuesday. The kids are asleep; the living room dark. I pull out my laptop and open to my favorite bookmarked site: Pinterest.[Click] A clandestine glimpse of tikka-marinated chicken thighs. [Click] Mmmmmm, pumpkin raviolinis with cranberry chutney and swiss chard. [Click] Pan-seared mahi mahi with grilled zucchini…wait, is that TRUFFLE BUTTER? YES! YES! YES-
My husband pokes his head into the living room. “Hey. You ready for bed yet?”
The only question that remains is, am I feelin’ sweet or savory tonight?