Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine.
— Song of Solomon 1:2
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
— First Timothy 5:23
The first thing that caught my attention about him as we chatted online was that he was a fireman. The second thing was that he was a genuinely nice guy. We had talked about getting together for coffee for over a year. After a series of unlikely events in both our lives and a few more exchanged emails, we finally arranged to meet for coffee. The line at Starbucks was really long, but I managed to spot him. He didn’t look exactly like his online picture, no one ever does.
We had a pleasant enough conversation. Even though he had indicated otherwise, I was sure that that was the first and last that I would see of him. I gave him a hug as we left the coffee shop.
Lunch: Sweet Basil
On a long shot, I called him to see if he would like to meet for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. I chose the Thai restaurant, Sweet Basil. It was one of my favorite restaurants because the food was good and it was reasonably priced.
Our conversation was a little easier this time. He seemed more relaxed. But the true reason our conversation was easier was that I had discovered his hidden passions … food and wine. It was wonderful to see his eyes light up as we talked about his favorite restaurants and his wine collection.
When the bill came, I insisted upon paying. I did so with somewhat ulterior motives. “I’ll pay this time and you can pay next time.”
As we left, I gave him the videotape of my final service as a pastor. I had the sense that we would probably meet again for a meal.
Dinner: Blue Hour
“I’ve made reservations for us at the Blue Hour on Saturday night.” I was dumbstruck. The Blue Hour was considered one of the top restaurants of Portland. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to act nonchalant, “What time?”
The Blue Hour is in the Pearl District. I drove passed it twice because there was no sign advertising its presence. When you are one of the top restaurants in Portland you don’t need no stinking signs! The outside of the restaurant was pure industrial, leftover warehouse. But once I walked through the doors it was magic. From the high ceilings were draped long black panels of cloth, creating a series of dining areas. The reception desk was a black obelisk that appeared to float in midair.
I had arrived early and as I sat in the lounge I felt out of place. I was sure one of the painfully handsome waiters was going to come over to me and politely say, “I’m sorry sir, the other guests have asked you that you leave. There is a nice Denny’s just across the river.” I braced myself.
He was wearing black Levis, a dark t-shirt and a blue jacket. He informed the waiter that we were ready to be seated. Our table was near other tables but the lighting had artfully delineated our space. It was as if we were the only people seated in the Blue Hour and all the other guests were hired as extras to accessorize our evening.
He selected a wine for me at my request. It was very good. We then began to examine the menu choices. We discussed them at length. We decided upon an appetizer of gnocchi, a Caesar salad for two. He would have a fish entree. I would have steak with pig trotter sauce. The waiter, without an ounce of condescension, explained what pig trotter sauce was.
To attempt to describe the taste of the food would be as meaningless as trying to describe conversion to atheist. The gnocchi were light and airy. My dining companion explained to me why the cheese on the Caesar salad was so wonderful. We exchanged bites of our entrees.
We both are people-watchers, and the other patrons did not fail in providing us a floorshow. The man and woman closest to us were beautiful and wealthy. The man was very aware of how handsome he was and seemed to long for the waiter to bring him a mirror and confirm that fact. Across the aisle was a young couple on their first date. She smiled at everything he said. The young man excused himself to the restroom. She smiled. “The trick will be to watch her when he leaves.” And it was true. Her expression conveyed very clearly, “Gawd, I hope this night is over soon.” Her eyes glazed over. And when he returned, a switch went on and she smiled on cue. The large party behind us was obviously from out of town. The boisterous man had a video camera and was documenting their meal. He shot them ordering the meal, directed the waiter toward better lighting. The accent was definitely Texan.
Dessert. He ordered pumpkin roulade. I scoffed at his choice. Thanksgiving had been recent enough that pumpkin anything did not appeal to me. I ordered chocolate pudding.
The evening ended with me discovering the wonders of tawny port.
Another Dinner: Fratelli’s
I had taken him to a so-so dinner at The Compass. He responded by taking me to Fratelli’s, a restaurant specializing in northern Italian cooking. We ordered wine and appetizers. Up to this point drinking a full glass of wine was an effort for me. However, on this night I discovered how wonderful a glass of excellent wine can be. He was able to explain to me wine “finishes” and even the details of the glasses we drinking out of. During the course of dinner I would drink a half of the bottle of this outstanding wine. (I would later discover that that particular bottle of wine cost sixty dollars.)
My entree that evening was venison with huckleberry sauce. The secret ingredient was pepper. You would not think of pepper and wine creating a resonance (is that the right word?) but they did.
We both ordered dessert.
When we returned to the city loft where he was staying I was taken with the view of the city … Portland a city of bridges. I sat down to play the piano and he brought me over a glass of dessert wine. It had the taste of burnt pineapple and cherries. He informed me that there were no additional flavorings added. All done with the sugar of the grapes. I played a few more improvisations at the piano, enough to earn another glass of the dessert wine.
He put on a bit of jazz on the stereo. We wandered over to two adjacent easy chairs. He kicked off his shoes. He was wearing black jeans and white athletic socks. His foot was near my hand and I casually began to play with his big toe. (For the faint of heart, do not abandon ship … I stop at the toe).
“Oh! You’ve got to hear this song!” He leapt out of his chair and changed the music. “It’s our national anthem. Out of the speakers melted a soprano voice accompanied only by simple guitar chords … “Some …. where …. over the … rainbow …” Eva Cassidy, he explained. She died prematurely of cancer after only making a few albums. Now she was a jazz sensation. I don’t know if he noticed that I was crying as I listened to the music. I had never been drunk. I had never played with a fireman’s toe. No one had ever bought me a bottle of sixty-dollar wine. For one night I was over the rainbow … My body felt warm and glowing as the words washed over me … “Why oh why then can’t I …”
We finished the evening with a special glass of port. I did not drive home; I was hoisted aloft by angels.
The Dining Club Rules
- When you savor the aroma of the wine do it with your eyes closed.
- Never order the same thing. We can share.
- When rating the restaurant remember that who you are with and your waiter/waitress heavily influences the rating.
- Always order dessert.
There was one other dinner. Perhaps the best of all. It was a home-cooked meal. It began with a quarter (if that) teaspoon of one hundred year old balsamic vinegar and ended with dessert.
That was our last meal together. As I left, he showed me a heart-shaped crystal wine stopper. “Do you want this?” How can you say no when a man offers a heart-shaped anything?
That was our “Last Supper.” He is off somewhere fighting fires in Arizona or Colorado. There was talk of another dinner out this summer, but he has a boyfriend now. It won’t be the same. But dammit, I went over the rainbow and I have a crystal heart to prove it!