The Most Expensive Meal I've Ever Had

by Sharon Gelfand

I once went on a date with a guy who was a friend of a friend, back when I was still single and expected to do those things. I met him at her house when I passed through Berkeley and he called as I passed through again.

On the appointed night I opened the door and immediately remembered that he was pleasant, intelligent, with a good job, a sense of humor, and completely unsexy. If some lucky people just ooze sex, then this man was the anti-oozer—the kind of guy that women always say they love but just as a friend. "Helllooo." His smallish eyes lit up when he saw me. Too bad, I thought, but there was nothing to do at that point except sit back and enjoy an evening of fabulously platonic conversation.

He took me to an internationally famous restaurant. Any foodie would have trembled with excitement upon entering, but I was just a penniless graduate student dressed up in jeans. The only thing I felt was an alarmist twang in my head at the sight of the linen table cloths and heavy silverware. Snotty wait-staff provided menus with embossed letters that listed French-California fusion cuisine, most of which I'd never heard of and didn't care to. I looked, and looked again at the placement of the decimal points on the price list; the twenty in my pocket wouldn't cover one quarter of our meal. Date's smile broadened as he leaned tenderly towards me. I leaned away.

We agreed to start with the dinner salad. As a native Californian obsessed with bikini season, salad was a menu item I could always understand or so I thought, until a plate covered with strands and strings of unusual greenery landed in front of me. I did not know that this Bay Area institution is famous for utilizing locally grown, seasonal ingredients to create unique, fresh flavors. If I had, I might not have been so surprised to find dandelions, plus several anonymous specimens that looked suspiciously like the weeds growing along the parking strip outside the window, all nestled on my plate under a drizzle of vinaigrette tart enough to make my mouth pucker in dismay. Did the chefs just stroll out front with a pair of scissors every morning and start randomly snipping at vegetation?

"How do you like it?" It was Date, looking pleased with his decision to take a woman he barely knew to such an exclusive establishment.

"It's great. Excellent." Women lie so easily because we have so many opportunities to practice.

For the main course, I ordered California quail, because at least I knew what it was. I tried to smile when two complete corpses landed in front me on a plate of fine china, their little charred legs sticking up in the air, and an unidentified phlegm-colored sauce poured on top. I tried hard not to think of the adorable, livi