Theater Around The Bay: A Dream of Restaurants

Today’s guest blog is by Sam Tillis, a local actor and director, and it’s a charming bit of fantasia to start your work week with.

I dreamed last night that restaurants were run like theaters…


To celebrate some momentous occasion– I do not now remember what it was supposed to be– my companion and I decided to spend an evening at the restaurant. We had purchased our tickets weeks in advance, of course, to ensure we would be seated; indeed, the dish we wanted to enjoy, Veal Parmesan at Berkeley Canteen, was already sold out. We could catch a lunchtime matinee there, but such meals are generally underwhelming, so we opted instead to dine at Berkeley Eatery, a much-lauded venue which serves meals that are deservedly more expensive.

After attiring ourselves in the appropriate eveningwear, my companion and I set forth for the restaurant. We arrived early, but many restaurant-goers were already there, milling about outside Berkeley Eatery’s impressive premisses. I have a certain amount of pity for those restaurant companies not yet successful enough to have their own space, but at any rate, the larger operations like Berkeley Eateries have long outgrown such concerns. Eventually, the doors opened, and we were guided to our table. I have always admired the volunteer hosts who selflessly dedicate their time to the restaurant by leading patrons to their tables. We had lucked into cheaper tickets for a table near the center of the floor– I’m told that tickets for a corner booth can be almost double the price.

The dish that evening was Roast Chicken With Mashed Potatoes. I must admit that I generally prefer spicier fare, but I understand that last season’s Chile Relleno, while a critical success, did not sell very well to the restaurant’s predominantly older, white audience. A tragedy, but a minor one: after all, everybody likes chicken.

The cutlery was phenomenal, as it always is at Berkeley Eatery. Each perfectly-spaced utensil positively sparkled in the room’s soft lighting; the ivory-white plates gleamed; the champagne flutes hummed their crystalline song. Berkeley Eatery is renowned for the impeccable folding of its deep crimson napkins, and tonight failed to disappoint. An appreciative murmur traveled through the restaurant as the lights dimmed to signify the start of the meal; fortunately, I had just finished reading the Chef’s and Food Historian’s Notes filling the first and second pages of the menu.

The dish itself was strongly reminiscent of CalFieri’s 1998 triumphant production. As in that production, the chef made the bold, nontraditional choice of adding garlic to the mashed potatoes. The effect was stunning: a burst of flavor in what usually serves as the reliable but bland backbone of such dishes. The chicken could only be described as succulent: a thrilling experience from the first to last bite. The only real disappointment was the grilled vegetables, which seem to have been thrown in as an afterthought to add some color to the dish. They did not seem to serve any purpose and added nothing meaningful to the meal, though they were undoubtedly of the highest quality.

Our enjoyment of the dish was marred only by the rowdiness of some of the other patrons. One couple whispered continually throughout the evening, disrupting the otherwise-respectful silence pervading the room. There was, of course, the almost-mandatory older man who appeared to be sleeping through the entire meal, to the disdain of all those around him. And in a corner, heedless of the distraction she was causing, a teenager seemed to be more interested in her twitter account than in the culinary delight before her. I believe she even took a picture, despite the clear reminder that photography in restaurant is strictly prohibited.

(And may I take a moment to bemoan the drawn-out death of there restaurant scene in this area? With news of San Jose Eatery’s imminent bankruptcy, the landscape is becoming even more barren. Clearly, we must redouble our support for culinary education in schools– children are growing up with no understanding of this ancient and culturally-significant art, thinking that the TV dinners and Lunchables they so voraciously consume are the pinnacle of taste. It certainly doesn’t help that the rise of snack culture has shortened attention spans so considerably that youths of today simply cannot appreciate a hearty three-hour meal.)

After a brief interval (with the usual run on the restrooms– sadly inevitable when several dozen people flock to them in the same ten-minute span), the dessert course was served. It was a Crème Brûlée, and to my taste it overshadowed the meal it followed, though it seemed that a handful of diners had left after the first course and therefore missed this unexpected treat. The meal as a whole inspired a standing ovation from the remaining patrons.

As the applause finally died down, the Chef de Cuisine made an appearance. He accepted our appreciation humbly before reminding us that restaurants only make about 40% of their budgets from ticket sales, the rest must be made up through grants and patrons. Moved by this speech, we gave fifty dollars at the door on our way out. Coupled with the price of the tickets, this made for an expensive evening, but we must all do our part to ensure that this vital culinary form not die out.

All in all, a delightful night at the restaurant. I shall have to remember to go again at least once before the year is out.