Travel Musings: Napkin Flambé, Anyone?

My husband and I are travel junkies. This spring we embarked on a 2-week road trip in Ireland. We loved everything about that country. Except the weather. Okay, and maybe the road trip part. But I digress. Today, I want to share an anecdote about one of the most memorable meals of my life, and it happened in the Emerald Isle.

Every brochure, pamphlet, and travel book, even the world-renowned Ireland for Dummies, rhapsodizes over one particular seafood restaurant located in the tiny seaside town of Kinsail, a.k.a. Food Capital of Ireland. A celebrity chef is rumored to own the place and preside over the kitchen. Who could resist? So after recovering from jetlag, we pointed our rental car south and headed out.

After several near death experiences due to driving on the wrong side of the road (did I mention this was our last road trip?) we arrived in Kinsail, checked into our B&B, and scored a reservation at the restaurant, which shall remain anonymous due to potential lawsuits.

On our big evening, the place was hopping. It overflowed with ravenous diners, all salivating for a taste of the fishy treats. After a longish wait, the surly greeter jabbed a finger toward a table, presumably to indicate our spot.

For forty-six minutes, we watched wait staff thunder past our table, bearing platters o’ fish, without so much a glance in our direction. During this time, my husband re-activated a condition called diner’s tricep, a debilitating affliction caused by repetitive waving, generally found in impatient customers and, occasionally, over-zealous flashers, but again, I digress.

Enough was enough! By sticking my foot into the aisle, I accidentally tripped the nearest server, who was zipping past while trying her damndest to avoid eye contact. When she recovered, she pointed out how busy they were that evening. We pointed out how hungry we were that evening, being as how we’d been waiting nearly an hour for service. She must have sensed a dwindling tip, because she jotted down our order. A few minutes later, someone else plunked a loaf of bread and bottle of wine on our table before zipping away at top speed.

Armed with full glasses of Merlot, we settled in for the long haul. In situations like this, a rousing game of ‘Guess the Relationship’ helps pass the time, so we started checking out our fellow diners for idiosyncrasies. After we’d downed one glass apiece and were working on our second, one couple in particular caught our attention. Both wore elaborate evening clothes, both were as stiff as corpses (only less animated), and both looked bored out of their gourds. My husband’s guess was mid-argument. Mine was bad first date.

As we continued speculating, the man snapped his fingers, causing several wait staff to materialize from God-knows-where. They scurried over, elbowing one another out of the way in their excitement. Evidently, big money was involved. The winner lit the candle in the middle of their table (unlike ours, which remained unlit), pointed out specialty items on the menu, and generally kissed ass. One nanosecond later, their champagne arrived. There was much fanfare, cork popping, and foam frothing. For that kind of service, we figured the bubbly must have set the guy back a few hundred pounds.

Ah, the remedial effect of champagne. After the first glass, posture softened, smiles appeared, words were exchanged, then whole sentences. With the second glass, the couple became downright animated. I distinctly heard her laugh at something he said. With a casual wrist flip, she snapped out her oversized paper napkin, presumably to unfold it in preparation for service.

Perhaps the champagne had affected her motor skills; perhaps lust for her date had caused hand tremors; perhaps she was a closet pyromaniac. We’ll never know.

Everything happened in a flash. The napkin grazed the candle on its downward trajectory, igniting in a billow of flame. She flung the burning napkin on the table, where it blazed merrily. Her date pushed himself out of harm’s way. Left to her own devices, instead of dumping champagne on the fire like a sane person might, she grabbed a napkin from an empty table and used it to dab at the flames. Poof. That napkin burst into a towering inferno.

I nudged my husband, who was too busy buttering a slice of bread notice the excitement. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: The place is on fire.

Husband:<whipping his head up> Holy crap, you’re right. Why don’t they pour champagne on the flames? What’s wrong with those fools? (Actually, he used a different f-word. Hey, in his defense, the place was on fire!)

Me: Maybe they don’t want to waste it. <scanning the room to identify the best exit route> Do you think we should head for the door?

Husband: <taking a healthy slug of wine> What? Without our dinner?

Me: <exuding saintly patience> At the risk of repeating myself, the place is on fire.

Husband: <scanning the restaurant> Where’s the wait staff? Why don’t they do something? I don’t see a single one of those lazy fools. (Again, he used the different f-word.)

And it was true. All had disappeared. The only server in sight had his back to the drama and was chatting up an attractive diner. The rest were likely in the parking lot enjoying a smoke of a different variety. Fortunately, the couple at the table adjacent to the inferno had quick wits and quicker reflexes because they doused the fire using their pitcher of water. Two minutes later, a server bearing a fire extinguisher galloped over and gave the table a few redundant squirts. Next thing we knew, the fire-starters had abandoned the charred table to join their saviors, and were chatting it up as if they were old friends.

For the record, our meal, when it finally arrived, was outstanding. Our lobsters had obviously been performing flutter kicks in the ocean that very day. Someone had spent an hour extracting the poor suckers from their shells, cutting them into bite-sized chunks, and drenching everything in a silky mustard-horseradish cream sauce.

It was a dinner we’ll remember for a long, long time. There’s nothing like a touch of drama to cause strangers to bond with one another. By the time the evening ended, we, too, had exchanged life stories and laughter with our neighbors. When we left the restaurant that night, we had rounded bellies, several new friends, and an anecdote we could trot out at every opportunity. As a bonus, I had fodder for a scene in my next book.

Please feel free to add a comment and describe your most memorable meal (good or not-so-good).


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2 Responses to Travel Musings: Napkin Flambé, Anyone?

  1. Maureen,

    Love that anecdote. Our most exciting event at an Irish restaurant was our first night in Dublin when we arrived too late for most restaurants, but did find a nice one not far from our B&B. We both ordered a fish dinner which came with a baked potato, peas and the vegetable of the day. I asked vegetable of the day was.
    She replied, “chips.”
    I said, “As in potato?”
    She said, “Yes.”
    “Two different potatoes with one meal?” I was surprised.
    She studied me for a brief second and then said, “This is Ireland, you know.”
    Ninety percent of our trip was wonderful. The only exception was a B&B that housed guests in their beautiful Queen Anne house overlooking the sea, in the basement!

    • Maureen Fisher says:

      Lol. I never thought I would tire of french fries, Veronica, but by the end of our 2-weeks in Ireland, I never wanted to see another fry. Sadly, the aversion didn’t stick for long. I’m back to salivating whenever I drive past a chip wagon.

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