Today I had lunch at Dean Fearing's new restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. On the way to the restaurant I imagined that I'd be stopped at the fancy pants entryway and told, "Ooh, so sorry, but you're too poor to eat here." Not that I'm really poor, but I grew up in a very middle class family and have retained a middle class personality. My family was full of teachers, pink collar professionals, and other salt of the earth workers, so no one was eating at places like the Ritz. In times of extreme celebration we would descend on the Steak & Ale with commentary something like this:
My Mom in sort of a stage whisper: "Isn't this nice? I think these chairs are real leather."
My Uncle: "Isn't this the best bread you've ever had? It's warm!"
My Aunt: "Does anyone want to split an New York Strip with me? At these prices it must be enough for two!"
My Grandmother: "I've never seen so many kinds of peppers on a salad bar. Isn't that the best salad bar?"
As I mentioned, S&A was reserved for special occasions so most restaurant meals were consumed at El Fenix (fastest Mexican food in the West) or the Golden Corral (largest buffet in the West). Expensive dinners, fine wines, and the bling bling of life were just not part of our world. Not that I had a clue, because you can't miss what you don't have.
However, my middle class bubble was bound to burst as I entered the slightly more refined world of law school. I arrived on the scene kind of like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, but with a bigger ass and smaller hair. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who sipped wine, ate sushi, and knew the difference between a "good" bag and a crappy one. (all my bags were crappy by the way) Once your eyes are opened to quality goods you can never look at your Liz Claiborne purse with the same appreciation.
My husband and I met in law school and he's just about as middle class as me. Our honeymoon was the first time either of us had flown first class and it showed, big time. When they brought us champagne before the flight took off I was stunned, when they brought us warm nuts I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven (I'd never even thought about heating up my nuts!), and when they rolled out the fresh baked cookies I vowed to never fly coach again.
But even though I've flown first class, bought a nice bag (though not like crazy nice), and dined in fine establishments, I'm still the girl mesmerized by warm nuts (the aforementioned mixed kind) so going to a place like the Ritz for lunch is both exciting and intimidating to me.
The restaurant is beautiful and the food is delicious, but it's the people more than anything that let's you know you're not at the Golden Corral. Our waiter was so solicitous I thought he might offer to give me a breast exam and floss my teeth. Dean Fearing himself came over to our table to see how we were enjoying our meal. I was all a twitter. It was like he was a rock star and I was a groupie! Thankfully, I didn't lose my senses and flash my bosoms. That might have been inappropriate.
Eventually, I needed to check out the ladies room so I enquired about its location and the young man I asked said, "Follow me." He then proceeded to escort me to the restrooms. I felt compelled to chit chat with him since we had some time (the bathrooms were on the other side of the restaurant), so we discussed the upcoming election and abortion rights. Just kidding, we talked about how fabulous the restaurant is and Sunday brunch, but it still felt awkward. Kind of like making small talk durning a vaginal exam. And I kept wondering how far into the bathroom he was going to take me.
My bathroom buddy finally deposited me in a short hallway lined with glass doors that looked like they might be supply closets because there were no markings whatsoever. I really had to pee, so after thirty seconds of indecision, I grabbed an ADA compliant door knob and found myself standing in a very nice, one hole, unisex bathroom. I was pretty sure it was unisex because the toilet lid was up. Nasty. The whole time I was peeing I prayed that it really was unisex and I hadn't somehow wondered into a men's bathroom, not that it should matter because it was a one person unit, but it does. Another interesting thing about the bathroom was the "do not enter" sign that lit up within the glass door when you engaged the lock- a big red circle with a slash through it. It's like a big neon sign screaming "Peeing in Progress." Love it.
By the time I'd washed my hands I was an expert on the slick restrooms at Fearing's which was lucky because I had to educate a couple of confused ladies who were milling about with the same look of, "Huh?" as I'd had on my face two minutes before. I breezily explained the unisex situation and the light up "do not enter" sign as if I hung out at the Ritz all the time. Cause I'm cool like that.
I made it back to the table just in time to watch a team of waiters whisk away our dirty plates and replace them with beautifully crafted desserts, bringing to a close a truly wonderful meal. I had a blast despite the feeling that my shoes were too cheap and my bank account too light to ever be a regular. But one of the benefits of being a middle class jurl that occasionally takes a spin on the swankier side of town is that I have a true appreciation for oddities like jalapeno grits and confusing bathrooms.
So, I highly recommend Fearing's as well as encourage the average jurl to take a dip in the rich end of the pool every once in a while. We all need a little taste of the sweet life because it is, quite simply, sweet.