I don’t know if I’d call it a run of bad luck, but our Thanksgiving Dinners out at fancy restaurants took a bit of a turn a few years ago, and never quite got back on track.
M, in particular, had a rough go of things. Three years ago, we had to cancel our reservations at Ray’s Boathouse last-minute, when a bad reaction to some sort of hair-care product caused M’s scalp to start burning – not in a literal, Michael-Jackson Pepsi-commercial sort of way, but in a painful, hot sensation that was making her want to dig at her head with a fork. This led to a last-minute trip to Safeway, where the kid, her then-boyfriend, and I grabbed up all manner of potentially scalp-soothing products, along with a turkey breast, a bag of potatoes, and a few pre-packaged sides. Turkey breast in the pressure cooker, potatoes boiled for mashing, sides in the microwave, and Thanksgiving was saved, more-or-less. We ate in our dining room, M’s hair slicked back with a heavy coating of some aloe-based goo, John Coltrane playing quietly in the background, as we talked and laughed aboutt all manner of things, including our abandoned holiday meal plans.
The next year brought a return to Preservation Kitchen, albeit with a different group of people than the previous time(s) we had been there for Thanksgiving. Things started off well, beyond my uncomfortable collar/tie combo. Drinks ordered and received; dinner ordered and received; lively conversation and laughter. Then, as the main course was coming to a close, M fell silent. In the midst of a raucous exchange I was having with current and former co-workers, and with M sitting right next to me, I didn’t notice what those across from her began to notice – that she was absolutely not feeling well. She had gone pale, and was staring down at the table, occasionally looking up wide-eyed, blinking and sweating. She let me know she needed to leave. In my oft-clueless fashion, I told her we still had dessert on the way, and implored her to let me continue on with the party just a bit longer. Before long, other guests were interrupting the conversation(s) I was having, to tell me to maybe just pay attention to her and help her out. By the time it sunk in that this wasn’t just M feeling tired after a long meal, she was bolting from the table to the bathroom. After a few minutes of vomiting, she returned to our group, and Thanksgiving dinner came to an end…roughly 90% successfully (and, no, the food had nothing to do with it. M was in bed for the next few days with an illness that had been rolling around her school).
By Thanksgiving of last year, the owners of Preservation Kitchen had retired, and it was no more. And while this was disappointing, we had never gone to the same restaurant two years in a row. Also, with a slightly larger party than most years, and a much greater geographic spread for the members of the party, we looked for something somewhat central to the majority. I won’t spell out specifically where that was, as I like to give the benefit of the doubt to businesses who may not be performing up-to-snuff. But we were seated in a very awkward location, practically a hallway, with another large party so close behind us that the wait staff had difficulty maneuvering between us (as did numerous other diners on their way to and from the restrooms). In addition, the staff seemed to be the ‘B’ team–forced to work on the holiday in order to keep their jobs. Before we had even ordered drinks, a glass of water had been launched onto the table, the waiter perhaps not understanding the dynamics of weight distribution of items on trays, leading to more than one in our party enjoying a soggier-than-expected experience. A trip by a few of us to the same restaurant on a ‘regular’ day several months later, though, suggested that the restaurant may not have an ‘A’ team. And truly, truly, truly I try to look for the good in restaurant visits and not be overly critical, knowing the difficulty of the jobs involved.
So, this year, by the end of summer, when Thanksgiving reservations started opening up at restaurants that offer Thanksgiving meals, I began asking (to M first, of course) if our ‘regulars’ would be willing to turn up at our house in the event we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. While all who didn’t already have plans agreed they would be willing, more than one floated the condition that if we were going to host, the hosts should not be put in the position of cooking on top of hosting. In the spirit of the low-hassle Thanksgiving, they encouraged the ordering of a Thanksgiving meal from a grocery store, rather than going to the hassle of shopping and preparing all the items. While M, at first, enthusiastically floated notions of an extravagant meal we would cook and dish up with love and thanks (as we had done multiple times prior to starting our restaurant tradition) she quickly acquiesced when I presented her with the truth(s) that if we decided to make the food, not only would we (well, I) end up doing a boatload of shopping, but we (all of us) would end up cleaning house, while the cooking chores would fall to God-only-knows who, as each of us (M, the kid, and I) are all kitchen divas who don’t cook well with others. I then showed her offerings from several local (well national-local) stores, appealing to her “sense of fanciness” with a trip to the Whole Foods website, and their various meal options.
Ultimately, the decision was made that Whole Foods would be cooking for us. We’re just reheating what they provide. Compared to what we, as a group, usually spend at a restaurant on Thanksgiving, it’s a very reasonable cost—even while ordering a meal for many more people than we’re expecting. And I suppose if we aren’t happy with dinner, we can try another restaurant or grocery store next year–or maybe go back to full-on hosting. At least this year, we’ll have nobody but ourselves to blame for the service—which, I’m sure, will be fantastic.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!