This is going to be a good story, I promise. I only hope that I can give it the proper care and verbiage it so deserves.
We had a craft show again today. I know that no good story begins with those words, so trust me, it will only get better from here. Bonnie and Natalie are my craft show cohorts. We call ourselves "Velocicrafters." We find that very funny, but that doesn't really mean other people will. They work so hard alongside me, and I couldn't do it without them. They're so awesome. Today, I really wanted to do something special for them, and had the perfect idea.
In previous blog postings, I have mentioned my email group. We send multiple emails around daily, keeping up a continuous dialog. We talk about nearly everything. Sometimes (well, usually) things get out of hand. We have this weird habit of calling each other rude names, even though we don't mean it -- usually. There is a twenty year span in our ages, we live in different states, we come from different backgrounds. A few of us have met a few others, but we've never all been in the same room together. We love each other dearly. When my brother passed away about six weeks ago, they wanted to do something for me, so they sent a generous gift certificate for a restaurant in Omaha called The Grey Plume.
My big idea for something special for Bonnie and Dawg (oh, by the way, we call Natalie "Dawg") involved taking them to dinner at The Grey Plume. They were excited, and so was I. It had all the markings of the perfect post-craft show wind-down and chill session. We called for a reservation, and found that we could only get in rather early, at 5:15. Fine with us.
We looked up information about the restaurant. Their mission statement on the website is intriguing: "Seasonally-driven, contemporary cuisine from locally-grown produce and livestock. The life-cycle of food begins even before the seed and should always end with an emotional connection. Understanding the journey to the plate evokes a deeper appreciation and respect for the meals we share. We seek to inspire and elevate the way Omaha thinks about food through culinary excellence, the promotion of local foods and growers, and a commitment to community."
Well, this may surprise you, but we can be a bit prone to poking fun. We joked that we should ask really great questions, like "Can you tell me what this chicken's name was?" or "Did someone hug this cow daily?" or "How often did someone sing to my carrots?" But off we went, excited for our evening.
So there we were. We were seated at a table in the window, and were assured it was the best table in the house, and they had saved it for us. (I think she said that to everyone, though.) There was a small vase on the table, with a sprig of rosemary in it. We liked that. They immediately brought us tall, narrow glasses, opened a bottle of water, and poured. No Omaha tap water for us. I never did ask if the water was local. Actually, it seems like Omaha tap water is already pretty local.
We studied our bamboo-encased menus. There were words there that the three of us, all avid readers, all "word people," really didn't know. Fortunately, there was a sort of "food glossary" on the table. Our server told us a little about the restaurant, and we were fascinated. Then the "Wine Director" came over to have a chat with us. Wow. There is such a job as a "Wine Director." I had no idea. I don't even drink wine, but was hanging on her every word. Her descriptions included words like "meaty," "nutty," "earthy," "supple," and "woody." Many of those words are known to make me snicker, so I had to contain myself. At some point, I said, "Could I just get a Diet Coke?" It was one of those moments you see in movies, where the music stops, all chatter ceases, and everyone in the room gasps and stares at the offender. I think I may have offended the Wine Director with my question. She quickly recovered, though, and told me that they didn't serve it, but could make me an Italian soda. Her descriptions again held me enraptured. She began to suggest a mint and rosemary blend, and I mentioned that I'm allergic to mint. Oh dear! She excused herself quickly, grabbed a notebook, and jotted down this important medical information about me. She then scurried off and apparently alerted the bar, our server, and possibly everyone in the place. No mint would DARE try to reach our table. The Wine Manager strictly forbade it. At her suggestion, I had a citrus-infused Italian soda that had a sort of flowery lilt to it. Or something like that. Either way, it was heaven in a tall, skinny glass. (But I still got a Diet Coke on the way home.)
While we were still examining the menus, our dear server brought us a complimentary plate of... something. I have no idea what it was, although she did describe it. It was sort of a little cream puff, but was filled with cheesy, garlicky heaven. I nearly wept. They brought us brioche, which translates to "a really good roll with a fancy name." So good. Also, our bread plates were made from colorful repurposed wine bottles.
The moment of truth came, and we made our selections. I chose the Majinola Farm Wagyu beef tri-tip, which was served with potato, wilted kale, carrots, beef belly (think "bacon," only beef -- oh my) and local oyster mushrooms. I said that I'm not a fan of mushrooms, and she said that they're very good, and "foraged locally." She gestured toward the window with her hand, as though they were discovered growing near the Mutual of Omaha building. Bonnie chose the Blue Valley steelhead trout, because it reminded her of being in Africa, served with creme fraiche spatzle (Gesundheit.) and seasonal veggies that had once been rocked to sleep by fairies. Dawg went with the Bluff Valley Lamb, with potato gnocchi, beets, butternut squash, and jujube (which are NOT the movie candies, as it turns out).
She suggested an appetizer, which was not called an appetizer. It was called a "first plate." We had duck fat fries. They were pieces of potato (like french fries) cooked in duck fat, which made them very rich. They were covered with some sort of creamy, light, cheesy goodness, and there was a fried egg over all of it. I wish I had the vocabulary of a food critic, because these were some incredible fries. I never thought to ask for details of the duck who supplied his fat, however.
By this time, we had been there for about an hour. We were just so relaxed, and having such a good time. We checked out the people around us. We watched an awkward first date, and listened to other people's conversations, while pretending we weren't. We had our own conversation, and hopefully no one was listening.
Our food arrived, cradled tenderly in the arms of our servers. They told us about each item on our plates. Dawg and I had large, white, square plates, but Bonnie's enormous trout came on plate that was the size of a huge 2x4. No, bigger than that. It was handcrafted from Nebraska clay. Cool. Each dish was a work of art in presentation alone, and there are no words to describe how wonderful they were. We moaned and groaned, tasted each other's food, made inappropriate commentary, and so enjoyed ourselves.
We ordered French press coffee, and scoops of pear-anise sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate ice cream. Oh my. Again, we tasted each other's, and discovered that the combination of the pear-anise sorbet and the chocolate ice cream together was just so wonderful.
When the check came, I reached for my gift certificate -- and that's when I remembered. Oh dear. I remembered what was written on the gift certificate. Whichever member of my precious email group who actually called and ordered the gift certificate -- and I think I probably know who that was -- she had asked for these words to be written on it: "For Susie... we love you! From -- Your whores." It was then that I realized that I was going to have to hand this certificate over to these gentle souls, who are so proud to work at the place that earned the distinction of being the greenest restaurant in the nation.
I agonized with Bonnie and Dawg. They thought it was hysterical, of course. I said, "You realize that one of these sweet people is probably the person who actually wrote this, right?" And they laughed more. So when our server came over, I said, "My dear, dear friends gave me this gift certificate, and there is something written on it that may be a bit shocking. I am so sorry." She laughed, said it was fine, and walked away with it. Phew.
We resumed our coffee and conversation. Earlier, I had seen a young man emerge from the back, and he made eye contact and smiled at me. The same young man now approached our table. I quickly noticed that on his uniform was the name "Clayton Chapman" -- he was the owner and the head chef. Coming to OUR table. He said, "I just had to come and meet you... I have been waiting to see who would come in and use this gift certificate!" If I was a person who blushed, I would have been Husker red. I laughed and laughed, and he said that HE was the one who took the call, and filled out the gift certificate. He said he hesitated, but was assured that it was "safe." He chatted with us a little, we told him how much we had enjoyed everything, and he retreated. He was a delight. He was also, I kid you not, 25 years old. I googled him.
Eventually, we realized we had been there 2 1/2 hours, and decided we should peel ourselves away from this little green slice of heaven, with its recycled steel framing, its vegetable-based to-go boxes, its low-flow faucets, and its reclaimed barnwood furniture. As we left, Clayton (the owner-chef) met us at the door and sent us off with lovely little pastries to enjoy with our morning coffee. Bless his heart.
I am beyond blessed, to be so well-loved by a group of women who would seek to bring me cheer from afar, by providing me with the gift of this evening. It is humbling. I love you, my whores.