Trigger Warning: Maiming, food, alcohol, death, suicidal ideations, grief, and…gluten.
Today I am writing a happy post. Trigger warning probably seems a bit contradictive to that, but it really is! Well…mostly. Kind of. I mean, I cried while writing this, but really! It’s happy!
So, 2016 was extra rough on me and S (spouse, in case you forgot). Even worse than 2020 was. He lost both his grandmothers and my uncle within the same year. My uncle was a supremely special man. He was a recovered alcoholic who had some rather rough beginnings. He used to get into knife fights (with the scars to prove it) during drug deals and was a rather unpleasant person, or so I’m told. He also had the misfortune of having a sawmill accident when he was young that ended up taking all the fingers of his hand in a rather horrific manner. Then, a year or two later, he did it again to his other hand, though at least this time he only lost the tops of his fingers.
Eventually, he hit rock bottom, was extremely close to ending his own life, and then decided to make a change and joined AA. He was sober for the next 35 years, until his death. He became an incredible man. Loved cats and animals and was always taking in strays. We actually got our late cat Misha from him. He was kind and generous and had laughing attacks like I’ve never seen a grown man have. I miss them like hell. He had a great career in IT, loved sports, and had well over a thousand movies. I’m not exaggerating. He was a chain smoker for decades but finally quit for good in his 50s, doing his best to turn his health around and be active. It was he who gave S his start in the world of IT, helping him get a job where he worked. The two carpooled to work for years, forging a very close friendship, which is why, when my uncle passed from lung cancer complications 5 days before Christmas in 2016, S took it HARD.
It was a nightmare.
This was my first real experience with the death of someone close to me. But, as I said in the beginning, that’s not what this post is about. I won’t get into it, but needless to say, things were shit and S, especially, was worse than I’ve ever seen him, even now.
Cue our anniversary.
Our anniversary is in the spring, and though we never actually get each other presents for it, we always do something fun. We usually take at least 3 days to celebrate and it’s one of our favorite times of the year. I wanted to do something special for S. For us, food is life. Food is everything. It’s basically what glues our marriage together, I’m not even kidding. We love to get takeout, to try new places, to watch it on tv, to cook it together and then take a million pictures of it. Our favorite food is Japanese, hands down. And we both have an equal appreciation for it, so it’s kind of our jam.
In a nearby city, there was a restaurant that we’ll call B’s sushi for purposes of me not being doxed and murdered. In 2014 or 15, this restaurant had a brunch the likes of which is the stuff of dreams. I cannot stress enough how fucking good it was. We used to go every weekend, just about, simply because it was THAT good. It’s a royal pain in the ass to get there, so that’s really saying something.
They had amazing things. Dashi rice dishes with poached eggs. Bacon samplers from 5 different farms. Green tea smoked Dungeness crab benedict, kimchee and white cheddar waffles, beignets and yuzu curd, and a million other things that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Everything had an air of elevation mixed with Japanese Izakaya, which is basically bar food, but in the very best way.
Now, something you need to know. There was this waffle on the menu. It was a malted Belgian waffle with duck confit, vanilla bean whipped cream, and pure maple syrup (warmed, of course). It sounded incredibly good and I SOOOO wanted to try it, but I decided I’d try it the next week instead because I was in the mood for the benedict that day.
Next week came, the waffle was no longer on the menu. I figured it would come back, they often rotated things around, but then the worst happened.
I’ll never forget. I was at home and we had some friends over for dinner along with my in laws. My mother in law mournfully informed me that B’s sushi had closed down their brunch hours for lack of business (though dinners were still on). It was gone. FOREVER.
I wailed. I actually wailed in front of everyone. Like the kind of wailing when someone dies or you find out your favorite show got cancelled. I got some weird-ass looks but, to her credit, my mother in law gave me the most understanding nod because she too was obsessed with the place. And it was gone forever.
Years went by. Cue 2016 and the shit show of deaths.
Life was hard, but routine’s a bitch and a demanding one at that. You find ways to plod along, even after things like triple deaths and brunch discontinuance. And suddenly, an idea started to form. Our anniversary was coming up. What if…what if I could get S a taste of that duck waffle? Wouldn’t that be something? He’d been JUST as upset as I that we hadn’t tried it and he SO needed cheering up. What if I could use the power of begging and money to see if there was SOME way we could at least try it, just once? Secretly, I emailed the restaurant. Here is what I said:
“Howdy! So I know this is a crazy long shot but meh, you never know til you try! Basically here’s the sitch:
About a year or two ago you guys used to have the most amazing brunch available in the entire world. We went to your restaurant about three times a month for two months straight, only stopping after you made the change to a full on sushi restaurant which DEVASTATED us. Like, rending clothes and gnashing of teeth biblical level devastation.
The WORST part was there was this waffle on your menu. I can’t remember exactly what it was called but it was something malted with duck confit or something like that? I can’t recall every component but I remember REALLY wanting to try it. However, I was STUPID and decided to get something else that time instead, literally thinking, “I’ll just get it next time!” Well, you never offered it again because it became the kimchi waffle (also wonderful) after that and then a week or two later you closed and my beautiful brunch became extinct!! Now, this may seem a bit over-dramatic but honestly part of my soul is somewhere with that waffle now. I shall never be complete until I try it! I lay awake at night wondering what it would have tasted like, cursing myself for not trying it when I had the chance! FOOOOOOOOOL!! I’m such a fool!!!!!!! Not to mention my favorite mocktail you used to have, the Crimson Shrine. It is literally my favorite drink in the entire world and you no longer make it. Fate dealt me a heavy blow the day these things were ripped from me! My waffle AND my mocktail?! Is there no justice!? Not to mention the beignets! Oh the beignets! It still hurts so much!!!!! 😦
So, why do I bother you with my tale of woe? Well, my anniversary is coming up in February and I think it would be THE coolest thing if I could surprise my husband with one last brunch, served during your current hours of course because I know you don’t open that early anymore. I know it would be a long shot and I don’t know if you guys even still know how to make it or if you’re even willing to do such a thing but like I said, you never know til you try right? I would be willing to pay the regular price of the food plus an additional one hundred dollars for your trouble. Either way, thanks for hearing me out if nothing else. And since I know my brunch will never come back again, would you at least consider bringing back my mocktail someday? Maybe? Possibly? Someday……….???????
No matter your response you should know that your current menu is fabulous too and you guys are our favorite restaurant of all time. We’re huge food freaks too so we’ve tried an awful lot of places and keep coming back to yours. Thanks for your marvelous food and have a super fantastic day!”
Here was their response:
“Thank you so much for reaching out! We love your enthusiasm (especially because I, too, missed out on the duck confit waffle and have always regretted it). I have passed your email on to the rest of my team and we are brainstorming solutions to your quandary. Rest assured, we will get back to you about this, there will be justice!”
And somehow, things went forward from there.
I found myself going back and forth with the manager, getting the details down for this secret anniversary surprise. They actually asked me what I wanted them to make besides the waffle and, miraculously, I’d taken a picture of their brunch menu years before and was able to pick out our favorite things, including an incredible mocktail called the Crimson Shrine that I still miss to this day.
My original plan was to come during dinner hours since they didn’t open til 5 now, and just have our “brunch” while everyone else had sushi, no doubt wondering where the hell we got waffles from. I didn’t want to put anyone out and I thought it would be easier. But no. These people were on a mission to help me. And help me they did.
I kept the secret from S, just telling him that I had a custom made present for our anniversary I needed him to take us to pick up at a certain day/time. Somehow, for the first time in my life, I kept the secret so well that he didn’t even begin to suspect. I can’t believe I managed, I have the most window of faces.
You know what these people did for us? They opened the restaurant at 10:00 a.m. for us only, had two chefs come in on their day off, and let us have the entire place to ourselves. I’ll never forget S’s face when I just walked into what should have been a locked door and he hesitantly followed with such a look of confusion. And then the chef’s told him everything. That they’d heard we really wanted to try the waffle, that it was our anniversary and they wanted to make it special. He was blown away. I’ve never seen his face like that before or since. Dazed, he followed me to our seats and we were immediately given OJ and crimson shrines (twice the size of the ones they actually used to serve), which they’d had to dig through their archives to remember how to make. One chef said, “Now I know you’re going to want to try to eat everything, but I highly recommend you pace yourselves…” And holy hell was he right.
I’d picked out a few things for them to make off the menu. I had not expected what we got.
They pretty much made the whole brunch menu for us. Take a look:
We had bacon, the egg and rice dish, the benedicts, the beignets, cold smoked salmon and rice, sausages, and….the mother fucking duck waffle.
People. People. You don’t even know. It was every bit as good as we’d imagined. No. Better. I don’t think I’ll ever have anything that even comes close, again.
The whole time they kept bringing dish after dish, so lovingly made, so much more than I’d asked for. We may or may not have cried a little bit, it was the first good thing that had happened to us after so much death, so much stress and despair and emptiness. To have these strangers go through all this trouble for two nobodies…I’ll never forget that feeling. It was…healing. The world is full of death. We lose those we love. There’s not a damn thing you can do about it. It comes for all of us and maims the hearts of those left behind. But, there are good people left in this world too. A lot of them. People who come in on a Saturday morning when they should be sleeping in, just to feed two strangers. People who escalated my email when they could have easily ignored it. People who dug through storage to find the recipes to make us happy. And it really did. The first happiness we’d had in a long time.
At the end of it all, they tried to charge us just for the cost of the food. It was an absurdly low price, and I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I tipped them a hundred bucks. Not because I was made of money, I’m certainly not, especially back then! But because-dammit! They earned every fucking dime.
To this day, years later, we still talk about that experience. I even kept a couple beignets to keep in my freezer because I didn’t have the heart to eat the last little bit of that special brunch and have it be gone forever. They’re still there, as I type.
Here’s my take away from all this.
First, as long as I live-I don’t know how I’ll ever surpass that present. I told S I topped out early and to expect average crap from now on. I don’t see how I could ever begin to come close to matching that gift. So, that’s fun.
Things are rough lately. For everyone. I don’t need to make a list of why, we all know them and we all have our own tragedies to add to that list. There will always be reasons to grieve. People we love who leave us. Pets are on that list too, I’ll have you know. And it’s going to hurt. It’s always going to hurt. I won’t pretend otherwise. But, good people can take away just a little bit of that pain. Enough to get you by until you can finally stagger back to your feet. Just a little drop here and there that says, “Someone cared enough to do this for me.” A simple, stupid pleasure that distracts you from sorrow. And god, any distraction in times of grief is like a tiny miracle. Kindness-is the answer to everything. Everything. Never underestimate what it can do for you, or what you can do for others. And, never underestimate a really good waffle.