Tuesday, June 2
After 77 days, it happened last night: I went out to a restaurant with friends for the first time since Corona confinement began.
It was wonderful: We ate at Alchemy in Murphys. I had a cheeseburger and fries.
Sure, I could have used a bit more imagination. After all, this was the same meal I ordered when I last ate out nearly three months ago.
But for me, the cheeseburger is the touchstone of fine dining. If the burger’s good, likely everything else on the menu will be too.
But that delicious burger was not the last night’s highlight. Instead, it was joining three more long-term shut-ins for a meal someone else cooked. It was a waitress asking what we all wanted, pouring wine, topping off coffee cups and bringing out the dessert menu.
Even getting the check was OK.
Alchemy, said Manager Bobbi Glover, had closed in early March and recently reopened at less than half capacity thanks to distancing and sanitation requirements. “And because of all the extra work we have to, we can’t really serve a whole lot more customers than we are now,” she said.
The occasion for our dinner?
My friends Dick and Mary Anderson’s 52nd anniversary. If you don’t celebrate that many years of marriage by going out to eat, when will you?
Joining the celebration was our friend Sandi Young. We sat in Alchemy’s shaded outdoor dining area, at a long, wide metal table that gave us plenty of room to “distance.”
But we did not feel distant at all.
It was a long, leisurely, very tasty and very social dinner. We talked of gardening, travel and – as we are all seniors – of upcoming surgeries, scans and radiation treatments. Then we honed in on flickers and geese: The first bird will peck at a metal downspout loudly and incessantly, calling for a mate, I learned, and the second will terrorize humans who dare invade space we actually gave them.
Both gardeners, Mary and Sandi also wished quick death to all gophers.
Yes, as we must, we did touch briefly on politics, pandemics and police. But we did not let that ruin our meal
And, freed of responsibility, we didn’t worry whether dessert would be ready on time or when to start brewing the coffee. It was all taken care of.
But – and this has become somewhat if a ritual since we began eating at Alchemy a couple of years ago – I did ask about “the stack.”
The coconut-caramel stack, that is. This plateful was a massive, scrumptious custard-and-pastry concoction that could clog the arteries of a blue whale. It was my favorite Alchemy dessert until it disappeared from the menu without a trace a few months ago.
“I miss it too,” our waitress said from behind her plexiglass mask. “A lot of customers do too.”
She was not exactly sure what had brought its demise.
“Bring back the stack!” I chanted. “Bring back the stack!” our waitress joined in. And we all laughed, which was so welcome in these grim times.
Today, when I talked to Bobbi Glover, I asked again about the stack. Next I heard a voice, perhaps that of a chef, in the background. “That thing took all day to make,” was his lament.
“Well, maybe we will bring it back someday,” Bobbi said. “I like that, ‘Bring back the stack.’”
Long after finishing dessert Monday (I settled for a butter-pecan sundae), the four of us lingered at our table, sipped coffee and talked as darkness began to settle in.
Going out to eat, I realized, is a wonderful social ritual and one I had missed. It was good to do it again.
Then I drove home, realizing that I had 22 chicken burritos, six Zelda’s pizzas, a vat of chiliquiles, a meatloaf and two huge turkey potpies left in my freezer.
So, no, I’m not going to starve. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be visiting a few more Mother Lode restaurants before that deep freeze is bare.