You should have seen me Saturday night, wiping salt off my tongue. Not wiping. That’s too civilized a description. With a force of desperation, I was dragging a linen napkin over my tongue, from top to bottom, top to bottom. Occasionally I’d jam a finger in and wrap it around my tongue to scoop out more of the assaulting mess. The chunky, sandy NaCl tasted repulsive — more like putrid coffee grounds that wouldn’t dissolve than the tempting bits of crystal at the bottom of the Snyder’s bag.
Generally having a mouthful of an offensive substance would be annoying, not embarrassing. But Saturday evening was no average time. Dolled up with a sequin dress and styled hair, I was attending a wine-pairing dinner at Norman’s, a posh restaurant within Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton. And I wasn’t sitting at a quiet two-top with just my husband, who would have chuckled and rolled his eyes at my mishap (he has grown quite accustomed to them). Sharing our large round table, which was surrounded dramatically by glass walls lined with wine bottles, were, among others, a Master Sommelier and a magazine publisher.
You don’t want these kinds of folks eyeing you as you drag granular white crud out of your mouth with a wad of cloth as if you’re a certain redhead in an I Love Lucy episode, all the while silently pleading with your body not to gag. And you really don’t want them knowing the source of your discomfort. But I’ll confide in you: Without paying attention, sort of thinking the blur of snow beneath my Wianno Oysters Duo must be the “horseradish foam” mentioned on the menu, I’d scooped up a forkful of rock salt from the bottom of the plate and nonchalantly shoveled a tablespoon-sized portion through my lips.
I hadn’t noticed the white dots atop each oyster, which was surely the foam – although the enticing accents could have been instead the jicama or the Chardonnay Fog Dance Vineyards granita, a kind of super-fancy Icee. But in typical Rona fashion, I was paying no attention to the details as I supped enthusiastically while engaged in the table’s assorted conversations.
I’d like to tell you that the seemingly scandalous salt screw-up was my only error that evening. Not so. During the champagne reception earlier, a sprightly young waiter walked over to us carrying an hors d’oeuvres tray. I reached down and plucked up a mini beef empanada. As instructed, I dipped my savory pastry into a small bowl containing a deep golden plantain sauce. And, Rona being Rona, I accidentally let go of that turnover, plopping it right into the sauce. I probably shouldn’t admit that I had a cold so, although I'd washed my hands, the fingers with which I’d held that empanada might not have been super sanitized.
The waiter trotted away to get a new dip. The three dozen empanadas and croquettes still on the tray surely lost their sizzle by the time the server got them back into the dining room.
I felt like a hero though. Truly, I did, and here’s why: because I didn’t dip my hand into the bowl and scoop out the empanada.
To you, I’m sure, that’s not worth mentioning. Well, you’re not Rona. Just a week before, I’d been enjoying an extraordinary feast at the Flying Fish Chef’s Chef’s Tasting Wine Experience. Part of the shtick with this five-course meal is that a chef delivers each course to your seat and shares tales of the ingredients’ origins. I attended on a night when the chef de cuisine himself, Tim Keating, was working. He brought over a little bowl similar to the one that held Saturday night’s plantain sauce. In it were light brown bits called wattle seeds, which Keating explained is a ridiculously expensive delicacy from Australia. “Here, it tastes a bit like coffee,” Keating said. He dipped in a utensil, drew out a speck and put it on his tongue. I took the utensil, couldn’t get the wattle seeds onto it, so put two fingers in and took a pinch.
I wish that blunder had been just a faux pas. I must have cost Flying Fish a bundle, as its culinary team is ultra food-safety conscious. I’m sure those wattle seeds went right into the rubbish. And I’ll bet Keating will show future guests cheap foodstuffs like, er, garbanzos.
There’s a lesson in this, and it’s not to keep me off the invite list for gourmet dinners. I hope you’ve learned that I’m a great guest at any frou-frou function. Unintentionally, I’m always good for a laugh.