The countdown to February 14 is a stressful time for a man in love. He must suffer the embarrassment of buying heart shaped boxes of chocolates, the pain of ordering flowers at extortionate prices, the torture of trying to find a card that doesn't literally make him nauseous, and above all he must reserve table at the right restaurant.
A Valentine dinner can be a delicate matter. If you have been partners for thirty years you scarcely need to discuss which restaurant to go to, or even what food to eat. But a man in a new relationship can get carried away with the need to impress his Valentine, and choose the most expensive-sounding restaurant he can find on his smart phone app. However it is important to know that the fancier the establishment, the greater the probability of a complete romantic disaster.
It's not just that the more you pay the less you get to eat, although that is certainly true. A cheap restaurant will deliver a meal that would choke a hippopotamus. If you spring for a really expensive place, you are likely to get two or three tiny fragments of food floating on a sea of colored sauces, and you will need to get a pizza later.
But the real problem is that it's hard to make the best impression on the woman of your dreams in a high-class restaurant. The waitpersons are rigorously trained to humiliate their customers: especially their male customers. Most of them don't want to be waitpersons at all. They are resting actors, or lawyers in training, and they make sure that you know it. A clever waiter can have cruel fun with nine incomprehensible specials, five different kinds of vinegar for the salad dressing, and a wine list the size of the Gutenberg Bible, but not written in English.
Menus in expensive restaurants are not user-friendly. The suburban fashion these days is an ethnically mixed or "fusion" cuisine: a bit of French, a bit of Thai, a bit of Italian, a bit of Lebanese, and a touch of nouvelle cuisine with Scandinavian undertones. This produces a kind of gastronomic vertigo. These menus are designed by and for people who eat in Manhattan all the time, and have therefore lost all sense of the ridiculous. At the upper end of the restaurant scale, adjectives replace food almost entirely. Eating seems like a gross intrusion into the chef's literary fantasy.
What about all that cutlery? Are you allowed to get the escargots out of their shells with a toothpick? Is it genteel to use the third fork to stir the salad dressing? Which is the right wine glass? The probability of being humiliated in front of the woman you want to impress is virtually one hundred per cent.
But consider it as a challenge. A four star restaurant may have its pitfalls, but at least it will suggest how much you care about her. Dinner under the golden arches may not give quite the same impression. Preparation is the key. Over the next few days learn a little basic French and Italian food vocabulary (half a dozen words will do), study some high-end menus on the web, and pay close attention to the table settings in Downton Abbey. Forget the Seahawks T shirt and borrow a nice jacket and tie from some elderly relative.
This is not just a dinner, this is a test, in more ways than one.
Copyright: David Bouchier