January in the city can be a cruel month. New Year resolutions give way to dreary, joyless commutes to and from work. The air is dry and frigid, and the ground still crunchy with frost, and those cars chug-chugging along, caking the curbs with greasy black snow. Who could possibly bear the agony of waiting for a table to eat?
It was Restaurant Week in Kansas City. For two weekends out of the year, the shivering souls of Kansas City come out and prowl OpenTable for a chance at a $33 three-course dinner. Over one hundred restaurants in the area put out their prix fixe menu, easy bait for a hungry town. Tables were booked and reservations went deep into the night; eight, nine, or as late as nine thirty.
But it was Friday night, no plans had been made, and a desperation for good grub with friends set in like a drowning panic.
“Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?” texted K.
Hunched over her keyboard at work, she considered the absurdity of trying to make dinner plans at eight in the morning. You might be asking the wrong crowd, she thought. Typical Friday nights at her house included an ever changing Spotify playlist, cheap cigarettes, and frequent Deep Eddy lemon vodka shots. K rolled her eyes and considered that perhaps she just didn’t have the rallying power she so desperately craved.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
K’s phone screen remained black, but in the upper corner, the tell-tale blue blink of messages burned back at her. She braced herself for the casual excuses and disappointment, and slid the screen unlocked.
“Sure! Where do you want to go? It’s restaurant week!”
The sheer delight of getting a “yes” to dinner plans made K get goosebumps. She quickly messaged out a wider, and wider circle, inviting friends to a dinner out in the city. One by one, they replies came back, all “Yes.” After time-consuming trial-and-error to book a table for the same night at any of the participating restaurants, a request by G sealed the plans for the night.
After a lengthy, but friendly, phone call with a host of La Bodega, dinner plans had been arranged for 8:00 that night. But the restaurant already had two big groups penciled in for 6:30, and the host had concerns about making sure that the groups would have enough time to eat dinner.
“I like to figure for two hours, right? So do you mind if we say 8:30? I’d appreciate the extra time.”
No problem, but of course – what was half an hour, anyway? K had already come this far, no harm in finding something to do with her posse for thirty lousy minutes. She recognized the honesty as a good sign that once her party had seated to dinner, they would be given the same consideration.
“Any special occasion your group is coming out tonight? Perhaps a birthday?” inquired the host. The curiosity was unsurprising.
K chuckled, “No, no special occasion. Just hungry.”
After circling, and idling, luck shined down upon K and T, as they were able to pull into a parking spot under a freeway overpass, as a couple was leaving. If it wasn’t for that moment of being in the right place, at the right time, they might have circled four more times around, or parked much farther down the road. Parking was limited, and cars were snuggled up against one another.
As T and K scuffled across the road, heading towards the restaurant, the street was quiet. It was freezing out, and with each exhale, their breath swirled into tufted sheets of grey, dissolving in the darkness of the evening. They saw bright flames and knew they were close. The door to the restaurant was covered in a portal of velvet curtains, topped by a crown of hot flames licking high up towards the sign. La Bodega. They stepped through, and into the building, congested with bodies and heat.
N and G were near the bar at the front of the restaurant, standing behind the seated bar guests, stool to stool, packed tight like sardines. CB was with them, chilled white sangria in hand, swaying happily in a handsome grey sweater.
“I took an Uber!” CB shouted, grinning. “I’m ready for tapas!”
Small talk about luck, or lack of, with parking was barely audible in the crowded restaurant. Tables were full and lively, the bar cramped but chirping with conversation. Two bartenders were hustling, but looked confident and unbothered. La Bodega had a fully stocked bar, and house specialty cocktail menu, serving both white, and red, sangria. The wait was long for a beverage, and a little awkward to pay while balancing a drink in one hand, and ticket book in the other, but when the cocktail was served up, it was delicious. A favorite sipper of the night was a Cucumber Cup, a variation of a Pimm’s cup, with fresh basil and cucumber.
K wiggled her way back towards the front door, to let the hostess know that the party reservation for 8:30 had arrived, and was mingling with drinks until the time came to corral them to a table. The hostess at the front of the restaurant looked stressed, and distracted, her mind calculating who had paid tabs, who had just ordered drinks, and who was still waiting. She smiled wide and tilted her chin out to let K know she had her full attention.
“It might be a bit longer than we originally anticipated.” The hostess apologized, and pointed out the various tables she was keeping an eye on to turn quick. “There is a large table in the back that was done, but ordered another round of drinks.” She half-smiled and looked apologetic.
K assured her not to worry. “When a table opens up, let us know.”
K was riding the high of having successfully arranged this dinner out with friends It’s Restaurant Week! This isn’t typical! They are working hard, and as quick as they can! K attempted to soothe a few in the group, who were ready to sit, per the original reservation time. The clock struck 9:15 pm, and the group had been there for exactly an hour, and thirty minutes past the reservation, still standing near the bar and sipping drinks.
The hostess swam through the crowded front area to K, “If you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes, I can offer you the private room. It’s outside, but it’s heated and it’s very cozy. Again, I am very sorry about the wait.”
The private dining room was worth the wait, thought K. It was a small, dimly lit space, with several square tables pushed together to make one long table, running down the center of the room. It was indeed, very warm, and very cozy. Perfect, really, for a party of seven. Everyone pulled out a chair and immediately got comfortable. The waitress handed out menus with patience, introducing each placard as she passed them around.
“And this is the last weekend for Restaurant Week, where we are featuring a three course dinner for $33. Would anyone like to order a drink?”
The wine list was an extensive beast of names, trailing the entire back panel of the menu. It was nearly too much to process as actual words, and the waitress offered to recommend something. Perhaps because she already had a white sangria in her, or maybe to appear impressive, K ordered a bottle of Altos de Luzon Crianza (Monastrell Blend) Jumilla, Espana, for no other reason than it had a beautiful sounding Spanish name. This wine sounds like just the red to take the sting out of the winter blues, thought K, hoping that she would be capable of successfully passing off as a veteran “wine-sniffer” when the bottle arrived.
The wine arrived, was poured out to the four who volunteered to drink it, and then concentration was made to the task of ordering exactly what they needed, without ordering too little or too much. G mentioned that, she had heard, for a satisfactory tapas experience, to consider ordering two plates per person. A couple, such as G and N, would order four tapas (small plates) and share. This spirit of sharing was not alien to anyone at the table, as each read off all the dishes that they intended to order, in case someone had concerns for duplicate dishes. This allowed more opportunity to try many things, without taking on the responsibility of a single bill.
While it was true that the Restaurant Week allure had catapulted the group out to dinner, only CM ordered the prix fixe menu for dinner. The rest of the table rolled their r’s the best they could, and requested a variety of hot, and cold, plates offered. There truly was something for everyone, and every palette; goat cheese and fig coulis, mushrooms in garlic & white wine parsley sauce, white bean purée with roasted peppers, and mussels with crumbled chorizo and fennel. The options were truly endless.
The table had been set with dozens of small, ceramic plates, and only a couple were left clean. Bites were shared, and sent down along the row of chairs, each eating and sharing their praise of how delicious the food was. They all agreed that what they ordered was incredibly delicious, and not a spec of food was left to be taken away. N and T concluded that it was likely that everything prepared in the kitchen would have been just as delicious, and they doubted there was a “wrong” thing to order.
As the wine bottle sat empty at the corner of the table, K marveled at this achievement of organizing the most delightful dinner out she had participated in. No detail went unnoticed, as tableware was plenty, water glasses filled often and the convenience of a private restroom enhanced the sensation of a dinner party requiring only that you be sure to leave your plate clean. The walls reflected the flickering glow being thrown from tealights bordering a long counter in the corner, and as the final signature was being written on the last bill, close to eleven p.m., the group agreed that another late dinner out would have to be arranged very soon.
And somewhere between the wine, melt-in-your-mouth steak and desert, CB had tossed his jacket onto the long counter in the corner, and burned a magnificent hole straight through the upper breast of his coat from the perfectly placed, lit tealights.
January in the city can be a cruel month, indeed.
Note: All images included in this post, excluding the Old Fashioned drink image, are the property of the La Bodega website and its owners, and are used here without monetary benefit to the author of this blog. Credit is to the owner of the images, La Bodega.