We took my mother-in-law to dinner at the Harvard Club last night. We chose it because it would be quiet — a rare quality in restaurants that's increasingly important to all three of us. She also has lots of happy memories of dining there back in the "Mad Men" era.
Since it was a summer Tuesday night, the dining room was nearly empty, and it was great to be able to talk across the table in quiet tones, instead of shouting as we have to do nearly everywhere else. My mother-in-law had forgotten her glasses, so my husband read aloud the whole menu. Imagine doing that at, say, Aquitane or Eastern Standard.
Why are restaurants so noisy? Is it because the owners fear we diners are incapable of entertaining each other? I know they want to create a "lively" atmosphere, but liveliness can take the form of the right kind of soft background music and quiet chatter. There doesn't have to be a din; interior design can provide soundproofing or it can amplify every noise. Part of the experience of eating out is having memorable conversations. Maybe restaurateurs are afraid we'll start food fights with strangers if we can overhear what's being said at other tables.
In summer, we prefer a table outside, where we only have to put up with sirens and motorcycles. I'm tired of leaving restaurants with a sore throat from yelling.
You eat at the Harvard Club for its old-fashioned elegance and because the tables are set far apart. You don't head there for outstanding cuisine, but they do a nice job nevertheless. Their menu features decades-old country club standards and more contemporary dishes. You can still find a "Statler" chicken breast, for example. My husband was pleased with his duck à l'orange. My mother-in-law was less thrilled with her crab "martini" appetizer; so much shellfish and greens were crammed into the glass that it kept leaping out as she tried to eat it.
Frequently during our meal, I noticed the host and three servers standing together, turned in our direction, watching us with beady-eyed boredom. A few other diners came in as we ate, so their attention was diverted from time to time, but there was still much more staring than I'm used to. "This is what it must be like to be famous," I thought as I fought to keep some tangled, frilly weed from escaping my fork and lips as they gazed at me. "No thanks."
I don't remember a lot about the meal because I was stressed, falling asleep (a Diet Coke would have cured that, had I been alert enough to order it), and distracted by weighing the pros and cons of the little house in Cambridge silently and aloud (see previous post). My mother-in-law told some good family stories in between the house ruminations. We shared her dessert.
As we left the restaurant, I felt sorry for the Harvard Club for not having a bustling restaurant but happy for us that they don't.
Like all good things, the Club is less than 10 minutes' walk from our apartment. How I enjoy this neighborhood.
I did some thinking and some math today after drinking a lot of Diet Coke. The Cambridge house's new price is still much too high according to my research. Whew. We can keep stalling for awhile; they won't be willing to accept a market-value offer from us yet (assuming we decide to make one). Plus, my wise readers have raised issues. For example, we have not weighed the potential horrors of two-unit condo ownership; the current neighbors sound nice, but they are elderly and they're gonna move out someday.
I also received a charming but firm order to stay in Back Bay.
Okay! I'd rather not have to change the name of this blog.