As Good As It Gets

??????????????????Traveling with three kids for several months leaves little room for romance. For the first time, Donna and I got a chance to escape for an evening. We found a “Tex-Mex” take out place and got a bunch of knockoff tacos for the kids. They tuned the set to MTV and promised not to set the apartment on fire.

At sunset, Donna and I strolled into the warm, evening air looking for just the right place to spend our precious night. One restaurant got our attention right away. Through the shiny pane windows we viewed arched ceilings and brick walls turned golden by soft lighting. The ambiance was perfect. Evidently everyone in town thought the same thing because it was jam packed. We glanced at the price list – it was way out of our budget..

“What the heck Jeffery, how often do we get a date night in Florence?”

Outside the restaurant, Donna noticed a handful of tables on the sidewalk. One small table sat empty and isolated at the end. It sat beside a sewer vent and the aroma was notably pungent. We realized this was the reason nobody was sitting there.

Once inside, the aroma was much better – warm smells of braised beef and fresh herbs. A young hostess with a kind smile asked if we’d like the table outside. I shook my head while plugging my nose. She smiled and I got the impression she’d been trying to fill it all night. She assured our wait wouldn’t be long. It really didn’t matter because there was plenty of entertainment surrounding us. Couples sat by candlelight sipping wine. Waiters shot out from behind the kitchen doors revealing bountiful plates of seafood and vegetables.

Suddenly we heard a deep voice growling behind us. “I had reservations for nine o’clock.” A grey haired man wearing a polo shirt and khakis stood at the entrance. A woman his age stood beside him. Our hostess calmly asked him to wait for a moment. He deliberately raised his arm and gawked at his watch. He shook his head back and forth, displaying the usual tantrum gestures. The hostess maintained her kind smile.

“Nine o’clock means NINE O’CLOCK,”  he blurted out five minutes later. I was expecting to see more heads turning yet everybody ignored him.

He made his way toward our part of the line and blurted out some more gibberish. Donna turned around and faced him directly. “They are getting your table ready, Sir.” He looked a little shocked by her words and I don’t think he was sure whose side she was on.

“Your table.” The hostess said moments later, pulling the couple from the line. The man’s face beamed with satisfaction. We watched the hostess lead them outside to the sewer vent table.

* * *

When she came back she lead us into the main dining room which bustled with satisfied diners. She sat us at a heavy Tuscan-style table with a handful of others which added to the festive atmosphere. We had enough space to ourselves to feel private. I ordered a bottle of Chianti Classico and we relaxed and just sat there taking in our surroundings. It had been months since we’d been alone like this. It felt like one of our first dates.

Our waitress delivered a plate of blanched zucchini drizzled with truffle oil and topped with toasted pine nuts and shavings of Parmigiano Reggianio. It was simple, yet the flavor was exceptional.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” I said, trying to speak with my mouth full.

The next plate was pumpkin ravioli stuffed with peaches. It was covered with gorgonzola cream sauce. My God, the balance between all these flavors was amazing. Saying that it tasted good would be a gross understatement. I’ve always thought that enjoying great food like this was spiritual experience – deeper than what simply triggers the taste buds.

Next came spaghetti with lobster sauce. Donna and I hardly spoke because the food commanded our full attention. I picked up my glass and raised it. “To Italia.”

The Column of Abundance in the Piazza della Repubblica in the MoOutside, the streets had really come to life. A little tipsy from the Chianti Classico, we strolled hand in hand. The sweetest music floated toward our ears. We followed the sound to a violin player who’d found the perfect acoustics in a courtyard surrounded by tall stone buildings dripping with Renaissance-era architecture. We joined the handful of people who’d also been drawn in. I gave Donna a kiss. The music was soothing, yet powerful. The moment consumed me. I knew this was something I could only experience once, and thank God I was experiencing it.

NEXT POST: Note to Reader from Jeff

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