By: Heather Somaini
A friend of mine was telling me recently of the great detail and excitement that another friend was providing about a dinner she had at The French Laundry, the famed restaurant in Yountville, CA. I listened as my friend seemed in awe of how amazing the food was, the excitement that each course was explained to her in words that seemed otherworldly. I could see that my friend was lost in this dreamland of amazing food, great wine, and brilliant surroundings.
I hated to disappoint her but then again I wasn’t – sometimes it is fun to have the upper hand. I told her the food wasn’t THAT great. She looked at me and kept talking. I said, “I’ve eaten there three times. It’s very good but it’s not rave-about-every-morsel good.” My friend seemed somewhat disappointed. She sort of didn’t want to believe me but then she had to; she knows me well enough. I wouldn’t lie to her and I know my food.
It made me think about experiences, expectations, and memory. Why are some experiences better than others? Why is one event more memorable than the one before? How is it that a Dodger dog on a hot summer night for a young boy might be the meal of a lifetime? But a pizza near the train station in Venice, Italy has kept me chasing the dragon for years?
I had grand expectations of my first dinner at French Laundry and it was great. I loved it. It was delightful. But the dinner I had at my own house a week ago was truly amazing. The wine was flowing. The food was excellent. Our surroundings were lovely. The people were delightful. The conversation was exceptional. We laughed all night long telling stories most of us had never heard before. I haven’t laughed that hard or had as much fun in a long time.
So what makes one dinner over another so amazing? What is that elusive quality or set of qualities that turns an ordinary evening into something special, even spectacular? What is the secret ingredient? Are we even looking for it, trying to recreate it? Do we have expectations and do they color our memory of an event? Do our memories even match up to what actually happened?
I think my favorite memories were all unexpected. It was a restaurant we just stopped in to because we needed to kill some time before a train (that amazing pizza in Venice). It was people I didn’t realize I would like so much or have so much in common with. It was a feeling I didn’t know existed let alone I could have.
It was the woman that emailed me a very funny, flirty line, the wine I just ‘stopped in’ to try, the kiss that was suddenly happening, the tiny arms wrapped around my neck whispering goodnight before they run to their beds.
When I think back to the things I love, they’re always unexpected.