When I was ten or eleven, my parents took my little sister and me to the Front Room for dinner. Our front room. The family, in our house, in the East Bay front room. We, my little sister and I, were told to go upstairs, clean up and put on the nice clothes that my mother had laid out for us. Then we were told to come downstairs at exactly 5:30 for “Fancy Dinner.” Wow, fancy dinner? I really did not know what to expect. But, being the growing boy that I was, I did as I was told and put on my nice slacks and shoes, clean shirt, a little blue blazer that I had and a clip on tie. (I looked good.) My little sister had patent leather shoes and a Gunny Sack dress.
In the front room, where we were forbidden to take food EVER, was a table set with four chairs, a table cloth and mother’s fine china and silver. “Wow, what’s the big deal mom?” I asked, thinking maybe dad got a promotion or I was getting a bicycle.
“This weekend we are going to all go out to a fancy restaurant and tonight we are going to practice our manners.”
“Okay, are we having tuna casserole tonight?”
“No, we are having steak. Now pay attention please.”
My mother and father then demonstrated how to hold a chair out for a lady and I did so for my sis. We placed napkins on our laps and engaged in small talk while my father poured wine for my mother and himself. We got to drink soda, which was a big deal in our house. My mother reminded us of our table manners: fork in left hand, knife in right, small bites, bring the food to your mouth, do not lean over your plate, chew your food completely and swallow before talking. Eat slowly, comment on how good the food is to your host, use your knife or a slice of bread to help put food on your fork, never your fingers. Wipe your mouth and hands on your napkin then place it on your lap again. Only when you are completely finished do you place your napkin on the table. This signals the waiter that you are finished.
I do not remember exactly what the meal was that night but I distinctly remember the lessons my parents taught me that night. I cannot tell you the number of times that these small courtesies have kept me from being embarrassed at dinner parties as a young man. As an older man I am happy when I leave a restaurant without gravy streaks running down the front of my shirt. Which unfortunately . . . In any event, forestalling the time when placing a napkin in my collar will be a requirement rather than an option, I cling to the lesson my parents shared that night and ma thankful for those and the many other lessons they shared. Some I took to heart, others, well others . . .
This weekend I got a chance to practice my manners once again with my dearest companion. The place we chose to dine? The Front Room of course. My darling dinner guest had never eaten there so we decided to pop in for a drink and a bite. What I dearly love about the Front Room is their full on, dinner house, cocktail bar. There is something reassuring to me about a fully stocked bar manned by a bartender in a white shirt and black tie. We order gin and tonics and were met with a very enjoyable cocktail, wink wink. Being light eaters, we ordered ala carte, I the lasagna and she, a small pizza. We engaged in small talk over our cocktails enjoying the window table with a view of Mare Island. Our food arrived hot and well prepared. I consumed my meal in that single seating while the smarter one of us had leftover pizza to take home. Full of sauce and carbs we bowed out of dessert and happily paid our bill.
The Front Room is a traditional dinner house in every way. They bring warm bread to the table and offer a full menu to choose from. The cocktails? As I said, the real deal. Thanks Mom and Dad for showing me the way.
Until next time,
Eat Well and Smile Often