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Diary of a Restaurant – Ch 19: Mildred’s First New Years Eve

Jan 1, 2021

A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher

In our first year of dinner service, we were uncertain whether we should offer a special menu on New Year’s Eve. The perception of Mildred’s as a casual dining spot, coupled with the fact that we didn’t take reservations, might work against us in attracting  an appreciative crowd. Donna and Anne were confident that they could create a festive menu that would appeal to our regulars and make the evening a happy and memorable one. Ted and Ivan were on board and keen to do some decorating.

Expectations are high for New Years Eve. For all the carefree jollity associated with it, there is a serious aspect underlying the holiday. This ordinary winter night that divides one calendar year from another is seen to mark a significant division – we shed the old year and with it our failures and bad habits. We resolve that the new year will feature a new us – slimmer, healthier and accomplished. A glass of something sparkling and a kiss at midnight seals the deal.

We wanted to avoid the frenzy and anti-climax that New Years Eve often becomes – the melee at the bar, before midnight, desperate hands reaching out as if you were the pilot of the Titanic’s last lifeboat, followed by the anticlimactic realization that nothing much has changed but you’ve lost a cufflink or your mascara is running.  

Our hope was that our guests would enjoy a lively festive dinner, relishing the food and the midnight toast, making enough noise to banish the evil spirits of the past and bring everyone luck in the new year. To be sure, Anne’s menu was spectacular – beginning with a shrimp and lemongrass fumet with crabmeat dumplings. Appetizers were smoked salmon with herbed mascarpone, norimaki with cucumber and avocado and little puff pastry tarts with chèvre and grilled sugar pears. The main courses offered grilled Arctic char, a shallot and polenta flan with mushrooms, roast rack of lamb and Tournedos Rossini – a fillet of beef topped with foie gras and a Madeira jus. For dessert there was plum pudding, lemon tart and chocolate cake!

As it was such a special occasion and we were offering a limited menu, we had decided to take reservations after all and it looked like we would have a full seating. It was spread out over the evening, as some early tables were going on to house parties, but the majority would be with us until midnight. It had the makings of a pleasant and successful evening.

The room was looking great; Ted and Ivan were still busy adjusting and tweaking, and the waiters, looking sharp, were busy setting tables. I noticed Ivan stopped, rubbing his hand across the back of one of the banquettes, turned to Ted and said something quietly. Ted examined the banquette; they spoke again and Ted disappeared out the door. When he came back he had several cans of gold spray paint.

“We’re going to touch up the backs of the banquettes; they’re not looking so bright.”

 It was true that the delicate peach colour had darkened. Built for a film shoot, they were totally impractical, the pleats were held in place by what we thought must be white glue. Any attempt to clean stains opened them into loose billows. 

“But you can’t paint them now. We have guests coming in a couple of hours.”

“Oh, it dries really fast.” said Ted, “It’ll be dry in five minutes.”

So they sprayed the backs of all the banquettes and the regular chairs as well for good measure. They seemed to have an unlimited supply of gold spray paint.

The paint did seem to dry as quickly as Ted promised but I was still apprehensive when a couple walked in and asked for a table. Even though they had not reserved, we had no problem accommodating them. They were an oddly matched couple –  he was short and jittery, his leather trench coat cinched tight about his waist and his oiled hair carefully combed back. His partner was easily a head taller than he even without the stiletto heels she wore, beautifully made up and dressed elegantly in a short black dress and a short black fur jacket. 

“Ah, this will test the paint job!” I thought.

As I was seating them, he said, lighting a cigarette, “She wants to eat. I’ll have a coffee.”

“I’ll have a steak, please,” she said.

“Would you like to see a menu?”

“Do you have a steak?”

“Yes, we have a lovely Tournedos Rossini with…”

“Is that a steak?”

“Yes, it’s a beef fillet with foie…”

“I’ll have that – rare, and a black Russian.

When the meal arrived, she ate with intent, without speaking  and downing three more black Russians, while her partner smoked and fidgeted. When she had finished, he signaled for the bill and they got up to leave. I noticed that the back of her fur was dusted with gold. I held my breath as his hand reached up to brush it – and it came off, glitter falling to the floor.

“Over-enthusiastic decorators” I said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Or me,” she laughed, “I seem to shed glitter wherever I go.”

I watched them as they left, walking through the early evening snow out of the parking lot and up Dovercourt Road. I wondered where they had come from, where they were going and what had brought them to us. And what kind of an evening was it going to be?

But the evening went as perfectly as we could have wished. Laughing and talking, our guests raved about the food and each had a full glass to toast the new year. If anyone seemed to have a strip of gold across their backs at the end of the evening, it got brushed away easily like the old year. 

What we call the beginning is often the end 
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

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