Feb 102008

I had an unpleasant experience at a restaurant last night. Well, not entirely. Certain parts of the evening were very pleasant indeed: some friends of my mom, whom I’d never met before, were out visiting the area and had invited me to join them for dinner. One had been a fan of Scoma’s in San Francisco, so I suggested we try out the one in Sausalito.

On retrospect, I wish I hadn’t – it wasn’t very good. I had ordered what sounded like a creative and potentially delicious way to present salmon, but it instead turned out to be disappointing and overcooked. I suppose it would have been proper to send it back, but I find it morally distasteful to waste seafood. It’s probably morally distasteful to waste any food, but I find seafood particularly so. Catching and eating fish impacts the environment in a much more significant way than it does with domestically-raised food. The latter certainly leaves its own unfortunate footprint on the environment, but the capture of the fish means that there’s now one less fish to breed more fish. Its absence from the ecosystem is much more acutely-felt than the absence of, say, a cow or a chicken, whose overall supply is less fragile. Perhaps it would be better then to eschew all seafood altogether, at least until the effects of over-fishing have been mitigated, but I tend to agree with the philosophy of Blogfish’s Mark Powell, that enjoyment of seafood and concern for the environment are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Promoting one can promote the other. At the same time, however, I’m trying to be increasingly cognizant of the effects one has on the other, and thus anytime I eat a fish I try to make it count. Cooking one wrong, then, distresses me beyond the mere annoyance the unpleasant gastronomic experience alone would cause because it constitutes a waste of so much more than just the waste of a meal.

But the food was only part of the problem last night. The other was the people. Not at my table, of course, with whom I was happily jabbering away. I mean the women two tables over who somehow found my jabbering away offensive to them. And decided to passively aggressively disrupt it with a loud, “SSSHHH!!!”

It was a small room filled with lots of conversation. I was talking loud enough to be heard by people at my table over the ambient din, and while I’m sure I was audible to others in the room, just as every other conversation was audible to me, I spoke at a normal conversational volume. And not to someone over a cellphone — to real people sitting right in front of me.
But that wasn’t good enough for them, and soon after being interrupted by their shushing we could then clearly hear them griping in a very insulting way about the very fact that we were talking to each other at all. That was, of course, the idea — we weren’t dining together just for the sake of sustenance. It was an inherently social occasion, and, like most social occasions, it involved talking to each other.

Their behavior was very weird, and very unpleasant. They were clearly out of line. Had we actually been interfering with their dining experience the appropriate course of action would have been for them to have had a discreet word with the waiter, who could then have had a discreet word with us. But then, we weren’t doing anything that could have possibly ruined their dinner. In fact, it turns out they were already done with it, as no sooner had they managed to ruin ours that they laid down their money on their bill and left.

Their departure helped dissipate the cloud of negativity they’d cast over our evening, but still I found the whole thing too depressing to shake off. I don’t mean this as facetiously as it may sound, but how ever can we realistically hope for something important like peace in the Middle East when we can’t even get some civility at a Scoma’s in Sausalito?

 Posted by at 4:48 pm

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