Being broke and being a foodie may seem paradoxical, but I assure you, it is merely extremely difficult and involves long, willful gazing at food photography and heart-breakingly buying boxed grocery sushi, knowing it just won’t be the same.
Having saved up enough for a nice meal, I couldn’t wait to try out Cuoco, a Tom Douglas restaurant located in Seattle’s South Lake Union. Be it another one of his restaurants downtown or through an enterprise like his partnership with Starbucks (where he helped create a coffee blend that pairs with Thanksgiving dinner), Mr. Douglas’s name is constantly in the Pacific Northwest air. Yet of his fifteen restaurants, until last week, I had yet to try a single one.
When I sat down for lunch last Wednesday, I was pleased with Cuoco’s ambience –nostalgic with its brick and green-bordered windows lining the walls like an old-timey train station, but with touches of modernity in its large-scale paintings and trendy bar/lounge. I had heard good things about the place – it featured organic produce, hand-made pasta, and highly touted drinks.
With the unlikely appearance of the sun that cool October afternoon, I opted to splurge on a glass of 2009 Cabernet-Merlot along with pork meatballs over spaghetti.
My noodles were cooked perfectly – they had that wondrous toothsome texture, and the tomato-garlic sauce had just enough heat to brighten an otherwise simple meal. It wasn’t until most of my plate was clean that I finally slowed down.
I had a few strands of spaghetti left and a whole meatball. I speared the ball with my fork and eyed it with conviction – I had saved for this meal and I was going to savor all of it.
But then I saw a dark clump on the side of the otherwise smoothly textured, lightly sauced pork. What is that? I thought. A burn? Some sauce? I poked it. No, it’s coming off, and as a piece of fuzz clung to my nail…oh wait, it’s hair! At first, I thought it must just be a part of the pork, but after a closer examination, I saw clearly that it wasn’t just a few bristles. It wasn’t a freshly fallen strand that had innocently found itself laying atop a forkful of spaghetti, no. It was a mingling of follicles and lint nestled in a clump
No doubt about it, I was looking at a hairy meatball!
As someone who goes out to eat fairly often, it is almost impossible to avoid such an incident; in fact, finding a stray hair in food is somewhat de rigueur. But a clump! A small mass? A dust bunny of cilia? My thoughts raced with possible explanations, anything to excuse the rising sense of disgust and disappointment building in my belly. Perhaps it fell from the ceiling or from a dirty exhaust vent… These scenarios did not make me feel better. And I hated thinking about it, but disturbing questions kept popping up: Who’s hair was it? Was it even human? Could it be the hair of, say, a cat? Of an opossum?
Faced with the dilemma of either telling my very friendly server about the fibrous gob or keeping it to myself and risking another customer finding their own, I decided to give notice.My waiter apologized profusely, and when my check was dropped off, all that was on the bill was wine.
I had not expected my meal to be comped, which not only saved me my hard-earned pennies but had the happy side effect of quieting my stomach and generally increasing the enjoyment of my experience at Cuoco.
Now I’ll be able to afford my next Tom Douglas meal.
Maybe if I’m lucky, history will repeat itself thirteen more times. Then I can get a taste for all that each of Mr. Douglas’s establishments has to offer.