I was beginning to like this place already, although the hummingbird sanctuary was a spot on the horizon about 9 miles away. Oh, well, it’s the thought that counts.
My companion was more upbeat and said “Whoa, cool, a hummingbird sanctuary! Right outside our window!”
Presently our wait-staff-person arrived.
“Welcome to Luciano, Mr. Two and companion. I am Dante your wait-staff-person for the evening and I will do my best to ensure you experience dining excellence. If I fail I will turn in my apron, leave this establishment forever and join the Foreign Legion. Ha, ha! That is an amusement on my part I call the Beau Geste. Would you prefer a drink before dinner?”
“Yes,” I said enthusiastically, “I’ll have a triple gin and tonic and a Perrier with lime for my companion.”
“You are very drôle,” Dante replied, “you ordered a fattening drink for yourself and a French water for your skinny companion. You nearly caught me in your prank. That will be two San Pellegrino waters with lime. Very funny, Mr. Two!”
As we waited for our drinks to arrive we glanced at the menu and found ourselves in the middle of a dilemma.
“Holy Moly, I want to eat all this stuff!”
I was more eloquent. “Mama mia sweet Tower of Pisa, look at all this chow!”
Indeed, the menu was resplendent with culinary fare not found at your Golden Arches, Fudrucker’s or Chili’s along the frontage road.
No, we had tapped into the Mode Della Madre.
For Starters we could have:
Red Chile Poached Scampi
Caprese of Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Sliced Meats
Truffled Pan Seared Scallops
Quagilia Cimichurri of Texas Quail and Chickpea puree
Duck Meat Ravioli with sun-dried Tomato-Serrano Crema
Pasta alla Chitarra Verde
Pennette Alle Vongole
And for Entrees we were faced with
Wild Salmon di Parma
Roasted Pork Tenderloin
Australian Lamb Chops
Filetto Di Manzo with Black Truffle-Veal reduction
Poussin al Mattone with White Truffle-Pecorino Risotto
Veal Osso Buco and Toasted Garlic Broccoli Rabe
Our drinks arrived just as our minds overheated with anticipation.
“Are you ready to order, Mr. Two and companion?” Dante enquired.
“Yes, I think we are.” Taking a guess, “We’d like to start with the Caprese.”
Dante nodded, turned on her heel and strode off to the kitchen. I was in the middle of my “And we’d like to order…” but that would come later.
The Caprese was more than the menu described. Served on an artist’s pallet it was an artistic expression of food in three dimensions: sauce and cheese to the left and right with a tower of meat, olives and endive. The chef signed his masterpiece in balsamic vinegar along the bottom edge. We weren’t sure if we should eat it or frame it. After a quick vote, we ate it.
Subtle and light, the various goat cheeses and preserves contrasted nicely with the herb and pepper bread. Tangy and refreshing.
Dante returned carrying two small square white plates and held them just out of our gaze. Observing the debris on the table she commented, “I see you enjoyed the Caprese. Chef Perez sends you this amuse bouche.” And with a flourish she placed the two small plates in front of us.
The amuse bouche consisted of a perfectly sautéed shrimp, seasoned sharply with red pepper amid a dollop of buttered orzo. Tiny cocktail forks proportional to the orzo enabled us to enjoy the amuse bouche in several bites, rather than slurping the thing off the plate in one go. I guess by this time we were starting to become refined. Extending our pinkie finger we indulged the amuse bouche.
Dante glided by to take our dinner order. Companion chose Anatra Barbacoa Ravioli, the duck, and I chose Filetto Di Manzo, the filet mignon medallions.
Enjoying the ambience of the evening we regarded the other diners huddled around their table candles in quiet, intense conversation. From the kitchen we heard singing. Not a radio, but the chefs delighting in their work. Glancing out the window a flock of hummingbirds in V-formation glided silently to the pond in the distance.
Suddenly, the kitchen doors burst open and several white-clad chefs bustled out dragging along a young chef obviously passed out. They propped the young man up in a chair and mopped his brow with a damp towel. Slowly, he roused and looked around.
Dante glided to our table with a concerned look on her face. “That’s Chef Perez,” she whispered, “apparently, he outdid himself cooking your dinner. Your meal will be out shortly.”
And shortly it was.
The plates were arranged with breathtaking artistic precision. Layer upon layer of culinary art. Taking it all in we became dizzy. Anticipating this effect, Dante held out small oxygen masks for us and we took a few short breaths.
Turning to leave Dante said, “It is not a crime to eat such a masterpiece.” Then, she was gone.
We didn’t so much “chow down” as nibbled around the edges, in silence but with an increasing sense of urgency. Time stood still. The candle flame stopped flickering. People moved in slow motion.
The steak, cooked to perfection, lay astride delicate Japanese broccoli, nestled against a sculpture of garlic-mashed potatoes with the truffle reduction forming an aromatic reflecting pool along the bottom.
The duck ravioli was no less impressive. A piquant duck mixture lovingly wrapped in a delicate pasta case bathed in a creamy, sun-dried tomato sauce. The ravioli were arranged at 43-degree angles from each other, the optimum angular separation for ravioli.
Leaning back in our chairs we surveyed the damage. Perfectly cleaned plates. You could use them again without washing. The busboy rolled by and asked us if we had completed our course. We assented and he removed the plates.
We then got into an intense conversation about dessert. Should we our shouldn’t we. What about the calories? What about the taste! It’s overindulging! We’re worth it! And so it went.
Dante appeared with two plates. On each was a modest warm chocolate soufflé erupting a tiny stream of rich, hot, chocolate lava. "You would not want to live the rest of your lives deprived of these," she explained.
Discussion terminated and, unabashedly, we dug in. We showed those soufflés no mercy. We tamed those bad boys and taught them who was boss! Who da man? Huh, soufflé, you lookin’ at me?
Slowly, our frenzy abated and we sat back exhausted but satisfied. Darkness had enveloped the city and the lights sparkling out to the horizon comforted us that all was well.
Later, outside the restaurant we paused and asked ourselves if such a meal had actually happened. We marveled at the complex chain of events that conspired in close precision to bring us to this exact spot at this exact point in time. Had we arrived in town on Sunday or Tuesday we would have had an adequate meal at an adequate restaurant. Had we turned right instead of left we might have succumbed to the Golden Arches. Had we been in the right lane instead of the left we would have eaten a perfectly OK hamburger. Each error of our ways brought us inexorably to Luciano.
However, on this night, in this town and at this time we experienced something spectacular. A meal with no fault. Excellent food. Perfect service. A mid-summer’s night dream. In San Antonio. Did it really happen? Was it real?
May all to Hilton back again repair,
And think no more of this night's accidents
But as the fierce vexation of a dream.