In one of the latest posts on Trip Advisor, someone wrote that they had a great time at Level in Annapolis, a restaurant with small plate style dining. Apparently, the food was excellent and the drink menu left an impression. They also ordered the Banana Bread Pudding, which Level’s online dessert menu describes as “served with banana brulee and chocolate ganache.” But today’s story isn’t about reviews of dessert menus online with elegant, French-word-riddled-descriptions.
One year, I believe it was back in 2005, my ex planned a surprise birthday party for me. We were supposed to go to Dallas for dinner. I remember she was acting strange, almost nervous and hurried about the plans. So, when it was time for me to get ready, I started the water and pretended to get in the shower. While the water was running, I snuck out of the bathroom and overheard her on the phone telling someone on the other end that we’d be out there to meet up with everyone at 7pm. Through my cunning sleuth skills, I was able to deduce she had arranged a surprise party where all my friends would be waiting. I jumped out buck naked and yelled, “I knew there was going to be a party!” to which she replied, “Great, you ruined your own birthday party, you stupid asshole.” At the time I was pleased as punch. Now I see that I was clearly a stupid asshole for ruining my own party.
From then, I inadvertently became the destroyer of all birthday parties, even ones that weren’t mine! Historically, planning or being part of planning birthday parties has resulted in disaster, especially for Katie. It seems like every birthday we’ve celebrated together, I’ve screwed the pooch. But I told myself this year was going to be different. This year’s key to a successful birthday was a simple checklist. This January I was going to impress Katie.
1. Bring flowers. (Easy promise to deliver on!)
2. Surprise Katie with a birthday dessert. (I’ll order cake. DONE!)
3. Be nice! (This one is going to be a bit more of a challenge, but can be accomplished!)
I just kept referring to this list and telling myself “the simpler the plan, the less chance of failure.”
We arrived at Level right on time with the reservation we set. Jonathan, our waiter, greeted us and gave a thorough rundown of the menu. A few small plates were ordered and the food was pretty good. I’m fully aware “good” is a lame description when you’re a writer. But I’m not a food critic. Food is hot or cold, good or bad. Anyway, as we dined, Katie asked if I had forgotten her flowers. I had. I told this woman earlier in the week I’d bring flowers, and I didn’t.
God damn it. Strike One.
So failure, I guess, WAS an option. One more absent minded faux pas, and then it would be back to the drawing board. As long as dessert made it to the table and I was SUPER NICE (Mr. Rogers NICE) for the rest of the night, everything would be fine.
Halfway through the dinner, I excused myself and pretended to go to the bathroom. I stopped to inform Jonathan that it was Katie’s birthday. He asked if I’d like him to bring a dessert with a candle and I told him that would be perfect. The choices were cheesecake or banana bread pudding. I was leaning toward the cheesecake as I’m pretty sure I know my wife and thought that’d be a safe bet. Just then, the chef walked by and interjected. He told me that the banana bread pudding is amazing. I’m not a fan of bananas in general, let alone banana bread pudding (insert the old lipstick on a pig comment here). I wasn’t sure even Katie would like banana bread pudding, regardless of how it’s prepared. But after a ringing endorsement from the chef himself, how can you even consider cheesecake? I told the chef to slap some Lancôme L’Absolu Rouge on that porker and let’s do it…not in so many words.
For 10 minutes I asked Katie questions about dessert, lightly placing feelers out there to get some feedback on that bread pudding. I was playful in my probing. I would intentionally mispronounce “ganache” as Gah-Na-Chee. But Katie presented her case time and time again, bashing bread pudding, calling it disgusting (it is) and how no one would order it (they wouldn’t). My overall read made it very clear Katie wasn’t going to be too pleased when this banana bread pudding arrived.
I looked for Jonathan, like a lost child looks for a parent at the mall. I tried not to draw too much attention. I needed to notifyJonathan to abort Operation: Banana Gah-Na-Chee, but it was too late! Jonathan was coming to the table. I wanted to run to him and say, “The chef fucked us! This is going to be a disaster! We’re talking Chernobyl! Abort! Abort, goddamn it! She’ll kill us both, you fool!” I imagined the plate hitting the table and the look on Katie’s face, riddled with disappointment. Another year ruined by my inability to make the correct executive decisions. Katie wasn’t going to be the only person disappointed.
In reality, the unwanted, though well prepared, dessert arrived,and it might as well have been a dog turd with a candle on a silver platter. I could read Katie’s face as it landed. The face said, “Oh, that’s why you talked about banana bread pudding for so long. I feel a little silly after everything I said. But I still don’t want it.” We looked at each other and started laughing. All the cogs fell into place and it became clear to Katie what was up with the incessant questions about this fucking banana breadpudding. The situation became funnier by the minute!
I thought to myself “Strike Two. See ya next year.” But Katieawarded me partial credit and said that my intentions were good. And the way it all unfolded made for a good story and a laugh.
Strike that strike! We’re still in the game!
When we got home, Katie picked out a movie she wanted to watch, and we camped on the couch. Before the movie started, I pointed at her and said, “Hey, remember that time you were totally awful at your own birthday and ruined dessert? That was hilarious!” Then started laughing.
Strike Three. Try again in 2020. As the French would say “Merde!”
Should’ve gone with the cheesecake.