Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'll Have What She's Having ... Tapas For Singers

Gracias por su visita: Cafe Cristina in Madrid
We’ve all been there before: you go to a restaurant with friends, sit down, order, chit-chat while you wait for the food, slowly gaining an appetite for what you just ordered. Then the waiter brings the meals and you see what your neighbor has -- oh, now that looks delicious. Why didn’t I order that?
Now your own meal is unsatisfying, but you’re stuck with it. It’s a chore to finish, and the one or two morsels that your kind friend has allowed you to sample from her plate are not enough to appease your desire. Why didn’t you order that? Trading plates would be a bit awkward, and besides, why should your friend have to give up the meal she’d been craving all along just to make you happy?
Ah, envy.
I often go out to eat alone, usually when I’m in the mood for something specific and feel the urge to have it right that minute. I happen to live across from a very good café, and I only go there to eat when I want “my usual”. When I walk in, the wait staff already knows my order (oh my god, I’m turning into my dad), and if I ask for something different, they’re startled and ask me if I’m okay. 
If I want a bagel, there are only a couple places that serve them right, and ordering one anywhere else is taking a risk. Speaking of which, who knows why I continue to try Mexican restaurants here in Germany, having been disappointed by every single one, but I never give up hope.
Ah, hope. Ah, regret.
It was at my trusty Stammlokal (regular place) a while back where I got a sandwich (not my “usual”) on bread that was rock hard. I took a bite and thought, ‘Ewww, this is hard!’ but took three more bites, considered just eating the contents of the sandwich and not the bread, before working up the nerve to ask them to make a new one. This was, of course, no problem at all for them. But the fact that it took me so long to change my order - seriously, it was a conundrum - was an alarm signal to me.
Ah, the point....
At the smörgåsbord of singing, there are plenty of things to choose from:
Comprimario a la mode
for starters, a light load of small roles (no butter)
comprimario topped with mild recognition and a twist of lemon
Concert Combination Plate
only available at Christmas and Easter, or other special occasions 
Summer Salad
not quite as filling as a main dish, served on the terrace, possibly in the rain
Prima Donna
a filling portion of hearty goodness, well done, served in three to five acts, finishing with a glass of wine and a bouquet of roses

With such a selection, sometimes it's hard to know what you want, until you see someone else getting it.
To celebrate the completion of a production last weekend, I went with my colleagues to our temporary Stammlokal, a wonderful tapas bar just around the corner from the theater. Although we were used to their somewhat lackadaisical service, the food is very good, and the drinks are a-plenty. Plus we enjoyed each other’s company, so the slow service never really mattered. But on this particular night, the orders got mixed up. Somehow, we all waited almost an hour to get any food, the drinks took a while, and we had to go a beg for a basket of bread to tide us over, having just come very hungry from our last performance. 
My order, even though I'd been the first one there, was the very last to trickle in, tapa by delicious tapa. All the while, people who had arrived after me were getting their dishes. They were offering me bites of this and that - would you like an albondiga? How about a patata arrugada? You want a bit of my tortilla? For once, I was completely happy with what I ordered. And although I was getting cranky from hunger, impatient, seriously near tears, and maybe even a bit rude, I declined their gracious offerings by sternly replying, “Thank you, but I want the food that I ordered!” And when my boquerones finally arrived, I savored every perfect bit. Giddy with joy, I shared my pimientos, and relished my manchego like it was a bar of rare, exquisite chocolate.
Ah, the lesson.
As I see some of my friends making their debuts at major opera houses, or premiering roles I wish I would have been hired to sing, or planning the births of their babies between gigs, or taking on jobs with decent salaries, I wonder if that’s what they ordered in the first place. Or if perhaps they’re looking at my plate, wishing they could have a bite of mine.