At the restaurant, you linger in front of the lectern and examine the menu’s offerings.
The décor is attractive, a high-tech bistro style. Its entrance opens onto the hotel’s lobby. It’s mid-afternoon, so there aren’t any dinner guests to make uncomfortable when you peek in. The waiters are busy putting out the place settings and flower arrangements.
In hotels, dinner service begins at six o’clock. At a table underneath a small lamp attached to the wall, a man catches sight of you and nods in greeting. You smile and feel a strong urge to leave, since you already had a look around, but he signals you with his hand to come closer. He seems like the manager, with his navy-blue jacket and red tie. You say hello and tell him that the place is very lovely, that you hadn’t known about it. We just remodeled it, he answers, and asks you to sit down. I came to get a gift from Larios, you say, hedging. He tells you it’ll just take a few minutes, that he wants you to taste a few dishes, that everything’s new, the menu, the chef. Faced with his calm smile and slate-blue eyes, you weakly tell him that you’re not hungry. He reaches out his big hands—you take note of just how big they are—and he orders the waiter to bring a few sample dishes. You think, why not? You like to eat, and this man wants your opinion.
It’s five o’clock, and the waiter sets down two wine glasses and pours a splash into the glass of the man in the blue jacket. He buries his nose in it, inhales, and then asks you if you wouldn’t mind accompanying him in a little tasting. It would be a pleasure, you say, and he explains what a good year it was for this French wine, the harvest of that vintage was fantastic, that this sort of pinot noir goes well with a tuna steak, a little serving of redfish, nearly raw and crusted with pepper, an intensely-flavored slice that your tongue lingers over and that you swallow with your eyes half-closed, afterwards taking a sip from your glass. He watches you, having not even tried his own serving, and he catches you in your gesture, a pleasant expression in the eyes, a pleased sigh. The servings—loin of lamb in puff pastry, a bit of endive with goat cheese, veal with morels—all flow delicately and each in its turn across the white tablecloth and your palate. He tells you that he used to be a dishwasher, and now he’s the restaurant’s manager. The story intrigues you. He’s been to wine tastings all over the world, he personally knows sommeliers who have identified regions, varieties, and vintages while blindfolded.
He calls the waiter and tells him to straighten a painting on the wall and to fill up the salt shakers, his eyes all the while focused on the man’s shoes—they must be perfectly polished at all times, he explains. His slate-blue eyes gaze at you steadily and with a certain pleasure as you taste the Chateau Lafitte that the waiter has uncorked, and you listen to him and observe him as if you were part of a play in which you had the role of submitting to the designs of the leading man. Finally, he offers you a serving of bitter chocolate on a small, white, seashell-shaped plate, and he assures you that it tastes best accompanied by Champagne. So, he takes you by the hand with that big hand of his, and he sweeps you along through the hallways while you discover that he’s tall, and that you like his light chestnut hair and the way he carries himself, and you don’t know whether it’s his mix of French and Scotch heritage or what you learned amidst the dishes, implements, tables, chefs, and waiters that is seducing you.