I turned 62 last week, and new indignities of age already are rushing at me, with their seltzer bottles and flappy paddles, the calliope of time wheezing derisively in the background. You’d think, at threescore and a pair, I’d expect them by now. But no.
We caught the 5:22 to Union Station Thursday night to take our younger son out for an elegant birthday dinner — his, not mine; our birthdays are less than a week apart. He chose Rooh, a trendy progressive Indian restaurant on West Randolph Street.
On the trip downtown, I entertained myself cooking up lame dad puns that I knew later would have to be manfully suppressed.
“I hear the chef is opening a French version of this place, called ‘Rue’, serving Paris street food ...”
“Have you been to his Cajun cafe, ‘Roux’?”
“The chef has one of these in Australia, too. ‘Roo.’”
Really, it’s a sickness.
A pleasant stroll west and north from Union Station. Well, OK, young people did tend to blast up to us, pause as if confused, even slightly offended that we didn’t automatically hop out of their way, then grudging factor our perplexing existence into their navigational systems, then vector around us, picking up speed, like comets slingshotting around a pair of lifeless moons.
We got to Rooh and joined the knot of supplicants at the front door. Edging to the maître d’ station, we gave our son’s name. The gatekeepers huddled, consulted, glanced at us, disapprovingly. Looked at a screen again, murmured, reluctantly agreed it seemed this couple has a reservation upstairs.
I considered tapping my chest and pointing out, “I’m wearing my new L.L. Bean shirt. It’s yellow.” But I tried the not-talking trick my wife has been teaching me, and it worked. We were accepted, almost welcomed, or at least gestured into the restaurant, toward a long staircase.
“Are you OK with the stairs?” a host asked, eyeing us appraisingly. “Or do you need to use the elevator?”
Ouch. Frickin’ ouch. Would the whole evening be like this? The waitress, with an exasperated sigh, snatching up our silverware, leaning over our plates to cut the meat into bite-sized portions? Twirling them before our noses on a fork? “Yummy-yum-YUM! Progressive Indian cuisine! Open the hangar door, gramps, here comes the airplane!”
The meal, by the way, was excellent. Three prawns in a spicy sauce. Two cubes of cheese filled with ground something in another sauce. A tandoori cauliflower. A little pot of lamb keema hyderabadi. Some naan. Five separate plates of grub, reflecting the wide range, multi-spice complexity and superlative excellence of Indian cuisine. No butter chicken though — my fault; I nixed that possibility by uttering “The butter chicken looks good to me,” when we were all stating our preference and deciding what to order.
Then again, the dad’s role is to pay for the meal. The three of us got out of there for only $212.29, including the tip and a mystery “surcharge’ of $6.36 that I assumed is to help them through COVID, but might be the BWC, or “Because We Can” fee. I almost asked what it was for.
But that question seemed, oh, un-celebratory, and I was fairly certain if I did ask, all my son would remember of the evening would be his father poking the bill with his stubby, ink-stained finger and asking in an aggrieved peddler’s voice about the CAF that everybody under 30 knows is on restaurant bills nowadays (CAF = Customary Additional Fee).
“I would go back,” I said to my wife — my highest praise for a pricey place — as we walked down Halsted Street to catch the 8:33 train back to our leafy suburban paradise.
That’s why I love celebrating the boys’ birthdays at trendy places of their choosing. Because paternal affection frees me from the sense of economy I normally bring to dining.
A week earlier, for my own birthday, my wife and I walked over to Little Louie’s on decidedly unhip Shermer Road in Northbrook. I ordered a jumbo kosher char dog, my wife got a grilled chicken sandwich, and we split a bag of french fries and a Green River, sitting at a picnic table in the park across the street, happy as clams. The char dog cost $8.50, but I figured, heck, it’s my birthday. I should splurge.