Friday, August 20, 2010

The One Upper

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with a four year old and a baby? No? You can't stand that guy? Yeah well, that was me too up until about two months ago when I became that guy. Take Fogo de Chao, for instance. Two months ago, my mother-in-law insisted she treat my wife and our two kids to a Brazilian steak house. Now I'm no stranger to Brazilian steak houses, so I know the place we're going is going to be pretty swank. I have a rule that I should not deny a free meal when offered, so despite the fact that I had just had a wisdom tooth pulled, and despite the fact that I have two kiddos who I know for a fact won't make it through the meal without ruining somebody else's evening, I accept.

The rules to these types of places are simple: hit the salad bar, order drinks, and when you're done with your salad, flip a two sided object over so that the green side is up and the red side is down. That's when the fun starts. Waiters with all kinds of beef cuts, along with several chicken and pork cuts, walk around the tables offering slices of their carnivorous goodness to diners with the green side up. The pinnacle of excellence at Fogo is definitely the bacon wrapped fillet mignon. When you've had enough, turn the object back over so that the red side is up and the waiters stop delivering the goods.

Is your mouth watering yet? Now go back to the part where I've just had a tooth pulled. The doc says to only chew on my right side, and add to that I'm not supposed to be eating meat in the first place. Now how does that meal sound? Now let's go back to the fact that there is a four year old whose restaurant experience is limited to the range of McDonald's to The Olive Garden at the very highest end. Throw in a three month old baby minus a second afternoon nap, and we're ready to ruin everybody's evening, mine included.

As bad as it was going to be for me, I figured the wife and mother-in-law could wrangle the four year old, but the baby was having no part of sitting in a car seat for an hour and a half while the adults and big kid sit and eat till they can't bend over.

As I exit the restaurant, baby in arms, I turn to the valet, his name is Jake, and say, "Don't ever have kids." Of course I don't mean this because I am a very doting father and love the heck out of my kids, but Jake replies, "Too late. I have two already." We get to talking about the job. I ask about bearing the heat of the Phoenix pavement in late June. I tell him I can empathize because I was a missionary for the LDS church in Phoenix. He mentions that he too is LDS, talks about his job and how his civil engineering job got downsized due to the recession. We discuss how well people tip. He tells me that Larry Fitzgerald, standout wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals once skipped valet parking because, "we're in a recession." I find out that Jake and his wife are close friends with a couple who are also our good friends. He served part of his mission with a friend of mine from high school. The baby is finally asleep.

Meanwhile, the service for my wife, son and mother-in-law has not been too great. They emerge from Fogo after about two hours of me holding the baby. We get home and a few days after the mother-in-law leaves, my wife calls to find out if we left the baby's blanket. She makes a point about the less than stellar service they had received after I left. The customer service manager offers to make it up to her. She thanks him for the gesture with the provision that although she wasn't expecting anything, she doesn't think it would be worth the drive for a free dessert. The manager sends us a $100 gift card instead.

Fast forward to my wife's birthday. I am low on funds, but high on the idea of treating my wife to a nice dinner. So we use the gift card. The service is great. We have a sitter for the evening who has taken both kids. We notify the manager (per his request) of our arrival. They treat us like gold. The bacon wrapped fillet mignon almost puts me into a blissful food coma. In my wife's eyes, Fogo de Chao has been redeemed. Somebody calls the restaurant and tells them our party has a birthday. They bring out creme brulee on the house. The bill comes. All they want is $1.63. I'm obliged to pay and issue a very gratuitous gratuity. And that, friends, is called a steal.