UNITED STATES— Jenny, who was minding the glutens, had been blissfully gluten free for more than a year. Her doctor had been treating her for Hashimoto’s disease and recommended that she stopped being a glutton for glutens. “All I know is I lost ten pounds and I feel ten years younger.” Famous last words before she was lured, as I was, into San Francisco’s legendary House of Prime Rib for a mutual friend’s milestone birthday.
Here everyone is treated like a King, a gluten-loving, beef-eating king. Given our dietary preferences, Jenny and I became fast allies against the evil axis of glutens.
“Anything wrong?” she asked, seeing the strain on my face. I admitted that I wasn’t feeling so hot about the order I had just made for a la carte cut of prime rib. Nothing was a la carte in this place; it all came with a heaping helping of glutens. A la carte for the House of Prime Rib meant that the plate came without a salad.
“I really wish I could have a salad,” I said wistfully.
“Well you should be able to have what you like,” Jenny said. “At least go and ask our waiter.”
Jenny was right. You can always ask. As usual, the best antidote to malaise was action. So I got up to chase our waiter, but he had disappeared into a Loch Ness of happy diners. There I stood looking dumbstruck and befuddled at the crazy intersection between three crowded dining rooms. A guy in a shiny olive green suit, who pretty much filled my expectations for car salesman, asked if he could help me. I said I’d like to have a salad with my slab of beef. He calmly said, “We’ll take care of you.”
“How did it turn out?” Jenny asked upon my return to the table.
“I talked to a manager and he said they’ll take care of me.”
As it turned out, two dueling waiters brought out giant salad bowls and operatically recited the contents of the salad, on opposite ends of the baronial table, while they tossed the dressing-drenched greens. It was a long list of ingredients including arugula, baby beets, and special gluten-laced dressing.
The mother-in-law of my friend who had invited us here to be tortured by glutens and celebrate his 50th birthday, the mother-in-law was a Cambodian woman who has never learned English. During her decades in America she hasn’t warmed up to salads, either. The waiter handed her one. She promptly removed it from the patch of table cloth in front of her and placed it in the middle of the table. The waiter, zealous to empty the giant bowl, handed her a new plate of salad to automatically fill the empty space.
The mother-in-law kept holding her hand out, signaling she didn’t want it, and the waiter served yet another salad. So I ended up with like three salads to accompany my a la carte cut. It helped balance the plethora of gluten-filled delights: creamed spinach and a Mount Everest of mashed potatoes, even though I had ordered a baked potato. So I still got the baked potato with chives, and hold the sour cream (gotta draw the line somewhere). At the end of the meal the waiter came around and became a pitchman for dessert—it was the final snare in this gluten gauntlet.
Jenny, the minder of glutens delightedly found a gluten-free chocolate cake on the menu, which was the only gluten-free item they had besides gluten-free water. She was happy with her gluten-free wedge of chocolate cake. We were all very happy and at the end of the evening each of us was given a swag bag to take the extra glutens home and, of course, our slab of leftover prime rib which I brought back to what San Franciscans would call La La Land.
I’ll give them that. Because here, with dangerous enclaves like Santa Monica and Calabasas it wouldn’t be beyond the pale to conceive of a gluten-free zone being created. All well and good. But how boring to deny that place where a merry heart reigns, dietary caution is thrown to the wind, temporarily, and all can say afterward what a good time was had.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” available on Amazon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.