It’s always been a tradition in my family, on your birthday, to pick the restaurant where the family goes to eat together that night. When I was a kid I’d pick one of my favorite burger joints – I only ate burgers and peanut butter, no veggies please. My brother invariably picked whatever Mexican place was currently popular. He liked a place named Taco Villa that we went to a lot, probably because he knew I hated Mexican food and especially Taco Villa. Like I said, I was a picky eater. My mother always picked a modest, affordable restaurant. My father always chose to eat at home because it was cheaper. Ah, growing up.
When I met the Rock Chick and her daughter I expanded the tradition to my new family. My wife took the reigns on that one and started picking whatever the newest, trendiest, most expensive restaurant in town was. I am pleased to report that over the years she has modulated her choices and backed away from some of the Birthday Dinner excesses of our early days together. This was a woman who ordered steak and lobster on our first lunch date… I don’t think she thought she’d see me again so she was intent on milking the lunch for all it was worth. Her daughter always chose, and continues to choose, a local Japanese steak joint. It’s probably the funnest of the Birthday Dinner traditions. Even my wife’s sister shows up for that one, although only my daughter and I agree to catch the flying shrimp.
With the introduction of the Rock Chick and her daughter’s Birthday dinners, my parents stepped up their game. My mother started picking nicer restaurants around town and my dad would choose a different BBQ joint every year. Kansas City has a lot of BBQ joints to choose from so it worked out pretty well. After the holidays, things slow down for everybody so by February, when my dad’s birthday is, we’re all ready to get together and get out.
So it came to pass this month, my father made a rather startling selection for his Birthday Dinner. He called up and said, “Ken, I don’t want BBQ this year, this year I want to go down to the Kona Grille.” Hmmm, I had to ask him if he realized that the Kona Grille is a sushi place? “Ken, I’ve eaten there plenty of times before I retired. We used to go there for lunch.” This was news to me. Have you ever ordered the sushi? “Well, no, but now is the time.” I was proud of my father for getting outside his comfort zone. I enthusiastically reported the news of his Birthday Dinner choice to the Rock Chick and my daughter, who laughed and said, “Senior is going to try sushi?” My whole life my father treated sushi as a trick the Japanese were playing on us in retribution for World War II. He felt the same way as Robin Williams who once joked, “I imagine the Japanese staff in the back room, laughing and saying, “we got them to eat the raw fish, let’s see if we can trick them into drinking hot wine too.” That pretty much summed up my dad’s opinion of sushi.
The night of the big Birthday Dinner, we all rode down to the sushi place together. My father sat next to me as we dined on the appetizers and drank the warm wine. He kept elbowing me and pointing to different rolls on the menu. “How about that one, huh?” as if I’d sampled every roll on the menu. “Mmm, crab, that sounds good…” I am not a sushi expert by any stretch of the imagination. “Yes, dad, try the Dragon Roll, by all means, give it a shot.” I just kept nodding and trying to encourage him.
Finally the waitress came to the table to take our orders for the main course. I watched as she went around the table, first to the ladies and then to my father. When she got to my dad, I thought, this is it, the old guy is going to try something new. I couldn’t help but think of it as a big moment for my dad, who is rather stuck in his ways. When the waitress said, “What can I get you, sir,” my dad said quickly, with great conviction, “I’ll take the pork tenderloin, well done.”
Oh, well. Maybe next year.