In the restaurants of Florence, Italy.
Apparently, in the restaurants of Florence, one does not send a dish back. Or, if one does, one must be very, very sure it is inedible, and that the waiter understands this.
So, you ask, what could possibly make food in Italy, of all places, inedible? I was not in the kitchen, so I don’t know how it was accomplished, but the T-bone steak, with just the right amount of red in the middle, was so tough I had to saw away at it. Even the “tender” part on the top, skinny side of the T surrendered only after putting up a good fight against the steak knife.
One might also ask, why in bloody hell would you order a steak in Italy anyway? Have you seen any cows there? No, but I had seen signs in many restaurants that day advertising Italian style bistek and roast potatoes. As a curious Texan, I had to know what Italian style meant. Apparently it means tough as shoe leather. I suspect the cows walked from Switzerland, toughening up on the way.
And so, like the spoiled American I am, I sent it back and ordered pasta, which, off course I should have done in the first place. In order to make the waiter understand, I first mimed sawing and chewing, and then actually sawed at the steak to show him. He called another waiter over, and I sawed for him. They took it away and brought exquisite handmade pasta. All was well until the bill came. I was charged for both the pasta and the steak.
And then it began. What you have seen in movies, of Italian people yelling and gesturing at one another (and at me) is all real. The first waiter showed genuine concern over my complaint. He called over the other waiter, who apologized and went to speak to a woman whom I can only assume was the owner. That’s when the fireworks started. She yelled and gesticulated. He gesticulated back. He came back to me and said something like, “She says you ate some of it.”
I explained, using gestures myself, that I had only been able to eat the tender inner part by chewing interminably. I leave that charade to your imagination. He went back to her and explained. I don’t understand much Italian, but I know enough to hear her say she had comped too many meals that day!
Call me an ugly American, but don’t you think if she had comped too many meals that day, she might perhaps want to question her chef? Or maybe the purveyor of her meat? (I’m betting on the footsore cows from Switzerland) And perhaps consider another supplier?
The second waiter decided to be my hero. He said if I would put the full amount on my credit card, he would give me the cost of the steak, 25 euro, in cash. I agreed, and he quietly slipped me the cash after I signed the bill. As I walked away, I could hear the owner still speaking in a loud voice about the Signora and the steak.
Perhaps I will become a legend, as the Signora who dared to send back a steak in Florence. Better yet, perhaps I’ll become a vegetarian again. Does pasta count as a vegetable?