As Fred and Marigold entered this exotic vegetarian restaurant, with a party of twenty congregants from a Friday Shabbat service, the chatter of the ambient crowd drowned out the simplest conversation among the group. Putting small talk aside for a few minutes, Temple-goers found their place along the narrow, 30-foot table and settled in to greet those sitting, either across the table or at elbow distance to either side.
"Wheat grass cocktail, Hibiscus Kambucha on draft or kosher wine are available on the menu. Would you like to order drinks?" asked our waitress, Lisa. "I'll be taking care of you."
Fred's stomach growled in defiance. "Give us a few minutes," he said. "This selection will take some getting used to."
"No worries," she said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
His eyes reflexively squinted as he scanned the entrées list – Mesquite Tofu, Peppered Seitan Filet, Vegan Monti Pasta, Beet Risotto, Ginger Squash Bisque. Was this Mos Eisley's New Age Saloon or was he just overreacting to the unfamiliar course offerings? No problem, at least he was getting served. The last time Marigold and Fred went out dining with the Shabbat Supper group, they ended up leaving the Third World African restaurant after two-and-a-half hours of delay, loud complaints and the eventuality of no dinner served. Tonight would be different.
Lisa returned to take their order and the gastronomic anxiety segued into sociable table talk.
Chuck chimed in, "The last time I ordered a wheat grass drink, I was working in Singapore. Not a bad experience, if you like mowed grass run through a blender."
Lewis, the senior member of our group, waxed nostalgically for his days as Capital Hill's pre-eminent barbecue king. "The BBQ business is just smoke, chill and reheat. I've pretty much given up on meat. After twenty-five years in the business, I don't have a craving anymore. This menu looks OK to me."
"What we really need," says Mike, "are more latkes. I mean, more latke chefs for the holiday cook-off." Soon the group's conversational chatter merged with the restaurant's cacophony and they were relaxed, feeling at home in this trendy bistro. A friendly Jewish gathering and they continued meeting and greeting each other for the first time amid this crowd of vegetarian epicures.
"Histocompatibility is my specialty," said Mike. "Robin and I moved out here, from Rochester, in '97 so I could work in my field – matching bone marrow donors with transplant patients in need."
"Singapore was great for a year," says Chuck. "I'm an accountant and I worked for an international finance firm."
"Since I retired," said Lewis. "I've travelled quite a bit – trains, rental cars, trips to see relatives from coast to coast."