Monday, January 18, 2016

The Pleasure of Your Company

I miss all of you an awful lot. I know it is my own fault that I haven't enjoyed your company for far too long, but I would really like to see you all. Can we either individually or collectively see each other soon? By my estimation, it has been long enough without a visit. I love and miss each and every one of you.

No exaggeration, fifty eight messages later we had a definitive plan, resulting in me taking it upon myself to dub the conversation "Eaters Anonymous Attempted Rendezvous" for the convoluted process.

But that's what happens when you try to round up seven people whose lives are all going in different directions. But we had a date and a plan: 88 Garden at 7. Done.

I was the first to arrive and took up sentry next to a powerful heater near the door, despite being invited to wait at our table. Moi, leave a heat source? Never!

And, yes, we were the only non-Korean customers in the place, tucked away at a table in the front, as far away as possible from the real customers and, toward the end of the night, the backroom karaoke stage where some pretty hilarious attempted singing was happening.

It only took us about two and a half hours to eat ourselves silly and consume epic amounts of food. We began with two platters of chicken ggan pung gi - crispy, garlicky chicken wings with sesame seeds - that were out of this world and a kimchee sampler, as much to buy time to decide what to order as to begin eating.

We had a Steelers fan in our midst who listened to the end of the game in the car in the parking lot before rejoining us, disappointed in her team. The evening's instigator, looking very handsome in a voluminous beard, shared his latest business building venture. Two of our group are yoga devotees, so we heard about yoga training and postures that contribute to a good night's sleep.

On the subject of sleep, it turned out we had several people with sleep problems, never an issue for me. Ambien horror stories were shared about meals eaten while asleep, unknown things said to others in the dead of night, waking up on the bathroom floor, toothbrush in mouth with no recollection of getting there.

It all made me very grateful that I sleep so well (the "sleep of the just" as my aunt always refers to it), although I think my daily walks contribute to that.

Eventually we began to order, which had the added benefit of meat being cooked on the burner directly in front of my seat, providing a lovely heat source right in my cold face.

While most of us are thoroughly adventurous eaters, we had two more tentative types, meaning no overt ordering of beef tongue or ox knee, or at least none that we identified by name to them, but we still managed an ungodly amount of bulgogi, pork belly, short ribs and beef (wink, wink). Glass noodles and pan-fried vegetables were the ideal complement to all that protein along with gold-flecked sake (well, it was a celebration of friendship).

With tongues loosened, we heard about who doesn't like having their feet rubbed (I love it) and who has a hard time relaxing when they get a massage (not me). A friend bemoaned his trendy barbershop, which doesn't do shampoos, meaning he misses a good scalp massage.

Who knew there were people who didn't like rubbing as much as I do?

Meanwhile, plates just kept being passed until the only thing that remained on the table were lettuce leaves, condiments and scraps of kimchee, leaving everyone in a food coma.

Sikhye, the sweet Korean digestif with grains of cooked rice, was ordered next, but the chef's homemade version had sold out, so we settled for a canned version, not bad, but not as good, either.

A friend talked about the food website he's having built (he was also the one to insist on taking pictures before we were allowed to eat anything), we got off on a tangent about the limitations of getting security clearance (a lot of which I knew from my brother-in-law) and heard a lawyer's advice on what to do if a cop stops you, as in how to respond and phrase questions (Are you detaining me, officer?).

And with the exception of one person who claims he's so famous he has to stay connected, no one looked at their phones during our meal. Just seven friends laughing, talking, drinking and eating.

Putting on our coats to go, one of our group chimed in with the karaoke in the back, warbling "A Whole New World" as we trooped out.

By any estimation, the night had been a rousing success. Shining, shimmering and splendid, in Aladdin's words. Fun and filling in mine.

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