I come from a family of foodies with a lineage going back two or three generations. My grandmother was a caterer. My mother is an excellent cook and tries to feed the world, despite the fact that, at 83, she is a busy music teacher and director of a light opera company.
My brother is an executive chef in Phoenix, and I take no small measure of pride remembering how he (used to) rely on me for guidance, since I began cooking professionally before he did.
When he began his cooking career at the age of 17, I would get phone calls at 2 a.m., waking me from a sound slumber. I would then be asked to recite recipes for anything from blue cheese dressing to green chile stew.
Once, he blew through my former hometown of Tucson, Ariz., with two friends while I was away. My roommate kindly let the three of them stay at the house overnight. When I returned, after they’d gone, I found they’d demolished a full pot of cazuela, a wonderful Mexican soup based on chiles, tomatoes and shredded dried beef, that I’d left in the refrigerator. Soup I was looking forward to eating. What I found was the empty pot and a note asking for the recipe.
My brother has long since passed me by. He’s finishing up an MBA and runs his own catering business. Now, I call him.
So, when these folks come for a visit, where do I take them out to eat?
If you think this should be easy for me, think about your own family. What do you do when each one is going to be critical of where you go for his or her own personal reasons? How do you deal with various allergies, political statements, current fad diets and so forth? Or, the fact that if you take them to an excellent high-end restaurant, they’ll complain about prices, but if you take them to a reasonably priced restaurant, they’ll ask, “Don’t you have any good restaurants in San Antonio?”
With my mother, it’s been a requirement that the restaurant have a full bar. Problem is, many good restaurants serve beer and wine only. So, we have handled this: I keep a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in my freezer so it will be here when she visits, and she can have her martini before we go to dinner.
Other than this one peccadillo, my mom is critical, but can set it aside to enjoy a meal out. So can my brother, as long as someone doesn’t try to pull a fast one on him, like serve chicken Parmesan disguised as the advertised veal Parmesan or endure a condescending or too-familiar waiter, the chef’s natural enemy.
Earlier this week, my information was that they were both going to be here at the same time for a few days. Visions of food issues loomed. Should I try to take them to a fine-dining place with no hard liquor or just sit them down to some good Texas barbecue? Should we go to Rosario’s or my favorite unassuming neighborhood Tex-Mex place? Or, should I take them to Ray’s Drive-Inn and hope they recognize the amazing qualities of a perfectly made puffy taco? Should we go to a high-end restaurant? Or should we save money and collaborate on an ambitious meal at home?
While I was thinking about these things, my brother called to say there had been a change of plans — he would be going to Idaho to accompany his wife on a business meeting.
My mother, in the meantime, will be delighted with something simple, as long as we drive out to see wildflowers and get some shopping in. She’s also be happy sitting on the back porch with a sandwich and a glass of iced tea, talking. And, she’ll love the puffy tacos.