Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate | AspenTimes.com

Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The other night I went out to dinner with my family at Rex’s, one of their favorite restaurants in Steamboat. It’s in the Holiday Inn right there on Route 40 just before the Mt. Warner Road exit.

There’s something about a chain hotel restaurant on the highway that worries me. Even though they both still consider a 60-mile road bike ride without eating anything more than sports gels and electrolyte replacement drinks a walk in the park, eating at Rex’s does sort of feel like an Old People thing. Not to be a snob, but it’s like, one click away from the Early Bird Special.

What’s worse, my mom is a classic Sender Backer. So you better hope for everyone’s sake that the kitchen gets it right. Because if they don’t, she will let you and everyone in the immediate world know, and then you spend the rest of the meal either hiding under the table or being paranoid that the waiter spit in your drink or wiped his butt with the bun of your hamburger.

From go, I know things are going downhill when Dad orders PEI mussels for an appetizer. This is not a good idea for three reasons: 1) We are at a bar in a hotel chain in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. 2) On the menu, it is spelled “PIE Mussels.” Hello, if they’ve confused an island off the coast of Nova Scotia with a dessert, it’s probably safe to assume they won’t know how to cook it. 3) When you’re at a bar in a chain hotel, I find it’s best to stick with the basics.

The mussels come and Mom takes one bite and makes a face. She puts the black shell on her plate and says, “Not good.”

My dad, on the other hand, loves it. “Oh, this is faaaaaaabulous,” he says, slurping the broth and reaching for a few more. He loves saying the word “fabulous” so it’s hard to know if something really is fabulous, or if he just likes the way it sounds when he says it.

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Now bored with nothing to eat, Mom starts poking the dish with her fork. “Is this an appetizer portion? This looks awfully small.”

She counts the mussels. When our waiter comes back to check on us, she says, “There are only eight mussels here. Is that the right portion?”

Now that she’s decided she doesn’t even like them, she’s gone ahead and asked for more.

“Let me check on that,” the waiter says.

Just when the dark cloud rolls over the waiter’s sunny expression, my brother Dan decides to chime in. “Hey, did I meet you yesterday?”

He’s living in Steamboat for the winter at my parent’s place but hasn’t been getting out much. So he has a bit of that recluse thing going on – eyes a little puffy around the edges, manners a little rusty, and his social interaction, well, somewhat limited. He acts like he just woke up from a nap. He’s a little out of it.

“No, man, I don’t think so,” our waiter says. “I have two older brothers who look a lot like me, so that happens to me a lot.”

“I think I met you at that thing – what’s your name?” Dan presses on.

“Kyle.”

“Ky-ele,” Dan says, imitating the character from the animated television show “South Park” with the same name. It’s one of those inside jokes you only get if you watch the show. The waiter Kyle kind of laughs, as if out of obligation to do so, but you can tell he’s sort of annoyed and probably wants to say something like, “Like I’ve never heard that one before.”

“Ky-ele,” Dan says again. He laughs in a way pot smokers do, a sort of mindless chuckle that’s not connected to anything but the air bubbles floating up inside of his head like root beer.

Kyle returns to the table to let us know about the mussels. “There are supposed to be 14 in an order, so I’ll make sure to get those right away,” he says.

“Thanks, Ky-ele,” Dan says.

When the food finally comes, I’m pretty sure I don’t detect any strange flavors that might indicate the addition of Kyle’s bodily fluids to my meal. I’m having what Mom is having, which is a salad on the menu, minus-this-and-plus-that, the kind of high-maintenance order they make movies about. It does take some pressure off me to just be able to say, “Can I have that too?” and not have to go through the whole rigmarole of asking for it.

Just when I think we’ve reached more stable ground, Dan summons Kyle with the wave of a hand that’s perfectly acceptable in the jungle of Costa Rica where he’s been living for the last six years, but maybe not so much here.

When Kyle comes back to our table, Dan says, “Dude, this isn’t real Heinz ketchup,” and holds up the Heinz ketchup bottle.

At this point, I’m definitely ready to crawl under the table.

After 10 minutes of discussing the nuances of ketchup, I’ve had enough. “Who sends back ketchup?” I say. “It’s a condiment, for Christ’s sake.”

“Oh, I can totally tell the difference,” Mom says.

Kyle returns with a different bottle of ketchup that’s not Heinz, but something else. “You’re right, they do fill the Heinz bottles with a different type of ketchup, but it’s only because ketchup is so expensive. We go through a lot of ketchup here. Bucket loads.”

I’m wondering if it’s possible that Kyle is as stoned as my brother and thinks ketchup are those little black shellfish they tried to stiff us on at the beginning of the meal.

I may be a Princess, but with a family like mine, there’s never a shortage of good fodder for the ol’ offseason column.