The Risks of Fine Dining

I was involved in the search to select a firm to provide administrative services to the workers compensation insurance fund I chaired.  After six months of interviews, travel and meeting we had made our selection and I flew to Orlando—believe it or not, in the early 1980’s there was commercial plane service between Ocala and Orlando—for a dinner celebrating the new relationship and a planning meeting the following day.

A fund employee picked me up at the airport and delivered me to my hotel where I checked my bags and we continued on to the Maison and Jardin restaurant.  I had read about the “Mason Jar” and friends had raved about the food, service and ambience but it was my first time dining there and I was looking forward to the experience.

The president of the service firm was hosting dinner and he insisted on orchestrating the meal.  After cocktails, we started with crepes ala Russe—crepes filled with caviar and sour cream, served with a shot glass filled with chilled vodka.  Following the crepe was a veal chop that was topped with crabmeat and asparagus served with a fine French red wine.  Desert was again crepes, this time flambéed at the table with orange liquor and ice cream and served with a desert wine.  I was stuffed and more than a little tipsy when our host announced that he was ordering Dom Perignon champagne to celebrate the new partnership.

I had read about it but Dom Perignon was not on many wine lists in Ocala—heck, Ernest and Julio weren’t on many wine lists in Ocala—and I was excited about trying it.  Not wanting to dilute the experience of the expensive champagne, I cleared my head by splashing water on my face in the restaurant’s restroom.  The wine was everything I expected; in fact, so good that I ordered and paid for a second bottle.

At the end of the evening I caught a ride back to my hotel, claimed my luggage and started hunting for my room.  The hotel was spread out over acres of land, with numerous buildings and after all I had consumed there was no way I was going to find the way to my accomodations.  So after wandering around for about a half of an hour, returned to the lobby and tipped a bellman $5 to take me to my sleeping place.

And sleep I did—I awoke naked, on the floor, between the double beds.  That was the result of my first experience with the “Mason Jar.”

Several years later Terri and I and two other couples drove from Ocala for dinner at the Maison and Jardin.  Remembering my previous experience and knowing that I had the long drive back to home, I was careful about how much I had to drink.  I was doing fine until one of my friends ordered an after dinner cigar.

The waiter didn’t just deliver a cigar, he delivered an experience as he brought to the table a humidor filled with expensive smokes.  After my buddy picked the cigar he wanted the waiter took it, cut the end off, dipped it in cognac, held it as he lit it with a gold lighter and then presented it to my friend.  I had to have one of those cigars.

It was great!  After the ceremony of choosing and lighting the cigar, I smoked it like Daddy Warbucks would in little orphan Annie.  I felt like a fat-cat banker and a suave suburban millionaire.  Never before could I understand the attraction of a fine cigar and now I knew; I understood; I was part of the club.  Everything was terrific until I went to stand up.

Although I hadn’t smoked anything in over 10 years, it was like riding a bike, I inhaled, I blew smoke rings; in other words, I smoked that cigar like I use to smoke a cigarette and the nicotine kicked me in the butt.  I had watched my consumption of alcohol only to be felled by an expensive cigar.  It was a good thing Terri and I had driven our car and a good thing there was a Holiday Inn motel near the restaurant, because we couldn’t make it home that night.  In fact, I had a hard time driving the next day.

There were other evenings at the “Mason Jar:” the night I advised George Steinbrenner on what wine to order; an evening in the garden room after a wedding and one of our nicest anniversary dinners.  Now the Maison and Jardin is no longer a restaurant but a banquet only facility.  I will miss dining there but I will remember the lessons learned: I would rather pay $100 for a really fine experience than $30 for a mediocre—the memories are worth it; locate your hotel room before going out to dinner and cigars are better left to those who really know how to appreciate them.


We live for the nights we’ll never remember with the people we’ll never forget.” -Anon


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