The menus at the restaurant were arranged like partitas. There could be five courses — amuse-bouche, soup or appetizer, entrée, cheese, dessert — or sometimes seven — soup and appetizer; I forget the seventh. One night one of the entrées was a banana risotto with squid. Banana risotto with squid! It sounded like the punch line of a joke told at the Culinary Institute of America. I looked back at it three times, until I felt I was being dared to order it. I did, and it was a home run. The chef whiffed now and again, but his batting average was much higher than Ty Cobb’s.
Small businesses are a labor of Sisyphus, and restaurants belong in a special circle of Hades. Starting up is famously murderous, but the long haul can be a killer too. Another favorite restaurant of mine, this one in the city, lasted 24 years, then, with the suddenness of a chase scene in a silent film — the economic downturn was one of the bad guys — it all ended; the owner moved out of town and is looking for work as a waiter. Something equally drastic unfolded upstate. For a while the chef had a store in a house across the way that sold little goodies and tourist items; then he rented that out. In the stony bowels of the old tavern he also had a bistro, with a cheaper menu. Then that closed. Then everything closed. Gossip, the sewer of malice and envy, supplied details, but I did not want to know. I am idealistic enough, and childish enough, to wish to remember the chef only at his best.