Author’s Note: This is the second excerpt I am publishing on this blog from my second novel entitled Burgers, Bloggers, & Cops. A Synopsis can be read here.
Livingston packed up his equipment. The Reuben at Von Tso’s wasn’t bad, but the lunch part wasn’t as delicious as he thought it would be. Hopefully, he’d experience something deeper and unique. Sean was looking forward to examining the menu.
He opened the door. A hostess dressed in Mandarin attire greeted him and escorted him to the dining room. Sean grabbed the seat offered to him and relaxed until his server came. He decided on not ordering beer. He’d drink beer with Winni. A cocktail would suffice for now. He looked at the oolong tea selections. He’d order that tea as well as water with lemon. He was about to cross the Rubicon into the next review.
A male server approached him in German attire, biracial, definitely looked Chinese-German
“Mr. Livingston, I’m Jin, and it’s my pleasure to be your server today. We were told you would be joining us this evening. May I start you with an appetizer, a beverage, or one of our Chinese inspired cocktails?”
“I’ll start with a water with lemon and some of your house oolong blend. I’ll need a few moments more before I decide on an appetizer or a cocktail,” said Sean as he examined the enormous dinner menu.
“All right, Mr. Livingston. I’ll be back in a few minutes with the water and tea. Until then make yourself comfortable.”
He looked through the appetizers and thought he finally found the appetizer that would be perfect to include in the review. This was an example of the Chinese-fusion material that General von Tso’s prided itself on. He discovered that his meat plate was an intersection of the Yellow and Rhine Rivers. This bratwurst, lamb satay, and sauerkraut combination was odd, especially with the ginger-garlic sauce on the side. He had found it, a regular Eureka for Livingston, all in a charcuterie. Yet, the cocktail was another matter.
Livingston spied something simple, but would be highly appropriate for a Chinese or Asian restaurant’s drink list—a green tea mojito. Livingston smiled inside. The description read “Bigelow’s green tea with the rum of your choice.”
Livingston had his mind made up, hopefully Jin would arrive soon. He would be having some excellent food and a cocktail. As minutes faded away more and more guests arrived. The first guests arrived at the hostesses’ station in a single wave. Another wave of guests arrived, and more and more people formed up the station. Hilde did well to schedule his entrance ahead of time. Jin returned with water with lemon and a steaming pitcher of oolong tea.
“Here you are, Mr. Livingston. I apologize if I was late. We became rather busy as you can see,” said Jin as he set the drinks down.
“Please call me, Sean, Jin.”
“What can I get for you, Sean?”
“For my beverage, Jin, I’ll have the green tea mojito please. The rum will be Bacardi.”
“I’ll make this happen soon!”
“As for my appetizer, I’ll have the Wurst meets East.”
“Excellent choices–I’ll have the kitchen get to work on that. I’ll see you soon with your first course.”
Livingston sipped on his water and blew on his tea. It cooled off fast and he could sip the earthy, warming, fruity black tea. Jin stopped by and told him that his appetizer was halfway finished and his cocktail would be ready by the time the appetizer was ready to be served. More and more people stormed into the restaurant. The table behind Sean was now occupied by a family of three, and the booth in front of him was occupied by a couple appearing to be over the age of sixty.
Jin returned as their servers arrived—it was synchronized serving in the eyes of Livingston. Jin’s tray carried his appetizer and his cocktail. Jin placed the appetizer in front of him first and then he placed the reddish colored liquid in front of him.
“Please enjoy, Sean. As you can see we are very busy, but when I return I can take your entrée order,” announced Jin as he retreated towards the kitchen. Livingston turned to his meal.
The Wurst meets East looked like a delicious appetizer. The plate it was served on was mimicking a Tang Dynasty sculpture. Sean recognized the distinction as he had experience with Chinese restaurants and Chinese history throughout his life. The bratwurst was moist and juicy, and the sauerkraut was not too tart or overpowering. The lamb satay was sweet and spicy. This appetizer was a good choice with all of the flavor’s present on the dish. The smallest portion of meat on the plate was a zesty General Tso’s chicken with zing and zip. Livingston was pleased with the food—this was a definite improvement over the mediocre lunch he had at von Tso’s earlier in the day.
Sean sipped on the cocktail. The mojito had a three way battle of flavors: rum, mint, and green tea. No flavor was supreme, yet they seemed to clash while collaborating. Not a very harmonious beverage, yet it was strong, and perfect for an appetizer or after-dinner cocktail. He’d probably have another one while eating his main course. Sean was shocked at the night and day difference between the quality of lunch and dinner so far. But, he couldn’t make any more assumptions about the meal any longer, as he needed to order the main course.
Judging from the entrees, Sean had twenty choices to choose from ranging from the Chinese-American-German fusion, to the vanguard of old German classics like Jagerschnitzel. Sean hadn’t had Jagerschnitzel in years—he missed the flavors. He was here, though, to capture the Chinese-German fusion so Livingston had to rule that choice out completely. He looked through the various options. Some were too seafood oriented, and Livingston wasn’t a big fan of seafood unless it was crab or octopus.
Finally, he spied something that wasn’t too basic or too advanced for a reader’s pleasure or curiosity. It was something deep enough for him, but simple enough for a reader. He had to respect the tastes of John Doe while providing a review of typical or atypical cuisine. Livingston decided on an old German classic, but instead of a accompaniment of Spatzle it was accompanied by LoMein noodles. This was the Weinerschnitzel LoMein. The LoMein contained pickled radishes and the schnitzel cutlet was topped with a lemon wedge and capers. Yes, this was what he would order and review for the Mid-Illini Gazette for the dinner entrée.
“Sean, have you reached a decision yet?”
“I’ll have the Weinerschnitzel LoMein, please. Also, Jin, may I have another green tea mojito?”
Jin smiled as he took the order and refilled Livingston’s tea.
“I’ll get the order in and return with the fresh cocktail.”
Sean just noticed the waiter station. Jin was working at an alcove where two coffee pots were on, twin electric tea kettles were brewing away, and a trio of water pitchers and rows of cups filled two sides of the alcove. On the other side Jin was facing a touch screen where he entered in order information and transmitted it to the kitchen and bar. Two miniature bronze lions stood sentinel above the station and looked out over the dining room and its patrons.
The bartender got the information from Jin and started to mix up the mojito like clockwork. Livingston appreciated the clear lines of communication between the front-of-house and the back of-house. He’d definitely bring this up to Chef Hilde later on as a supplementary interview question. Within minutes he received his next cocktail and enjoyed the blend of white rum, green tea and mint. It was absolutely a captivating moment. He snapped a picture of the cocktail and the remnants of his appetizer. This cuisine was the impetus for Livingston’s trip, and he was now biting into it.
Livingston played with the swizzle sticks as the green tea mojito’s contents drained to create an empty glass. Jin returned with his entrée and gave Livingston a complementary cocktail. He’d have to nurse that one, as he was starting to slightly feel the effects of the Bacardi. Livingston snapped a quick photo of the entrée and examined its contents. The Wienerschnitzel was breaded with panko. The LoMein noodles looked moist. This meal appeared to be one of high quality and not anything that seemed to shirk on any area. No corners were cut, and this was what Livingston’s grandfather would call “The Real Deal.”
The veal cutlet of the schnitzel itself was savory. He couldn’t say he enjoyed the German potato salad that was included as well. It appeared to be made from a box. The quality always had to suffer somewhere. The capers and lemons were absolutely delicious, adding a spark of sour to the meal. This polygamous marriage of flavors was inspiring to Sean, he began to picture the paragraphs of the review, and he also photographed the dish.
Livingston looked around the room, and it appeared like many other people were enjoying the same meal. Clearly, he ordered one of the best specialties of the house. Jin arrived.
“How is the meal, Sean?”
“Delicious, Jin—this is the best Wienerschnitzel I’ve ever had!”
“Just let me know when it’s time for dessert, Sean.” Jin said this as he bussed the tables nearby and collected tips from vacant tables.
Sean decided not to order dessert. He’d have no room for too many calories since he had his date later tonight. Importantly, though Sean had enough information and food photography to proceed onto the interview with Hilde. Besides, at this point, he was full. He called Jin over as his desire to interview Hilde grew.
“Jin, I’m ready for my bill,” announced Sean as he finished the schnitzel and took one more bite into the potato salad.
“You didn’t finish your potatoes, Sean! We’re they not to your liking?”
Sean had dealt with this problem before. It’s an awkward situation when a waiter initiates a confrontation to a reviewers’ discretion. He used his standard response.
“Jin, I’m just not the potato kind of guy. My mom gave me too many potatoes when I was a kid. I actually don’t like potatoes.” Livingston then altered his tone into something serious, yet something deadpan. “Jin, I’m worried I’ll eat them, and forget how to spell potato. Then I’ll just be another Dan Qualye acolyte.”
“Who’s Dan Qualye?”
“Because of that silly veggie, a chalkboard, and the viciousness of American politics everyone can ask that, Jin. Please tell Hilde that I’m ready for the interview whenever she’s ready. You’ve been a great server!”
Jin walked away without saying a word, it was funny how someone would get a little upset and nosy over a spud. He hoped he wouldn’t be waiting long.
Four minutes later, after Sean had finished his cup of tea, a waitress who didn’t introduce herself approached him.
“Chef Hilde is waiting, sir. Please follow me.”
“Thank you, miss,” Sean replied as he rose from his place and followed her through the kitchen and past a dry storage area and walk-in freezers and coolers, to a small office area.
The waitress knocked on the plain brown door.
“Enter,” ordered Hilde on the other side.
The waitress opened the door, and showed him in. Hilde was seated behind a grey, metal desk and positioned in a low plush swivel chair. A thin screened desktop was behind her. She was wearing a golden metallic quilted chef coat that appeared more as an adornment rather than a practical kitchen uniform. A paper cup filled with water was placed by her computer. Hilde smiled and motioned for Sean to sit in front of her in a folding chair which she placed in front of her desk for him.
“Welcome to my office, Mr. Livingston. I trust everything was to your liking, sir?”
“It was, Chef. I’m looking forward to asking you some questions.”
The chef folded her hands in a serene motion “I’m ready when you are, Sean,” she decreed to the reporter.
“First off, Chef—why open a restaurant in Bannhart, Illinois?”
Sean’s inquiries were met with a rapid reply.
“I’m happy to share why I chose Bannhart, Illinois.” Hilde paused to drink some of her water. “I chose this lovely town for two reasons.”
She held up one finger. “I wanted to provide downstate Illinois access to my family’s brand of Chinese-cooking.” She presented another finger on the same hand, “I also wanted to showcase Chinese-German cuisine in an area where an abundance of German-Americans were located who don’t have access to a German restaurant within ten miles of their residence or town.”
He looked up at Hilde after he jotted down notes.
“Chef, please explain to me your primary goals with the restaurant. Also explain to me how your culinary philosophy will influence these goals.”
Hilde’s expression turned from a smile into a stoic glare. She was beginning to dislike the questions. Sean could tell this from his experience. But, he was here to do his job, and he’d await a response.
“My first goal is to provide the best Chinese-German cuisine at the best price. My second goal is to branch out into farm-to table and help local farmers have a market and destination for their goods. I’d love to use local beef, pork, and chicken. My final goal is to provide the best catering service in Bannhart, Deacon County, and also in McLean County,” said Hilde in a firm voice.
She looked at her hands, before speaking once more.
“When it comes to philosophy, the answer is clear. Provide the best food, with the best price, through quality practices and quality ingredients indicative of true German and true Chinese cuisine.”
Sean hastily captured what she said in his notebook. He didn’t use a recorder often. Recorders made people nervous. They’d either cackle like geese or be as lethargic as a dodo bird. He only used a recorder with politicians. He had to keep a transcript of what they said, otherwise he’d have no clue of the context of the meaning of their words. Sean stopped thinking about politicians though and looked back at Hilde.
“Can you tell me anything else on this topic, Chef?”
“I thought I explained myself well,” said Chef Hilde.
Sean nodded and made a note to follow up through secondary research on that topic.
“Next question for you, Chef, is your restaurant here going to be the first to…”
Sean was cut off. The door to the office was opened wide and a sous chef looked frightened at Hilde.
“Chef, you are needed in the kitchen at once. A customer entered in an order that wasn’t on the menu, and the waiter accepted it anyway. No one knows how to make Semmelknodel Chop Suey with a currywurst…”
“I’m coming now.”
The chef turned to Sean sternly. “We need to conclude our interview. Contact me by telephone tomorrow. At 9AM.”
“Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow. Thanks for your time, Chef.”
Hilde exited the room without saying anything else. Sean got up, marked his place in his notebook with his pen, and took a photo of the office. He would mention that his initial interview was cut short in the article and remember to call her in the morning. He’d now return to the hotel and change into casual clothing, and prepare for the evening with Winni. He wondered what happened to Hilde’s prior polite demeanor.
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