I HAVE menu envy.
It’s a relief to discover I’m not just a selfish bastard who is never satisfied with what he’s got. Apparently it is a well-known psychological phenomenon.
Other people covet cars and lifestyles; I covet the food on my wife’s plate. On anyone’s plate.
Not at home. But at home we both have the same thing and she always gives me the best bits because, she says, she loves me.
But in a restaurant I scour the menu for the stuff that will pile higher, taste better and look prettier – and I always lose.
It’s a medical condition. There’s no cure. Apart from always eating at home. Eating out, especially with friends, is too dangerous. I glance suspiciously round the table, and I know the swine are going to choose something I wanted, and it’ll be better than what I eventually do choose.
Why don’t I choose first? What – and have them choose something better afterwards!
Why don’t I choose last? Because the nail-chewing agony of that final rendezvous with fate; the irrevocable knowledge of the looming and irreversible decision, has been known to make strong waiters weep – or at least to wait a very long time.
I might as well use a blindfold and a pin. I never get it right. The food arrives; I study each plate in turn. Mine will be the one the trainee waiter has his thumb in; the one on which the hollandaise sauce has congealed. Not that it will matter because there won’t be enough of it to go entirely cold.
My wife and my friends will all gorge themselves on gourmet delights and dazzling conversation while I pick sulkily at a limp carrot. A small, limp carrot.
Someone will say: “This is delicious!” And everyone will agree enthusiastically – even me! But in my case it will be a lie.
Someone else will say: “You don’t seem very keen on yours…” And I’ll reply: “Mmmm, I’m just savouring it. Very good. Mmmmm.” while I think “Damn it to hell and back, why didn’t I choose his!”
By the time we get to dessert I’ll hate all my friends and my wife and I won’t speak all the way home.
Anyone would think she was blameless, but if I have menu envy then she has dessert denial.
My wife never wants dessert. That is to say, she never orders it. When the waiter has cleared our main courses (hers a kaleidoscopic culinary experience; mine with lumps in) and has brought the dessert menu, her willpower reigns supreme.
She doesn’t like desserts; she’s on a diet; the main course was perfect and she doesn’t want to spoil it (damn! damn! damn!); the desserts here aren’t her style.
Then she eats mine. This behaviour is so deeply embedded in our eating-out routine that I generally order two – both on one plate. It wouldn’t work on two plates. Hers would go cold while she spooned all mine into her mouth, murmuring with every mouthful: “I’ll just have a little taste.”
And do I experience a sense of triumph that, there being only one dessert on the table, I have the best?
No. I experience a degree of possessiveness that makes we want to leap across the table and skewer her on a dessert fork.
I want to complain to the waiter and the other customers that, look, I made a good choice and now this, this… woman… is trying to pretend it’s hers!
I know now what she meant when she said she was going to dessert me…