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She ate her, sea otter


“What’s the name of the place again?” Sabra requested as she looked up from her plate of ratatouille. I pronounced her dish as “ratatatatouille,” something I tend to do when I find the original word funny.
Other words I like to butcher include quesadilla (quasidillios), hors d’oeuvre (horse dervies) and the Nebraskan town of Ogallala (ooogalalala).
We were at the Blue Bird Diner in downtown Iowa City; eating and talking about the play we were about to see at the Riverside Theatre.
I like the Blue Bird well enough. The building features one of the biggest windows you’ll find anywhere, which is extra impressive since this is a college town. Things get wild here when classes are in session. Over at the Airliner, the lively Hawkeye-focused sports bar serving pizza and pub grub since 1944, they take the condiments off the tables at 8 p.m. Too many drunken revelries turned into mustard squirting, saltshaker tossing, window breaking, free-for-alls, so management drew the line. If you want ketchup with your fries, show up early before the riot starts, and don’t expect big windows, they’re too expensive to replace.
Seasoning wasn’t a problem for my dish, beans and rice. It was plenty spicy, and that’s something you don’t hear me say very often. I once sent a woman half my age to the hospital when she challenged me to a hot pepper eating contest in Mexico, but that’s another story. The sausage was especially spicy. I won’t even try to pronounce, or mispronounce, andouille. Like ratatouille, it sounds French, which allows the restaurant to charge half again as much. My beans and rice and her stew each cost $15!
This reminds me of Vern’s Diner that used to operate in a trailer on the blacktop leading out of Solon. The sign on the outside boasted hot food and fresh bait. The sign on the door announced the restroom was for customers only. The sign on the inside said the soup of the day was soup de jour. Trying to decipher this last sign, I asked the waiter what the soup of the day was and she primly responded, “It’s soup de jour, sir, it’s a French soup!” Then she tossed in that Vern makes it himself, motioning to Vern, who was in the corner pulling minnows out of tank with his bare hand. I wondered if he also made vichyssoise (fishy noises).
Thinking about Vern’s reminded me we also ate earlier in the month at the new Tin Roost restaurant in North Liberty. Esthetically, it’s a beautiful place, all bricks, natural wood and curves. It also has nice windows, since it’s a safe distance from the U. We especially liked the expansive patio overlooking a pond. Items on the menu seemed to be straightforward until I came across the bone-in, ribeye steak for $38. Thirty-eight dollars! For that I should get a steak and my oil changed. And what do they mean bone-in, and how much does it weigh?
So I asked the waiter, a nice enough young man. He said he didn’t know how much the meat weighed but said, knowingly, all the fine steaks these days are served bone-in. Normally, I wouldn’t go near anything so expensive or pretentious sounding but it was my birthday and Sabra suggested I get whatever I want. So I did and was somewhat flummoxed when it came without a bone.
I asked the waiter, and he said they’d run out of bone-in steaks so I got what I got: a boneless bone-in steak.
But I digress; back to the Blue Bird and Sabra’s request.
“You know, where we’re going next, say it!” she commanded. We both knew where we were going, so I recognized she was up to something but what?
“The Riverside Theatre,” I offered, pronouncing theater with the accent on the second syllable, as in the female lizard, “she ate her” young. That’s the way we say it in Chicago, where I was raised. The rest of the world has an accent. Sabra, for example, says theater with a Denver inflection as in the “sea otter” is one of the smallest marine mammals.
I say she ate her; she says sea otter.