Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Yesterday was our third wedding anniversary, and my wonderful husband spoiled me rotten by whisking me away to Newport for a whirlwind 24-hour trip. He made all the arrangements in secret and surprised me with a lovely, romantic, relaxing celebration.

We dropped off our son at my in-laws’ and headed down to Newport. When we arrived, our hotel room wasn’t quite ready, so we left our bags and took a stroll through downtown Newport, checking out some lovely boutiques and finding a quaint pub for lunch.

We found the glassworks shop where we had bought a lovely glass vase last year, and since the third anniversary is the glass anniversary (under the contemporary calendar, at least), we decided to find another knickknack as an anniversary present to ourselves. We chatted with the shop attendant and after considering a sculpted glass wave and a charming, curly-tentacled octopus, we settled on a lovely, deep amber glass vase similar to the one from last year. That wrapped up, we headed back to the hotel.

We had spa appointments, and since our room wasn’t ready, they took us in early; Herb for a massage and me for my first-ever facial. We disrobed and snuggled into the spa’s plush robes and comfy slippers and waited in the comfortable love seat of the lounge, listening to the soft trickle of a fountain and enjoying lemon-scented water until our attendants came to get us. The aesthetician settled me comfortably on a heated bed and examined my skin, which she pronounced “beautiful”, once she recovered from her horror over my admission that my skin care regimen consisted of soap and water plus an occasional dab of moisturizer. (If she knew I was lying about the latter she’d probably have fainted.) But she laid out an array of lotions and potions, told me to relax, and commenced the most thorough cleaning, exfoliating, massaging, steaming, masking, toning, and tightening that my skin has ever experienced. My pores have never been so clean and tight as they were when she finished with me, and my skin has never been as velvety smooth and glowing. I met Herb back in the lounge and he looked as relaxed as I felt. We dressed and went to check into our room.

Our bags were waiting when we arrived, and we took a few moments to check out the view before we began dressing for dinner. It was quite foggy by then, so there was little to see, but we could hear the haunting but lovely call of a horn buoy echoing through the mist. We found a television station that was showing clips of historic and beautiful sights around Newport, so as we relaxed, we enjoyed learning more about the fascinating city we were in. After that quick break, we got all dressed up for dinner – Herb in an impeccable white dinner jacket and onyx studs in his collar and cuffs, and I in a brilliant blue cocktail dress with the beautiful pearl necklace and bracelet Herb had given me for Valentine’s Day and my birthday. As we headed through the lobby, arm in arm, the concierge noted how elegant we looked and wished us a lovely evening. Herb brought the car around and the valet opened the door for me and gave me a smile and even a slight bow as I went through. Ever the gentleman, Herb opened my car door and made sure I was comfortably seated before closing me in.

Our dinner reservations were at the Castle Hill Inn, where we had eaten last year. After our meal last year, I pronounced it the finest meal – and in fact, the finest dining experience – I had ever had. I wondered if this year would be able to meet that standard. I never should have doubted. From the moment Herb dropped me off and went to park the car, I was treated like royalty. The hostess opened the door for me and escorted me to our table. We were the only diners in the room, which was a round, glassed-in section of the building that looked across a narrow lawn and out onto the ocean. The fog was so thick that the world seemed to vanish past the hedges with no glimpse of ocean in sight, but still the sound of a lonely foghorn echoing over the sea. A few wild bunnies were having their dinner at the edge of the hedges, adding a bit of country charm to the scene. And as the evening wore on, the gray fog took on a deep blue hue, eventually fading to a midnight blue-black, turning the windows to mirrors reflecting the glow of the candles on the tables and the sconces on the walls.

Our waiter remembered us from last year, as he had been our server then as well, and immediately brought us complimentary glasses of champagne. We toasted ourselves and then began to peruse the menu. Several dishes were familiar from last year, but several different items had been added to the menu. Herb recalled what a delightful way the waiter had of describing the various dishes, so we asked him to elaborate on several of the menu items. I was thinking of either the lobster or the duck, and was leaning towards the lobster, but after his vivid and mouth-watering description of the duck, I decided to go with his recommendation. He returned shortly with two freshly baked rolls still steaming from the oven, which he served by masterfully manipulating a pair of spoons like tongs. I enjoyed the bread while Herb studied the wine menu, eventually requesting a taste comparison of two different choices, again beautifully described by our waiter.

Shortly after the wine arrived (I didn’t have a glass, but I did thoroughly enjoy swirling and smelling Herb’s glass, and sampling a tiny sip), the waiter returned with an amuse bouche. This year’s tantalizing mouthful was a tiny slice of delicate veal served over a bed of chopped spring vegetables and garnished with a artistic swirl of veal jus. The meat melted in your mouth and the vegetables tasted like they had come from the garden less than five minutes ago. It was the perfect taste to stimulate the appetite and the senses.

Our first course arrived: Herb had scallops, served three in a row on a long narrow plate, with colorful and tasteful sauces and accompaniments adding both beauty and flavor, and I had a bowl of sunchoke soup. The soup was presented as a shallow bowl with a cake of lobster and other seafood topped with spring onions in it, and the waiter poured the rich broth over it with a graceful flourish. (Can you tell that the presentation of the food at this restaurant delights me as much as the food itself?) The soup was rich and flavorful, but somehow magically managed to not be filling, but instead to stimulate my appetite for the main course.

After a pause during which we were presented with two tiny bowls each containing a perfect scoop of strawberry-mango sorbet as a palate-cleansing intermezzo, our main courses arrived. Herb’s lamb was elegantly presented as two “lollipops” gracefully leaning against each other over a bed of vegetables and gnocchi. My duck breast arrived on a long, narrow plate, the tender, juicy slices leaning against each other like a splayed deck of cards, surrounded by swirls of salsify puree (no, I’m not sure exactly what that is either, but I can assure you it tasted magnificent) and laying over a cake of something marvelous involving potatoes. Neither of us spoke for several minutes as we took our first bites, both of us closing our eyes in ecstasy and making small, involuntary moans of pleasure as our taste buds were overcome by delicious sensations. We quickly exchanged bites, assuring each other than both meals were equally exquisite. I paused between bites, both to give myself time to thoroughly enjoy each succulent mouthful, and also to be sure to pace myself so I wouldn’t run out of room to finish the magnificent meal.

The crowning glory of any meal, in my opinion, is dessert, and I had no doubt by this point that the dessert could live up to the glorious dinner. Herb and I both selected the chocolate trio – and for once, we opted to each get our own instead of sharing. Our accompaniments of coffee (mine) and cognac (his) arrived just before the elegant desserts. On each plate, the words “Happy Anniversary” were spelled out in chocolate in an elegant script.

And they did not disappoint. From the rich chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream to the spicy sponge cake with whipped cream topping, to the rich smoothness of the pot au crème, the dessert was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

We arrived back at the hotel in time for a quick dip in the pool and soak in the whirlpool. The mist and rain had begun to cause my knees and hips to ache a bit, so I carefully perched myself on the edge of the whirlpool, soaking in the soothing heat of the water and letting the powerful jets massage my feet. I found a step that was the perfect height to stand on to get my hips in the water without immersing my belly, and dangled my hands in the water while I watched a pair of sisters frolicking in the swimming pool. Herb and I laughed and imagined Ryan and Rutabaga doing the same eight or ten years from now. Soothed and relaxed, we headed back to our room and were soon sound asleep in our soft, comfortable bed.

We woke up to a clear morning with only a few high grey clouds and a temperature at a very comfortable 60 degrees. We took another look at the view from our patio and could now see the harbor full of boats and the picturesque Newport shops. We shared the view with a pair of huddling seagulls.

We stopped at the concierge desk to ask for a breakfast recommendation and the question was hardly out of our mouths when the concierge told us firmly, “The Corner Café” and handed us a map, while wishing aloud that she could join us. The walk was just the right length to work up an appetite, which was a good thing, since the breakfast was both generous and delicious. There were a few other diners, several of whom seemed to be regulars who ordered without a menu and were handed their morning paper as if it had been delivered to the restaurant specifically for them. The waitress/proprietress had a charming Irish brogue and brought me a perfect mug of tea that immediately flashed me back to my days in Zimbabwe and my visit to England. Herb had a mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cocoa powder that he immediately pronounced delicious. My French toast was made from thick slices of homemade Portuguese sweet bread and served with maple pecan butter that melted into a rich glaze. I dipped each succulent bite into a puddle of real maple syrup and cooed in ecstasy, alternating the sweet gooey bites with crispy, smoky bacon. Herb’s pancakes were fluffy and light, and he managed to clean his plate. Sadly, I had to bid a sad farewell to the last half of my second giant slice of French toast, because I simply did not have enough room for all its rich goodness. We bid farewell to our charming hostess, promising to return next year, and headed off for another stroll to burn off our breakfasts.

We stopped by a few more quirky boutiques and admired the local architecture, stopping for a few more souvenirs before heading back to the hotel to reclaim our bags and head for home. As we were driving out of town, Herb spied a formalwear shop and decided to make a quick side trip, since he’s been looking for a new black bow tie. As he chatted with the owner about how difficult it is to find a tie-it-yourself bow tie and they commiserated about what a shame it is that no-one wears white pique shirts any more, I browsed the selection of cufflinks and shirt studs, and found a beautiful set of Masonic links and studs. I had been looking for something similar as a gift for Herb for several years now, so I was delighted to stumble across this treasure. But there was yet another treasure to be stumbled across in this shop: there was a photograph behind the counter that seemed to be of a man dressed as Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”. When we asked him about it, the owner admitted it was him and immediately began quoting lines from the show in a marvelously rich, sonorous voice. He was delighted to hear that we were also musical theater performers, and we exchanged stories about the groups we worked with. He pulled out another photo of himself in character, this time as Jud Fry from “Oklahoma!”, and broke into one of Jud’s songs in a rich, resounding baritone voice. Of course, we took his contact information and invited him to check out the Reagle Music Theatre of Boston – especially since the shows Reagle has on the schedule for this summer just happen to be “Fidder” and “Oklahoma!”. He was so delighted with our chat and with the fact that Herb was a Mason that he gave us a generous discount on our purchases, and we left feeling that we had made a delightful new friend.
We arrived at Herb’s folks’ just before Ryan finished his nap and were able to fill them in on all our adventures and hear the report that Ryan had behaved himself admirably and had thoroughly enjoyed his own adventures before he woke up. It was wonderful to get away, but it was just as wonderful to be back home. It was such a lovely anniversary that I think we’ll have another one next year at the very same time.


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