Originally posted on my 70th birthday – almost 5 years ago
Bern’s Steak House
Those who read a great number of blogs know that the dysfunctional family is a familiar topic. How many tales of disowned children, mother-daughter feuds, fathers who would rather go to their death bed than speak to a prodigal son, have you read?
And I’m not including those sagas involving mental illness – just those which began with perhaps small perceived slights and, like nuclear winter, mushroomed into a sky darkening event lasting for decades.
I’m a lucky man. Sure I’ve had my own tragedies but they are of a different sort. I can’t really understand the dysfunctional family because I haven’t experienced one.
My mom and dad loved their children beyond measure and showed it everyday. My wife’s family was the same. Neither I nor my brothers were ever struck by our parents. My wife and I never struck our children. A look from my wife was usually sufficient. My daughters married men who were raised by loving mothers and fathers. I have known my brother and sister-in-laws for 50 years and an unkind word has never passed between us. My own daughters call me everyday just to see how the old man is doing. No drugs. No alcohol in excess. No unwanted pregnancies.
In any case, it was my birthday – the big seven zero. I mean, how many more zeros does anyone get? So my girls and their men decided to take me to dinner to celebrate. The eldest and her husband drove over 300 miles to be here.
Now it has been a long time since I dined at a really fine restaurant. Retired guys eat at the chains; Chilli’s or Carrabbas’. “Fine” dining and pricey restaurants went away with my company credit card and expense account.
So Sunday night we hop into the car and, unknown to me, drive into Tampa to Bern’s Steakhouse – one of Tampa’s finest “eateries” and one of America’s Top Ten steak houses. It’s a perennial on the list.
They grow their own beef on the farm, age their own steaks and grow their own vegetables. They are reputed to have the largest wine cellar in the world – you name it Bern’s has it; thousands of vintages from across the globe with over 200 by the glass. In it’s cellars can be found depression era French reds, pre-war Sauternes and 17th century Madeiras.
And they’re pricey. Four “dollar signs” out of a potential five is pretty pricey for Tampa. I mean, George Bush ate at Bern’s twice during his Presidency.
Bern’s has a strict dress code – so we dress up. No Florida wear – no shorts, flip flops, sneakers, tees. Business casual. Driving into Tampa I have no idea where we are going except that it will be just us.
We pull into valet parking and I see the sign – I’ve heard of Bern’s but never been here. Bern’s is a place you go to celebrate something – unless of course you are the 1% and eat here regularly.
Bern’s interior reminds one of a 1900s bordello – dark oak everywhere, red walls, no windows. Perfect for a good steak.
Bern’s has a full bar – so it’s the first of four Dewar’s and water I will consume this evening. My eldest orders a glass of Creamer’s Pinot Noir. And so we are off.
A table for five. Appetizers to die for – fois gras, escargot, vichysoisse, french onion soup, salad, impeccable service. More wine; more scotch, laughter with my grown up little girls and the men in their lives. All for my birthday.
A ten ounce one a a half inch thick New York Strip, medium rare for me. Delmonico Steaks for them. Tiny perfectly done potatoes, carrots. Yum.
Sipping on Dewar’s I look around and take it it. Two sisters, two years apart and their husbands; part of the Facebook generation. Once upon a time I would sit and look at the old timers; now I was the old timer, moved to the head of the line. These four will go where I cannot – into the future. I can see them dining together without me, perhaps with their own kids. Maybe their mother and I did pretty well.
Before dessert we take a tour of the kitchen and the wine cellar – a must for any “foodie”. I never saw so much wine in one place. Most expensive bottle? Thirty five thousand dollars. Right.
We move upstairs to the dessert rooms – crafted of gigantic wine casks split open and forming a curved wall on either side of the table, open at each end but invisible to other guests. Another drink before a Caffé Ybor City coffee for me. Turkish coffees and espresso for the others. Lots of ice creams (macadamia nut is fantastic), cheese cakes, chocolates, munchies, baked Alaska etc. You name it, they got it. And music. Pick your own music for your wine cask and table.
Eventually the bill comes. Not mine. Smile. It’s my birthday.
We bid adieu at the valet parking area. My youngest is going home; my eldest and son in law will stay with me tonight and head home tomorrow morning.
We get back to my house and I crack open an 18 year old single malt scotch whiskey; a gift from an ex-sister-in-law – my brother’s third wife. She doesn’t talk to him and it’s been 30 plus years since the divorce but she still talks to me. And she remembered the brother of her ex-husband’s 70th birthday.
Life doesn’t get much better.
P.S. – They will all be here this weekend for my annual Easter fete along with my grandson Clark. His great uncles and cousins on this coast will meet him for the first time.