Tuesday, May 11, 2010


In my job, I do a lot of explaining about the food and beverage we serve. I'm used to talking about nebbiolo and how it can often exhibit notes of tobacco and violets. I describe amaro-- what it is and the spectrum it runs from floral and citrusy to foresty and menthol. I distinguish mild provolone dolce from its sharper and more pungent cousin, provolone piccante. I talk about flavors and textures, nuance and subtlety. I use flowery words like "bright" and "robust" and "velvety" and "aromatic" and "briny" and "lush."

A lot of the time, "delicious" does the trick.

I'm so used to giving more detailed descriptions about less familiar items that once in a while, I get completely thrown by the simplest of questions.

For example, the other night, a woman waiting for a table wanted to order a drink.

Do you have like a sparkling water, or a club soda? she asked.

I have both, I said.

Well, what does club soda taste like? she asked. It's been a while.

Was that a trick question? I wondered.

Now, I know not all water tastes the same. I rarely drink bottled water, but when I do, I make sure it isn't Evian because it tastes like swimming pool water to me-- bleachy and kind of slimy in texture. And it is common knowledge that not all tap waters are created equal.

There are plenty of foods that I totally take for granted that are incorporated into my palate but that I don't expect other people to necessarily be familiar with. I totally understand when people ask what lovage tastes like. Or dandelion greens. Or hell, even parmesan cheese.

But club soda? Who doesn't know what club soda tastes like? And can't you just sort of take a stab at what it might taste like? Is trying to imagine its taste that far beyond one's ability to conjure? And she alluded to having had club soda at some point in her past, so it's not like she'd never even had club soda before. Did she think I was talking about something else altogether?

Is it strange that I thought that question was strange?

It's very refreshing, I started. It has big, lively bubbles.

Big, lively bubbles? I think I might have rolled my eyes at myself for coming up with that.

I wasn't sure what else to say. But my answer was enough for her to order one. And it was lucky for me that she didn't ask me to elaborate because I really don't know that I could have.

But next time I get asked that question, at least I'll be ready.

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