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Regular menu features a very personal routine

The coronavirus has made my dining-out routine a shambles, and it is not likely to improve in the near future.

More about that later.

Food has always played an important role in my life, not only because I love to eat but for business reasons.

During my working years, I was frequently required to represent my employer at social functions and make polite, light conversation with dinner guests.

I discovered a noncontroversial and popular subject for dinner banter was to ask my table partner what is her/his all-time favorite meal, from starter to main course, side dishes and then dessert.

After hearing their selections, I would be asked to reciprocate with my own preferences. It made for interesting and insightful exchanges.

For the record, my all-time favorite meal would start with thinly sliced Scottish smoked salmon, followed by a medium cooked filet mignon and a dessert of crepe suzette.

The perfect beverage for this repast would be a chilled bottle of Chardonnay.

For almost 20 years, my wife and I always ate in tablecloth restaurants at least twice a week. We had American cuisine for all other meals, so we enjoyed sampling foreign offerings on our date nights.

Our area offered a wide range of foreign eateries. We settled on six favorites and rotated among them. They were Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and French.

My wife passed away several years ago, but I continued our custom of eating out. However, I was happier going out at lunchtime, rather than in the evening, which was our custom.

I still sat at the same tables we occupied, and many of the same waiters who served the two of us continued with me alone.

They even memorized my menu preferences, so that eased the ordering process.

At the Italian restaurant, I liked its cannelloni, pork and rice at Thai, Peking duck at Chinese, Tandoori chicken at Indian, sushi at Japanese and Dover sole at French.

And then the COVID-19 scare came along, and for the past 16 months I, and everybody else in my retirement community, adhered to isolation, masking and social distancing.

Our community dining room did a wonderful job serving hot meals, but the restaurants I frequented closed. They eventually offered take-away meals from a limited menu that did not include many of my favorites.

As the feeder of almost last resort, I turned to TV dinners, and stocked my freezer with old reliables such as lasagna, stuffed peppers, SOS (vets, you know, the stuff on a shingle), meatloaf and such.

Prepared meals like these have improved over the years and are now quite tasty.

As an absolute last resort, I would cook a meal for myself from scratch, in which the main attraction was a lamb chop, steak, hamburger, hot dog or tacos.

Were I a wealthy man with a personal chef like Wolfgang Puck, I would revel in the joy of planning a weekly menu with all my favorite meals at my command.

But, in reality, I have more in common with Ronald McDonald than Wolfgang Puck.

James Wentz is a Cove historian and retired Naval officer. His column appears monthly.

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