Sunday, August 14, 2011

#7. St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail

As a child there was no one I wanted to be more than my mother. (Although Britney Spears took that role for a few months in third grade.) Her life seemed so exciting and I could not wait to grow up to have a life like hers. While my reasons for idolization were long and varied, my desire for mimicry was strongest on the nights of her annual work party at St. Elmo Steakhouse, a ritzy restaurant in downtown Indianapolis.

My mother is a beautiful woman in any situation, but she always stunned me on those nights. When she walked down the stairs, her heels clicking and perfume wafting, she was the closest thing to a model I had ever seen in spite of her barely 5'4'' frame. The St. Elmo nights are some of the few times that I remember both of my parents dressing up and going out without me and my brother. Because of this, I knew that St. Elmo's was a magical place where beautiful parents ate steak and laughed with friends. It was a world so incredibly foreign, and therefore alluring, to an 8 year old whose social life was at its wildest during Girl Scout meetings.

Why this personal revelation of my childhood? It explains the odd reverence that I hold for St. Elmo's. Although the restaurant is nationally renowned, my regard for the restaurant is absurdly high. Before this post, I had never actually entered, let alone eaten at, St. Elmo's. Despite this, or maybe because of it, I was always weirdly impressed when anyone told me they had dined there. Whenever I would drive past it, I would peer longingly into the windows, trying to scope out the clientele. I was less curious about the cuisine than what the restaurant represented: the glamour of adulthood. So when I entered the restaurant for the first time a few days ago, the impending weight of maturity hung heavily upon my shoulders.

My friends and I entered the restaurant at 10:30 because I stupidly waited until 6:45 to make a dinner reservation. This was a poor choice because it was: a) a Friday night, b) Devour Downtown, and c) St. Elmo's. Although I was kind of bummed at first, it worked out perfectly because we were able to go swing dancing at Fountain Square Theatre for an hour or so before dinner, giving me an even better excuse to get dressed up and fulfill my 8-year-old-girl St. Elmo's fantasy.

 By the time we arrived, the restaurant was mostly cleared out. Our waiter quickly served us a bread basket and took our order: shrimp cocktail and King crab macaroni and cheese. Before I begin on the ordered food, I must pay homage to the bread basket. Three varieties of grains were cradled in that wonderful basket: pumpernickel (meh), onion rolls (heaven), and cheese bread a.k.a. gourmet Cheez Its (even better than the onion rolls). Seriously, visit St. Elmo's if only for the bread basket. It is unparalleled, and free!

Once the shrimp cocktail arrived, I was forced to set aside the gourmet Cheez Its and face my fear. In addition to luxury, I associate St. Elmo's with tearfully fiery cocktail sauce. My parents always returned from the dinner parties with cocktail sauce anecdotes and I always made a mental note to avoid it at all costs. Before I left my house last Friday, my dad told me that even my grandfather, a connoisseur of all things outrageously spicy, cried while eating the sauce. But that could be because he spooned it up plain.... Anyway, I was definitely hesitant to try the shrimp cocktail.

My hesitation was well warranted. I hated the shrimp cocktail. Sure, the shrimp was amazing and deliciously plump, but the horseradish-ey sauce ruined it for me. Even after trying to scrape off the devilish sauce, my sinuses were still on fire. The only time I can imagine appreciating the cocktail sauce would be in a time of sinus infection. Call me crazy, but I don't particularly want my food to make me cry and/or experience excruciating burning of the nasal cavity. I suppose it is an acquired taste, but one that I will gladly never acquire.

My picture was fuzzy, so this is one from St. Elmo's website
After cleansing my palette with an upscale Cheez It, the macaroni and cheese arrived. It was a behemoth portion topped with breadcrumbs and tender crabmeat. My friends and I eagerly ate to clear our mouths and memories of the cocktail sauce. This was the mac daddy of mac and cheese (excuse the pun) and easily compensated for the appetizer.

Same goes for the King Crab macaroni and cheese
Although I was disappointed with my reception of the shrimp cocktail and the doggy bag our waiter forgot to deliver, my overall experience was great. It was fun to finally partake in a bit of the ritual that embodied my parents' adulthood. Finally I was the one looking out rather than looking in.

No comments:

Post a Comment