On the second day of January a couple of years ago, I called friends to see if they wanted to join Jessica and me for dinner at a fabled restaurant in the countryside.

The restaurant is famous for its exquisite food and lush atmosphere. But we had not gone because it was equally renowned for its astronomical prices.
Dinner for two, we'd heard, could easily run $500.

Reserving a table was reputed to be as difficult as understanding teenagers. But on a whim, I had called that morning and found that, incredibly, there was a table for four available that evening. I booked it.

The day was unseasonably warm, and, as our car hugged the curves of the rolling hills, the four of us were giddy with anticipation. Little did we know that calamity was just around the next bend.

We arrived in town shortly before dusk, checked into a little B&B, and heard time and again about the restaurant's chef, who, it seemed, had established himself as the leader of a cult.

When we arrived at the restaurant, rather than being greeted at the door, then ushered to our table, we stood around the lobby, waiting. After finally being seated, we again waited, this time for a waiter. We polished off the bread and butter and could have played a game of chess by the time he finally arrived.

We struck a sour note when we asked him for the tasting menu, as he slammed his notebook shut, sighed loudly, and stormed off. He returned many minutes later, thrust the tasting menu at us, and disappeared for another epoch. We pleased him, though, when, after some debate, we blew off the tasting menu and went à la carte.