by C. Jeanette Tyson
vacationing with a foodie. More than that, a restaurant critic. Ok,
a restaurant critic from a city full of both restaurants and critics: New York.
What does this mean? For one, it means the presence of two kinds of
coffee makers on the counter and three kinds of milk in the fridge
doesn’t cause any eye-rolling. It means chicken sandwiches with roasted
pepper and arugula instead of peanut butter and jelly. It means a bit
of seltzer in the pancake mix every morning to make pancakes fluffier (hot tip of the day, moms).
It also means the ice cream the kids got today after a full morning of
jumping waves and building sandcastles and flying kites on the
beach -- imagine four little cherubs, curly hair and straight, blonde and
dark, varying shades of smooth, brown skin and all that ice cream
dripping happily down chins and hands while they sit so big-eyed and
sweet -- can be compared and deemed less flavorful than the ice cream
they got yesterday.
Now that’s harsh.
We’re in the barrier islands of North Carolina, in a town named Duck.
It’s a long way from San Francisco where Pascale, the critic, and I met
a dozen years ago. She was still writing features then, an
award-winning journalist as hot on the story as a pig after truffles.
Nowhere, in this country at least, is the good life more celebrated
than San Francisco. Talk about your arugula. Even in our young and
raucous 30’s, we were more interested in the new restaurant than the
new club. Wine flowed all around. Olive trees danced in the sunlight,
silver and gold. Eating well was our privilege, a right we’d earned
when leaving behind our jello-swilling folks in Ohio.
So, Pascale said, it was not so unusual that she would start writing
about food there. It was not so much the food, in fact, but the people
who fascinated her, the ones who’d dedicated their lives to filling our
tables so gracefully, carefully and with eccentricities that were
Then life happened the way it does, haphazardly but with a plan: the
movement of an editor east and the call to follow, the writing of a
book about pie, the notice of a Mr. Big Publisher, and-viola-suddenly
she’s dining out three times a week on the expense account and telling
all of New York about it. That’s a lot of people who may, or may not,
come to your restaurant. Ah, the power of the pen over the fork.
Anyway, we had a good laugh about all this at the Sunset Grille in
Duck. We went there our fourth night in town because, frankly, we’d
gotten such lousy fare at the local fish markets. All my dreams of a
crusty fisherman tossing us fish right off his boat were shattered.
Surely if the hot chef in New York can have sushi shipped in from
Tokyo every day, a town lapped by the waters of the Atlantic could
offer some decent flounder. We were baffled and, being on vacation,
never did get to the bottom of that story.
The Sunset Grille, as you can imagine, offered location, location,
location and a tiki bar, so I really didn’t expect much from the food.
But they did aim to please. In case one kind of liquor wasn’t enough in
your cocktail, they offered libations with four or five. And we could
keep the glass.
It took a while for our waitress to find us. She arrived in a gust of
sea breeze, all hair and frazzle. How ya’ll doing tonight?
We’re good. Seems a little hectic for you, though.
Sweetie, she said, you don’t know how much I need a cigarette right now.
We ordered and she got our regular cocktails and conch fritters to us
without too much delay. The fritters had larger chunks of conch than
the last fritters someone had had somewhere and passed muster.
Twenty minutes later, or was it thirty, our waitress returned with the
bad news that the kitchen was out of the special seafood trio I’d
ordered. And you should’ve seen the look I gave the cook. But
you worry, sweetie, I’m discounting your bill.
But you can’t fool a foodie. We knew she’d probably forgotten to tag
that special before going out back for a smoke.
Didn’t she know who Pascale was? We wrote imaginary headlines, saw the
place shuttered and abandoned, a single clam shell rolling on the dusty
As it turned out, the mahi mahi I took on concession was fabulous, the
best fish I had the entire week. The sweet corn, Pascale said, had
hints of vanilla. Yum. Though to me, it just tasted like childhood.
I asked Pascale if there was any particular boning up she did when she
became a critic or whether she just went on instinct. I knew instinct,
in her case, was cultural. She’s French and her father has worked in
restaurants all his life.
I go on instinct. In the mornings at breakfast, we talked about what we
would have for lunch. At lunch, we talked about what we would have for
At the Sunset Grille, the talk about where we were and what we were
eating turned into talk about places we’d been before and people we
knew, mistakes we’d made that turned out ok and then that talk turned
into how far we’d come and where it seemed we might be heading. The
moon was low and fat over the water, the air was warm and wet and time
stretched out on all sides of us, connecting then and now, and here and
Everyone’s qualified to celebrate our good lives. Or, as they say,
life’s a beach.
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mom to Maddy and Jackson
whose most recent achievement was mastering the art of suntan lotion
application. Her branding and advertising work can be seen at
Pascale LeDraoulec, mom to Mina and Sabine,
reviews restaurants for The Daily News in New York and is author of