Notes From Nestipac

By Phyllis Rauch

My Return to the Waldorf


notes-nestipacAfter a busy morning of village errands, all I wanted was a quick snack to take home, where I could put up my feet and enjoy the view from my terrace. I spotted a sign signaling Amigo de la Tostada.

As I entered the small, immaculate establishment, the smiling proprietor replied, “Yes we have sandwiches.”

“What kind of bread?” I asked.

“White Bimbo,” I’m sure he saw the disappointed look on my face, for he continued almost immediately, “If you’d prefer something different I’ll run out and get it.”

I was embarrassed to be giving this nice man a hard time. Debating whether to stay or leave, I glanced over to where his wife was stacking fish filets.

“What kind of fish is that?” I indicated.

“Huachinango, red snapper,” he replied. “I have a large order for filetes empanizados (breaded), but you may have one.”

“Could I have it al mojo de ajo?” (sautéed in butter and garlic)

Reassuring me I could have my filet any way I wished, he pulled out a red plastic chair for me. Next, he shook open a large, white, cloth napkin and laid it gently over my lap. Definitely a first time experience, in Jocotepec.

The snapper was served with fresh vegetables and rice, all perfectly cooked, just the way I like them.

“Have you worked in the states?”

“Yes, five years at the Astoria.”

One positive thing about having lived to a certain age is that I seem to run into more and more of life’s delightful coincidences. The word “Astoria” brought back a very special memory from September 1966.

That sunny, Manhattan afternoon, my husband, Georg, was trying to finish a watercolor of midtown skyscrapers. At the same time a glorious string of scarlet fire engines was roaring past, sirens screaming, a Dalmatian proudly planted in front.

Behind Georg a strange man was also trying to get his attention. The watercolor was almost finished, but Georg was also very curious about that fire.One of his favorite things about life in this new city was the fire engines. Yet this stranger was still pestering him. It was really too much.

“I’d like to invite you to have supper with me tonight at the Waldorf Astoria.” the man said. The name meant nothing whatsoever to Georg, recently arrived from Austria.

Just to get rid of this bothersome person, Georg gave him our telephone number. By the time he returned to our small apartment on Second Avenue, he had forgotten the incident. We were talking about what to prepare for supper when the phone rang. Georg called out to the kitchen, “Someone wants to invite us to a place called the Waldorf Astoria,” I came running.

What could this man want with Georg? It definitely seemed suspicious. Understanding the signs I was making, Georg said, basically just playing along, “Well, I’d have to bring my wife too.” The stranger accepted.

Georg’s cousin, Marianne, having traveled from Europe to our wedding, was still visiting. When Georg asked if she could also come, we were certain this would end the bizarre conversation.

“Yes, bring her too, by all means,” the stranger said hanging up.

I, at least, had certainly heard of the Waldorf Astoria, and wasn’t about to miss what, if not a major joke, might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

We were met at the front door of the famous hotel and ushered into the restaurant. Who should be that evening’s featured entertainment but the marvelous and debonair Maurice Chevalier? We were encouraged to select whatever we wished from the menu. Our host revealed little about himself, but seemed fascinated by us. We ate, drank, and danced to the exquisite music.

At one point our mystery man asked Marianne if she’d like to speak with her mother in Vienna. In an age when such things simply didn’t happen, we visited the man’s room at the Waldorf and Marianne spoke transatlantically to her amazed mother for half an hour. It was a night of wonders.

My new friend Santiago, in my hometown of Jocotepec, now brought the story full circle. He told me about his years working in the Astoria restaurant in the gourmet department. Finally, as a special treat, he surprised me with an unexpected dessert—directly from the big apple - Bananas Flambé.

Thus, in a small but totally delightful way, I returned after so many years, to the inimitable Waldorf Astoria.

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