Fine Dining in West Central Illinois

December 3rd my soul-friend and I motored to a nearby village to check out a restaurant—let’s call it ‘The Old Eucalyptus’—that had been receiving rave reviews from friends.

Actually, my physician, Dr. Rx had earlier gone to visit The Old Eucalyptus with about ten family members. He’d ordered quail, but in a move he claimed was quite out of character, Dr. Rx had sent it back to have the sauce removed—and the bird cooked a bit more. For upon lifting a wing, he’d found the flesh not only pink but bloody.

The chef had then charged out from his lair to complain to this very impertinent customer: “You have spoiled my presentation! Had you left the sauce alone, you’d have not been aware that my bird was pink! I cook my quail underdone!”

The good doctor (who says he is typically a mild, almost passive customer) replied, “Well, I’m paying the bill, and I eat my quail well-done.”

* * *

Anyhow, on December 3rd my best friend and I embarked into a chill, pre-solstice night, to motor about fifty miles southwest of our city, toward a small town not very far from Peoria, Illinois, to check out this little place so many of our friends had been raving about.

And when my date and I arrived at The Old Eucalyptus, only about five minutes late for our table reservation, we were pleasantly surprised at the appearances: the restaurant actually looked like a beautiful, small Italian bistro -- mostly white walls, some tiny Christmas lights in the windows.

Although the cuisine in fact exceeded our expectations, the dialog set into motion at intermittent but incessantly recurrent intervals by the owner and maitre d’ gave me paws. (He even walked out to chin with us for ten minutes on the sidewalk, breath plumes floating into the chill night air, and to hand us his card.)

The maitre d’ and owner was dressed casually, though not in a dirty T-shirt and dirty Levis, as my doctor had complained and although my companion and I did not really mind, he seemed a bit pushy -- too effusive, even intrusive, as he returned time and again to our table to trade small talk.

And so, just as my family practitioner had warned me, this bird was overly friendly. But none of this was food for thought, until the guy started to bear out Dr Rx’s report about his touchy objections to some of the liberties taken by his customers.

My Anam Cara had ordered trout, while I had chosen salmon, to share. And to make a long story short, the cranberry topping on the salmon was sweet, much as the chutney appetizer had been. Additionally, both my friend and I like to squeeze lemons, whether on fish, or to balance an overly sweet taste, or for whatever reason.


I for one had never realized that there are human beings who look upon food as something to argue about, as regarding what is correct.

(De rigeur?)

I had simply assumed that the ancient saying, whatever the Latin phrase is (Non argumentum de gustibus, whatever), “There is no arguing matters of taste,” was the final word on such matters.

However, this fellow thought it was perhaps acceptable for us to add lemon to our water, our chutney, and even the cranberries on the salmon—but not on the trout! Oh no!

He went to the trouble to explain that his chefs were trained to let the natural flavors, of trout, etc., through.

Standing out by the curb, as he handed us his card, I said to him, as pleasantly and with as much gentilesse as I could muster (Geoffrey Chaucer, I am sure, would have smiled approvingly), “Sir, I love this restaurant. It is beautiful. Your food causes me to wish to return again and again. I particularly enjoyed the miraculously simple roasted potatoes and the Riesling, while the trout and the salad were divine.

“( In fact, in my heart this heavenly café will henceforth be dubbed “Mama’s”-- much like the club called “Mama’s” on that old black and white TV show in the Fifties, that jazz themed detective series called Peter Gunn.)

“However, I have written you a check for just under seventy-nine dollars -- not counting a handsome tip. And I would like you to understand that my friend and I like lemons.

“And while I’m in equal parts dismayed and mystified that you seem to regard this act of free will, this choice of ours, as some sort of sacrilege, we are simply going to continue to put lemons on our trout.

And so let me just ask you this: what do you think you have to say about it?

My heart-friend softly reproached me for my unnecessarily funky, though mild -- perhaps excessively acerbic – frostiness, as we walked across the street to unlock the Green Honda and begin our hour and a half journey back home through the starry, chill night to Galesburg.

And indeed she may have been right to find fault.

For example, will we have gracious and hospitable entree when we return to The Old Eucalyptus?

Only time will tell, I suppose.

Maybe I have cut off my own trout nose to spite my face.

Copyright © 2005 Jim McCurry

Jim McCurry currently resides in Galesburg, Illinois. He received his M.A. in creative writing from Colorado State University.

Recent publications include Annetna Nepo, Muse Apprentice Guild and Rio. Other publications in Alba, Big City Lit, Cyber Oasis, Drought, Eleven Bulls, Fish Drum, Identity Theory, Tryst, Poets Against the War, Niederngasse, Snow Monkey Press, Zacatecas Review and Zuzu's Petals Quarterly.

Earlier credits include Quarterly West and Writer's Forum (Gerard Manley Hopkins Prize, 1999). He's taught at Carl Sandburg College in philosophy and poetry since 1980, and has a PhD from the University of Denver.