Gobo is infectious. Since our last meal there, we talked about it on and off over the 3 weeks Arron & Amy visited, on our return drive and the moment we settled into their apartment. A return trip to Gobo UES was our first meal back in the city.
We all agreed to split an order of the Pine Nut Vegetable Medley with Lettuce Wraps since it was the one menu item we all went crazy for. I know Amy has, even since, took advantage of ordering this via take-out and I am excited to find out how they were upon arrival. That evening at our table they were a delectable as we remembered.
We again split some Edamame and I ordered one of my many Beet Salads of the summer. This one had a nice crunchy endive on it, some green beans and a coarse mustard vinaigrette. We enjoyed our appetizers over wine and cocktails (Sake Mojitos – YUM) and the tables around us were filled with patrons.
The crowd that evening varied from young folks getting together for a drink before starting a big night out together to a solitary older woman trying to chat with the stylish young ladies beside her to a family with older teens in t-shirt and jeans to groups of 30-somethings dressed to the nines.
I can’t even remember all of the great food we shared that night. I do know that we were in a happy bubble, feeling comfortable enough to take in the big city without letting its harsh edge take the color out of our time together. The stylish young women who had been sitting by the shabbily dressed old woman had made a hasty retreat, we got the feeling they didn’t feel like chatting with her that evening. It lead us 4 to talk about what we would have done in that situation. We all agreed that it would have depended on who we were with and the reason for dining that evening. It’s hard to open your evening to someone whom you don’t know but the older woman seemed only to want to connect and didn’t seem to have any issues like body odor that would have been a factor in not staying to dine near her.
Our entrées came and each surpassed our expectations. Every plate was presented in a lovely way with savory food piled high. We shared with each other and it was hard for me not to take too much of everything. Amy’s choice of Slow-cooked Malaysian Curry, a real favorite of mine, was perfect. The potatoes and carrots were just soft enough to be saturated with the mellow yellow curry but not to the point of falling into a mush.
Usually I will take notes about our meal and write down what each of us ordered. That evening I was fully focused on conversation and enjoying every moment of the meal. For that reason, I can’t tell you for sure if it was the Soy Cutlets or something different that I photographed on Jim’s plate. I know Arron’s meal came sizzling on a hot iron plate and it was different from what he ordered before. Maybe I should blame the second mojito.
Toward the end of our meal, the host came out carrying a large wedge of chocolate cake whose doubled tiered layers were separated by matching frosting. He happily walked up to the older woman, who had quietly finished her meal of something from a bamboo steamer by herself, and presented it to her. He started singing “Happy Birthday” to her.
One of my deepest wishes is that I could sing beautifully but I know my untrained voice is far from perfect. I love to sing but would have been really hard pressed to ever start to belt out a song by myself in front of people. Even a couple of mojitos wouldn’t have made it easy to sing in front of a packed restaurant upper east side diners. It was the host’s imperfect and unaccompanied voice that touched an empathic nerve in me and made me join in.
We weren’t attending a party nor at a chain restaurant with a bunch of waitresses clapping their hands and robotically and participating in their duties out of obligation. It was New York City where everyone has their own agenda and limited time. It was Upper East Side where noses can be so stuck in the air that they hardly come down to take time to roll their eyes in annoyance at all of the people and things they consider beneath them. That evening was different.
A sort of magic spread from that woman’s table with the host singing. Our table joined in and, instead of one or a small group of singers, the whole restaurant joined in. It was maybe 30 people singing by the end of the short song followed by some gentle and genuine clapping and cheers. All eyes were on the small elderly woman behind her large slice of birthday cake. Her mouth was slightly open and her hand was raised a bit to her face. Her eyes shined with astonished appreciation. Before I politely returned my focus back to our table, I saw the host beaming. What he had presented her with was more than a slice of cake and a well wishing song.
Tiny magical moments can unify a group of unrelated people. We were all in the same small vegetarian restaurant and many of us had probably noticed the woman eating by herself. No one stood to proselytise, lecture or rally us on treating each other with love and decency. All that took place was a small act of kindness that blossomed and infused the room with its inspiration.
The unifying song’s ripples carried even further that evening. Gobo took on a feeling of happiness from sharing in that moment. I would steal a glance at the woman now and then as she carefully enjoyed every bite of that huge slice of cake. A few times I saw her pause, look around and just shake her head as if she couldn’t believe that it was all real.
At one point I thought she had left but saw her back in her seat a few minutes later. I was all wrapped up in our own visit and enjoyment of the meal so I hadn’t caught what had happened, but Jim did. He noticed that the host came and spoke to her and they both walked over to a table near the front door where another couple sat. She chatted with them for a while and Jim could tell by everyone’s body language that the couple had paid for her meal. When I saw her back at her own table, she had a look of enchanted bewilderment. That’s when Jim clued us in as to what he had seen.
We hope that while she was still there that everyone departing took time to wish her a happy birthday. Amy lead us out and we followed her lead in wishing the woman well on her special evening. It was a magic at Gobo that we were all glad to be a part of.