I recently had breakfast at the Insomniac Capriform Cafe.
I’ve mentioned (grep tells me) the ICC fourteen (fifteen now) times in the last two years; it’s the only eating-out-place that I’ve talked about that much so you can probably infer that I kind of like it. It’s existence is sort of Albert Einstein’s fault — if ‘fault’ is the right word. It probably isn’t.
I’ve mentioned more than once that I spent several years in grad school studying nothing. I shared an office with three other students, not one of whom was studying nothing. (Naked singularities, relativistic shock fronts and trying to drive me insane — but all of those are something, not nothing.) In the adjacent offices were another half-dozen grads. All of them were studying something too.
There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding physicists (They’re arrogant. They’re irritating know-it-alls. They’re socially inept.) and there are germs of truth in all of them. (For example, on my very first day at university, it was drilled into me/us that “All physicists are arrogant bastards”; that’s one of only two things I remember from that day.) The entertainment industry — always tasteful and restrained — shamelessly exploits these stereotypes whenever they think they can use them to make a quick buck. (Because, after all, there aren’t many stereotypes left that it’s socially acceptable to
exploit so they better do it while they can.)
Flying in the face of the various stereotypes, though, one of the grad students in a nearby office actually had (gasp) a family: a wife. A First Born that called me a hairy toad. A Second Born that didn’t. It was almost like he was a regular human being.
So was his wife. She was also motivated, skilled and efficient; while her husband was working on (and solving) a problem that had defied solution since 1942 (I had already tried and failed miserably) she helped open a restaurant and became one of its first pastry chefs.
The restaurant was, of course, the Insomniac Capriform Cafe.
The ICC was/is a lot of things. It had (still has) an eclectic clientele — you find students, teachers, parents, grandparents, doctors, lawyers… All sorts of things. (Time was, you’d find a booth full of librarians every Sunday morning.) It had (still has) a fairly quirky staff — men, women, musicians, artists and even the odd mayoral candidate. And it had/has a somewhat contradictory menu: at heart I think it would ‘like’ to be a vegetarian restaurant (and, indeed, most of the dishes are) but they do a brisk breakfast business and for a lot of people ‘breakfast’ means ‘bacon and eggs.’
When I was eating my non-vegetarian breakfast (The ICC is pretty much the only place that I eat bacon: two slices a week, more or less. There is a certain irony in this.) I happened to glance at the blackboard; it said that the soup-of-the-day was “vegan cream of mushroom.”
This made me stop and think for two reasons. First of all, that sort of thing confuses me. I mean, following the word ‘vegan’ with another word that by definition means ‘not vegan’, well, I just don’t get it. I have tons of things I don’t eat but I don’t feel a need to look for ersatz versions of them. Whatever — if it makes people happy, why do I care? But this also underlines the weird relationship that vegetarian (or near-vegetarian) restaurants often seem to have with dairy products.
And that dredged up a memory.
A few years back, Ms. Rose and I were in Los Angeles to see friends, ride roller coasters and pay a visit to acres of travertine and a rose named after a cookie. While we were there (the city, not the travertine) we needed lunch so one day we went to a place not completely unlike the ICC except that it was ‘officially’ vegetarian; no bacon could be found on the premises. Not even for breakfast.
We consulted the menu. We looked at the daily specials. Oo, that looked good: it was a cheese sandwich made with four different kinds of cheese and a bunch of other things. It sounded good. I saw someone eating one at a table over in a corner; it looked good too. I’ll have one of those, I told the waitress.
She didn’t say ‘perfect.’ She said “There’s dairy in that.” But she didn’t say it in an informational, I’m-telling-you-a-factoid-that-you-might-not-have-noticed-and-may-find-interesting sort of voice. No, she said it as if it was a warning. Sort of like “As you know, the cook is a convicted serial poisoner; the merest mouthful of one of his cheese sandwiches could lead to a painful, messy death.” While I appreciated the warning, it was a cheese sandwich and was one of the daily specials, so I repeated my order. She shrugged with the obvious subtext of “It’s your everlasting soul, not to mention funeral.” I can’t help but think I’ve seen that scene in a movie; one character makes light of a danger that another character — wiser, more experienced, more sensible — warns him about. It never ends well. Since I couldn’t remember which movie I saw it in, I said I’d risk it because, after all, one expects to find dairy in a CHEESE SANDWICH. Eventually she was convinced and moved on to beverages — what did we want to drink?
One of the other daily specials was a milkshake, made with fresh, local, in-season strawberries. I said I would have one of those.
Her reaction? “There’s dairy in that.”