There are great eating experiences that are great because they are pleasurable and there are great eating experiences that are great because they are pleasurable and an ordeal (as well as a kind of cinematic experience). So it was dining at Indochine in my old hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina recently. The southeast was going through a heat wave that was crushing and which I had become unused to after a decade of living in the Northeast.
In any event our daughter Kristina suggested Indochine, a restaurant that has been in Wilmington many years but that we had never bothered to eat there in particular. Lynn and I do enjoy Thai and Vietnamese fare which the restaurant specializes in and we were ready for a break having eaten at the Basics downtown for several days in a row.
We (me, Lynn, Kristina, Jackson and Sloan) got there on a Saturday evening and the place was abuzz with couples, families and singles. Even though it was past 7 pm it was still hot and sultry. We were told by the hostess that we would have an hour wait to sit inside (possibly less if we took first available). Ultimately, we opted for first available despite the fact that we would have to battle the heat and dark if we sat outside. Our stomachs prevailed and after about an hour we were seated in the garden portion of the place outside. We waited in the gazebo garden behind the restaurant for about 1/2 hour until we were seated.
In the meantime, I went inside with my grandson Jackson and ordered some drinks for us and eavesdropped while four co-eds were sitting at the bar. As I was standing there I thought about how the air conditioning is so powerful in Wilmington it feels like it is nuclear powered (at least it feels that way sometimes). I also marveled at how Wilmington natives are often so unwilling or unable to censor themselves in regular conversation with strangers all around. One of the only complaints I would have about the restaurant is that the bartenders were not sharp that night; they were certainly busy but they didn't bother to apologize for taking so long to take our order and the drinks weren't anything to write home about.
Finally we were seated and we were waited on by a wonderful young waiter who said his name was something like "PJ." By now all of us were radiating heat, but were too enchanted and too "into it" to worry or fret about the heat. Sweat was pouring off of us and I had the urge to pour my icy martini over my head instead of pouring it into me (rationality prevailed and I poured it into myself). We labored to read the menu in the dimming light but we decided on the crispy calamari and dumpling sampler. Both were very good and memorably presented on platters shaped like (among other things) boats.
The appetizers were merely warm ups for us as we ordered (among other things) Scallops with Ginger (Me), as well as Buddha's Feast in a Nest (Lynn) which was a filling vegetarian dish. Truth be told, we quickly filled up on the appetizers and were not starving by the time our entrees arrived (at least I wasn't). Perversely, we ordered our food extra hot as a way of thumbing our nose at the Southern heat which was still formidable in the darkness.
So, eating at Indochine ended up being a sweet and delirious ordeal that is filtered through my sensory memory (I didn't bother taking notes, it was too dark to see and I was lucky to be able to read the menu). The food at the restaurant was very good, bordering on great.
Lynn and I often play a game which is "If we go back there." If Lynn and I go back to Indochine we will probably have our sauce on the side as a couple of the dishes we tried were soaked in various Asian sauces which were a little on the heavy and sweet side for me (this might be a kind of overlap with Eastern NC Barbecue which can easily be overwhelmed with vinegar based sauce). We may either skip the appetizers or the entrees as we ordered too much food (a typical reaction of the starving diner).
Nonetheless, Indochine is unbeatable for atmosphere, mostly good service (with patient and good communication from the hostess) and most of all with the atmospheric set pieces of being at the bar with my grandson wandering around with my family through the haze of the gazebo garden we could have been in any number of films such as The Year of Living Dangerously, Until the End of the World or The Man With the Golden Gun. For the night I felt like 007 with his grandson in tow; a pretty cool feeling.