I had a dream the other night that I was on the lam in a dreary post-apocalyptic world in which the majority of the human populace had been infected with a symbiote that created among the afflicted a hive mentality that desired only to spread, spread, spread. I picked my way through broken cities and polluted waterfronts, making friends with the shadows and climbing through abandoned scaffolding, until I found myself in a melancholy, but well-lit church. Robert DeNiro sat on a pew by the door, and as I dutifully genuflected I fell fearfully in love with him. He was hard, glaring, unflinching post-apocolyptic Robert DeNiro, not the Robert DeNiro of our softly denigrating reality. His worn leather jacket stretched across shoulders too broad to speak of without whimpering, his salt and pepper hair hung to his shoulders, and his wild, wiry eyebrows bristled above his murderous eyes. I self-consciously turned and walked to the bathroom, and he followed me, and we had a weird and wonderful anonymous sexual encounter. Just before I woke up I discovered that the landscape of my dream was actually a set for a new Robert DeNiro movie titled Grief, and that I had played a brief supporting role.
Several days later, I had lunch with some friends at the Wharf Tavern in Warren, RI. We took advantage of a rare sunny day to spend some time on the trails at the Audubon Society Wildlife Refuge, and the sunny, salty air urged us to eat the sort of seafood we imagined frolicked just out of our sight in the late winter waters. We arrived with half an hour left until the end of their lunch service, and we were seated promptly at a table next to a window that looked out upon the wharf. Two ducks bobbed near a dock a few yards away, a swan paddled off in the distance, the sun was still sparkling and the sky was blue. It was glorious. The interior of the tavern was fairly standard stuff– bad carpet, wood paneling, a fake ficus in the corner forlornly adorned with unlit christmas lights — but with wraparound windows overlooking the wharf, who cares?
My friends Stef and Lily started with some fresh littlenecks while I averted my eyes. To each her own, but seriously it’s like watching someone eat a bug. They slurped them with enough gusto to convince me that they at least were delectable to someone whose tastes are so inclined. Lily and I then each had a nice cup of lobster bisque. Nice, hot, cooked lobster bisque. It was pink and creamy, velvety smooth with chunks of juicy lobster benevolently suspended throughout. We both added lots of pepper to counteract the richness; halfway through it began to taste sort of smug. We shared between us the baked scrod and the pan-seared scallops, both of which came with a pile of turnips and carrots mashed together. The scallops were beautifully caramelized, and if they were slightly overcooked they made up for it with their richly browned, exquisitely seasoned exteriors, each one a tiny little fishy creme brulee.
Our waitress was pleasant and efficient, delivering without fail our myriad requests — gluten-free for Stef, extra spicy Bloody Marys for all, lots of lemon wedges, and at my behest, a bowl of melted butter. We placed the butter bowl in the center of the table with a spoon and ladled it over each bite like gravy, and halfway through the meal the spoon was forgotten and we dipped each bite like fondue. When all the fish was devoured we started dipping the vegetable mash — a tasty enough accompaniment — and while we appreciated the pop of color and the provision of a secondary butter vessel, we enjoyed it with more or less the attitude of, “Well, all the seafood is gone, I guess I’ll eat you now, as long as you’re here.”-After my luncheon companions crumpled their napkins and leaned back, I finished the butter with the remainder of my oyster crackers, little crunchy morsels bobbing in their golden pond like the courting ducks outside our window on the glittering wharf.
As we finished our meal, we sat in contented silence, and the sounds of the conversation at the table next to ours could be clearly overheard. They were talking about Robert DeNiro. Dazed and butter-drunk, I weaved my way past the lobster tank to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the only surreal aspect that the ladies’ room held within was several watercolor illustrations depicting different types of toilets through the ages. I gazed at one, transfixed for a moment, and on my return to the dining room neither the butter in my belly nor the sparkling sun outside prevented me feeling, as I inwardly stumbled over my mortal inability to awaken from a world that houses toilet portraiture and tanks of manacled lobsters under the same roof, a pang of grief.
Yet thus is the meat of reality portioned out. Next to your buttery scrod there shall sometimes lie a vegetable mash, and instead of a rugged Robert DeNiro in the lavatory there shall be displayed highly romanticized portraits of potties. It is, in the end, a small price to pay for starring in the leading role of your adventure. Let there only be the sun and the water, let these two elements combine to nourish the tasty little creatures that you have the power to order appear upon a plate in front of you, and let thy waitress be generous and unjudging with the butter.
The Wharf Tavern, 215 Water Street, Warren, 401-289-2524, Monday-Saturday: Lunch 11:30am – 3pm, Dinner 3pm – 10pm, Sunday: 12pm – 9pm, Sunday Brunch: 10am – 2pm, thewharftavernri.com