Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dates at Nate's

Bandar lit up when she realized I was parallel parking in front of her favorite restaurant, on West 25th Street. I hadn't told her where we were going. Only that I wanted to take her to lunch after her physical and occupational therapy. True to form she wasn't excited, at first. This was yesterday.

"I eat at home," she had said. "I in too much pain. You bring me food, make me lunch Better for me that way."
Have I mentioned how many times a day I say the Serenity Prayer?
Back on West 25th Street she saw something she wanted.

"Oh, you take me here? Oh, my. Oh, my," she gushed.

We were in front of Nate's Deli and Restaurant, a mecca for moderately priced Mediterranean cuisine, next to Cleveland's famous West Side Market.

But Bandar had never been to Nate's, at least not that she could remember. Her unbridled enthusiasm wasn't for Nate's. She saw the sign for the restaurant next door, Phnom Penh, a Cambodian and Vietnamese lunch and dinner spot where, until Bandar's spinal injury, Sophie and I visited with Bandar at least monthly.

As I got Bandar out of the car and into her transport chair and began to negotiate our way to the restaurant entrance, I thought the Arabic writing on Nate's window might be a giveaway that we were going someplace different. Not so.

The restaurant was packed with a lunchtime crowd and we found the last two-top in sight. Once seated, I explained to Bandar where we were, at Nate's, a place that serves Lebanese food -- and some of the best that could be found in Cleveland.

"Dates?" Bandar asked.

"No, we're at a place called Nate's. You can get anything you want here. It's food you like. Food you're familiar with. Lebanese food. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Bandar said, now smiling ear to ear. "I want the soup."

I don't know if Nate's serves soup. But I knew what Bandar meant.

Her favorite dish at Phnom Penh, the restaurant next door, is Khmer style soup with rice, chicken and fish. She devours it every time we visit the restaurant next door.

"No, no, no... that's the place next door..."

And so it went for another few minutes until Bandar got her bearings, and a new enthusiasm took hold.

"This not the Chinese restaurant?" she asked, referring to Phnom Penh. (We stopped trying to explain Cambodian Vietnamese cuisine versus Chinese cuisine years ago). "You take me to get Lebanese food? Oh, my."

I ordered for the two of us: a combination plate and a side of fattoush. A few minutes later, our feast arrived. In addition to the Levantine salad, we were served stuffed grape leaves, humus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, kibbe, syrian bread (what Bandar calls pita) and a side of zeitoun (what Bandar calls olives).

I've seen kids at Christmas look as happy as this little Lebanese lady.

As much as Bandar enjoyed her old familiar foods and flavors, she kept her gaze on me the entire time we ate. And she just smiled.

"I can't believe you know how to eat my people's food," she said after lunch. "You open the bread, you put the tabouli inside, you put the humus inside, you put the baba inside and you put the zeitoun inside and you eat it. Just like we do! How you know?"

Bandar worked up an appetite before lunch at physical therapy and occupational therapy. Deanna helps Bandar with the walker. Roberta shares a moment during a brief Bandar break before showing her how to work a peg board.

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