Natural Selection

I remember watching Wild Kingdom as a child and how it all seemed so cruel and unfair. A lion would stalk an hours-old, four-legged baby of some animal variety and, through the magic of camera work, when the parent was even the slightest bit inattentive, the lion would kill the animal, often under the helpless gaze of the parent The fact that it was cute wasn't helping the matter. Why didn't the film crew step in and stop it? How could they let it just get killed? The reality, which I couldn't understand at the time, was that while one cute baby animal died, a few other cute animals (cubs of the lion) would be fed, along with mom. As an ironic bonus, the parent of the sacrificed animal wouldn't be passing such inattentive genes on to the next generation. The impermanence of the universe wasn't yet clear to me.

Restaurants, too, have life-spans. Some as short as a bait fish in the ocean, born only to feed other animals while other restaurants seem to have the momentum of George Burns or redwood trees. Two things cement and define the lifespans of seemingly-permanent eateries. The roots and the leaves.

Veritas has good rootstock, a restaurant borne out of abundance of wine and passion for it. A menu created for the wine list (rather than the other way around.) It's tiny, in a great location, a beautiful space staffed by the utmost in attentive and considerate professionals who offer familiarity and recognition without ever breaking character, armed with both knowledge and passion about the contents of plates and stemware.

However, a week ago or so, Veritas shut down for minor renovations. Okay, it happens and they must choose wisely when and for how long they close. But as I've learned over the years, when a restaurant shuts, it never reopens quite the same way. When an animal in the wild trips and falls, predators take notice. There's always a clear fix for the problem, but another inexplicable change has almost always taken place.

Granted I'm not a local, and can't tell you what (if any) subtle changes have been made in the last 5 months, but the feel is decidedly different. The mechanism seems a bit more sluggish, rattles a bit more, and sometimes backfires.

First, there was room on a Saturday night. In September. At the bar. This is rare. There are only so many seats in the entire restaurant, and some people like to just stop by for an appetizer or dessert and the bar is the best place for that. (You bypass the requisite prix-fixe menu that way which may be overkill if you just had dinner.)

The second sign of trouble was that, when I ordered the skate wing, the bartender asked if I wanted red or white. The sound of screeching tires in my head is one thing, the sound of impact and breaking glass is another. My heart sank.

Wait, I'm in Veritas. Surely I am the one who is missing something. I glanced at the menu again to check the preparation. No, red was wrong. Rose may have been close, but red was wrong. She conferred with the sommelier, he looked at her a moment too long, presumably also in disbelief about the question, and whispered something back.

She returned with two suggestions (ones I would have gathered on my own).

While I hate whines about portion sizes, the starter was insultingly tiny, like a double-sized course at French Laundry (minus the flavor). Pasta is cheap to make. There could have been more of it.

When I asked about the familiar staff, one person had left, the other was in Hong Kong. Uh oh.

Still, natural selection works hand-in-hand with evolution. Can't have one without the other.
I hope I'm wrong about Veritas, and that it will continue on in some new streamlined form, but I fear that its breathing is labored and pulse is slowing. They may be simply waiting out their lease.

It's like feeling sympathy for a single animal in a herd, all of whom are destined to become part of a bigger food chain. But when you get to know one very well, it's hard to say goodbye. I'll continue to visit and monitor progress, but I'm realistic. It had an amazing run, and if it has since gone to restaurant heaven by the time I go back, I know that it will have lived a happy life.


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