He pinched the corners of the clean starched cloth and unfurled it in the air with a snap. Gravity aided its lazy descent until it covered the square tabletop with just the right amount of overhang on all four sides. The almost imperceptible air pockets beneath the white cloth were snuffed out with one sweep of the waiter’s palm. His practiced hands folded a linen napkin, by rote, but not without care, lining up edges and turning rectangles into triangles, flipping and manipulating, until it took its perfect position on the table, standing tall and proud, like the hat of a great bishop. The waiter brushed crumbs from the seat of a lattice back chair into his hand before returning to the kitchen.
Moments later he appeared from the kitchen with a votive candle and a tiny bud vase tucked into one palm. He stopped at a large farm table which stood up against the room’s longest wood-planked wall and grasped a fork, knife and spoon with his other hand and returned to the table for one, nestled into a private corner of the small restaurant, and placed each object just so. From his apron pocket he retrieved a slim box of matches, and in one deft sleight-of-hand lit the candle and plucked a browning pedal from the pink rose.
The din that had filled the bustling dining room earlier had finally waned. During the height of the dinner hour, it was common for the room’s tenor to be like the electric buzz of a throng of bees swarming over honey stores–an audible anticipation of the intoxicating tastes and aromas that no doubt would be forthcoming. Now it was almost possible to hear the whisper of swaying wheat from a nearby farm through the restaurant’s open windows.
The waiter ran his soft apron over a fine bottle of Chianti to chase away any dust that had settled. He pierced the foil at the bottle’s neck and peeled it away in one long ribbon. Once the bottle was uncorked with a satisfying pop, he assumed the classic sommelier position: left hand relaxed, resting on his mid-section, right hand cradling the bottle, thumb tucked into the dimple of its base and fingers curled up and around. He poured a glass for the diner, turning the bottle slightly at the end to discourage any wine from trickling. He placed the bottle on the table, rotating it so the label would be in full view, and then returned to the kitchen.
This time heavy-footed, the waiter emerged from the kitchen carrying a stunningly fragrant bowl of orecchiette–the specialty of the house. The ear-shaped pasta mingled alongside clusters of browned duck sausage, bright green broccoli rabe and piave shavings, all of which was anointed with a glistening emulsion, its chief component being the finest Italian truffle oil. The waiter’s nostrils quivered as steamy tendrils passed under his nose. He set the bowl down on the table and pulled out the chair. He sat with a sigh and paused to close his eyes and breathe deeply through his nose. Before eating his supper.