When we go to one particular favorite restaurant, the waiter takes our order for drinks, then says he is bringing an appetizer for us. We always enjoy it; we are off to a good start.

After we have had a chance to down a few sips of our drinks, the waiter brings the menu. I’m already pretty familiar with it from long acquaintance.

What I want is snails (escargots), followed by onion soup, followed by a green salad. All of this will be delivered to the table pretty promptly, while the main course is cooking.

The snapper special looks good, ... and I ask for that rather than a piece of meat too big for me to eat. 

The snails are really good, soaked in garlic butter, and I tear off pieces of bread to sop up the juice after the snails are gone. Then comes the onion soup.

I expect a small cup of it, but the waiter brings what would certainly qualify as a bowl, steaming hot, covered with a thick layer of nearly melted cheese. I dig in and soon realize that I must lean way over the bowl if I am not to spill onions and soup and cheese all over my clothes. 

By this time I have had the appetizer, snails, bread and garlic juice, soup and onions and cheese, and now comes the salad. Why did I order that? Eyes bigger than stomach is the usual explanation. It was a bad idea ... I just pick at it and ask if others would like some salad.

But then comes the main course, a generous piece of red snapper, covered with lump crabmeat and two large shrimp, accompanied by a potato, large sliced cooked carrots and a beautiful piece of broccoli. Lemon juice and some kind of sauce go on everything and dinner is ready to be consumed. 

But I am already full, and what is more, I am irritated with myself for doing again what I do every time we eat at a good restaurant, namely fill up on the delicious precursors to the meal and do not leave room for the main course.

I pick at it and do what I learned to do to satisfy my mother that I was busy at the table, that is shifting food from one side of the plate to the other to give the impression that I am eating and enjoying it.

Appetizers are supposed to stimulate, not satisfy, the appetite.

Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you.

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