May 2012. It was almost noon when we arrived in Milan. Before getting to the old town area where the Cathedral is, we needed to temper our growling stomach first. As suggested by the hotel receptionist, we looked for the restaurant known as one of the best local hangouts. True. Only Italians were there, and the waiters knew them all.
The restaurant is very tight inside. The isles are spacious enough for only one person to move along at a time. And as typical in France and Italy, the tables are tiny. Two people sitting next to each other would touch elbows. More cozy in cool weather, then. On the table there were set wine glasses for water, stainless steel forks and knives, and paper napkins.
After we sat down, more and more people came in. Groups of two to six people were chatting their ways loudly at other tables – look like they are colleagues. I looked around to see what they had for lunch. Everybody ordered pizza. I meant everybody. In fact, this restaurant is famous for its pizza, among other things, and several people were waiting in line for their take-out orders. Eyeing back and forth, I saw people have their small individual pizza and eat it with fork and knife. The pizza did look delicious: paper-thin crust topped with fresh cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes and herbs. People finished pretty quickly and all left. It was definitely a quick lunch for them.
We were in the mood for more than that. So I ordered Italian salad (insalata caprese) and risotto cooked with king prawn and pumpkin flowers, and my husband Italian salad and pasta with porcini mushrooms – fresh buffalo mozzarella (in the salad) and fresh porcini being Italy’s specialties.
Fifteen minutes into the waiting, the senior waiter suddenly looked towards our table, noticed something and signaled the junior one who then came over and brought us the fabric napkins. They were red thick fancy cotton napkins. We were nicely surprised but didn’t know for sure why. Probably not because we were the only Asian looking customers in the restaurant who were also well-dressed. The Italians inarguably appreciate our dressing nicely. In a restaurant, that no doubt helps more than hurts. But our guess was that the manager and waiters were more likely to appreciate our taking time to enjoy the 2-course meal they prepared for us. A meal is different than a quick lunch, and they evidently treated it accordingly.
A small gesture that made the difference and triggered curiosity. I still remember it today fondly.