This is a multifaceted story, and I am going to do my best to wind this all together.
A couple of weeks ago I reconnected with one of my college friends here in Wilmington. Both she and I have had a lot of ups and downs in our lives and somehow they have all strangely mirrored and paralleled. We chose this quaint restaurant in Mayfaire by the name of Roko to connect face to face. I had heard wonderful things and all true.
We sat at the bar and chatted with our neighbors and the bartender and began delving into our catchup time. I opened their menu and to my delight I saw so many wonderful Italian dishes listed. BUT, there, right in the middle of the list was my very favorite dish. Gnocchi.
I do not know if you have ever tried gnocchi - however - to me it is the most wonderful culinary invention that has ever been created. It is a perfect carrier food for pesto, marinara, or meat sauce. It can be made with or without cheese. And it’s made with potatoes. Cheese, butter and potatoes. I first had this spectacular dish in a small restaurant named Nicola’s located in a lovely old house in Morehead City just off the main drag in 1992, and that restaurant and that dish still haunts my tastebuds to this day. Oh the joy.
As we sat at the bar talking, we heard a scuffle behind us and a scream. Nothing more sobering than seeing a man on the floor and a woman crying. Two people who were eating outside came in as they were nurses and patrons and staff were moving tables and chairs out of the way. Two more people came in through the doors bringing with them a gurney and medical equipment and immediately began working on this gentleman with an apparent heart attack. You could have heard a pin drop. (I am still in awe of the response time for our first responders - it was literally less than five minutes) One fireman was doing chest compressions for what seemed like hours - and one was monitoring. Then, all of a sudden, this man on the floor took a huge breath and his legs moved. A breath. A life giving breath. They beat this heart attack. Together. The whole restaurant beat this heart attack. I do not know how many prayers were offered at that time. We were all holding our breath. We were all looking on in complete silence pulling for those firemen and the man on the floor, and silently propping up his bride.
That breath then allowed them to get him on a gurney and out to the waiting ambulance and we all exhaled.
It was one of the most human and beautiful things I have ever seen. We all celebrated that breath.
As we turned back to our dinner which promptly arrived after all this, the chef came and sat with us all obviously to catch his own breath. As our conversation moved along, I asked him how long he had been in North Carolina. He told me the story of how he and his brother were both restauranteurs and that his journey had taken him through many parts of the state for many years, including Morehead City in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He had owned this lovely restaurant in an old house just off the main drag called Nicola’s. He made the gnocchi.
My conclusion is this, we are all tied together. We all have gone through a pandemic separately, but together. My friend and I sat together in a crowded restaurant with other people, separately but together holding our collective breaths for that family. My friend and I went through trials and tribulations separately, but together. And my long appreciation for really wonderful food had come full circle. Life really is just beautiful and I am grateful for this journey and each collective breath.