in This time it's personal

Free lunch

Next best thing to free beer is a free lunch. Unfortunately, both don’t exist.
That’s according to free market economists who continue to insist — with some fair amount of logic — that air, water, and perhaps even love has a price.
But these theoretical concepts only apply to the real world, which — fortunately or unfortunately — exclude certain facets of my life, depending on circumstances.
Take this Saturday.
Contrary to the laws of nature and social convention, I was invited to lunch.
Yes, an invitation. For lunch. From actual people (as opposed to entities passing themselves off as pretty women who follow me on Twitter).
I accepted it without thinking — something I am famous for doing — for reasons mentioned below.
Not only was lunch free, it would be held at a place that was just a tricycle ride away from where I lived.
I had absolutely nothing else planned for the weekend, save for staring at the ceiling, one of my favorite office pastimes.
On top of all that, the invite came from Alan and Raissa Robles.
Besides being two of the Philippines’ sharpest journalists, the couple has been known to serve the most delicious lunches this side of Metro Manila.
Or at least that’s what comments on their guest book indicate.
Some of their previous guests — journalists Vergel Santos and Paulynn Sicam and television host Pia Guanio — all attest that the meals prepared, cooked, and served by none other than Alan himself were fantastic.
Now, when did I ever become part of such esteemed company? How did I ever finagle an invite to the famous Robles luncheon? And, most importantly, why did my name even come up?
I don’t know and I don’t even intend to find out.
Ever the gracious guest, I told my hosts to cancel the limousine service and expect me at the appointed time.
And as soon as I sat myself at the table, I knew that lunch would exceed my expectations.
I was correct.
The midday meal began with a bottle of champagne, slices of salami and cheese, and pieces of french bread.
It was followed by breakfast sandwiches — meat and melted cheese in between toasted pieces of bread — from a recipe of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.
These items alone were worth more than the price of my tricycle fare, I can tell you that.
Next came three other courses, this time, predominantly Asian.
Hainanese chicken, shrimp sambal, and fried squid were served, accompanied by all manner of sauces, enhancing various flavors heretofore unknown to people such as myself whose taste buds were blunted by canned goods and fastfood.
Our chef, Alan, talked as he cooked, dispensing professional advice, witty one-liners, and difficult pop quizzes in one go (i.e., Question: What drink was invented in Harry’s Bar? Answer: Bellini’s.)
In the meantime, Raissa paid attention to everyone’s needs, bringing plates and various other dining implements.
She even sliced parts of chicken for me while telling me that she once managed a cafe called 222 Baker Street along M. H. del Pilar in Manila.
If food was exceptional, the quality of the conversation was not far behind.
Joining me on the table included three other guests — a co-worker, an award-winning female journalist who now runs her own real-estate company, and her companion.
We talked about particular demands of our craft and the pressures we were all willing to live with, if only to get the job done.
The lively discussion was accompanied by fruit salad topped with strawberry ice cream, a fitting end to one of the best meals I have ever had in recent memory.
Thanks again, Alan and Raissa Robles.
And yes, I’ll remember to bring a bottle of wine next time. That is, if I ever get invited again.

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