The man who ate Lincoln Rd knew exactly where he wanted to go for his birthday on Monday night - Valentines, to take advantage of its famous offer, DINE FREE ON YOUR BIRTHDAY.
I've been looking forward to it all year. I was aware of the small print - the asterisk, the "conditions may apply" - but disregarded it as some trifling detail, nothing to worry about. Would sir like hubris for his birthday?
I phoned to make the booking that afternoon. "Table for three, please. Two adults and a child. Because guess what?"
The woman on the other end of the line said in a dull voice, "What?"
"It's my birthday!"
"Do you know, sir," she said, even more dully than before, "that you have to have a table of four before you qualify for a free birthday meal?"
She put the same words in a slightly different order.
"I object," I whined. But my pathetic cries for help were ignored, and I ended up slamming down the phone.
Some birthday! Goddamn you to hell, Valentines! The man who ate Lincoln Rd will make you pay for this.
So it was that we went out for dinner on Monday night at Italian restaurant franchise La Porchetta, the former premises of another Italian restaurant franchise - Pizza Hut.
I've long been curious about La Porchetta. It's one of those joints which seem to crop up all over the place - there are franchises in Albany, New Lynn, Parnell, and Hobson St in the city, as well as stores in Dunedin and Christchurch - and yet flies under the radar. No one talks about it. Even internet reviews are few in number.
Its own home page is rather skimpy, too. It neglects to mention that the founder of La Porchetta in Melbourne, Rocco ''Rocky'' Pantaleo, shot dead a man who was the uncle of one of his waitresses. The woman accused him of indecent assault, and he was later convicted on three counts - but cleared of murder charges, when the coroner accepted he'd acted in self-defence.
But the only resemblance Lincoln Rd has to Australia is some gum trees. The immediate and lasting impression of La Porchetta was its good cheer and warm welcome. It's a family restaurant, with kids drawings pinned to the wall, and a kids menu. Minka got fish bites, fries and a scoop of icecream for $12.50. "Ten," she insisted, "out of 10."
She was happy. We were a happy family. It was a happy birthday, even though I pretty much hated my spaghetti Bolognese.
I hated the thin, miserable noodles. I hated the thick, dumpy sauce. I hated the fact there weren't many noodles, and pretty soon there was just a bowl with sauce on it, which I hated.
I had to ask for parmesan; it came in a shaker. I had to ask for cracked pepper; the waitress grinded it, and then took it away.
And so another lasting impression of La Porchetta was that it was mean, parsimonious, tight-fisted. You had the feeling it was counting its pennies every step of the way. Don't use a block of parmesan - cheaper to serve it in a shaker. Don't actually give it to the customer unless they ask for it - otherwise it's just a waste. Don't leave them with the pepper grinder - otherwise they might, you know, use it.
Emily ordered the steak with mushroom sauce. The sauce was more cream than mushroom, and the winter vegetables included enormous chunks of steamed cauliflower. God almighty. But the meat was pretty good, and it only cost $27.90. Few meals were over $30.
There was also chocolate mousse to share, and a bottle of VB bitter. Total cost: $72.50. Great value, and great service - friendly, fast, good-natured. The booth seating was quite snazzy and the mirrored columns brought a touch of class in a Miami Vice or Al Pacino in Scarface kind of way.
"Don't you dare give it a bad review," said Minka. The man who ate Lincoln Rd is only concerned with giving a fair review. Rating: 7/10.
STEVE'S EARLIER ADVENTURES ON LINCOLN ROAD:
• Episode 1: Entering heart attack alley
• Episode 2: Moto sushi
• Episode 3: Sierra
• Episode 4: Sal's Pizza
• Episode 5: Langtons On Lincoln
• Episode 6: Nando's Chicken
• Episode 7: The man who ate Lincoln Rd's doughnut dilemma
• Episode 8: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Eves Pantry
• Episode 9: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Burger King
• Episode 10: Bad times at Burger Fuel
• Episode 11: Mr Burger
• Episode 12: Saaj
• Episode 13: The little guys on Lincoln
• Episode 14: The Coffee Club
• Episode 15: Subway
• Episode 16: Carl's Jr.
• Episode 17: Mitre 10's café
•All views expressed are the author's.