In the 70’s when John and I were courting, one of our favorite restaurants was Casa Marcos, which specialized in Spanish food. Our favorite dish was called “Pan de San Isidro,” a Spanish version of Cordon Bleu. A thick slice of cheese and ham are wrapped in a thin slice of veal, breaded and deep-fried. Since I was a light eater, John and I usually shared one order.
One evening, I was home (home then was an apartment owned by my parents that I was sharing with my younger brother) when the doorbell rang. At the door was one of John’s mother’s employees, an all-around helper whom John occasionally borrows as his driver or messenger. (His name was “Tabâ” because he was very overweight). He handed me a paper bag, with something wrapped in aluminum foil. Since it was still warm, I guessed what it was – Pan de San Isidro! How sweet of him! Thinking of John but not of my brother, I decided to send John half of the Pan. I asked Tabâ to wait while I divided the dish into two. I sent half back to John, with a thank you note.
The following day when I saw John (I didn’t have a phone at home and this was decades before the advent of cellphones), he wasn’t smiling. He appeared aloof and didn’t seem glad to see me, and of course, I wondered why. When finally I was able to coax him to talk to me, he said that he was very disappointed that I sent him half of the Pan. This was perplexing, as I thought he would be glad that I did.
He went on to explain that he went through a lot of trouble to surprise me with the Pan. The night before, he personally went to Casa Marcos and pleaded with the restaurant manager to allow him to talk with the cook. After he explained what he was planning to do, he was allowed to go inside the kitchen. John handed him a love letter that he had written, asked him to wrap it in foil, and to insert it between the ham and cheese. He told me that both the manager and the cook, and even the waiters, were thrilled to be part of this romantic conspiracy. While he was waiting for the Pan to be ready, they were all trying to guess how I would react. They were also challenging each other to think of ways to surprise their own wives or girlfriends. He left Casa Marcos with a big grin on his face.
But that night, when he ate the half of the Pan that Tabâ handed him, he found his foil-wrapped love letter in the portion I sent back to him. He was very disappointed, to say the least. While he knew that I had no way of knowing what I missed, still, he said, it was such a let down. All that effort was for naught, he said, and I said no, not for naught. I thanked him for what he did, and apologized for sending him back half of the Pan de San Isidro.
P.S. Since the element of surprise had been lost, John didn’t want to give me that love letter anymore. I wasn’t, but he was also too embarrassed to take me again to that branch of Casa Marcos, so we dined at their other branches instead. Casa Marcos closed down a few years ago.