The story of my marriage proposal at Monsieur Benjamin in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.
One can take a marriage proposal in a variety of directions. To go the romantic route, you might plan a trip to the Bahamas to celebrate four-years of dating bliss and then ask your girlfriend to marry you immediately following a swimming with dolphins excursion. And as she hilariously struggles to squirm free from her neoprene wetsuit BAM—you pop the big question. Her tears of joy are diluted in the briny seawater running down her cheeks and together you embrace. And if you want to kick it up a notch, you pay an extra fee to get the dolphins to applaud once she says “yes!”
For the more adventurous types, you might devise some elaborate scavenger hunt of terror that only ends the moment the engagement ring is revealed in the frigid clutch of a comatose crack addict wearing a note comprised of letters cut from various magazines are glued in sequence, “even after all of this…will you marry me?” And after a slap across the face, she says “yes!” and the two of you go hump like rabbits in a dumpster nearby.
I mean the options are endless and people really do produce some of the most heartfelt and wildly creative proposals. And take my word for it, because it took me days to climb out of the youtube-hole I just dug myself out of watching them.
But what some of us get is a little more ad hoc, inexpensive, and uncomplicated. Not a series of dominos that need to fall just right in order to achieve that elusive wow factor everyone wants. A less than glamorous, slightly more understated proposition—a practical proposal. An unromantic blip in a couple’s daily routine after nearly eight years of living together. Yep, that’s what we did.
It was the end of April 2016. Two weeks before our European road trip. Jonathan and I were both still so optimistic about spending nearly a month together (in a rental car) bouncing around Europe from Burgundy to Lake Geneva to Vienna and Amsterdam. Not to mention the family gathering in London for my cousins wedding and the week in Iceland on the way home.
Monsieur Benjamin Restaurant in Hayes Valley
It was one of our “date nights” and we decided to go to Chef Corey Lee’s Monsieur Benjamin in Hayes Valley, because it was French, we’d never been, it’s always packed, it looks hipster-chic from the outside, and we still haven’t had a chance to dine at Benu, Lee’s flagship restaurant, because that requires a little more planning and preparation.
After going through our normal selection routine where I seriously suggesting we order the entire menu, and Jonathan rolls his eyes and suggests we stick to “just a few things,” we ordered some cocktails which were delicious.
Next the sommelier popped by to see if we needed any help picking a bottle. In addition to my life story, I told him we were about to embark on a trip to wine country and something from around Beaune (our the first stop) would be great. Why not start to familiarize ourselves with what we’d be sipping and spitting in a few weeks? He suggested a delicious premier cru from Beaune (a 2012 Les Toussaints by Domaine Lucien Jacob) and we focused our attention back to the menu and ordered. [If you haven’t already, check out our crash course in Burgundy wines.]
While we finished our cocktails and waited for the food to come out, we started our typical romantic banter—a laundry list of errands we still need to take care.
“You know we still need to find an estate planner,” Jonathan said.
“I know.” I replied, “we need to protect ourselves in case—god forbid—something were to happen to one of us.”
“Your life insurance policy is paid up, right?” Jonathan said with an evil grin.
“Yeah, but I’ve made the dog my benefactor!”
We went back and forth for a few minutes and talked about all the ways we need to avoid probate.
You might be wondering why we were talking about estate planning on date night? Well I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved me some statutory pillow talk, but in this instance I think both of us were thinking that with the upcoming trip, there’s a greater chance for an accident and it would be best if we had our papers in order.
You see when we bought our condo in San Francisco we quickly learned of all the rights, and lack thereof, that two unmarried gay men have in the eyes of the state and federal government.
For example: if I were incapacitated and in the hospital (I’m knocking on wood btw), Jonathan wouldn’t be able to visit me because he’s not family. Even though he’s my partner of eight years, we live together, and co-parent our black lab Eddie. Unless, of course, we have a legal document that says otherwise.
“So we should start looking,” he continued.
I cringed at the thought of vetting lawyers. Reaching out to friends to see who they use and sifting through Yelp reviews of complaints. I also didn’t want to spend the money.
“Why the face?” he asked.
“It’s like ten grand to have someone draft up some paperwork. Can’t we just use LegalZoom template or something?”
“Well we could get married,” he said. “It’s kind of an all-inclusive thing.”
“We should definitely do that.” I replied with a wink.
The two of us stared at one another, waiting for something to break the silence with a ‘yeah right’ or ‘wouldn’t that be funny’ but neither of us budged.
At that moment the waiter came with the sea urchin and gently placed it between us. And before either of us could take a bite, we looked at each other and said “so I guess we should get married?”
And that’s how we proposed to each other.
Here’s the meal that ensued….
You can tell sea urchin is as fresh as can be because it doesn’t taste briny or fishy—it’s sweet. Monsieur Benjamin’s sea urchin is served with a white Verjus and slice of lemon for that perfect sour contrast to the sweet melt-in-your-mouth urchin.
Epoisses toast was possibly my favorite dish we ordered. Two thick slices of a crust country bread that were grilled and then slathered with epoisses cheese and quickly toasted so the cheese melts into the bread and gathers in the cast iron skillet they served it in. There were a few clippings of rosemary on the toast for a hint of floral. Turns out this is a pretty common dish in Burgundy France, the home of epoisses cheese. And it’s such an amazing dish for cheese lovers they even serve it on the dessert menu!
Then we moved on to the seafood sausage with pine nuts and Beurre Rosé sauce. This reminded us of a Thai fish cake only much more refined and glamorous. The seafood paste inside was light and consistent throughout.
Remembering the liver terrine we had at Brasserie Bofinger in Paris, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on another one. So we ordered the chicken liver terrine with apple compote and brioche toast. The pate was as smooth as can be. We nibbled at the fat cap, but discarded the rest so as not to be too gluttonous. The combination of textures, temperatures, and flavonoids whirling around in our mouths, not wonder we proposed to each other!
And to finish the savory portion of our meal we figured we’d share the Quail a la Chasseur. I assumed “Chasseur” was French for floozy, because the stuffed quail was served with it’s legs in the air and it’s naughty bits showing! Stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage and “Vin Jaune”, which is a “yellow” wine from the Jura valley southwest of Dijon, the meat was juicy and most of the bones had been removed, which made it really easy for us to split and enjoy.
The quail was served with french fries.
And for dessert we each ordered a scoop of ice cream.
I had the marzipan and cherry ice cream with almond tuile. Two of my favorite dessert flavors so I had to try it.
And Jonathan had the palmier ice cream with Calvados caramel. Calvados is an apple brandy typically from Normandy France that’s great as a digestif.
Just when we thought we’d finished the meal, our waiter dropped the off the bill with two small shots of Calvados. The perfect end to an evening of romance and propositions.
Check out the photos from our wedding day and the mini food crawl we had through San Francisco’s Mission Dalores neighborhood.