All the arrangements had been made weeks in advance: the dinner reservation, the hotel room in Philadelphia and finally, crucially, the babysitter. After a volley of phone calls and faxes with the hotel concierge, I'd confirmed that a nanny would show up at 8 o'clock to watch our baby while my wife and I went out to eat. Around 5, just to double-check, I rode the elevator down to the lobby. "I'm sorry, Mr. Wells, but I don't see any record of your request," the concierge said. He checked with the nanny service; all their sitters were booked. "I can call my manager and see if we can help," he offered.
"Please do," I begged. "I've waited 20 years for this meal!"
Our dinner reservation was at Le Bec-Fin, a restaurant I've dreamed about since college. When I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania in 1981, the school's promotional brochures bragged about what everybody in town called "the Philadelphia restaurant renaissance." The greatest of the renaissance chefs, the Michelangelo of Walnut Street, was Georges Perrier, who learned his craft at La Pyramide in France and began cooking in Philadelphia in the late '60s as a young man. By the time I arrived in the city, his Le Bec-Fin was recognized, both by the nation's reigning food critics and by the locals, as the best restaurant in town, maybe the best in the country.