Have you ever taken yourself out to dinner? I thought I’d start with lunch. It’s not so easy to work up the enthusiasm to eat alone, sometimes. Particularly in public, in pants that zipper. We’ve talked about this before, I think. (My undying appreciation for pants that do not zipper. And/or button.)
But, miracle of miracles: I was already in jeans. And it wasn’t feeling particularly polar vortex-y out — a hand out the window had confirmed it. I decided I should go. Would go.
After consulting a few friends, I brought along a book and asked to sit at the bar. I lucked out — it wasn’t the type of bar with a bartender. Instead, there was a man in chef’s whites just a handshake away. He was — in a word — unflappable. Wonder what that’s like.
I like watching a restaurant rush in the way that you might like to watch a baseball game. The closer to the action, the better. Especially at Eataly, where the action smells like slow-roasting garlic and bubbling, browning cheese. So much to drink in! Needless to say, I was pretty happy up there, in my front row seat. There was a lot pizza-slinging going on and no shortage of smoking hot skillets. In retrospect, maybe it’s a little odd, the way that I enjoy watching oil jump and greens wilt and hands fly and plates appear and disappear. As if it were all a spectator sport. But I can’t be the only one who could watch people make pasta all day, can I?
While I greatly admired the pasta-makers, it was the line cooks that I thought deserved my divided attention. (The line cook has always been the unsung hero, in my book.) Go to any restaurant, and you’ll notice that they’ve all been coached to communicate without communicating, outside of the occasional behind and coming in hot. The group at Eataly really did cause the expression “dream team” come to mind. So much so, in fact, that seeing them start to sweat a little came as a surprise. (Although, granted, it was one o’clock on a beautiful Saturday, and they were evidently in the weeds.) Chef remained as stony-faced as usual. They dug themselves out — the pros always do — but for a while there, when the tickets really started to line up, it was anyone’s best guess.
There was a couple sitting next to me and I couldn’t help but side-stare at them too. I probably could’ve tried a little harder — not to eavesdrop — but I didn’t. Fifteen minutes in, I decided that they didn’t seem very happy. Not with the food, not with each other. I dipped a hunk of bread into a pool of olive oil and thought why do people stay together. I also thought, on an unrelated note, that the olive oil tasted distinctly apple-like. Granny Smith? I wish my olive oil at home tasted like something. Anything.
But: why do people stay together? I mean, I don’t really need you to answer that. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the whole thing, after all. Once upon a time. Until it just sort of slipped through my fingers, when I wasn’t paying attention. I had it, and then I didn’t have it. Only that’s not quite right, is it?
I sat there quietly, wondering how many people — when it comes right down to it — would just really rather not lie down alone, at the end of a ho-hum day. And I’m happy to report that I didn’t spend a single second wondering if that could be reason enough. Because that’s not reason enough; it’ll never be reason enough.
Leave me alone with a bowl full of pasta, and this is where my brain will go. Of course, I was busy committing the meal to memory too. (Maybe I should just add Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino to everything I make from now on? Maybe that’s the secret to flavor so rich that it’ll leave you little room to focus on anything else.)
I was thinking, because I’m always thinking, but I was also busy digesting the fact that I have never once managed to cook pasta al dente. Not in 23 years. (I’m marrying an Italian, and that’s that.)
I tipped my waiter more than I could really afford, slipped my feet to the ground, and walked myself home. I left feeling lighter than when I had arrived — another miracle. Even with an extra bag in hand. (One night, maybe next week, I’ll treat myself to the leftovers, when something warm and comforting feels like it’ll almost do.)
Maybe I’m making a mistake, by holding out, but somehow I don’t think so. And it really wasn’t half bad — this date that I took myself on. It was only the first one, and I have high hopes for a second. I think I might owe New York for that.