I arrive at the restaurant 30 minutes early, the traffic not being as heinous as I thought it would be. Walking past the vast unattended garden poised under the setting sun, I go though the front door and the hostess greets me like an unexpected visitor in a nearly empty restaurant. Informed that the server has had a family emergency and that the only seating would be in the cocktail bar, I walk directly to my and C’s favorite booth in the corner and sit down, unabashedly crowding the only other couple on my side of the room. To their credit, no dirty looks were shot in my direction. “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier plays above me like a low whisper.
Maybe it’s a combination of me finally drinking enough water, eating three square meals a day, or my body inexplicably going into fat storage mode; but I’ve gained about four pounds this month despite working out nearly every day. Don’t look at me--I thought by now I was a whiz at counting calories. But I can tell; it’s not like I’m in denial of the change. When your top button is threatening to slice open your abdomen at any moment, you know something’s up. Despite all of this, the furniture selling is going well, and things are chugging along in the right direction. I was in my kitchen last night, pounding chicken breasts flat with a rolling pin so they would cook evenly, when I remembered that I had only a month and a half left of uninterrupted solitary eating time. Picking up my phone, I made a reservation, for one, at the restaurant I got a stomach ache at last week. My final memory of this place would be my decision. My dinner there, without a doubt, would remind me of several nights over the past decade, during which I learned the art of the “me-date”. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a pretty zen experience; especially when the food is good.
I order a rye whiskey cocktail called a ‘bee sting’, and a fresh cornbread pretzel(melted chive butter, property honey, sea salt). It’s quiet and still in the mostly empty speakeasy-style room, each table glowing with a single, flickering tea light. “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen echoes along with the murmurs of the room.
Time warp back to age 19, sitting in my uninhabited dorm room on a Friday night in Boston, broke as a joke making $100 dollars a week as a “student” piano tuner for Berklee College of Music. My dorm was at the back of the centuries-old brownstone, in one of the bigger three-person rooms that had its own private bath. You could say I was incredibly lucky, having two absent roommates and my own private bathroom next to the world-famous Newbury Street shopping district, but this was before I knew how to be alone most of the time, and not feel the claustrophobic impediment of silence closing in at 4am when I couldn’t sleep.
I made a life-altering decision that night, one I feel marked a shift between the years spent living carefree in my parents' house to living in a new city by myself, with no TV dinners ready to heat up on a Friday night, no game shows or “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” blaring in the background. I remembered a truck that had parked in front of Berklee earlier that week, handing out samples of fresh apple cinnamon milkshakes, made from the neighboring orchards who had just begun harvest. Just that small sample blew my mind. At the memory of that cool treat on this balmy September evening, I put on a jacket and skipped out into the night, toward the B Good burger shop.
When I found the flagship store of by now dozens of locations spanning across New England, I climbed down the steep stairway like a street rat in search of her lucky meal. I ordered a regular cheeseburger with all the fixings, a small French fry, and an apple cinnamon milkshake. Listening to my order, I watched the cook in the back instinctively begin hand slicing a raw potato.
As I sat back at my desk in my empty dorm room, I savored each loud crunch from each crispy french fry. When it came time, I reached into my freezer to pull out my still-frosty milkshake. With that transcendental first sip, I leaned back in my seat to stare at the looming Prudential Tower, framed perfectly in my center window.
After my pretzel I got the spring onion bisque(green onion pistou, onion rings). A gorgeous, seasonal, down home bowl of something not thick, but not too viscous, made from the patch of onions I could see growing just outside the window from my table. It had crispy tempura white onion strips swimming on top of an herb pesto raft. “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison started playing with my first bite. I agree, George.
Three years later, I parked off a narrow mountain road on the southern outskirts of Bodega Bay, California. I had been on tour for one full year at this point, not quite long enough to know the ropes but enough time to know how to keep the ropes from getting stolen. The parking lot was for a small outpost off the Pacific Ocean, a wharf for crabbers who brought in fresh catches by the hour. Alone, I entered the front room, somewhere cross between a hospital and ice cream parlor, and ordered a two pound, pre-cracked dungeoness crab with melted clarified butter on the side. I sat on the wharf, full of sun and in pure, salt-bathed heaven, and ate the entire thing with just my fingers and a crab cracker I borrowed from the fishermen.
The plat du resistance, my steak with a fresh herb salad and juicy grilled peaches arrives with a glass of tempernillo, which pairs masterfully with the peaches. It makes them taste like they were roasted over an open fire in the middle of a pine forest. I scrape off 3/4 of the herb butter to get to my thankfully small portion of meat (I suspect that this was a special cut; I told the server of my intentions to still try and get dessert). The medium-rare steak is crusted on both sides but still as juicy as the fruits beside it. The first bite of the salad transports me back to when I had my own herb garden, living in west Nashville in a one-bedroom duplex, eating salads from it every day. It tasted like home. Not even kidding, “Home Again” by Michael Kiwanuka started playing as I tucked in. Everything seemed eerily perfect.
The last me-date I remember being a big deal was the Valentine’s Day of 2015, just a few months before I met C. At the time I was fast discovering the greatness of Audrey Hepburn’s filmography: watching Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Funny Face all in the span of a week. Approaching the holiday and getting my groove back, I decided to plan an epic solo outing to my then-favorite cocktail spot, Patterson House. I put on my classiest black dress, made my most ambitious attempt at a Holly Golightly updo, and spent no less than an hour on Hepburn-inspired “minimalist” makeup (that was anything but). When I arrived, dressed to the nines and oh-so-fine, I ordered beignets and the mixologist’s choice for a Valentine’s Day-inspired cocktail. Sliding over a fresh strawberry mojito, he gave me a wink and I handed back a coy smile. I ate every donut and spent the next hour nursing my drink and watching the ill-fated Tinder dates play out around me; jovial, full of syrup, and high on the knowledge that this had been my best Valentine’s Day thus far.
The last plate came. Crème fraîche piped into a whipped cream peak, a palm-sized square of a simple, perfect chocolate fudge cake, and a small sauce boat filled with fudge and coffee concentrate. The server had told me specifically that if I wanted chocolate, I needed to get the cake. He was absolutely right.
After the last bite was gone, and seeing that the sun was about to set after a two-and-a-half hour long dinner, I paid my check and got up to leave. This was the best me-date I’d ever had. I sat in my favorite place, listened to some of my favorite songs, and ate everything I could have wanted, staying for a long time without having to drive home in the pitch darkness. “Forever Young” played as I exited; I was swaying in the wind as I strode to my car, hoisted above the clouds like a kite tethered to a tiny string. When it comes to the second time around, I knocked this restaurant visit out of the park. Oh, and also—while I was at dinner, a girl sent me message saying that she wanted to buy almost ALL of my furniture. She’s coming to pick it up tomorrow.