Monday, September 7, 2009

Table For One

If I ever moved back to California, I have full confidence that I would enjoy living in San Francisco. At least I’d definitely be very happy EATING in San Francisco on a regular basis! That is one of the main reasons why I planned to have my weeklong writing retreat in this particular city, and what a week it was. Determined to climb the notorious SF hills on my own steam, I charged up and down those steep inclines every day, and when I wasn’t getting a major cardio work-out, I practically gave myself permanent writer’s cramp for all of the scrawling I did in my notebook. And then of course, there was the food.

I had this pre-conceived idea that I would eat my meals at the bars of restaurants, writing in my notebook when I wasn’t chatting up the bartenders and talking with the people around me. But the reality is that I'm usually not one to strike up conversations with strangers, and while my first night meal at Absinthe was lovely, I somehow felt rather lonely sitting at the bar surrounded by couples who were all deeply ensconced in conversation with each other. There wasn't much breathing room, and I felt self-conscious scribbling away in my book as people bumped right into my elbows.

After walking back to my hotel room with thoughts of “WHY did I come here by myself?” running through my head, I knew I needed an attitude change. I logged onto the Open Table website, the online restaurant reservation site which I frequently use. I felt a little odd reserving a table-for-one at several favorite places, but I did it anyway and was determined not to feel apologetic when I came to claim these tables for myself. Interestingly enough, once I arrived for these solo meals, I found myself experiencing the meal in a more concentrated way since I had no dining companions to distract me. And my waiters all took especially good care of me.

My lunch at Zuni Café was truly outstanding. A fabulous sextet of West Coast oysters provided a virtual trip up the Pacific coast, and I noted subtle variations in texture and taste as I savored each one. I’m sure the vegetables had been picked to order in my baby arugula salad, and the softly curling greens were enlivened by paper-thin fennel shavings and a light crunch of toasted breadcrumbs and chopped pistachios. The daily pizza special married slivered gypsy peppers and red onions together with a smoky Vella jack cheese, flavors that came together even more beautifully when dotted with olive paste and tender dandelion leaves scattered over the top. A cocoa nib-infused panna cotta provided a delicate yet satisfying finish to a most excellent meal.


Lunch at Boulevard the next day was equally delightful. I was ushered to a cute little banquette table, perfect for people-watching. I had ample breathing room as I took in the beautiful room, and my pen absolutely flew over the pages of my notebook as I contemplated a whole variety of new creative projects, not just food-related but also writing and musically-oriented ones too.

Once the food arrived, everything slowed down to a leisurely pace and I lingered over every bite. With a dish of perfectly seared scallops sharing the spotlight with a smoky chorizo, white bean and oven-roasted tomatoes ragout, I certainly didn’t want to rush through it. I especially wanted to take my time as I ended with a tangy buttermilk panna cotta, cradled by pristine Sierra Snow white nectarine slices (!) and accompanied by a scoop of the most vibrant raspberry sorbet I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The entire plate was a thing of beauty, and I took the smallest bites as I turned the flavors over in my mouth and in my head, trying to stretch it out as long as I could. I simply didn’t want it to end.


Now that I’ve been back home in New York for a few days, I am beginning to process my solo adventure. I’m sure that my next San Francisco visit will most likely be with friends, for it almost seemed wrong not sharing this incredible food with my friends who would have appreciated it tremendously. But at least I can share it with all of you this way, and I am extremely thankful that I got to experience it for myself on a completely different level. Even more importantly, I had time to think deeply and the space to dream as I sat at each table-for-one this week. And that is exactly what I needed at the close of this summer.

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