Dining out.

March 12th, 2010

Reentry was a bit bumpy. It was Friday night. The restaurant was Lucy’s Table.

“Six, six thirty is the roughest time the first year,” a Portland friend told me. She was remembering back to her separation 20 plus years earlier. “It’s the time when you are accustomed to transitioning from work to family time and you find yourself alone.”

“Yes, a reservation for one at 7 o’clock tomorrow,” I told the maitre d’ at Lucy’s. I was walking by the restaurant Thursday night. I popped in on an impulse fueled by determination to tackle twilight funk head on.

Double-checking the address before setting out Friday night, I cringed. “Voted Most Romantic Restaurant” boasted the restaurant’s website, of course. Midday I’d happily spent at a ladies’ holiday tea at the racquet club, trying to convince myself the 40 or so impeccably dressed women in attendance couldn’t all be happily married. I was destined to make a day and night of experiencing my new status.

I am no stranger to dining solo. Traveling in my twenties for business and on holiday, I wouldn’t be caught dead ordering room service. Even if the nearest Zagat-rated restaurant was in the next state (and sometimes it was because MAPCO assignments often sent me to coal mines in dry counties) I made an evening of dining out. My apartment kitchen at Center Plaza in Tulsa was decorated with framed menus autographed by chefs. I was a food and kitchen tour junkie. And because I didn’t bury my head in a book, I was also approachable. In Memphis I had my first Oysters Rockefeller at the insistence of restaurant owner Frank Gristanti. He took it upon himself to orchestrate my first dining experience in his place when it was in an industrial district not far from Delta Refinery. While chatting I learned the fellow well publicized for paying $50,000 for a bottle of wine began his training at roughly the same age I was at the time – early twenties. In Florence I was shown the city’s night scene by a Roman I met sitting at a trattoria community table.

Sure there are some downsides to dining without a companion. You don’t get a “taste” of dishes other than those you order for yourself. On the other hand, your entrée selection will never be second best to your husband’s choice. And I do find it sometimes necessary to tell the waiter when I head to the powder room, least one panic and think I’m skipping out on the bill. There are also still some servers who mistakenly think woman diner = bad tipper. Convert them by being charming, solicitous and confident rather than demanding or defensive. If they don’t rise to the occasion, don’t – do not reward them for bad behavior.

When evening falls, follow the advise on the paper cocktail napkin. Make your favorite thing for dinner: a reservation. Do it especially if you’ve recently occupied every waking minute with work. Work can get your through some tough daylight hours but all work… well you know. Spiff up a bit and whatever you do, leave the book at home, turn off the cell phone. Then sashay to your table. Put the napkin in your lap (hopefully it’s black and won’t cover you with annoying lint), take a deep breath and look around. Take in the setting (art, light fixtures, flowers…) and if you make eye contact with someone, smile. Chances are very good you’ll spot a couple painfully dining in silence. Be thankful you aren’t them. Then stay engaged. Ask your waiter what the best dish really is, what wine pairs perfectly with it and call him or her by name. Get the history of  the restaurant, the chef…Have fun! My waiter at Lucy’s Table sent me home with nearly a whole loaf of delicious fresh bread. Tonight’s special is Seared Ahi Tuna with White Bean and Ginger Succotash and Avocado Mouse.

In Portland treat yourself to Lucy’s Table, 1001, Paragon, WildWood, Gracie’s, Blue Hour, Isabell’s, Nel Centro. In Tulsa ~Wild Fork, Keo’s, Palace Cafe, Bodean’s, Lucky’s and Stonehorse won’t disappoint.

Bon appetite! As always, Trix

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