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Solo Sup

June 17, 2013

It’s hard to put on the brakes. I found it relatively easy to eat healthful foods when I eliminated all of the fun stuff from my diet. When fried foods, fatty meats, and ice cream are never an option, the weight seems to fly right off.

Now I’m feeling a little bit chunky. It’s not a good feeling.

But that didn’t stop me from eating deep fried whole belly clams in Rhode Island on Saturday. Twice. Nor did I think twice about having the extra thick bacon AND a side of housemade corned beef hash at Kitchen in Providence. Then today if all goes well I be eating some falafel during the day and a whole lot of Chinese food tonight.

It doesn’t help that I’m trying to eat through my pantry before the move and my favorite use of the roasted pumpkin seed oil is as an ice cream topping.

This past weekend was a weekend of eating with my family. Yesterday I took my stepfather out for brunch and had a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray with dinner in honor of my dad. But at breakfast the conversation touched on the notion of eating alone. And while it’s not for everyone, I want to tell you why I love it.

Say what you will about the French, but they know how to eat. And while I could be talking about the inexpensive everyday staples of bread, butter, cheese and wine, right now I’m thinking of something else. Something that’s now illegal. And quite possibly something I’ll never get to experience in my lifetime.

That’s ortolan.

You can see the video above, or you can just know that it’s a small fattened game bird that’s drowned in armagnac and then roasted whole. Diners take this morsel, pop the whole thing in their mouths, and eat it bones and all. I’ve heard that it’s just waves and waves of pleasure cascading over your palate.

But the part about this dish I’m particularly fond of is the ritual of eating the bird while draping a large white napkin over your head. There is a legend about this that involves something about attempting to hide one’s gluttony from God. That’s cute and all. However, it’s the act of excusing yourself from those around you while you retreat into a neutral space in order to more fully concentrate on the enjoyment of your food that I admire.

The good news is that you don’t need to wear a napkin on your head in order to achieve this. All you have to do is find a way to be alone with your food and your thoughts.

Oftentimes a restaurant is the perfect place for this. All you have to do is get a table for one. Sitting at the bar isn’t the same. A single diner at the bar will often garner the attention of the bartender who might try to strike up conversation. If I wanted conversation I would dine out with friends.

Don’t get me wrong. Dining out with friends is fantastic. I love to do it. I love dining out with strangers too. It’s a great way to meet new people. But there are times when you really want to focus on the experience of a meal.

The Beer and Game dinner at The City Beer Hall was one such example. I ended up meeting some great and interesting people, but part of me really wished I could take my meal in some isolated white cubby. Then I would be able to spend more of my time concentrating on the aromas flying out the glass, the flavors lurking deep within the beer, and the delicate harmonies created between the food and its pairings.

That’s just me. I’m keenly aware that there are some people who would never even consider dining alone. I don’t know if it’s some sort of stigma. Or if they think everyone else will be staring at them in the restaurant. Maybe they just don’t know what to do with themselves.

I like to encourage people to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. By the same token I like to get people to really try and taste their food–not just eat it and enjoy it–but to really taste it and experience it deeply.

Maybe this will be the push someone needs to be bold and try something new. Just remember doing new things is always harder at first. Being comfortable on your own is an importnat skill that gets easier the more you do it.

Now go do it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    June 17, 2013 10:30 am

    Great post Daniel. I’m working on it! And I’m glad you didn’t want to eat alone last week.

  2. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    June 17, 2013 1:27 pm

    I recall another bit of Ortolan trivia. “The Ortolan is served on one half of a poached plum – the plum is not eaten but serves merely to display the Ortolan”.

  3. June 17, 2013 2:32 pm

    The worst part about dining alone is the awkward part between ordering and eating, where you’re just sorta sitting there, trying not to look awkward or antisocial.

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