Have you ever been to the kind of restaurant that has long tables at which you are seated with people you don’t know? Presumably the “pro” is to pack in as many people as possible into a small space. The con: you never know what kind of nut job or annoyer you’re going to get stuck sitting next to. FYI: overheard convos aren’t any less annoying in a restaurant just because it’s a place where talking is acceptable.
Take the quaint Italian bistro I recently tried in Brooklyn. To the right was a harmless, quiet couple who I could barely hear (thank you), followed by two old ladies with smokers’ voices who ordered “a half a glass of wine” each. To my left, however, was a painfully obvious first date couple plagued with cringe-worthy convo. The couple looked to be in their thirties, the man a chubby-cheeked dork with thick black plastic glasses of the variety so frequently sported by Brooklyn hipsters. The girl was thin, had an '80s hairdo and a sour puss, and was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The man’s voice immediately penetrated my space with geeky, radio personality-like flare as he demanded that the girl “not be a lady.” When she looked confused he said: “Don’t be a lady, just don’t be a lady. Actually, be whatever you want to be. Don’t let me tell you what to do…but what I mean is take these [mussels] and slurp them up.” As he explained, he himself slurped one up noisily, wiping drool off of his chin in the process. “Just slurp them up, mussels are meant to be slurped,” he continued, his mouth full. A barely hidden look of disgust flashed across the girl’s face as she opted to scoop her mussel out with a spoon.
“So, you said you’ve traveled all over the world?” she asked. Internet date, I immediately thought, picturing his profile blurb “World traveler seeks equally motivated companion…”
“Maybe it’s better to say where I HAVEN’T been,” he said smugly with a nerdy guffaw. He then continued to name most of the globe. “I haven’t been to Asia. Africa. South America. Antarctica. Eastern Europe….Basically I have been to North America and ALL of the countries in Western Europe, well, those on the Atlantic, except Spain and Portugal.”
Was this guy kidding me? So, he’s been to Canada and three other countries?
She looked equally disappointed as he tried a new tactic.
“Sooo, what’s your favorite dessert?” he quizzed.
“Oh, I like all desserts,” she said, unadventurously.
“Come on, you must have a favorite…let me help you narrow it down. Let’s say you have a choice between…..ice cream, homemade cake, homemade pie, homemade croissant, homemade tart, homemade brownies, homemade muffin…”
As the list went on I asked myself on what planet this was considered NARROWING it down. Just give him an answer, I thought, so I could go back to my meal in peace.
“Well, they’re all homemade...so I’d probably like them all equally.” Weeerwerrrrrrrr. Lame alert.
Dish number two came out at this point—cavatelli with goat’s cheese. They were apparently sharing and ordering a dish at a time (his idea). After a few spoonfuls she admitted it wasn’t up to much.
“Yes…I see what you mean,” the geek mused, looking pensive. “But it’s like…I can TASTE the quality. It’s like, QUALITY food. The pasta has quality. The cheese has a quality, non-processed, non-pasteurized taste to it. But maybe you’re right. Maybe it needs something else. Maybe some sage or thyme to spice it up.”
At this point I think everyone at the table was rolling their eyes heavenward. He then made the cardinal first date sin of complaining to the waiter and suggesting what could be done to improve the dish—this time throwing in parsley and rosemary as a suggestion. (Was he perhaps thinking of the lyrics to "Scarborough Fair" rather than having actual knowledge of food and what tastes good together? I’d venture yes.) The girl squirmed in her seat, looked at her watch.
“Let’s say we get another dish!” he said, undeterred.
“I’m really not going to finish another dish.”
“Well, we’ll share it…”
“Well, if we must…”
“And I know exactly what you want…the pork loin. Right?”
The girl wrinkled up her face. Cardinal sin number two—don’t presume to know what someone you just met wants to eat, or order for them.
The arrival of my food must have distracted me for a moment, 'cause the next thing I knew, their check was on the table and they were leaving.
I immediately thought of Chuck Woolery saying, “Well, I’m sorry your date didn’t work out for you, Samantha. If you’d like to go out with Daniel again, we’ll pay for it, or you could try to see who the audience picked…”
Meantime, I think I’ll try sticking to a table for two.