I didn’t know until about 3 months ago that there was such a thing as a “foodie”. Have you guys heard of this? People who just love the hell out of food. They seek out good food, they learn to make good food. They see food as a kind of art, but in my opinion, food is better than art. Food affects more senses than art can. I mean, you can see art, obviously. Sometimes you can touch art, sometimes you can even smell it – paint and clay, they have a smell to them that permeates the senses. These added senses are why we art lovers yearn to go to the museum and could never be completely satisfied by just looking at pictures of a sculpture or painting online or in a book. If you classify music as art (which I do), then of course you can hear it too. But food can be beautiful, and you can smell it, and get your fingers dirty in it, sometimes you can hear it cooking, but above all you do one thing with food you can’t do with art – you can consume it. You can taste it, and it fills not only your senses, and it feeds not only your soul, it fills your stomach and nourishes your body. Food is better than art because you can experience it on every possible base level, and then it literally becomes a part of you. Of your skin, of your hair, of your fingernails and blood.
In case you can’t tell from all this, I am evidently a foodie. So I wasn’t terribly intimidated by the prospect of going to dinner alone. I mean, when I first laid out the Steps all those months ago, it seemed somewhat ridiculous. Of all the Steps, dinner alone has come second only to going dancing alone as the Sep most commented on by others. “I could never do that alone.” “You’re so brave, isn’t that going to be weird?” But months have passed, and the Steps have come quickly, and it wasn’t so scary to me when I went on Monday. In fact, I’ll admit… some of the Steps sound downright boring to me now that I’ve tasted more uncomfortable fodder. Riding the bus just doesn’t seem all that impressive anymore. It doesn’t seem scary or awkward. I’m not saying I’m not going to do it – it’s a Step and I have to take it. I’m just saying… I’m not sure what I’m going to write about it when I’m done. I’ll probably write more about the weirdos on the bus than my actual reaction to any of it, because I don’t think my reaction will be all that formidable.
And I have to say that of the 2 (that’s right, I said two) steps I tackled on Monday, neither was difficult. Not the way I had expected them to be.
I went to Tutta Bella in the Wallingford district of Seattle. Tutta Bella does amazing authentic pizza and calzones. They also do pasta and salads. If you’re in the area, well worth the stop. There are 4 in the area to choose from. I walked to reception with confidence. As had happened at the sushi place, the hostess stared blankly at me, searching for the polite way to say “How many?” when it was obvious there was probably only 1. As with the last hostess, I saved her the trouble by piping up “Just me!” with a hearty smile. I had been hung over the day before, I had barely eaten, so I was starving and excited. I was seated right away. There was only one of me, so they didn’t waste a table with a view on me. I got stuck next to a pillar with an electrical outlet next to my seat. That was okay, I wasn’t here to be pampered. I was here for food. The waiter approached and I had already downed my entire glass of water. Have I mentioned I was hungover? I was still dehydrated and that water tasted like rainbows and happiness. You could see he was just as uneasy as the hostess had been. He wanted to ask if I was waiting for someone, but wasn’t sure how. I saved him as I had his predecessor, “I think I’m ready to order already!” I said. He smiled and nodded. He wasn’t sure how to handle me. I’m sure he was partly irritated that I was rudely taking up a table for two (there were no tables for one, oddly) with only myself, cutting the bill and therefore his tip, cleanly in half. I stuck with my delicious water, then ordered the Salerno salad to start. Romaine lettuce, soft balls of mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, thin pairings of fennel, fresh basil and seedless slices of cucumber tossed in a yummy Dijon vinaigrette. The salads only come in a size for two, so the serving was massive. I smiled when they served it, nodded at a dash of milled pepper, then began. The sun was shining on my little plate of salad as I began, bringing out the rich greens, reds and whites. The vinaigrette was pungent and tart, adding a bite to the sweetness of the tomatoes and mingling with the mild taste of the mozzarella. I smiled with every bite, I savored it, I closed my eyes and focused on the flavors on my tongue. All things I couldn’t have done with company. I would have been eating this food in hurried bites between large helpings of conversation. Which is all well and good, but this salad was really amazing and I was glad there was no one there to shut up.
There was a lengthy wait between when I finished my salad and when my pizza arrived. It was tempting to lean heavily on my phone to entertain me: Tweeting, Facebooking, checking e-mail and texting. I opted instead to open up to the room around me. To the lights hanging from the ceiling, the chattering of conversations, the crying of babies, the laughter. I wasn’t with someone, but I was still here. I was still a part of the collective breath of that place, part of what made that room alive right then. Perhaps I was quieter and more still than the rest, but I was no less substantial than the baby happily gumming a chunk of pizza crust, or the man in his 40’s gesturing wildly as he spoke. The sun came through the window, beginning to cast that deeper, more golden color that precedes the impending twilight, and it warmed my face. I was alone but I was not unhappy. I was Alone… but I was not Lonely.
The pizza I ordered arrived at last: the Prosciutto E Porcini. As the name implies, the main toppings are prosciutto and porcini mushrooms. It had no sauce, just a generous glaze of olive oil, along with healthy helpings of mozzarella and basil. The crust is rustic; thin and chewy. The lacy sheets of prosciutto and fat slices of mushroom were tossed haphazardly around the crust, making each bite different from the last. I slowly, methodically, and with a contentment I can’t describe, made my way through every slice of that 14” pizza. I smiled, I laughed, I got my fingers into it. I could feel the color going back into my cheeks. I could feel myself filling out. I loved the way my stomach felt – full and happy. People at other tables had been watching me since I had sat down, perhaps wondering why I was alone, wondering where my date was, wondering why I was smiling at no one for no reason at all. I didn’t even notice them now. I let this food fill my senses. I let this food be the art that it is. I let it nourish my body and my heart the way only really good food can. I washed it down with water and serenity. I must have looked like Buddha with as much peace as I felt.
When the waiter came back, his response was a very genuine, “Wow!” Yes, I ate the whole pizza. I asked him for a box for the rest of my salad and without wasting breath on a separate sentence I asked him for a scoop of Nutella flavored gelato. I wasn’t going to be as big a tip as his larger tables, so I didn’t see much of that waiter. To some extent I understood, but at the same time it was a little disappointing to be a second class citizen because I was there on my own. I was literally not “worth” as much to him because of it. I didn’t let this damper my spirits at all as I slowly savored each bite of the gelato. It was nothing to write home about, really. Nice flavor, but not as creamy as I had expected, and the serving was much too small for my liking. Americanized gelato = glorified ice cream. Meh.
Before I left, only one moment struck me with any sort of sadness. It was like the gentlest pressing of a bruise with my mind’s thumb. As I stood to leave, I glanced for a moment an empty table across the room. It was but a month before Ben left that I sat there with him over a pizza we shared, on our way to a wedding. Things felt like they were going well then. We were in good spirits, hopeful, happy. He had held my hand over the table and thanked me for my patience with his ambivalence about my children. He promised me that he was coming round, that he looked forward to that time when we would all be under one roof. He told me he knew it was slow going, but that he was happy – really happy. “I’m not going anywhere.” He had said. I glanced only briefly at the chair where he had sat. I wondered at that moment. I wondered at how far I had come from that day. As quickly as the moment came, it passed.
I walked out of that restaurant and into a warm day that was preparing to settle into night. The air felt good on my face, my body was at peace, and my mind followed suit. I was not caged. My life is not a cage. I put my face toward the sun and the shadows fell behind me.