It’s the little things in life, the small pleasures, that make quotidian life a joy. A hot cup of coffee thick with cream, the smell of spring grass, waking up to the drum of rain on the roof in the middle of the night.
There’s a great scene in Woody Allen’s film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” when, faced with the possibility of a terminal disease, he reasons to himself, “How can I die? I’m surrounded by people and cars and restaurants?”
Eating in a restaurant is a life-affirming experience?
Actually – yeah.
No matter how my financial status has changed over the years, from a poor student in a work-study program to a woman in a comfortable middle-class home, eating out has always felt like splurging. I love to cook, but having someone else prepare and clean up after a meal is a delightful luxury. As long as this indulgent experience is available, whether it’s a cheap burger or a five-course meal, things can never be that bad.
The more enjoyable aspects of eating at restaurants include anticipation and choice. Dinner at six at home – ho-hum. Dinner at six at such and such place – can’t hardly wait. Where to go? What type of cuisine? Which enticing items on the menu to choose?
My senses are more alive in restaurants than when I’m eating at home. I become keenly aware of the lighting, the colors and decor, the comfort of the chair, the aroma of food wafting in from the (usually) unseen kitchen.
Eating with family, taking pause in a busy day to “break bread” together, is always a calming, enjoyable experience (Unless, of course, someone is in a snit. Though generally even bad moods dissipate after eating). Family meals are a way for everyone to reconnect. At a restaurant, you become part of a larger, anonymous family. Conversations humming around you, the noise of glass tinkling and cutlery against plate, are reassuring sounds. A reminder that we’re all in this together.
Some of my more memorable experiences have occurred in restaurants, though not necessarily the meals served during formal occasions like weddings or graduations. In those cases, the occasion itself took center stage. I couldn’t tell you if I ate steak or chicken at my own wedding. It’s all a blur. But there have been some dining experiences I’ll never forget. To this day, remembering them brings back not only the food eaten but the place and the season and the person I was when I was there. (Proust’s madeleine, anyone?)
The small, obscure restaurant we stumbled upon in Madrid—and stayed all afternoon while the waiter brought us nearly every item on the menu. Seafood so fresh it was practically alive, vegetables drowning in spices and olive oil, hearty bread that tasted like earth.
The tiny restaurant in Florence where we sat with strangers around one table as the waiters went back and forth to the kitchen – which was across the street – and brought us whatever was cooking that day. No menus. And every dish of fish and pasta and sausage and eggplant and you name it was deliciosa.
The godawful white-bread-slathered-with-mayonnaise-and-butter-on-cheese sandwich I had to eat because I was starving on the ferry from Dover to Calais.
The dish of spaghetti and mussels in my favorite Italian restaurant in Philly that revisited me six hours later.
The exquisitely elegant feast for the senses we experienced at Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City. I still smell the other-worldly scent of the smoke rising from my appetizer which included a quail’s egg and other ingredients I don’t believe exist on this earth. From start to finish the meal was as ethereal as the Norwegian landscape, complete with fiords.
I could go on, but my stomach is growling. And there’s a little bistro around the corner I want to check out. I wonder what they’re serving today.
Yep, life is good.