Mighty Life List
Aug 22 2012

Life List Idea: Eat a Beautiful Meal Alone

Life List Idea: Eat a Beautiful Meal Alone | Mighty Girl

I’ve eaten alone at restaurants a few times. Twice I was in New York after the long flight from San Francisco made me too irritable for companionship, but too hungry to sleep.

I rarely think to feed myself well when I’m alone — it seems indulgent. Before my most recent trip to New York, I’d slept maybe two hours in as many days. My plan was to drop luggage, shovel Chipotle at my face, and succumb to the impending stroke.

Fish | Mighty Girl

In my search for fast food, I happened on Gramercy Tavern. It looked so quiet and merciful, I went inside.

Anna was my waitress; she asked me how I was. I told her I’d just flown in, and she welcomed me back home, which seemed about right. My exhaustion made everything acute, kinder than usual.

I ordered a warm tomato salad to start, then the fish. The tomatoes had been softened in a small blessing of bacon fat. I finished both plates by tearing off a bite of bread, spearing it with my fork, and sopping up the sauce.

Sundae | Mighty Girl

Dessert was a peculiar sundae, the first night of the summer they were serving it, and it was a busy night for Anna because regulars had been waiting. On the back page of my novel, I recorded its components:

Blueberry Corn Ice Cream Sundae
• sweet corn ice cream
• blueberry compote with whole corn kernels
• fresh blueberries
• caramel popcorn
• unsweetened whipped cream

Sweet Thursday with Tea | Mighy Girl

As a kid, I lived in a house with a Verbena tree near the front door, and it smelled of lemons when you brushed against it. So I ordered the Verbena tisane, and finished another chapter of my book.

Everything tasted compassionate, specific to me. I assume meals like that are why people become chefs, to leave people feeling cared for and well fed. I did.

You should have one of these nights too. Add it to your Life List: Take yourself out to dinner. And when the day arrives, sit down at your table knowing you’re in good company.

Would you ever eat alone?

If you like this post, you might also like my roundup of 100 Things Worth Doing:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

32 Responses to “Life List Idea: Eat a Beautiful Meal Alone”

  • Sarah Says:

    That sundae looks divine, and I’m not even a fan of blueberries. I do occasionally dine alone while traveling, and that makes me feel daring and confident. But the older I get, the less I do anything alone. Maybe I need to reconnect with that independent-minded 20-something I left behind. I’m glad you had such a beautiful meal.

  • Meaghan Says:

    That sundae looks amazing – I’ve been reading a lot about corn ice-cream and want to try it!

    I travel for work a lot, so I’m pretty used to eating alone. It doesn’t bother me – in some ways, it’s nice to be able to just focus on the food and the flavours.

  • Laurie Says:

    A long period of being single, traveling a lot, and a love for eating out mean I eat alone often. I like it, but I find that a lot of things I do by myself lead me to experiences and human interactions I wouldn’t have had with friends around.

    I don’t find it indulgent, because it’s just my life, and enjoying a meal inow basic pleasure, no matter who is there. How a restaurant treats a solo diner is one of my measures of how good they are. (I tip better than some two tops, because I was a waitress for way too long.) This meal sounds lovely. I’m adding this place to my list for the next time I’m in New York.

  • Laurie Says:

    *is a basic pleasure. Oops, iPhone slippage.

  • rachel Says:

    I ate a meal at a regular slow-food sit-down restaurant one time when I was on a solo vacation. They seated me on the upper level in the far back corner. To my right was a large, loud family group, and to my left was a window overlooking an empty croquet court. Fortunately, the young waiter was cute and attentive, and the food was tasty, but the overall experience was far less enjoyable than I had anticipated…

  • Lisa B. Says:

    One of the loveliest meals I ever ate was in San Francisco at a little French bistro across the street from the Chinatown gate. It was salmon with little green lentils. The server was solicitous but not overly so, and the entire thing felt like a little blessing. I have a large family and I love to cook, but this kind of occasional solitude is refreshing and necessary. Loved this post.

    How funny! I know the place you’re talking about. It was one of my favorite places to eat when I first moved to the city. -M

  • Cori Says:

    I’ve discovered that this is a wonderful thing to do when you want some time off for your brain. When most of my meals in restaurants include either trying to be not awkward on a first date or trying to wrangle a small child, it’s a nice personal investment to only have to pay attention to yourself. Suggestions:
    1. Order a full meal. Three courses, with drinks. No sense in rushing yourself.
    2. Go at a non-peak time, choose a restaurant where you’re a regular, or sit at the bar. These prevent you from being someone who isn’t worth the time and effort to pay attention to like waitstaff might a larger group. And the bar is always more interesting than the back corner–watching bartenders at a good cocktail place is a great pastime, as is listening to other people spill their guts. Note: do not try this at places where most people at the bar are not eating. It gets unpleasant just like any other situation where you’re the only sober person.
    3. Don’t pull out the book or crossword or whatever if you can’t help it. Having a meal with yourself is different than having a meal with a good book. The latter can be done with a lot less quality food and liquor. If you must bring dining-alone defense, shortish poems will force you to look around every now and then instead of gluing yourself to the page. Plus then you’re not dining alone–you’re the bohemian reading poetry over dinner.

  • Cori Says:

    *if you can help it, not can’t. Typing too fast today!

  • zan Says:

    I used to do this all the time in New York. It’s a wonderful way to try a new restaurant; for some reason, restaurant staff was always way more friendly and accommodating when I dined on my own. Maybe they pitied me, but I never cared. Some places are unhappy seating one person, but most of the restaurants I went to, I was seated faster because they could squeeze me in at the bar.

    But the best part: without a conversation partner, you can focus entirely on the meal in front of you. I’ve had some of my favorite meals this way.

  • Anne At Large Says:

    Blessing – the most perfect unit of measure. Used only for bacon fat.

  • Gena@BakeAllTheThings! Says:

    I’ve taken myself out to lunch or dinner quite a bit – but I seem to do the opposite of Cori’s advice.

    I’d LOVE to take myself out for a beautiful meal, AND be only with myself [no book!] to savor it all. And of course it WILL be a full course meal! One day!

  • Megan Says:

    You write so well; something about it is disarming.

  • seaoutof Says:

    Lovely pictures and a good reminder of the importance of both eating alone and treating yourself right. I used to travel alone a great deal and especially enjoyed the decadence of dining.

  • Kelly O'Keefe Says:

    I took my first post-college year off to write my way across the country. About two weeks in, I found myself at little hippy joint near Gold Beach, Oregon. I was achy and cold from hiking and none too clean. I ordered a bowl of mushroom and barley soup and a cold beer. Simple and restorative and one of my best food memories. I felt at once cared for and grateful.

  • Jen Says:

    Beautifully put. While in college, I lived and worked in D.C. for six months. I didn’t know anyone there, so I learned to really cherish doing things alone – going out to dinner, seeing a movie. It was the first time I felt like an adult. I vowed to continue these solo dates once I returned to my home city and now, some six years later, I haven’t kept that promise. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Karin Says:

    I love eating alone at the bar in nice restaurants. Sitting quietly, ordering thoughtfully, observing the bustle; the bartender quietly attentive, instantly a friend. I like to jot my observations on cocktail napkins – it makes me feel mysterious and sets up just enough of a shield between me and my fellow diners. When I leave, I feel 10 feet tall, like I got a side of Wonder Woman with whatever I ordered.

  • Jen Says:

    Between my first and second years of teaching, I spent a chunk of time in Europe travelling solo. I ate in French bistros, Italian sidewalk cafes, traincar diners and more-all on my own. Sometimes I would become folded into a group of travelers (most often on the train) but found that I enjoyed my solo meals immensely. I’ve never feared alone time, and those moments of people-watching, thinking, eating good food (and drinking good wine) were ones I cherish years later. Now I rarely get a meal alone-and when I do I take my time. I go to a conference for school counselors each fall and make a point to do at least one lunch or dinner at a great little place in the city completely solo. It is great for clearing the brain.

  • Roxanna Says:

    I love eating out alone. I’m most definitely an introvert. But like the commenters above have mentioned, I prefer to go during off-peak hours. Not because I’m ashamed, but because I like it when the restaurant is quiet.

  • Shosh Says:

    I eat alone all the time – it’s one of my greatest indulgences. I usually go for lunch while my son’s at daycare, and go to my favorite vegetarian restaurant. I bring a book, or a notebook to jot down ideas, or just focus on the food and enjoy. It’s seriously one of my favorite things to do – helps me slow down, chose something I love to eat, and breathe. And not once have I felt “alone” while doing it.

  • Smedette Says:

    Such a lovely item to add to my list.

  • Alexis Says:

    I’ve done it as well. It took some getting used to, but now I like it. Getting to choose where I want to eat and people watching are the best parts for me.

  • Jenne Says:

    I can’t imagine why you think eating alone is a weird or fancy or indulgent thing to do.
    Are people just supposed to stay home when their friends are busy!?
    Just bring a book, no hand-wringing necessary.

  • Hedvig Says:

    I wish we all had more meals like this: food with that quality and intention in a place they feel comfortable.

    My boyfriend leaves for a year in Afghanistan in a few weeks. A this post offers the gentle push to go out and enjoy good food, in restaurants, even though he is not here.

    Thank you.

  • Adirondack Home Mortgage Says:

    Terrific! Been looking for exactly this , thanks for posting.

  • Natalie Says:

    I JUST finished Sweet Thursday! Great story. Hazel cracked me up :)

    Awesome post! Thanks for sharing.
    Nat

  • Absquatulate Says:

    I wasn’t comfortable eating alone until my separation and divorce. It took those events to force the understanding that being alone was okay. Specifically, that being alone in public was okay. I think most women understand how hard this is. But once I came to terms with it (the night of our anniversary after we separated, as I was in a pub eating a burger and he was in an AA meeting), eating alone in public has been liberating: I am not dependent on another to eat out. Rather, I can do it by myself, and I give myself permission to do so.

  • Lindsay Says:

    I used to do this more… It somehow feels so indulgent, especially when you are reading a good book!

  • Chickey Says:

    First time eating alone, I went to a Mexican place. The waitstaff was all college kids and they asked (multiple times!!), “Is there someone joining you?” I stiffed them on the tip. :P

    Fast-forward to birthday: I cycled 100 miles solo and was starving…at 10pm. Went to my favorite restaurant, sat at the bar, ate a big burger, asked for my drink super-weak. The bartender was fantastic and he totally changed my tune on eating alone.

  • Sharp Says:

    I used to take myself out for nice meals all the time, and for some reason I now feel guilty for doing it. Like it’s too self-indulgent, or what if I run into someone I know and they judge me for eating out alone. Trying to get past that.

  • Annette Says:

    I used to travel a lot for work, and what started out as forced solitary meals ended up being one of my favorite things about my trips. I now have a different job, but still go out to dinner and treat myself from time to time. I enjoy it.

  • Heather Says:

    That book is so aptly named; I love that one.

  • Ai Says:

    I took a solo vacation last year, driving from Seattle to Vancouver. I was getting over a bad relationship and feeling incredibly lonely. But I wanted to take this journey by myself, to find peace in the loneliness. I even did it during my birthday week. I would sit at the bar for dinner though, which would be my advice for your first venture into solo dining. It was great, sitting amongst total strangers, being anonymous, and just enjoying the moment. I guess I wasn’t really alone as conversation would inevitably start with the solo diner next to me or the bartenders (who were always cute!) Now to tackle the dinner table alone. Should I dare do this at French Laundry? (going there is on my life list, but doesn’t seem to be on any of my friends’!)