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.
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.
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
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?
My Taste 1,000 Fruits Project began as part of my Life List, but my mom passed on an interest in botany, so fruit has always intrigued me. Plus, it’s pretty much all I ate as a kid. Here’s a little background on the project from an interview with Bon Apetit:
My childhood home was on a half acre of land in California, and my mom was always planting fruit trees. I’d help her dig and say, ‘Could this tree be mine?’ She always said yes. So all that fresh fruit early on taught me that grocery store varieties of apples and lemons and other fruits were just terrible. Practically inedible, really.
Around the time I was making the list, I was reading Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner. I found it so inspiring, the idea of people obsessively pursuing new flavors. Once you’re an adult, you have so few opportunities for genuine novelty, to feel something you’ve never felt before, or taste something you’ve never tasted. The book said there were over 1,000 varieties of mango alone, which sounds so mythical doesn’t it?
I started tracking the fruits I was trying in 2009, nerd-style, and on a recent trip to Hawaii, I crossed off my hundredth fruit. Of those, these are the ten you must try if you get a chance. Do it. Put them in your mouth:
1. Mountain Rose Apple
One of the nicest things about trying all this fruit has been the surprises you find under mundane exteriors. Mountain Rose Apples are among my favorite fruits just because they’re so gorgeous. The unusual color makes you think more about the flavor. I love that about food, how eating better focuses everything and makes it easier to stay present. Maybe that’s why some of my happiest memories are of great meals.
This was actually my hundredth fruit, and I’ve never seen one outside of this fruit stand in Hawaii (you?). I described it as eating a baked apple plucked directly from the tree, and that’s the dominant memory. It tastes like fresh brown sugar.
3. Lemon Cucumber
Last year, my sister grew Lemon Cucumbers on her farm. So far, they’re the only kind of cucumbers I crave — very crisp and much less dense than the supermarket variety. Also slightly salty.
I tried these for the first time in the backyard of my childhood friend Liz Carter (hi, Liz!). This photo was taken in New York, where my friend Sarah Brown said they smell like a scented plastic babydoll. Feijoas taste a bit like kiwi with a pineapple edge.
Kiwiberries still seem magic to me. They’re grape-sized Kiwis without the fuzzy exterior, and you can just pop them in your mouth. It doesn’t seem like they should exist.
It used to be that you couldn’t get Mangosteens in the States, but recently the laws have relaxed so it’s not necessary to take a trip to Asia to try one. Click through on that link to see the interior, Mangosteens are gorgeous. The purple outer shell is like a thin layer of carrot over a wide hunk of red pith. The white sections inside taste like juicy, peach-perfumed pineapple candy. The flesh is a lot like a very ripe peach.
Tendrils attached to orange goo with bright green crunchy seeds that pop when you chew them. The goo tastes a little like a perfectly ripe, tart mango, but with more depth of flavor. With the pleasant crunch of the seeds, it reminded me of orange flavored Pop Rocks.
I tried these in Jamaica where they’re called Guineps and in Puerto Rico where they’re called Quenepas.You smash or bite the outer shell, which cracks open to reveal a jelly-like fruit inside with a large pit. They taste like citrusy peaches. You suck the fruit away from the pit, and the texture is a little like slimy algae. Much of the fruit pulp will stay on the pit. I’d love to freeze a bunch and use them as ice cubes in a tropical drink.
Tamarind grows in a hard pod with paste-like brown fruit around its seeds. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. The fruit is very sour, but not like a lemon, there’s sweetness there too. It tastes almost like Crystal Light powder, but less chemical of course. You suck the fruit away from the seeds.
Cherimoya is one of my favorite new fruits, which is good because you can often find it at fancy grocers in California. Like a cross between a banana and a pineapple with texture a little like a peach. The flesh inside is white with large brown seeds in it. If you see one anywhere, try it.
Thanks to the Kahuku Land Farms Fruit Stand in Hawaii, I’ve officially hit 100 fruits. Milestone! Bam.
I told Mike, our trip lead, how close I was to being centufruitarian, and he went out of his way to find new fruits to try. Thanks to Mike, and the rest of the Hawaii Five Oh team for being so patient and enthusiastic with my quest.
These are the fruits that pushed us past the 100 mark:
When I asked the woman at the market what Chicos tasted like, she said, “brown sugar.” She had a bit of an accent, so I thought I’d misunderstood her.
She was exactly right. They’re soft inside, the dominant flavor is brown sugar, and they even seem to have little crunch granules in the flesh.
It was like eating a baked apple plucked directly from the tree.
More tiny snack fruits, hooray! These bananas are about as big as my palm, maybe a third of the size of a banana you’d find at the grocery store, and much, much tastier.
The ice cream banana is light and creamy, apt! The apple banana has a pleasant tartness that offsets the sweetness.
Both were fun to eat because you can shove the whole thing in your mouth, and then walk around beating your chest like King Kong. Which I recommend.
No. 103 Mountain Apples
These are a lot like Jamaican Apples, only smaller and tangier.
They’re less dense than a conventional apple, the crunch is more like a really crisp, seedless cucumber. Mmm. Quenchy.
This Friday, we’ll celebrate the century mark with a roundup of my top ten favorite fruits so far. You cannot wait. Fruit nerds, unite!
Can’t you almost smell that color?
When I first saw a Mountain Rose Apple, my breath caught. It reminded me of a professor who said that one of the Impressionist painters — I think it was Matisse — brought an apple as a gift when he visited friends. And that’s exactly what these apples are, tokens of affection. The best way to bring something simple and sweet to someone you love.
Me: Do you want syrup on your pancakes?
Bryan: Here you go! The finest syrup New Jersey has to offer.
Me: Real syrup. None of that watery maple crap.
Bryan: Tree whiz.
(Photo from Today on MSNBC.)
I recently read a blurb about deep fried butter in The Week and kind of didn’t believe it. Oh, America. Apparently it tastes like a very well buttered biscuit with a slight aftertaste of death. Has anyone tried this?
Balakian Spice Zee Plum Nectarines taste… like nectarines.