Fancy Dinner Date

—Saturday, July 16, 2011—

Mia and I had been planning our date for over a month. When I finally nailed down the list of dates, I knew immediately that I wanted Mia to be my Fancy Dinner Date. She was a total foodie and even maintained a dining blog, so she was the obvious choice as someone who would fully appreciate the experience of an amazing meal.

Also, I had been looking for a way to ask her out since the first time we met up in New York. Mia and I had gone to both middle school and high school together and although we were always cordial to one another and knew many of the same people, she and I were really never friends. She popped up on Facebook earlier that year and I saw that she lived in NYC, so I sent her a message.

We went to dinner one night to play catch up and something just clicked. We had so much more in common than either of us ever would have guessed based on what we knew of each other from seven years prior. Although I had the impulse to, I made no strong play to date her, but we stayed in touch after the fact. We would try to make plans every few weeks but it had been difficult to loop each other into our already busy schedules and well established lives. The fact that we were both making an effort was a sign of something positive though. I love making new friends of old acquaintances.

Unfortunately, I was incredibly tired the day of our date. It had been the longest week of the year for me up to that point. I almost never take naps, but that day, I really needed one. I slept for ten minutes more than planned, which meant I was ten minutes late leaving my apartment to meet Mia. On top of that, the trains from Queens were running on some terrible schedule and it looked like I was going to be 30 minutes late meeting her at Rockwood Music Hall.

Before dinner, we were going out to see a band whose singer was the sister of one of her good friends. I texted Mia to let her know I was running late. Luckily she was at the venue with her friends and so it wasn’t the end of the world. Still, I couldn’t help but feel shitty about it.

The reason I became so stressed was that I was really looking forward to the date. I had been for months. I hated that I was already blowing it. Also, I feared that I might be overdressed. Not so much for Mia, who assured me that she’d be a bit dressed up, but for her friends. Too many times have I been introduced to a group of people where I am the odd man out and I never enjoy it. I suppose I should have been used to it by then.

Fancy Dinner Date 1

Also, I felt I might be getting sick. I could feel my voice starting to go and I had been congested all day. I felt dehydrated and on the verge of a headache. You know that feeling. It’s like your brain is that stupid cat on the string and it’s just trying to hang on. It was awesome. Totally great. As if that all wasn’t enough, it’ was so hot down on the subway platform that I thought I would sweat through my shirt before even getting there.

The next train was late. I was so incredibly behind schedule, but then I spotted an old dude in a seersucker suit, and it made me feel better about life. Ugh. Being irresponsibly late for someone is the kind of thing I hate the most. I hate being the one who messes up. I hate being late. I hate letting people down. I think I have some deep seated insecurity surrounding it.

In fact, I know exactly what it is: I hate being wrong. Just like my father. HONESTY ALERT.

I arrived 40 minutes late and as I passed through the door and crossed the room, I looked everywhere for a familiar face. I couldn’t find Mia. But the room was tiny. Hey, someone I recognized! Nope. That was my buddy’s girlfriend. Close, but no cigar. I ordered a water to ease my scratchy throat and tried to enjoy the band.

Thank God. There she was, sitting at a table. I attempted to wave but she didn’t see me. I thought about texting her but that seemed super creepy. “Hey, I’m behind you,” never plays well. She eventually spotted me and motioned for me to come over but I could see that there were no more seats around her so I stayed put.

I was unreasonably nervous. I was convinced that going over and standing there or trying to squeeze in a seat would draw too much attention. After the next song, she came to retrieve me and I joined her, standing near her table of friends. The set eventually ended and I got to meet everyone. I should add that the band, Deep River, was really enjoyable. They were a pop/folk/rock acoustic trio with a very solid sound and great musicians. (It looks like they’ve since become a duo named Native Run.)

As we left her friends a bit later, someone questioned why we were not sticking around with them. Another friend playfully taunted in response, “Mia’s got a date…”

I mean, I was right there.

Yes, I was that guy who wanted to go out with Mia. I was that guy who dressed up too much for the present venue. I was that guy who had a blog about dating. I was that guy whose teenage insecurities were going to experience a renaissance that night.

Mia and I walked over to the restaurant a little ahead of our scheduled time but they seated us within a couple minutes. Prune was small and casual but it owned a reputation much greater than its square footage, largely because Chef and Owner Gabrielle Hamilton won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in New York City. Quite the honor for those in the know. For those not in the know, it’s a big deal award.

I loved it immediately. We were tightly packed but the atmosphere was homey and inviting. There was a man dining alone at the table next to us, which I usually found a bit sad, but this man appeared to be perfectly content with himself. I’m sure the food and location helped him get by. Mia went to use the bathroom and during that time, I made the executive decision to get bottled sparkling water rather than tap. I never ordered sparkling but this was Fancy Dinner Date after all. Go big or go home.

Mia returned and we discussed wines. Meanwhile, the waitress provided cups and poured our water. After her first sip, Mia exclaimed, “Oh it’s sparkling. How perfect.” I smiled to myself. I could see all of Boyz II Men walking into the restaurant and singing in perfect harmony, “Hey Evan. Nice job on the water, man.” We had to consciously pause our conversation just to look at the menu. A good sign, I thought to myself.

After my earlier missteps, it seemed dinner was off to a decent start.

We talked about food, chefs and the lifestyles they live. Gabrielle Hamilton had also written a book—about her culinary journey to opening Prune—called “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef”. For most of my teens, I wanted to be a chef, so the book quickly landed on my short list of things I needed to read. Two and a half years later, I still haven’t so much as seen its cover. Oh well.

Our conversation was stirring up my long-dormant enthusiasm for all things culinaria and I found it easy to become impassioned as we talked. With Mia being such a restaurant fanatic herself, it was a good topic for us to sink our teeth into.

The wine arrived—a bottle of Assyrtiko from Santorini, which was similar to a Riesling. We had actually attempted to order a particular Riesling but they had just sold the last bottle of the night. It turned out to our benefit to have the Assyrtiko though, as it spurred a story from Mia about her junior year spring break to Santorini. Everything has its purpose, even mistakes. It was a sweet wine, but not overbearing, and the server appropriately kept it on ice behind the bar for us. She took our food orders and left us to raise our glasses to what was shaping up to be a great meal.

Mia had also been through a rather long week so we were both quite tired, despite the relatively early hour. It wasn’t even 10 p.m. I told her that my weariness was by reason for being late, that I had overslept a nap. She was quick to forgive, saying that she thought she’d be late for me after a day at the beach, which was why she said that her skin was as tan as it had ever been. In all honesty, I didn’t have any idea.

It was only the third time I’d seen her seven years. She did look gorgeous though.

There was a moment as I came up from the downstairs bathroom and looked all the way across the room to where Mia was seated, facing me, that I barely recognized her. A memory lived somewhere in my head of a cute, little, preppy 17 year old girl weighed down by a massive backpack, coming into my history class, but sitting there, with great poise, was a beautiful young woman in her simple yet elegant evening dress.

In that moment, my swagger turned to doubt. There was a part of me that wondered if she was really there with me. It just couldn’t be the case. It went against the reality I had established for myself as a teenager.

Our appetizers arrived: marrow bones and pickled shrimp. I’d long read about the merits of bone marrow, but I had never been brave enough to try it. Having Mia there to experience it with me made the jump easier. Presented with toasted bread, sea salt and parsley, the three sections of what I assumed were cow bones looked primitive in contrast to types of food I ate daily.

The bones’ centers were filled with the nearly caramel colored marrow. Small silver spoons helped us dig it out. Its consistency was gelatinous with the occasional bit of connective tissue. It was not unlike eating fat, except the actual taste and oiliness associated with pure fat wasn’t present. Spread over the toast, it was more like a savory, beef-flavored butter than anything else. On its own, the consistency almost threw me but I still found it enjoyable. The pickled shrimp were simply delicious—fresh, light and refreshing. Despite their pickled description, they were not too tangy. They were absolutely some of the best shrimp I had ever eaten, and shrimp rated high on my all time favorites list.

For main courses, Mia ordered a splendid looking grilled quail dish while I chose a shellfish stew. The stew was delightful and the various parts that comprised it played well off of one another to create a beautifully singular dish. Mia enjoyed her quail, which looked fantastic. Much like the atmosphere of the restaurant, the food’s success was a testament to simplicity and good taste. Simple perfection will always trump convoluted creativity.

Over our meal we discussed a number of things but one topic that stood out to me and seemed to creep back into several of our conversations was Winchester, the town in which we grew up. With those conversations came talk of mutual friends, dissociated friends and our general experiences with high school.

I can remember from a very young age being able to tell which girls in my grade would be out of my league. It wasn’t that I specifically considered Mia out of my league, it was the entire group of girls with whom she was friends. I told her that there was something nestled deep inside me that would always feel that way. I admitted to her how nervous I was to ask her out, even if it had been under the guise of OHD. It was scary, telling her that fact. I felt like I was showing far too many of my cards. I worried that my confidence was unraveling right in front of her.

She told me that I needed not be nervous and we managed to clarify some longstanding assumptions that we’d made about ourselves and those around us. I felt more at ease hearing that she thought my friends and I were cool in our own way. My high school experience was not one filled with angst and social trauma, so I don’t mean to paint it that way. It’s merely that there were certain feelings and perceptions that were negative and they took years to rectify. By the end of the conversation, we were laughing about the different people we had crushes on throughout our teens. It was better than any episode of Where Are They Now?

Fancy Dinner Date 2

We decided to cap the night by splitting a dessert, the bittersweet chocolate pot de creme. A small tea cup filled with a rich ganache-like chocolate and topped with fresh whipped cream was set in front of us. Sharing the small dish was a relaxing and lovely way to bring the meal to an end. Not too filling, but rich and well balanced. And like everything else, delicious. The entirety of the meal was paced just right and with the dessert, I was pleasantly full.

As we paid and prepared to leave, Mia was communicating with her friends from earlier, who were still in the area. We walked down a few blocks to meet up with them at a bar. Something about the fact that she wanted to end the night with her friends and not alone with me, having an after-dinner drink, caused my doubt to bubble up again.

Against all better judgement, I asked her if she would have gone out with me had the date not been a part of OHD, or if we hadn’t been going to Prune—if it had just been that I called her up and asked her on a date. Her look told me that I was being silly and she reassured me that of course she would have gone on a date with me.

The 17 year old in me finally backed off and allowed me enjoy the wonderful date I’d just been on. In fact, the 17 year old in me was proud of what he saw in himself at 25. Instead of a boy in a trucker hat and a girl in Abercromie getting together by some twist of fate, I had asked Mia out, dressed up nice and taken her to one of the top restaurants in New York City.

That was a night that 17 year old Evan never would have imagined.

At the unfortunately named Spitzer’s Corner, we had a few drinks with some of her friends and among them, I met the guy that would later become Mia’s boyfriend. When I put the pieces together months later, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened. She told me I was silly for questioning the sincerity with which she accepted the date, but then she ended the night by bringing me to hang out with the guy she was truly interested in.

It was hard for some dates, Mia included, to take me seriously, as the guy who was going on 100 dates that year. Chances are that Mia didn’t think my mindset was so serious and didn’t realized that I’d harbored a crush for several months. She likely thought that I wanted to take her out as friend to enjoy a nice meal.

Given that I had 100 dates to go on in a year, nearly everyone was less sensitive regarding my feelings, and I don’t blame them. This was merely the first time during the project I felt disappointed and questioned if that was even fair. After all, I was the one who would continue on to date others. Why should she have cared?

I know Mia didn’t do anything to intentionally cause me distress. The entire night was lovely and Mia was as kind as could be. We left that bar together and I walked her to the train. It was not as if she went out with me and then went home with another guy. It’s possible that she wasn’t even interested in him at the time and that I assumed too much when I later on found out they were dating.

Perhaps I was making a grand assumption—perhaps I should let myself be happy with the night—but that 17 year old in me still hangs his unconfident head a little whenever I think of Mia.

Luckily, the 25 year old in me bounced back quickly. After all, I had plenty more dates to stress out about.