Friday, June 24, 2011

Solo Dining & the Awesomeness that Ensues Thereof

The week before last was truly a week of “dining solo has its benefits”.  I mean…we’re talking, I should eat out solo ALL the time.

On a Wednesday night, which is my Friday, I was reading the France Chowhound boards to see what the latest talk was.  As I read the questions and various reviews from travelers who were planning their vacations or who had just returned, it reminded me of the pressure I felt last year in having to narrow down a million restaurants I wanted to try and just picking a few, hoping they were the right choices.  And part of the reason I was so excited to move here was so I could go to these places whenever I wanted!!

YET, because I have a budget to adhere to, it’s not like I go eat at these restaurants whenever I want, like I would on vacation.  I eat weird powder soups with cobwebs chunks in them.  I realized that here I was, in Paris, and I wasn’t exactly taking advantage of going to these dream restaurants. 

For example, there’s this amazing restaurant called “Chez L’Ami Jean” just down the street that I still had not gone to yet, and last year I had planned that restaurant reservation 2 months in advance. 

I thought, “What am I doing?? I’m here!! It’s just down the street!!  I can go whenever I want, I’m not limited by a 4 day vacation…and yet I’m not going to these places!”  So, inspired by the Chowhound boards, I told myself I’d call in the morning (my day off) and make a reservation for lunch, even if I had to go by myself. 

And I did.  I made a reservation for 1pm, did a superb blow-dry on my hair and got dressed up in a cute red dress for my solo lunch excursion, because

(A.) Goodness knows I hardly look female the rest of the week while sweating in my t-shirt and tennis shoes at work. Sometimes I don’t even feel human.
(B.) If you’re going to dine solo, then looking swanky helps you feel less like a loser, and
(C.) If you look nice during your solo dining experience, perhaps you can gain the sympathy and/or favor of the waiter, and they’ll, I don’t know, crack a smile or bring you water without having to ask for it.  Baby steps w/ French waiters, baby steps. 

But this day, even better, the pity/favor would be coming from the chef.  

As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you can see into the kitchen through a big window in the back, which I love.
 (I borrowed this picture from a blog called Food Snob, to give credit where credit’s due.)   

I appreciate the window because it gave me something to look at while sitting there, especially since I was sitting at a table in the middle of the restaurant by myself.  So either the chef took pity on me in my alone-ness, or my hair looked super fab that day, because he hooked me up!! 

I’ve always read that the standout dishes at Chez L’Ami Jean are the specials of the day written on a little chalk board.  One of the specials that day was pigeon, which is a really popular dish in France, and I’ve always wanted to try it.  Not to worry, it’s not like dirty city pigeons.  Quite the opposite.  When the waiter asked how I wanted it cooked, I just told him whatever way is the best way.  I trust the French with my food.  As I should, my friends.

First, I got a complimentary tureen of delightful fish soup as a first course (but I only ate half because I wanted to save room for their famous rice pudding dessert). 

THEN when my main course came, the waiter told me the chef made a special addition to it!  
He added seared foie gras on top and that chilled green stem on the side w/ flowers that was delicious, whatever it was!  I was so excited to hear I was getting something extra, that I just smiled and got giddy and missed it completely.  I can’t even tell you how delicious this meal was.  Perfectly tender, juicy, with such great flavors, I don’t even know how they got in there.

And in addition to that plate was a whole other half of bird in a mini dutch oven with perfectly cooked spring vegetables!!
Did I eat all of it?  Of course I did!  The guy next to me couldn’t finish his. (Lightweight!!)

After the meal, I had planned on ordering the famous rice pudding.  Everyone raves about it.  Raves and raves.  The waiter placed a menu on the table for me to look at for dessert, but I didn’t open it because I knew what I wanted.  At this point, I had made friends with the couple next to me, and was chatting with them, but before I could say anything, a waitress came by and took up the menu and came back with a GIANT bowl of rice pudding, even bigger than the bowl the couple was sharing, with a wooden spoon plunged into the middle.  

Which means the chef decided to gift me with the famous rice pudding dessert!  SO nice!!  Four people should be sharing this bowl, but I guess he saw me take down that bird and acted accordingly.

And THEN as I’m eating this delicious dreamy rice pudding with buttery salted caramel cream and crunchy toasted almond granola, the waitress comes by AGAIN with this huge tray of desserts and tells me it’s a “petite” tasting of desserts from the chef. 

 UH…petite??  It took up half the table.  I look like a pig over here with my NINE dessert bowls.  
(But who am I kidding, I felt 1% self conscious about my hilarious table full of desserts and 99% excited, delighted, full of joy and happiness, ready to eat every last bite, dance in my chair, ask for more).  

I was talking to that couple, like, don't mind me, I'm just going to start digging into my dessert fest over here.  I would have gone for thirds on that rice pudding if I didn’t think they would judge me for it.  The guy had already commented on how he was impressed that I finished all the pigeon.  (Grow an appetite, it’s a pigeon, not a turkey!) 

So next time I’ll try to be less friendly so I can have 5 desserts and a giant bowl of rice pudding all by myself without judgment.

And then a coffee, for digestion purposes, of course. 
With cocoa covered almonds, which I totally did not eat since I clearly had had enough dessert already.  (Lie.)

So clearly dining solo has its benefits, and I need to go back again asap! 

More to come soon on successful solo dining experience #2, which followed a few days later, and ended with me getting invited to a summer home in Sweden!


  1. my dining solo experiences in America never turn out like this... can you post a pic of your hair or maybe the cute red dress to help me make some changes...
    love that you are having such great memories!

  2. FJ,

    I know exactly what red dress you wore... the one I asked for you to leave behind in the States with me to remember you by. UNBELIEVABLE! I am borrowing it next time I'm in Paris. Deal? Deal!

    So the EXACT SAME THING happened to me yesterday. I walked into this really elite restaurant in North Dallas called Le Corner Bakery (with my BF) and the guy at the To Go register that I know by name gave me a free monster cookie. I was wearing mauve shorty-shorts, a hunter green Anthro top, and flip flops.

    Okay... so maybe it wasn't EXACTLY the same thing, but it was free and delicious.

    Love you! DB!
    "the 4th of juLIE" penuel

  3. I agree with Suzanne... I'm solo a lot and this never happens to me. You've inspired me: 1) Always go out looking hott. 2) Sit near the kitchen. 3) Move to Europe. Got it.

  4. Well, I'm shocked. I'm just completely and utterly speechless that this would happen to you. No, really. I am.

  5. Hahaha!! This made me laugh a LOT. Audibly. By myself in the stairwell. You leave the best comments. Please see pencil skirts and glasses.