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Dinner For One

This food adventure took place a couple weeks ago, so my memory of it is slightly skewed, to the point that I’ll have to fill in some blanks with my entirely too active imagination. But I’ll do my best to tell the story of the finest dining experience I’ve had in years, and it wasn’t just the food.

After receiving a lovely piece of news I decided to treat myself, something that quite honestly doesn’t happen that often these days. But where to go? So many restaurants that I’ve been to since being back in the Bay have been lackluster at best, a fact caused by a combination of a lack of staff and a highly discerning, even snobbish, palate. But I vaguely remembered having been impressed by the food at Wood Tavern in Rockridge quite a few years back, and they were still standing after a pandemic and a plethora of neighboring restaurants came and went. So worst case scenario I would go there, eat, be disappointed in my meal, complain about it to at least three people, and forget about it by next week.

So I jumped on my bike, thoroughly enjoying the new seat I purchased that morning, and coasted down College Avenue, somewhat oblivious to the amount of traffic around me. A good gel seat will do that to a cyclist. I arrived slightly sweaty, locked my bike up and took off my helmet, shaking my curls loose on the way to the front door. Great. Semi hot mess. What a fabulous way to start off dinner for one. Still, I still have the Israeli mentality that consists of coming to a wedding in damp swim trunks and sports sandals and rocking flip-flops and a sundress to a memorial service, so hell with it.

Letting myself in the door, I noted that the restaurant felt smaller than I had remembered. It was peculiar, not many people were sat at the tables, though the bar was packed with people. A newly developed happy hour, perhaps? I was sat at said bar with a tinge of annoyance. The people to my left were encroaching on my already limited space, and the couple to my right was getting coleslaw in my handbag. Sigh. And so it begins.

My annoyance continued with a complete lack of attention paid to me, as in, I had to get Tel Avian about it and ask for a menu three times before receiving one. Still, a quick skim reassured me. The food on offer was still classic California, somewhat of a dying breed in the East Bay. It was odd, everything sounded both good and, well, generic. Perhaps I’d been spending too much time immersed in the many menu planning sessions that consist of my job these days, but I honestly wasn’t that impressed, until I met my match: the charcuterie board. For once, the meats available didn’t solely consist of variations on pork, so I could actually try them! Super excited, I debated between a rabbit rillette and a smoked duck breast, finally deciding on the duck, thinking of my fiancé’s fondness for this sacred bird. My next dish would be a pleasant sounding halibut dish served with celeriac mash and mixed side veggies.

I ordered a glass of pinot bianco with the fussed bar tender and was rather irked at the glass I was given. While the pour was acceptable, the glass itself was nearly impossible to drink out of without spilling onto my already wrinkled clothes. Between that and an aggravating case of dyspraxia that makes me clumsier than most, I had half a mind to ask for a sippy cup. Still, the wine was glorious, and so I very cautiously sipped with both hands, throwing proper wine etiquette to the wind.

My duck arrived in the meantime, and I was honestly crushed. Five thin slices of duck and a pile of crostini and condiments? Why? Why why fucking why would you do that? I was quite frankly pissed off and didn’t feel like complaining for once. Blood boiling, I started eating my overpriced and unbalanced plate of food. Sure, the duck was cooked well, a pleasant umami and smoky flavor but that was it. The condiments were tasty, but I didn’t need more than a teaspoon of each. Instead I was given a ladleful of cranberry sauce and three tablespoons of whole grain mustard…a fact that angered me more than it should have looking back on it now.

Taking a couple deep breaths, I started talking to the couple next to me, the ones who were spilling cabbage everywhere. They were so sweet, praising the food and the establishment and boosting my ego as I told my story. The couple, who as it turns out were just friends, constituted a model of what retirement should look like, something that put me in a somewhat better mood. Mid conversation, the bartender deposited my halibut in front of me and turned around. I was horrified at how hideous the plate looked, the sauce was spilling everywhere and the mash had a funny texture like it had been sat in the bain-marie for too long. Still, the fish looked to be properly cooked, and so I inspected it more carefully with my knife and was thoroughly impressed at the preparation.

I started eating and instantly smiled. This is what a well-prepared family meal should taste like, wistfully thinking of my own silent and flavorless dinners growing up. The whole dining experience was made worthwhile just because of that halibut dish, the poor service, the impractical glass, the dirty handbag, that ridiculous charcuterie plate….none of it mattered. Ignoring further attempts at conversation, I finished my plate mindfully, wholeheartedly thanking the cook as I donned my bike helmet and made my way to the door, dreading the uphill bike ride home.

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