Now that I’m a parent, nights out are going to be very few and far between. Which means every evening my husband and I do get to spend out of the house needs to be pretty damn special. Of course, the food and wine should be excellent. But more than anything else, it needs to be an opportunity for me to feel like a bona fide adult. One who has made the effort to change out of spit-up covered yoga pants and, for a few hours at least, has no desire to discuss poopy diapers or sleep schedules or how expensive Enfamil is. (Very, by the way.) I have vivid memories of my mom at her vanity table, spraying Private Collection on her wrists and putting on her pearl and diamond earrings. This lady was getting ready for a night out. There would be drinking, there would be smoking, there would be adult conversation, there would be all kinds of grown up goings-on I wouldn’t understand. It was mysterious, and thrilling.
The thing is, if I wanted to have a night like that at a restaurant in New York City in 2011, I would have no idea where to go. Certainly, I know where to go for great meals and terrific service, and anyone who knows how to use Google could figure out what the latest trendy hot spots are. But where to go for a sophisticated night on the town with my husband? Not a clue.
I’m partly to blame. We don’t have an unlimited budget and we love to cook, plus my husband’s a bit of a homebody, so we don’t go out all that much. But. Even the occasional restaurant-goer can see that something’s afoot. That while we’ve become very sophisticated about food, we’ve become very childish about dining.
You see it everywhere. The “small plates” craze suggests that our appetites have become dimunitive, not quite adult-sized. The Earnest Eating movement (sustainability, slow food and the like) has much to admire, but it’s turned restaurant-going into a pedagogical experience, rather than a gustatory one. We’re not diners anymore as much as we’re eager students, reading up on the latest ingredients and producers and purveyors. There is also something deeply unsexy about many of these places, with their raffia-tied, relentlessly tasteful rusticity and exaltation of homespun ingredients. (I love kale too, but I’m not putting on 4-inch heels and paying a babysitter $14/hour to hold hands with my husband over a plate of kale salad.)
And then of course there’s the no-reservations policy. One of the very nice things about being a grown up is that you can decide not only what you eat, but also when. Unless, that is, you’re trying to get into that hot new place in that only serves grass-fed beef burgers topped with organic kimchi made by some dude in Bushwick who spent six months traveling through Korea to find the most authentic kimchi of all kimchis, the urtext of kimchi recipes, in which case you will eat when the hostess damn well pleases. There’s nothing like waiting at a cramped bar for an hour as your blood sugar drops precipitously to turn you into a cranky, fussy five-year old.
We’ve never had better, and more varied, food at our fingertips. However, in our pursuit of the best, the latest and greatest, and the most authentic, we’ve lost something. We don’t know how to slow down, how to enjoy our food, how to have a real conversation (and no, a conversation about the food itself doesn’t count.) We’ve forgotten that when it comes to truly enjoying a meal, what’s on the plate is nowhere near as important as who’s at the table.