A ROMANTIC MEAL
Food porn. Dinner date. Chocolate covered strawberries and champagne...like it or not, the culinary experience has always been romantically associated. So how do the perpetually single enjoy a romantic dinner? How do single foodies not feel deprived while eating their bowl of chocolate mousse? I’m a Los Angeles single-- which means my love life is comprised of a string of fleeting “relationships” and a series of awkward dates that don’t progress past the first gin and tonic. BUT I’m a restaurant fiend-- collecting my favorite joints and favorite entrees on a very important note on my iphone.
SO WHAT’S A SINGLE FOODIE TO DO?
The two most important components? 1. Good friends and/or family... and, 2. A new destination. So, grab your passport because we’re touring Europe-- and food so good, you'll want to put a ring on it.
FIRST STOP: ROMA
The rain was coming down in sheets as the three of us were bundled up in raincoats and laughing as our heels clapped along through inches of water. Chelsey, all floral dresses and blonde waves, is one of my best friends. Jahan, a South African Goddess, is Chelsey’s roommate and a new friend, as we bonded over Gelato and Italian boys.
We traveled along a cobblestoned street in Trastevere, its namesake meaning beyond the Tiber. The oldest neighborhood in Rome, we were staying in a massive and ancient flat overlooking restaurants, bars, a fountain, and the oldest Church in all of Rome. Once a Jewish Ghetto, this town is rife with history. Only steps away from our flat in the Piazza Santa Maria is a church with an incorruptible Saint, who after 300 years still lies, perfectly preserved, in a glass coffin.
The view from our window in Trastevere. I used to sit there every morning with an espresso and watch the square wake up.
Arm in arm, we enter the wooden door of the Trastevere hidden gem, ANTICA PESA. We were greeted in a room with a fireplace- given champagne, and our coats are collected as we sit, relaxing our tired feet. Led to a table in a room covered in emotional and brightly colored art, we sat, hiding our titulation, and perused a wine list that began at 50 euros. We decided this was our one night out where price didn’t matter.
The dinner began with a Trip of Flavors, which was an assortment of meats and cheeses that toured the tastes of Rome, served in a literal suitcase. Half of it was a gimmick, but the walnuts were delicious, the hot toasted bread was amazing, served with some of the best cheese I’ve ever had. Finally, the prosciutto brought it home.
Next was pasta. As a carbonara fiend, I ordered Chitarra pasta with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheese, guanciale, eggs and black pepper. This dish was superb and was definitely reminiscent of carbonara- Chitarra is an egg pasta that hails from Abruzzo. The light taste of the Pecorino worked with the eggs and the black pepper gave it kick that made the dish. The Main course, I’ll allow to speak for itself...Beef tartare with sautéed pears, foie gras drops, chestnuts, toasted walnuts with honey. Swoon. The combination of flavors, the sweetness of the honey and the pear, the tenderness of the beef...this was amazing.
The grand finale looked like a tomato sliced in half. It was clotted cream covered in raspberry shell and garnished with a sprig of mint. It’s not on their menu. And I think my life is over. When you cut into it, it melts on your fork. TO. DIE. FOR.
All the while, we sipped a red wine (and got to take a bottle home on the house!). It was dry and unlike anything I’d ever tasted. Perhaps because it cost 50 euro and came from a cellar that dates back to 1848 when Roman soldiers hid in what Antica Pesa was at the time, a locanda (local inn). Or perhaps, it was because the wine was had with amazing conversation. The most important thing was that we were in it together. It was my first time in Rome, this Ancient city, with my best friend and a new friend, taking a break from the industry and our stressful jobs. Three single girls, and one romantic plate of Chitarra.
ON TO: IRELAND
That’s right! You heard me…
The bumpiness of the quaint Irish countryside road was doing nothing for my hangover. Sean Nevin, our cab driver and self-proclaimed poet, was taking us far far away from civilization where our Dad had booked a farmhouse stay for the following evening. However, I was DEAD from my night out in Galway...my 25th birthday. Let’s just say, my first day of 25 was one of the worst of my life. Curled up on the restroom floor of a train, I was definitely regretting the last few shots of the night.
Though, to be fair, the first seven hours of my celebration with new Irish friends, songs sung, dances danced, British teachers kissed (I should have never kissed a Brit in Ireland! That’s bad luck right there!), and at midnight, just about the entire bar jumped up and wished me well. Moments later, abortion was legalized in Ireland, and there was another giant celebration, mostly from all of the women in the bar. It was a great evening.
The next morning, we were in a tiny town called Athlone, taking a pit-stop before our final descent into the middle of nowhere. I had a feeling I was finally ready to eat a little something. I wandered down the street and saw a place called Di Bella Italian. I chuckled- Italian in Ireland??, went inside and ordered three glasses of water. Brother and Dad in tow, I was scarfing down garlic bread by the time they arrived. My brother ordered three Perognis, despite my protest. Twenty minutes later, I was served the most delicious Spaghetti Carbonara that I’ve ever tasted. It was the perfect amount of eggy and not too wet. I’m also sure, it being Ireland, that the ham and cream were fresh.
I know, I was hungover, so does it really count? Absolutely. I can still taste that carbonara. I think I had a tiny Italian coke for dessert. Upon exploring the town for another hour, we realized, almost ALL OF THE RESTAURANTS were Italian! Turns out, it’s an Italian settlement in Ireland, so it was real, authentic Italian food in the land of soggy meat and stew.
The most special thing about this magnificent meal was the fact that it happened on an adventure with my family. My Dad lived in Ireland at 25. Being back with him 35 years later, I saw the pubs he used to frequent, the school he attended (Trinity), and the countryside that would take your breath away- it was so unbelievably special, to spend my 25th with him. I get my love of travel from my Dad, so it was especially exciting to finally travel to Europe with him.
LAST STOP: PARIS
Maddie and I were acquaintances who saw each other once every few months- work colleagues, friends of a friend. Maddie was at my house in LA, working on something one evening, and I told her I was heading to Paris solo after my trip to Ireland. One week later, Maddie had booked her flight and was coming with. She’d always wanted to go and got a big tax return...to Paris we went!
The restaurant was a recommendation from a woman I’d met that year at a Bachelorette weekend- again, an acquaintance, but passing the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre and pulling up the oldest working Windmill is Paris, Le Moulin de la Gallette, my mouth was already salivating. We were ravenous. A glass of wine, a phone charger at the host stand (crucial!), and a flirtatious waiter (let’s face it, they all were), put us quickly at ease.
Then the food came. For appetizers we had escargot. I certainly was a snail virgin, but I did love them, though to be fair, I had nothing to compare them to. The main was a braised lamb shoulder with a green salad and Maddie ordered roast chicken with mashed potatoes. I remember being the most obsessed with Maddie’s mashed potatoes and my lamb- in combination. It was divine.
When it came time for desert, the waiter didn't just bring out a chocolate mousse -- we were such big flirts that he swiftly delivered the entire bowl. We stared back at him, feeling badly that it was too much for 11 people, let alone for 2! We enjoyed it, left a big tip, and ventured out for an evening in Paris where we somehow found a Golden Retriever.
The most romantic aspect of this meal and the trip as a whole, was the best friend I came home with. You learn a lot about people when you travel, and both Maddie and I were on a quest to be open to new cultural experiences, to relax, and to connect. Our friendship was forged over amazing wine, incredible cheese, and sights to die for. But at the heart of it, we bonded over both recently stepping into quarter life, surviving heartbreak, going after our dreams, all the while sitting under the Eiffel Tower.
As a single Los Angeleno, it’s hard to see beyond the cold salad or scrambled eggs I make myself for dinner on the regular. It’s easy to get caught up in your schedule and rush home, rush through a meal, then rush to bed. I think the most important lesson I return with from any trip is that life should be lived. Meals should be prepared with care and enjoyed. Taste makes life better, but the best addition? Good friends, family, and some quality time around a table. Bon Appetit.
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