Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cook My Heart Out, Then Eat It

If you read someone for long enough, it's always a pleasure to meet them.

As a lifelong and still-daily reader of The Washington Post. I was looking forward to just such an opportunity tonight.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Travel editor of the Post; he writes a monthly column, "Cooking for One," as well as always-interesting feature stories.

I had a sense of who he was just from reading him for so long and I wanted to compare that to reality.

For that matter, he's a two-time James Beard Foundation award-winner for best newspaper food section.

Naturally I was curious about his new cookbook, "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One" since I'm a) one and b) always looking for nightly adventures.

With it being restaurant week, the crowd for the reading was small, which was a a shame for Yonan, but a treat for the limited attendees because it turned into a casual get-together discussing cooking, asserting yourself at the grocery store and seduction meals

When asked, Yonan gave his suggestions for a meal worthy of getting to the next level with that special someone.

Limit onions and garlic and make something light in case the plan works and you get lucky; a food coma is not sexy.

The book is not just recipes, it also includes essays about food and preparation and Yonan read from one such essay about chicken fried steak.

Having grown up in San Angelo, Texas, he had a long history with the dish and its permutations.

After signing my book (To Karen, Cook your heart out! Joe), we talked about dining out alone, a subject near and dear to my heart. Like me, he hates the dreaded question, "Just one?"

The reading had turned into a thoroughly enjoyable chat with someone new and yet again, I'd enjoyed myself so much more than I could have anticipated.

Even though it's Restaurant Week, I felt like a nice glass of wine, so I went uptown to Secco to see if they could squeeze in one bar sitter amongst the $25.11 crowd.

They could and did.

Sandwiched in between couples, I ordered a glass of Ameztoi Getariako Txakoli Rubentis Rosat, a beautifully effervescent and rather zesty pink that impressed me from the first swallow.

From the moment I saw the chalkboard touting softshells, my decision was made, no matter what the preparation turned out to be. I had the almond-encrusted  softshell with fava shoots, shaved asparagus with preserved Meyer lemon hollandaise.

And, yes, the first softshell of the season is always good, but this one was great, delicately crispy and surprisingly enhanced by the hollandaise.

And then it was time for musical chairs as owner Julia insisted on moving me to sit next to another regular she deemed interesting.

The accommodating stranger welcomed me to the stool beside him and we began oversharing information about ourselves.

Asking what I liked about Secco, I responded, "Well-priced wine and always-interesting food."

The stranger liked that. "Well said. Can I use that myself?"

By all means.

He insisted I share his dessert after our server made presumptions and brought two spoons.

The lavender plum cake was lovely and the pistachio gelato (and brittle) was a decadent delight.

I learned that he'd had dinner at Secco the night before and had the gelato then, too.

I've got no problem with frequency when you're crazy about something.

What we soon realized was that we do a lot of the same things in the same places, meaning we probably have seen each other a hundred times and not known it.

We agreed that we are now bound to see each other within the next 48 hours, only this time we'll recognize each other.

After he left ( 5 a.m. wake-up call, god forbid), I turned to my other side for conversation and amusement, finding it in a friend's boyfriend and  his tales of good and bad restaurants (he's in the business).

When that waned, he told stories of cats and dogs.

Coincidentally Joe Yonan was also dining at Secco, so my evening finished where it had begun, with more conversation with Mr. Single Serving.

He was raving about his meal (he'd done the restaurant week menu)and shared his amazement over Richmond pricing, so different from Washington's.

I mentioned that yes, it costs less to eat out here than it does in DC, but we don't have places offering offal happy hour menus, either.

They have places like Bar Pilar (also one of his favorites) offering offal every day and we have reasonable restaurant pricing.

Life is a series of trade offs.

Not that I felt like I made any trade offs tonight.

Sometimes the people you read turn out to be as interesting as their words.

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