One morning during my freshman year of college, a close friend showed up at my dorm room door, glossy-eyed and giddy with excitement. After regaling me with all the details of her perfect first date the night before, she sheepishly admitted that she was so wound-up she hadn't been able to sleep a wink.
While I haven't experienced the same joy of date-induced insomnia like my dear friend, after my meal at Fraiche this past Friday night, I can fully appreciate the sensation of sleeplessness due to excitement -- foodie excitement.
As I snuggled under my pink comforter and turned off the light on my bed stand on Friday, visions of the night's spectacular meal kept dancing through my wine-dazed head (courtesy of the generous pour of a vibrant Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc). Each moment of the evening -- from the olive tapenade I smeared over the fresh, but somewhat uninspiring bread, to the sweet bing cheeries nestled in and around the surprisingly light chocolate cherry bowl dessert -- replayed over and over again in my mind. It was like watching a classic Friends rerun, only without the annoying laugh track and predictable jokes.
As my mouth watered at the visual memories of the meal, I closed my eyes, and was immediately transported back to the open-air, formal dining room at Fraiche...
My dining companion and I are seated at a slightly disappointing tiny table for two -- mere inches away from the parties to our left and right. Though I am slightly annoyed at the lack of personal space, and yearn to ask our pleasant-faced waitress if we can sit at the table for two with more room to stretch my elbows whilst attacking the impending food, I let neurotic urge #1 of the evening go. Not every battle is worth fighting. (Especially if it means being labelled as the "picky party" by the restaurant staff.)
After the bread and tapenade finish teasing my dining companion and my tongues, we are primed for our starters. As two plates approach the table, my stomach again clenches in neurotic fury. The baby beets salad was supposed to come first! THEN the pappardelle with oxtail ragout. I start to pout, concerned that the steaming pasta will catch a draft while we eat our beets, but I am loathe to mess with the proper order of plate ingestion. My similarly fussy foodie companion agrees -- we dig into the beets.
Neurotic musing #2 rapidly fades into the background as the succulent beets, crunchy hazelnuts and silky ricotta serenade my tongue. Everything goes silent for a moment as the textures and flavors swirl around in my mouth like a perfectly balanced Syrah. I want to sing. I want to moan. I want to smack my friend's fork away! Fortunately, I am able to resist all animalistic urges and even insist he take the last bite. He's a guy, I'm a girl -- I have to maintain some of the illusion that I am a delicate flower! Of course, all illusions end moments later when I make a grab for the last hazelnut off the plate. My friend cocks an eyebrow at my right hand. I shrug, pop the errant nut in my mouth and nod toward the pappardelle ragout. He nods back, urging me to take the first bite.
As I stick my fork into the mess of somewhat unwieldy noodles, anxiety hums in my stomach. I was the one who insisted on ordering the oxtail rather than the more gluttonous risotto with bacon confit. What if it is terrible and my friend curses me for an ordering malady? I ease a tender chunk of the oxtail and a manageable piece of the thick pappardelle pasta onto my fork, and take a tentative first bite. My eyes instinctively close as I saver the rustic simplicity of the lean meat and al dente noodles. This is comfort food. I visibly relax as my friend's face similarly contorts with pleasure, and then I immediately begin counting down the seconds before it is proper to dive in for another bite. I want to at least pretend to be a courteous dining partner! Though I secretly wish I could commander every morsel of oxtail into my mouth, I somehow allow several meaty strands to stay on his side of the plate. I try to keep my motions steady and calm, but I find that I am moving faster than he is as I work my way through my modest portion. And then suddenly, just a single bite remains. I urge him on, knowing full well that we both still have our entrees on their way.
I had made it clear when we sat down that I wanted my own main course. He nodded enthusiastically, then paused, "But I get a bite right?" "Of course!" I had responded. "But I may stab you if you get too aggressive." He laughed. I smiled. It was super cute that he thought I was joking!
When the server arrives with my Monkfish "Francaise" and his Steak Frites, I know instinctively that I have won the battle of the entrees. While his perfectly pink flat iron steak and nicely seasoned fries are executed as well as a Steak Frites can be, my dish announces itself like a red glove on a blanket of white snow. I am blown away. So much so that I feel prickles of guilt that my dish outshines his. He takes the conciliatory bite I offer without protest, his eyes glazing over as the monkfish, potato puree and spinach literally melts in his mouth. I know it's coming -- the half-smile and sheepish notification that he likes mine better. I make a comment about the importance of ordering according to mood -- if he felt like a steak, only a steak will do, and then attempt to ignore my nagging conscience as I proceed to devour everything on my plate.
When our embarrassingly bare plates are removed from the table, my friend makes a valiant effort to cajole a bread pudding out of the kitchen. We are told that the pastry chef does not compromise her visions. Or something equally disheartening for our cause. (I stop paying attention as soon as the waitress starts shaking her head.) We settle on the chocolate cherry bowl instead and mere minutes later, it is set before us. My companion marvels over the chocolate cookie crust while I focus my attention on the cherries that decorate the dish. I can't help but think, "If life is like a bowl of cherries, I want my cherries to look and taste like this." I chuckle at my clever joke. By this time the wine has taken full affect on all my sensibilities.
The check comes before we are finished. I shrug at the cost - $112. -- and we both plop our credit cards down without regret.
"Not bad." He says.
"No, not bad at all." I agree.
I smile as my foodie visions come to an end. I turn over to flop into "sleeping position," and my overburdened stomach immediately cringes by the disturbance. Yep, I've eaten too much once again. But it was worth it. True love doesn't come without pain, or, as it turns out, insomnia.