I told myself that I was going to order something different the next time I dined at Chowhound favorite, Nook restaurant in Santa Monica. I told myself that I would be a big and brave and just say "No!" to the lure of the judiciously proportioned Herb Roasted Pork Chop ($19). I really didn't need to order it a fourth time. I knew how it felt to tear my steak knife through the meaty flesh. I knew how well it paired with the accompanying salad of baby arugula, Asian pear, Stilton cheese, pinenuts, and fingerling potatoes splashed with sweet apricot vinaigrette. And I knew that the dish had become decidedly less transcendent over the course of my visits to the charming strip-mall eatery.
Despite my underwhelmed feelings regarding Nook's famed pork chop during my past two meals, I couldn't get myself to order what I really wanted -- the dish my dining partner selected for his entree. When his Spicy Gulf Shrimp & grits with Falls Mill Stone ground grits and linquisa sausage ($17) arrived at the table, my heart was immediately seized with regret. The bright colors of the dish, and his commitment to devouring everything on the plate made it clear that in my quest to "play it safe," I had missed out on something truly special. It is a well-known foodie fact that the first few bites of a new dish always tastes the best. The flavor is fresh, exciting and tantalizing to the tongue, and by sticking to my standby chop, I was depriving myself of a new and enlightening dining experience.
My disgraceful foodie behavior continued throughout the entire meal. Even though I've savored the succulent elbow noodles in the homemade mac & cheese (the best in LA) on two of my previous visits, I insisted that we order a side dish ($7) to share. My dining companion again made the wiser decision -- opting for a bowl of the special soup of the night, a ginger carrot puree ($4) that left an indelible impression on my tongue when I overcame my germophobia to try a bite. I lusted after the bright orange soup -- the perfect blend of sweet and spicy - but was left to merely pick away at the bowl of complimentary boiled peanuts, while my companion attended to his inspired starter. They were the same boiled peanuts I'd munched away on during each of my experiences inside the Nook. The same peanuts, prepared with the same cajun spices, with the same soggy shells.
As I finished the final drops of my glass of a full-bodied Petite Sirah (the only bold ordering decision I made), I couldn't help but curse myself for being so unadventurous in my choices that evening. Nook is still one of my favorite restaurants, but last Saturday's meal offered me no new reasons to love the eatery that hides itself beneath its little blue arrow sign. My most treasured dining experiences have always been the ones where I tried something new, something that I might not like, but ended up loving it -- surprising myself with a new flavor to add to my reportiore.
When I do have the opportunity to dine in the Nook again, I vow to challenge my palate. To turn down the sirens' call of the perfectly crusted mac 'n cheese, to deny myself the decadent chocolate banana bread pudding ($7) that turned me into a bread pudding-ophile, and to give myself a chance to love or hate something new. Because I can't really say "How do I love Nook? Let me count the ways..." until I know all the ways to love it.