Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 is a day that will forever stand out in history as revolutionary and life-altering -- a clear break from the past, and the beginning of something new. Blessed with a day-off from work due to the election, not only was I able to "enjoy" my first ever massage (a painful experience that was the equivalent of listening to a 50-minute tape of nails grating on a chalkboard), but I also treated myself to my first ever solo lunch at a sit-down restaurant.
Armed with my current reading material, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, I approached the Little Next Door, a charming French cafe just west of Crescent Heights on West Third Street, with confidence. I'm no female Adrian Grenier -- I don't need an entourage to eat lunch! In fact, this whole dining solo thing would be great -- stupendous even! I could take all the time I needed to figure out my order without feeling guilty about holding up my dining partner, and I wouldn't have to share a single bite. Plus, I could eat as slowly or rapidly as I desired -- completely unfettered by matching my pace to the pace of my companion. Of course, there was one slight restraint on my ability to sip my soup and nibble my sandwich like a true French woman -- I only had an hour and 30 minutes on my parking meter.
Fortunately, because I have been to the Little Next Door three times before, I already knew that I wanted "The Little Next Deal" ($15), an option that includes a bowl of soup, a half sandwich, a deli salad, and a macaron. I didn't need to waste too much time perusing the menu to decide on my sandwich and salad, but I did still struggle to pick out my soup, sampling the cauliflower puree soup-of-the-day before settling for their standby butternut squash that comes drizzled with cream and pomegranate seeds. The choice was perfect on the blustery fall day -- comforting and simple, yet enlivened by the bright punch of flavor from the pomegranates. Plus, the color went perfectly with my fabulous gold sweater from Anthropologie.
As I ladled small, lady-like bites of the mild soup into my mouth, I tried to focus my attention on my book like a good solo diner should, but with the clock ticking, I struggled to process the words on the page. I was nearly half-way through my bowl of soup and there was still no sight of the rest of my "Little Next Deal." Aside from my desire to eat my soup, sandwich and salad in a bite-bite-bite rotation, my mind couldn't extricate itself from thoughts of my parking meter. The "Little Next Deal" would not be such a great deal if I ended up with a $40 ticket.
When my roast beef sandwich (served on a french baguette with a creamy caper gribiche spread) and carrot and currant salad with a ginger dressing arrived a few minutes later, I sighed with relief and attempted to channel my inner chi. Relax, I commanded myself, breathing in and out like all those yoga-ites do. I eyed the clock on my pink Motorala Razr and chastised myself for being so anxious. I had plenty of time!
I proceeded with my bite-bite-bite plan of attack on my half-sandwich, salad and soup -- thrilled with the cacophony of flavors and textures. The high-quality roast beef was lean and inoffensively pink, and paired perfectly with the tangy spread, and the ginger dressing was an unexpectedly delightful partner for the crunchy shreds of carrots and tart currants. I tried again to read my book as I transferred my energies back and forth between my sandwich, salad and soup, but felt too distracted by the effort to concentrate. The food was simply too good to spoil the experience by pretending to read. I closed my solo dining armor with authority and concentrated all my attention on my lunch -- the only entourage I needed at the moment.
When I polished off the last crusty crumb of baguette (transported to my mouth from the tip of my thumb -- another perk of solo dining), I made haste to order a small non-fat, decaf mocha latte and a mocha macaron. Despite my attempts to reign in my inner neurotic beast, I was still preoccupied by meter woes. While I love the authenticity of the Little Next Door, the often slow-moving service that many attribute to the "Frenchness" of the cafe, was wrecking havoc on my nerves. I knew I had plenty of time, but I was suddenly filled with an incredible sense of impatience. Without the assistance of my book or a dining companion to fill the blank spaces, I felt antsy and ready to leave.
Despite the lack of caffeine in my decaf latte (adorably adorned with a heart), the creamy liquid did nothing to calm the ants that had taken up temporary residence in my pants (err... Joe's jeans). Try as I might, I could not sip the latte like any form of a lady. I charged through the foam like a sprinter bursting from the starting block, and chomped my way through my mocha macaron -- barely taking the time to relish the juxtaposition of the creamy ganache center against the delicate cookie crust.
My card was in the bill before it could even hit the table, and when I got back to my meter (with 30 minutes to spare), it struck me that my biggest problem with eating solo is not being seen by myself, but rather having to be with myself for such a long period of time. While I am fine when dining casually or in the comfort of my dining room or office space, the act of taking over a public table for a period of time that is dependent upon the pace of my servers was incredibly frustrating for me. Meter concerns aside, I felt helpless and out of control -- even going so far as to leave my table in an attempt to refill my water glass at the busboy station. I love the Little Next Door and still consider it one of my favorite luncheries in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure I love it on my own. Especially when the meter is running. And especially when there is no one to distract me with pesky requests to sample my food.