“Ok, you gotta pinky swear...no camera on the first dates. I know you can do it!!” Read the e-mail from Esi at Dishing Up Delights.
I cringed at her insistent e-mail. I didn’t want to pinky swear. I’d never been to Gloria’s Cafe, a widely revered Mexican/Salvadorian restaurant in Culver City that specializes in pupusas, and I couldn’t fathom going to a new eatery without my camera in tow.
Even if it was a first date.
I wasn’t the least bit concerned that the last time I took pictures on a (second) date, the guy nearly bolted for the exit.
He was just an exception to the rule – an anomaly among men!
Plus, he was too short for me anyway.
And his Facebook page was littered with pictures of him with scantily clad women with names like “Feather.”
I didn’t want him to call me. I really didn’t.
So, I tucked my camera into my Hobo clutch and planned to take some photos of the exterior of the restaurant before my date arrived, and, if it didn’t feel too Fatal Attraction, of the food as well. Maybe he would think it was funny -- cute even! He might even hold up my Droid light for me to ensure adequate lighting!
It could happen.
I drove up to the strip mall on Venice Blvd. nearly 20 minutes early, but wasn’t concerned about all the time I had to kill. I rolled down my window and began snapping away like a good food paparazzo. Mid-way through my photo shoot, however, I spotted a guy wondering around the parking lot in a striped, button down shirt that screamed “first date.”
I cursed under my breath and immediately e-mailed my friends.
“Oh my gosh I'm already here and its only 640 and I think I just saw him standing outside and I'm still in my car and I don't want to get out because I don't know if that was him or what!”
(I was a little nervous.)
After a few more minutes of hiding in my Corolla (a non-recall model), I texted him.
“Was that you outside the restaurant?”
I left the sanctuary of my car, the camera safely back in my bag, and did my best to be the most charming and sane date in the history of… well, my personal history. He was a little awkward, as would be expected for a blind date, but all was going fine until he told me he’s moving to Boston in three months.
“The last girl I went out with was freaked out by that.” He said as I choked on one of my ice cubes.
“Right… well, umm… that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun.” I responded, a Katie Couric smile plastered on my face. (I did not think we could still have fun.)
Fortunately, our charming server chose that precise moment to ask if we’d like some Sangria.
“Dear God, please let him order a pitcher,” I thought as he hemmed and hawed between ordering glasses or the mini-pitcher ($14).
We continued with convoluted small talk over the well-executed pitcher of Sangria until our server came back to take our food order. I immediately took charge – zeroing in on the family-run restaurant’s infamous pupasas for a starter. My date didn’t know what they were (he’d also never heard of gnocchi before), but he let me order the revuelta (pork & cheese) and loroco (cheese & herb) variations without complaint ($4.50).
When the pupusas arrived, I fingered the camera in my bag. I’d mentioned my food blog already, so thought I might still be able to capture the pan-fried pupasas in all their pan-fried glory.
“This is really hard for me…” I started, ready to lay it on him like he laid his revelation about moving on me.
“Your voice sounds like Sarah Palin’s,” He interrupted, oblivious to what I was about to say.
Shocked, my fingers fled from the camera in my bag. I grabbed a pupusa instead and grinded my teeth into it – thankful to have something to distract myself from the comparison to one of the most mocked public figures in the country.
It was easy to be distracted. I marveled over the texture of what was, essentially, a cornmeal quesadilla. The pliant cornmeal was somehow lighter and less intense than the pupusas I’ve had in the past, and I especially enjoyed the revuelta version with its refined application of pork and cheese.
Our entrees arrived shortly after – the house and customer favorite Carne Adobada (slow-roasted carnitas topped with adobada sauce) for him ($12), and the Sopa de 7 Mares with fish, shrimp, crab, scallops, octopus, and calamari ($13) for me.
It was perhaps the worse possible thing to order on a date ever.
The cauldron-sized bowl arrived with over a pound of seafood spilling out. Four crab legs, huge chunks of white fish, octopus tentacles, whole scallops and shrimp stared up at me from a sea of tomato-based vegetable broth. Two-inch long carrots, onions, green peppers, and celery filled in the spaces between the sea dwellers – challenging me to attempt to consume each vegetable whole.
I knew there was no way to eat the soup in a lady-like fashion.
I was done for. (And secretly a little excited about it.)
So I made fun of myself as I used my fingers to wiggle out all the crab meat from the shells (a process that necessitated the use of six napkins). And I waved a particularly meaty section of octopus in front of my date’s horrified face before I cut it into neat pieces that I then deposited back into my soup. (Gnocchi boy did not appear keen on the prominent display of suction cups.)
And I held up the two-inch long calamari piece in my spoon and asked him, “Dare me to eat it all in one bite?”
Before even waiting for him to answer, I slid it into my mouth, relishing the chewy texture of the squid.
While it would have been infinitely easier to have ordered the fork-friendly Carne Adobada that was, incidentally delicious, the energy I had to put into eating my seafood soup was welcome relief from focusing on my dashed expectations for the evening. Especially when he took the rest of the Sangria without offering me any and revealed that he doesn’t own a car, his studio apartment doesn’t have a kitchen (oh the horror!), and he could pay for my dinner because he hadn’t rented a car that week.
“Do you want me to drive you home?” I asked as we started for the exit, the Christian soldier in me incapable of letting him take the bus back to Westwood – especially after witnessing me massacre an entire seafood counter.
Much to my chagrin, he acquiesced – clearly eager to keep the conversation with the girl who sounds like Sarah Palin going.
So I drove him home, waved good bye with a curt “this was fun,” and then peeled out of the alley, thankful to be alone with my neurotic thoughts and bulging belly.
I will not be his chauffeur again -- I am far more comfortable playing the role of a food paparazzo.
10227 Venice Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA