All I could think about was ramen.
It didn't matter that I was surrounded by acclaimed chefs and restaurants -- Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken from Border Grill, Suzanne Goin from A.O.C., or Sherry Yard from Spago. Their thoughtfully executed dishes, conceptualized and crafted from seasonal produce from local farmers for the Localicious Gala I was attending, were meaningless to me.
I didn't want a lamb sirloin crostini with tomato eggplant jam or a delicate ricotta-stuffed squash blossom.
I wanted to slurp a hot mess of broth-saturated noodles and pork belly with chopsticks I don't know how to hold properly. I wanted meaty juices to drizzle down my chin like pork-infused rain. I wanted to eat exactly what I was craving in the exact moment that I was craving it.
And, for once, I didn't care if I had to leave the company of other individuals to sit alone at a restaurant to do it.
It had been a good week and a half since my last solo restaurant/bar excursion -- a pathetic outing involving a chick lit book, a pity pour of wine and multiple bemused glances from the resident bartender.
The self-imposed socially awkward experience had lowered my inhibitions about solo dining (and imbibing). Eating a bowl of ramen at Robata Jinya, my local Japanese robata restaurant, seemed infinitely less masochistic in comparison. Pleasurable even. I couldn't say my "good byes" fast enough.
"If I can read a Jennifer Wiener book during Happy Hour at Comme Ca, I can eat by myself anywhere!" I thought as I assertively strode down West Third Street in the direction of the restaurant 20 minutes later.
I swung open the door and proudly walked up to the host stand, primed to declare myself a party of one.
"It's just me," I told the stylishly coiffed hostess, an overly extended smile straining the corners of my mouth. "Can I sit at the bar?"
She grabbed a single menu and beckoned me to follow her -- past the tables of equally stylish twenty-somethings sharing sushi small plates -- to the robata bar in the back. I envisioned all of them turning to look at me as I walked by, tilting their heads up to observe me with deep admiration.
"Wow, that girl is awesome." They were all clearly thinking. "She's eating ramen by herself on a Friday night!"
I also envisioned a strapping young bachelor walking over to inform me of this awesomeness -- how impressed he was with my self-confidence and unrestrained enthusiasm for pork and noodles. Taking no notice of the broth dripping from my face or puddle in my lap, he would slide his card across the lacquered wood panel of the bar, flash an electric smile, and say, "Call me if you ever want an eating partner."
The fantasy quickly crashed and burned as I realized where the hostess was taking me. She walked by the empty seats in the front of the bar and pointed me toward a seat in the far corner of the restaurant -- where single women go to die.
I cringed as I sat down, feeling slightly embarrassed that I'd been hidden away in the corner like the bad kid in class. I wanted to be on display -- the totally cool solo ramener who is so at ease with herself she doesn't mind being the center of attention.
"All that's missing is a dunce hat," I mused, as I dutifully reached for my reading material, the "Breakfast" issue of Los Angeles Magazine this time.
While my knight in shining Ashley came swooping in from down the street to join me for a drink 25 minutes later, I did actually feel more at ease on this occasion. It wasn't terrifying for me to sit there slurping my noodles while everyone else in the restaurant was slurping in tandem. And after a few minutes, I didn't even mind being tucked into the worst seat in the house.
It was kind of nice.
This past weekend, I tackled another formerly terrifying situation -- using the broiler drawer in my oven to make a frittata version of "the Kitchn's" omelet with quinoa. The last time I'd used the broiler I'd burned the kitchen floor, likely compromising my security deposit (and part of my sanity) in the process. Yet as I began prepping the ingredients to make my lunch using Heidi Swanson's frittata instructions in Super Natural Every Day, I reasoned that the worst possible scenario had already transpired (short of burning the food beyond edibility).
Just like I'd confidently gone to Robata Jinya by myself (for approximately 25 minutes), I was going to confidently use the broiler to finish my quinoa frittata so the eggs would poof up just like Heidi promised.
I fired up the temperature to 500 degrees, removed the pan in the evil fire-breathing drawer, replaced the grill with my cast iron skillet, and slid it under the flame. Loud snap, crackle and popping noises immediately began emanating from the inner depths of my oven.
"It's the heart of darkness," I thought as I grimaced in pain, fretting like a mother that my poor quinoa frittata was being burned alive.
But when I pulled the pan out a few moments later, the eggs weren't charred beyond recognition -- they were perfect.
I'm kind of thinking I might just be ready to tackle a solo tasting menu.
Or, at the very least, finish a full bowl of ramen at Robata Jinya while everyone looks on and admires my awesomeness.
Quinoa Frittata with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Kale and Goat Cheese
Inspired by "the Kitchn" and Super Natural Every Day
1 tablespoon quinoa
1 shallot, finely minced
1 cup kale, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon milk
Goat cheese, crumbled
Bring 2 tablespoons of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce heat, and simmer covered until the quinoa absorbs all the water - approximately 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a medium pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add a splash of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shallots and saute 2-3 minutes before adding the chopped kale. Season with salt, reduce heat, and cover. Let braise 15-20 minutes over low heat until the kale is satiny in appearance. Add the sun-dried tomatoes for the last five minutes. When done, remove kale, tomato and tomatoes from the pan and toss with the quinoa. Set aside to cool.
Crack the two eggs in a small bowl. Add the splash of milk, season with salt and pepper, and whisk together. Add the cooled kale and quinoa mixture.
Heat a small (6-8'') cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add a good splash of olive oil, swirling to coat the entire base of the pan. Pour in the egg mixture and let settle for one minute before nudging the edges in with a spatula so that the uncooked center runs out to the sides. You may need to tilt the pan a bit so the runny eggs run to the underside of the pan. Cook for another minute or so or until the edges are set and the center is just a bit puddly in appearance.
Remove the pan from the stove, sprinkle with goat cheese, and place under the broiler for a minute (maybe two) or until the top of the frittata is puffed and set. Remove from the broiler and let sit for a couple minutes before sliding out of the pan.