Do you ever eat alone at restaurants? In my thirty years of existence, I had only done it once – in Lima, Peru at a tiny chifa – until my San Francisco trip. Like many others I know, the idea of going to a proper restaurant and getting a table-for-one is quite intimidating. And it’s not just eating by myself in a public place that I find scary. I have never been to the movies or traveled to a new city/country where I didn’t know anyone, without company.
Despite the fact that I was in San Francisco for a conference and it was not my first trip to the city and I sort of knew people there, it was the closest I have come to traveling independently. I stayed in a hostel on my own for the first time. (I highly recommend their private rooms, but not so much the shared dorm, especially not the night before your presentation! I have stayed in far nicer dorms in other hostels.)
But more importantly, I finally got over my eating-alone phobia. And the experience was so much nicer than I had expected! The first place I ate at was Flour + Water. It’s an acclaimed Italian restaurant (2010 finalist in the ‘Best New Restaurant’ category of the JB Foundation awards) in the Mission neighborhood – you know the kind that requires reservations and has a long waiting line for walk-ins and apparently, even Steve Jobs had trouble getting in to! And that’s where dining alone comes in handy…it’s sooo much easier to get a seat at the bar! And you get special attention from the servers and the bartender! So, I happily ordered a pizza and a beer, chatted with the bartender, took a few pictures, read my book and ignored the little voice in my head pointing out the fact that I was the only person in the restaurant eating dinner on my own!
This was just the beginning. After my confident start, I dined out alone several times over the next few days and realized how convenient it is – you don’t need to exchange countless emails back and forth with your friends trying to figure out a date, time and a place that works for everyone; you hardly ever need a reservation or wait in line and what’s more, you can order, eat and leave at your own sweet pace.
…and the famed House of Nanking in Chinatown. I was a little apprehensive about it at first, given how it appears on every tourist guidebook, but I am pleased to report that their food was delicious and delightfully different from my experience of Chinese food. I had a bowl of their House Noodles that are freshly-made thin egg noodles, tossed in sesame sauce with Asian spices, scallions, garlic and pea-shoots.
All this is not to say that I shall, henceforth, be abandoning my friends and only eating out alone – I still prefer company. But, I have definitely learnt that a table-for-one is a refreshing, exciting and brave place to eat at, every once in a while.