Thursday, October 20, 2011
Dining Alone - Sustainable virtue at the lunch counter
At the lunch rush, single diners are encouraged to sit at the counter or bar instead of occupying the valuable real estate of a table. This being Santa Monica, the lunch counter was part of a large new natural healthy food restaurant on the ground floor of a newly opened trendy urban mall.
I perched on a brushed-steel stool upholstered in lemon-yellow crocodile-patterned patent leather, at the natural wooden butcher block bar, unrolled my natural linen napkin and read the menu. I ordered a nice, refreshing agave-sweetened cucumber and yuzu antioxident lemonade. Actually, no; I ordered a plain lemonade, but felt somehow as though I was disappointing someone with such an unhealthy choice.
I decided on a noodle bowl with shrimp, shitake mushrooms and red chili, and while I waited I watched the cook and waitstaff work behind the counter.
Everyone was pleasant, though. Beside me a young woman scrolled through her phone as she ate her salad, while on the other side, a young couple shared vegetables and hummus. My noodles were served in a rough earthenware bowl, with knife and fork or chopsticks - my preference - and while they were tasty, they were far more expensive than the same dish would have been at a San Gabriel Valley or Sawtelle noodle joint. Clearly, the trendy-mall ambience doubled the price of any dish.
It's a bright, pretty place, too, with clean walls tiled in bright shades of chartreuse and yellow, and planters of succulents separating the bankettes of tables furnished with curving wicker chairs.
I think after a while, the studied self-conscious sense of sustainability would start to seem priggish and dogmatic - Which makes it a perfect fit for Santa Monica, with its combination of affluence, progressive politics and eco-conservatism. A place where the ex-wives of television executives come after power-yoga class to nibble at organically grown greens while planning fundraisers for Crossroads School featuring unplugged performances by aging rock stars. And window-shop at Tory Burch after lunch.
It's nice to get out of the lunch-at-the-office grind, isn't it?