She is a foodie, I am not. She picked the place, I complied. My appetite was wet for the mystery of who and what she was. The food, an afterthought.
“What should I get?” I ask, wide-eyed and poised for her expertise.
She rattles off what is good, what she’s had before, and what she recommends; ending with, “the spaghetti is fantastic. It looks simple,” she warns playfully, “but it’s special.”
“I’ll get that!” I say. Perhaps one of the quickest decisions I’d ever made. But On to bigger and better things: I’ve come to find out about her.
We’re sitting at the bar, my feet dangle and fidget on the wooden beam affixed to my low back barstool chair. The ceilings are not high, they aren’t low either. They are painted in broad stripes of alternating color: slate and cream, slate and cream. Atop the stripes are small overhead lights, peering down, meeting the flicker of individual candles positioned at each table, at each spot, balancing out the gleam in a warm glow. The light and layout give a feeling of invitation, as if this was a place meant for you, as if you just belong. The sound of voices bounce off beings and walls in a dumb dull happy pattern, neighborhood folks you might have met in another lifetime. I practice the art of consuming while we wait: her short hair, her white button down shirt, her accent from a far away land, her eyes that belie all the carefully constructed angles. Something’s bubbling. I’m thinking, ‘who is this creature?’ Then she smiles. A smile that inspired the invention of the word charm.
The food is placed before us. She’s having the Garganelli. Light yellow colored flat pasta rolled into a tubular shape with a thick and hearty mushroom ragu, covered in Ricotta Salata, long dashes of stark white cheese, bright like the hair of beach babies in Europe. Hers remains untouched, as she finishes up a thought; her mouth, occupied, with intellect. I use the opportunity to take my first bite, quick and indifferent.
As the food hits my tongue I’m transported.
I realize this is not food – it’s an experience.
I let her talk but her voice fades away. What was once the narrative becomes a subplot to the morsels dancing on my pallet.
I look at the dish before me: Long lanky strands of pasta nest in the center of my plate. Their blondness accentuated by some sort of sauce, which, is less like a sauce and more like a glaze. A shiny lacquer coats and covers every strand, highlighting the beauty of it’s curves as might a silk dress hugging the hips of a woman in night time Paris. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It is. Throughout the pasta, peeking out from beneath chosen strands are specks of chives: little green flecks saying hello, reminding you what you might have otherwise forgotten, that you are eating something of this earth, something of this world. Centrally located in the heart of the nest are a slew of little brown breadcrumbs perfectly toasted glistening miniature squares. Slivers of garlic so thin they appear two-dimensional unapologetically make an appearance-staking claim to the core flavor that enwraps the dish. The flickering flake of dried red pepper can be felt and seldom seen shimmering and rubbing shoulders with the rest of them, making sure the crowd stays awake, wide awake and jazzed.
The gangling lariats that fill my mouth are dense and chewy. The taste of the glaze shape shifts from butter, to oil, to cheese, with a prevailing signature of glorious garlic. The tiny breadcrumbs are hard and provide contrast texture against the pasta’s tenderness, which creates a dynamic tango be-twixed my teeth, tongue, and mouth. The flavors masquerade, hi five-ing and shaking hands with each taste bud as they make their way to their final resting place, tucked into the bed of succulent satiety. I work to appear effortless as I inwardly calculate the best bite, a twirl capturing all elements of pasta, chive, breadcrumb and the opaque slivers of goodness.
The conversation has left me, the plate is what has me. I start to slow down, to eke out the time carefully, to conserve the treasure from fast disappearing. I do this for as long as I can until at last it is gone.
She is not gone though. I go back to listening, skipped past three chapters, but with a full belly. I catch up quickly and pursue hunger of a different sort.
Cayenne Douglass is a New York City based writer. She attended Cal Arts in the theater department and graduated from Goddard College with a Bachelor of Individualized Studies. Cayenne has studied Essay and Opinion Writing, Humor Writing, Poetry, at Gotham Writers and Playwriting with Webb Wilcoxen, Richard Caliban, Rogelio Martinez, and Leah Nanko Winkler. Previously her short play “Thrown” was featured in the CalArts New Works Festival and last spring her short play, “If You See Something Say Something” was produced by Primary Stages as part of their Detention Series and performed in the East Village.