Ten days alone in Manhattan! I wasn’t sure whether to rejoice or hire a bodyguard. I mean, I’ve spent enough time in the city to know uptown from downtown (despite my propensity to exit the subway and head the wrong direction), but I’ve never been a one-woman act here before. And perhaps it did not bode well that the day after I arrived, some madman was wielding hammers at unsuspecting women in Union Square and thugs were mugging people in Central Park.
Should I just stay in and let the pizza boxes stack up until the CE arrives?
Cooking, by the way, was out of the question. We made a vow the day we closed escrow on our little apartment that our minuscule kitchen would function as a mud room and a storage facility, but cooking? Never! For us, food preparation describes popping the plastic lid off of a container of trail mix, and that’s about it. Dinner is served!
But woman does not live by trail mix alone (if I did, maybe I could whittle down a dress size or two, though…) and at noon on my first day in the city, I sauntered up Broadway to a sure bet for solo diners – my neighborhood Pain Quotidien (60 W. 65th Street at Broadway). A hallmark of each of the chain’s 30+ eateries in the city is the communal table, where you can enjoy your solitary meal amidst the similarly spurned or perennially anti-social diners.
A typical communal table at Le Pain Quotidien (image from lepainquotidien.com)
Speaking of spurned, the reason I was alone in the city was because my beloved CE got a better offer: his sister invited him on a river-rafting trip in Montana, so instead of making restaurant reservations in New York City, he was trying to avoid hypothermia on the Smith River. Two solid days of pouring rain, and, just when it couldn’t get worse, it snowed!
Gail and the CE dodging raindrops in Montana
Blissfully unaware that he was courting frostbite in Montana, I enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup at Pain Quotidien. And a cafe au lait for good measure. You won’t get a fancy meal here, but you’ll always get a seat, and never a pitying look from a fellow diner, because many of them are also flying solo.
Buoyed by this success, I upped the ante and went in search of a meal after church on Sunday, alone, smack dab in the middle of the UWS brunch scene. Surely I would be publicly humiliated and that would give me something to write about, yes? But no. I was swept along with the crowd entering Nice Matin (201 W. 79th St. at Amsterdam) and greeted cheerfully by the hostess. I was sure she would laugh and point at me when I requested a table for one, but instead I was politely led to a premier two-top, no questions asked. The service was excellent, and so was the Mediterranean Lamb salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. Perfect place to dine alone!
At Nice Matin, you can also dine outside. (image from boomerang-dining.com)
For the next few days, my solitude was assuaged by meals with friends and family, but by Tuesday evening I was flying solo again. It was a balmy spring evening and I walked up Columbus Avenue to peruse the options. I stopped in at Ella Kitchen & Bar
(249 Columbus Avenue at 72nd St.), a casual eatery I hadn’t noticed before, but then, the last time I was in the city was during zero-degree-wind-chill February and we weren’t really looking for outdoor cafes.
With plastic lawn chairs and a menu boasting tapas and small plates, this looked like a sure bet for a lonely diner, and so it was. The service was friendly and the food was healthy and fresh. It’s a nice addition to the UWS.
Tomato salad at Ella Kitchen & Bar
Hummus at Ella Kitchen & Bar
The next day I had appointments in Midtown and stopped by the busy Brasserie Ruhlmann
(45 Rockefeller Plaza at W. 50th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues). I expected to be shunned to a seat on the side terrace, but I was promptly seated at a prime table and enjoyed my favorite item on their menu; the Grilled Branzino with couscous, fennel, chickpeas and lemon vinaigrette.
Brasserie Ruhlmann’s Grilled Branzino (image from opentable.com)
You’ll notice I had thus far skirted the concept of fine dining, choosing restaurants where the unescorted diner is not a total anomaly. But one evening, I had a ticket for the ballet at Lincoln Center, and was so tempted by the ease of dining on site at Lincoln Ristorante
that I presented myself alone there, certain I’d be frowned at and consigned to a table in their version of Siberia. Wrong again. I was seated with a lovely view of the Milstein Pool and promptly served my favorite drink on their menu: the Tramonto Sud, which translates to “beautiful sunset”, I was told. Made with bourbon, Campari, Nonino Amaro and lemon, it is a lovely way to greet the evening.
The meal progression was a bit less lovely. The food was excellent, but somehow, the waiter lost track of me. I will never know whether it had anything to do with my being a solo diner – more likely some sort of cosmic glitch, I think. The dishes were slow to arrive, and, while I did not care that the prix fixe dessert course never materialized, I did become concerned fifteen minutes before curtain when I was still unable to find someone interested in presenting my check.
First course was this lovely salad: greens, peas, lava beans, baby turnips, radishes, snap peas and fresh dill in a hummus-inspired dressing.
Ravioli with peas and morels was the second course and it was divine.
I finally left my table and spoke to the manager at the desk, who was horrified by the misstep and promptly comped my dinner. We have eaten at this restaurant before without incident, so I will give them another chance – who needs dessert, anyway?
A few days later I ventured downtown for lunch at The Standard Grill, which has become the place I go to mourn the loss of my beloved Pastis. The terrace at The Standard, however, is a better than good stand-in. First come, first served, it does not discriminate against the friendless diner, and I enjoyed their Grilled Chicken Salad before heading up the The High Line to walk off the calories.
The Standard Grill’s chicken salad with owner Andre Balazs’ favorite vinaigrette.
These adorable salt and pepper shakers kept me company during my solo lunch at The Standard Grill.
For my next lunch, I stayed closer to home, where Bouchon Bakery
in the Time-Warner Center is a slam-dunk for those of us dining without companions. Once again, I was amazed to be seated at a premier table with a lovely view of Columbus Circle.
The Cobb Salad at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery & Cafe at the Time-Warner Center.
Surely there was somewhere I could go to eat where I would be scoffed at and treated like a leper! Aha, I thought – I will go to dinner at the busy Cafe Luxembourg. Surely they will have the French sensibility there to make me feel inferior, non
? No, non. Apparently they are French in name, only, because I was given a banquette seat right by the window and served ever so sweetly and attentively. What is wrong with these people?
It goes on and on. I was given a lovely quiet booth at Landmarc (Time-Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle) for one dinner, and a window table over at Beyoglu (1431 Third Avenue at 81st) on the UES for lunch. At this point, I was desperate to be mistreated, and went alone to the Center Bar (Time-Warner Center, 4th floor) to drown my sorrows, thinking surely, here, in a chic cocktail lounge high above Columbus Circle, someone would see that I was an outcast. It was not to be. They served me a glass of rose and the requisite bowl of cocktail kibble without blinking. Shocking!
I can only conclude that the horror stories I’ve heard about eating alone in NYC are the stuff of urban legend. You may not be able to get an 8 p.m. table in the dining room at Gramercy Tavern (although I believe seating in the front tavern room is first come, first served) but you will most definitely not starve on the streets of Manhattan.
All that said, I was pretty happy to see my mountain man arrive safe and mostly sound after his adventure in Montana. Seating for one is fine, thank you, but a table for two is sublime.
Me and the CE, happy to be together in the city!