When I tucked into the beautiful carrot crepe at the new critical sensation Olmsted, I thought of my Grandma Lily, me eating her overcooked, but delicious, plain carrot coins when I was a child, and how they likely cemented carrots as my favourite vegetable. I could write a warm fuzzy post about her and be a good granddaughter. But I’m not going to.
It was while I was enjoying an early dinner at Olmsted’s sunny bar (forgive the difficult light of the pictures, please) the other night, that I came to notice how with all of the three couples that would sit next to me, the boy ordered and mostly ate the food that came for “them.” The plates ultimately sat in front of these XY chromosomes, with the XXs curling in beside them, reaching in occasionally, their alcoholic drinks appearing much more the night’s sustenance than the creative calories coming out of the kitchen of chef-owner Greg Baxtrom.
As my courses came, I had moments of being conscious that what I ordered was the amount being shared by two people next to me, and I had moments of exhilaration at having my own plate and no need to reach my arm across someone else’s to take a bite. All the plump clams that lied beneath the day-glo crepe were mine. All the sunflower seeds that added more depth than the carrot and butter sauce pooled beneath weren’t divvied up. The satisfying bowl of chawanmushi that followed was only sullied by my spoon. All the shaved truffles were mine to poke around and fiddle with, and the crispy artichokes that softened in the custard’s liquor only found a final resting place within me.
But noticing the curled backs and stealth arms of the girls next to me was not just about enjoying my selfishness; I was aware of my appetite and how I was able to let it be free. I can certainly eat when I want to and maybe these three girls just don’t need to eat as much. It was early for dinner in New York. Maybe it was not about some sort of posturing in front of their gentlemen or do to with how much they think they could or should eat. They can say no to an exciting duck breast and ballotine (what essentially was like duck mortadella) pairing and just keep saying yes to light-coloured cocktails. I can’t.
After being around girls and boys for a good long while in my life, I also can’t completely buy that their behaviour was free from some sort of head game. Even in the Instagram reality of female influencers as hedonistic gluttons, it’s obvious the signifiers are often ultimately props. I’m too old and too into food at this point to be embarrassed by eating, but my self-awareness never relaxes. I know too well the difficult relationship between girls and food. That would be a reason for why I like dining solo (perhaps read: being single). No sharing. No posturing. No explaining. The only boys that notice my eating are the ones that serve me, and I get no second looks given that my tab works in their favour.
I would accept an assessment that I’m quick to judge with shallow arguments, but I’ll counter with the observation that the next patron to sit next to me was another solo female who took a deep dive in the menu. When she asked the bartender if she was ordering too much, I silently cheered her on. As she was finishing off her second item, I was presented with a traditional chocolate mousse. All the love has been going toward Olmsted’s lavender frozen yogurt, but as someone who eats pounds of yogurt on a weekly basis, I veered left and went with (not my favourite) chocolate. Its thick richness was a welcome contrast to the garden-forward lightness of the savoury courses. As each spoonful lingered on my tongue, I wished I could have similarly stuck around for hours in the pretty room with its plant-filled wall, admiring the colourful Santimetre ceramics that dishes came out on, and watching those in the back garden anticipate getting my seat. Of course, as mostly couples, my single empty would bring them no relief, but maybe, just maybe, it would increase the hangry factor enough so that there would be fewer criss-crossed arms, less perching around plates, and less sharing. Each diner at Olmsted should be having private moments of bliss with the plate set out in front of, and only for, them.