Monday Musings: When Seeking Excellence in a Dining Companion

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I am an old soul. A nostalgic of excruciating terms. I am basically a cranky old bastard of 81 in a 23-year-old’s body.

I once met a man who told me that he hated it when people were slow about ordering and eating at a restaurant. I rebutted that dining was an experience, no matter if it was at your local Chili’s or at a fine dining restaurant. Dining is meant to be enjoyed slowly with good company. Needless to say, there was no second date with said man.

There is something to be said about a long, slow meal that begins with drinks, appetizers, and good conversation. The noise of the restaurant around you dulls to a gentle roar that you and your companions barely notice as you immerse yourselves fully in each other’s words. Then, the night crescendos as that one friend, who is constantly on the lookout for the delivery of your food like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth (usually I play this role), alerts the rest of the table of the imminent conveyance of the entrees.

The table’s conversation slowly decrescendos as everyone takes their first bite. Soft moans replace words and the act of near-carnal mastication ensues.

And dessert? Well, dessert is the climax, of course. The denouement to an epic, culinary saga. And with a strong, black coffee ? Get outta here.

(And if you are one of those who drowns a good coffee with milk and sugar – come back to me when you grow some hairs on your prepubescent chest.)

Other than that aforementioned man, most of my dinner companions seem to understand how to act when enjoying a meal. One of my friends, when he was still new to me as a dining companion, instantly endeared himself to me when he asked the table, “are we just here to eat and go or are we going to order an appetizer, talk and enjoy ourselves?” We are still friends to this day and I’m not ashamed to admit that moment helped my affection for him along.

So what do I look for in a happy dinner companion?

  1. Timeliness. 5 – 15 minutes late is forgivable – desired, even! Fashionably late will always be a universal truth in dining but any more so and I’ll get hangry. Don’t test me.
  2. If I am cooking or if someone else is cooking, I find host gifts or small contributions like wine or bread to be incredibly impressive. My friends and I are so casual that we usually let each other know if we want/need something brought to the table. Even so, it’s still nice to demonstrate the appreciation of the effort. I think these days, polite appreciation is diminishing slowly. (See? I’m an 80-year-old.)
  3. For restaurant dining – This isn’t terribly important to me, especially if we are going nowhere incredibly elegant, but I think looking presentable and less like the daily grunge is really exciting to me. I am one of the most casual people you will ever meet but I will always dress up in a nice shirt and, at least, pants devoid of nose stains from my dog.
  4. Wine. Please, PLEASE drink with me? PLEASE? We don’t have to get hammered. In fact, I’d rather us not on most days. But seriously, let’s have a cocktail.
  5. Conversation and manners. This seems so old-school but, do you chew with your mouth open? Do you slurp in an environment that isn’t serving ramen?  Do you sit quietly? Withdrawn and uncomfortable? Come on, guys. Listen to the news, read a book, watch a movie – tell me something about your life and keep your elbows off the table!
  6. Mood. Please, oh please, do not come to dinner at my house or with me to a restaurant in a mood. Please do not fight with your significant other over some inane issue that I could care less about at the table. TRY to have a good time?  Life sucks. I know. Sometimes you have to vent. I’m here for you. However, let’s take a break from it for a moment and have a good meal.
  7. And I swear to god, if I see you on that phone for more than a second just to check on the status of your kid, cat, fish, mother or whatever – just don’t bother. You want to be on the phone or whatever device that Chinese sweatshops vomit out the whole night? Don’t eat with me.
  8. Over all, let’s have a good time. I love you. I don’t see you enough. I want to laugh with you, share desserts with you, swap stories, catch up and marvel over plates heaped with food. I want to spoil you with compliments and tell you how much I’ve missed you. Friend, family, lover, dog – whoever you are, if I make a point to share food with you, understand that it is the most powerful sign of affection.

Also – if you enjoy a good cigar and a bourbon – please marry me. Not a dining requirement, though. (Did I mention I was an 80-year-old man? Complete with elbow patches, bow ties, and a permanent scowl.)

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