Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best Date Ever

“Took myself on a date, pick me up at half past eight.”

It’s from a hand-game song we used to sing as kids, but Thursday night it was real life. Like some of the dates I’ve been on, I didn’t realize it was a date until about a third of the way through the evening, but that's me for you. After treating myself to dinner and snagging a front-row seat at a free dance show, I realized I was on the best date ever with none other than myself.

It started quite unassumingly. While checking my email at work, I found in DailyCandy’s Weekend Guide that there was a free modern dance performance by the Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects at the Lincoln Center Atrium at 8:30. Since I get out of work at 6, I decided to kill some time by taking myself out to dinner (which I am wont to do on a semi-regular basis, much to the chagrin of my bank account). But where would I go?

A day earlier, my boss had asked me to find her an interesting restaurant on 9th Avenue in the 50s, walking distance from our office. I gave her a bunch of choices, stumbling upon a restaurant I wanted to try for myself at some point in the future called Casellula. On Thursday I decided to actually go since I had the time. I bundled myself up to brave the cold, medium-strength winds and walked to 401 W. 52nd Street, hoping a glass of wine would warm me up.

When I arrived at the tiny restaurant, I instantly noticed the soft orange hue cast upon the two white walls and the two exposed brick walls. A dark wood L-shaped bar bent into a third of the restaurant, the rest populated by small tables for parties of four or less. Behind the bar, exposed shelving on the brick wall displayed an infinity of wine glasses and wine bottles. Next to it, a small food station with a multitude of cheeses and a little silver oven for warming, toasting, grilling the menu items, all small plates like macaroni and cheese, paninis, and salads. Near this kitchen area was also a tall cheese display case, three shelves of Roqueforts, Camemberts, Bries, Goudas, Chevres, Bleus and more, their different color skins and molds making some sort of delicious-looking dairy rainbow.

I sat at the bar and perused the wine list. After looking at the menu online, I had already decided I wanted the macaroni and cheese, made with Fol Epi, Comté, and Chevre cheeses, lardons (pork fat) and caramelized onions. I know nearly nothing about wine, so I took this chance to learn something.

“Is there a wine that goes with the macaroni and cheese?” I asked, laughing at myself. I knew wines went with different dishes, but I didn’t know if mac and cheese counted. I found out it does. Nikki, the caramel-skinned bartender with a curly, reddish afro, told me a red would complement it nicely, and recommended a Pinot Noir wine (Pinot Noir is so called because the grapes it’s made from are blackish in color). I don’t usually like red wine, but I decided to take her word for it. She let me try the wine first.

She poured a little bit of wine into a glass. I smelled it—it was fruity, almost floral, really light—and then took a sip. It tasted exactly like it smelled. Yum! I was all set to get a full glass.

“You’re actually supposed to drink the whole sample at once,” Nikki said helpfully. Whoops! “I’m still learning,” I laughed happily and ordered a glass of the wine, a McKinley Pinot Noir from Willamette, Oregon. Not too shabs, Pacific Northwest! I really just wanted to keep smelling the wine, maybe take it home and use it as perfume. I didn’t know wine could smell that good. I sat at the bar with my wine, fully conscious of how weird I looked smelling between delicious sips.

My food arrived after a while, macaroni and cheese bubbling hot in a little skillet about the size of a CD. Initially I was worried that this seemed like such a small portion, but as I tasted it I realized it was just right. It was a dish to savor and really try to taste all of the ingredients working together. (I’m fully aware of how pretentious this could sound, but I don’t really care. It’s important to taste food, not just eat it.). The cheeses were creamy and tangy. The lardons and onions were soft, sweet and salty. There was a kind of crisp on the mac and cheese from where it touched the hot skillet that was chewy and just a little bit charred. Delicious, perfectly portioned, and fabbbbulous with the wine. I don’t have any more of a food vocabulary to describe the relationship, unfortunately. You’ll just have to try it for yourself, so visit Casellula and enjoy.

Satiated and just a little bit buzzed, I walked up 10 blocks to Lincoln Center, passing the trees and sculptures near Fordham Law that were lit up for the holidays. I had some time to kill before I went to the performance, so I ambled around Lincoln Center a little bit. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, and was fantastically struck by the modern beauty of The Met, The New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic buildings. Though they were beige, they were by no means “beige,” shining with soft white light and filled with patrons dressed up in their wintry theatre attire. The iconic circular fountain in the center of the three buildings was almost like a beacon of this same white light. My only word was “Wow.”

I then made my way inside the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, which is just across the street from the aforementioned building trifecta. On Thursdays, Target sponsors all kinds of free performances in the atrium (all shows are at 8:30, but get there early because there’s limited, first-come, first-serve seating).

By some stroke of luck, I wound up in the front row of the free Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects show that had been set up inside the building. Tonight was the first modern dance performance in the Target Free Thursdays series. Special dance flooring had been taped to the atrium floor to be a stage for the dancers, with rows of chairs set up on three sides of it for the audience. I was on stage right.

Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects (JODP) is now in its 20th year as a company, performing in an athletic, post-modern and expressive style that has been consistently lauded by publications like The New York Times. According to the company, “With inventive athletic virtuosity, wit and whimsy, JODP works to create dance and film pieces that are explosive, reflective, and seductive, relating to the vastness and intimacy of personal experience.”

In the performance, dancers were creatively tossed about and formed into interesting, bizarre shapes. What I really liked about the pieces (“For Intents and Purposes”, “Moves” and others) is that you could never anticipate what the next movements would be. Even so, they still made perfect sense—there was never a moment where I thought “Uh, what?” or felt like something didn’t belong, even though the movements and phrasing were so unusual. I’m not a dance critic by any means, but you don’t have to be to appreciate people making beautiful movements and shapes with their bodies like the dancers in the JODP. I guess I just know that seeing something beautiful always puts me in a good mood.

I’ve always believed that you can have really meaningful and/or exciting experiences on your own, and this night was no exception. It’s fabulous to go out with friends, but sometimes it’s nice and even cleansing to appreciate the world in solitude. The most important relationship you can ever have is with yourself and as with any relationship, dates are highly encouraged.

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