When I was working on the Montreal Gazette piece about my dinner with Belgian chef Clement Petitjean, I struggled to find ways to carefully articulate the particular joys of dining alone.
Two months later, I found the perfect passage, seemingly yanked from my brain, from Lorrie Moore’s latest, A Gate at the Stairs. I’ve been a big fan since I breathlessly read Like Life in high school, admiring especially the way she likes to linger over language and words. So it was no surprise to discover that she can write about the particularities of food and the ritual of eating with incredible skill, clarity, and humor:
I had never eaten such intricately prepared food before, and doing so in this kind of mournful, prayerful solitude, in a public place, where by this time no one but I was seated without a companion, made each bite sing and roar in my mouth. Still, it was an odd experience for me to have the palate so cared for and the spirit so untouched. It was a condition of prayerless worship. Endless communion. Gospel-less church.
As if a compote were a chauffeur, every dish seemed richly to have one. I ordered the homemade asparagus ravioli—ravioluses!—with thyme and asparagus and chopped herbs, a vegetable tag-teaming itself. Gradually, I felt I had started to ascend into some kind of low-level paradise. It was astonishing to eat food that tasted like this. Was there ever a time on the planet before now when people had eaten this well? Surely people were eating in a way that evolution had no preparation or reason for. It was a miracle, gratuitous, dizzying and lovely. A “celeriac puree” could no doubt mend all cracks, remove all stains, but what was a “torchon”? A “ganache”? A “soffrito”? A “rillette”? Even the tenderly braised escarole offered up a phrase in a seemingly new tongue, familiar words reshaped in the high-scoring points and busy luck of Scrabble or Dutch.
Perfect. I wanted to transcribe the entire four-page passage that documents this remarkable meal — the entire book, and this passage particularly, is really special.