Dine Like Thomas Jefferson

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” -John F. Kennedy, addressing Nobel Prize winners at the White House in 1962

Have you ever had that thing happen where you’re listening to your headphones or something and you hear a word and right as you hear the word in the song your eyes happen to fall on that word in print, passing by on a bus ad or something, and you muse to yourself, “it’s a living world. What a miracle,” and then turn your eyes back ahead and resume standing in line at the bank?

Well, a similar thing just happened with this article in Epicurious. I was just explaining to a friend how pleasant it is to go to the movies alone, and comparing it with the equally unpleasant act of dining out alone, when Heather Tyree’s essay on dining alone came across the RSS and chopped my words up, sauteed them lightly in a nice cream sauce, and fed them to me with a side of crow.

Because Tyree is right. Dining out alone can be one of life’s true pleasures. It allows you to focus on, well, whatever you want, be it the food, a book, a tough problem you’ve been trying to crack, or even your server. You certainly don’t have to watch where you take the conversation, or hold back from pouring that next glass of wine, or refrain from eating the last bite of something.

And it turns out that many higher-end restaurants (including Daniel, according to Tyree) give solo diners VIP status. It’s unclear why, exactly, but my guess is that it has less to do with pity than it does an appreciation of the fact that the customer decided to undertake this socially uncomfortable excursion because he or she wanted the restaurant’s food just that badly.

Whatever the reason for the solo meal, or the treatment it incurs, Tyree’s article left me with the strong desire to dine alone at an establishment somewhat fancier than the corner deli. It’s a challenge, yes, because the practice is stigmatized as pathetic, lonesome and weird. But it’s good for you, and not in a broccoli way, either (something you glumly consume because you think you have to). Dining alone should be savored.

I’ve never done it by choice, but on trips or in other necessary situations, I’ve always enjoyed the practice. Tyree’s article was enough encouragement for me to resolve to take myself out on a proper date. It’s an exercise from which we could all stand to benefit, as it encourages being comfortable with one’s self, one’s surroundings and one’s place in the big, living world.

Table for One [Epicurious]

[Photo: The Jefferson Memorial — Thomas Jefferson silhouetted via David Paul Ohmer/flickr]

Dine Like Thomas Jefferson