This is a dating blog about mashed potatoes. Allow me to set the scene:
Fade in on Kimberly, 32 years old, world traveled, well educated, having an excellent hair day despite the Polar Vortex in New York on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Beside her is a bowl of Trader Joe's crispy snap peas, her attempt at putting away the sea salt and turbinado sugar coated chocolate covered almonds. She has a steamy cup of Tazo Passion tea in a pink and white swirled Shopaholic mug on her extra large desk, the aromas of passion fruit, rose petals, hibiscus and orange peel lingering in the air. Spread between five bookshelves, her desk, her dresser, her night table, and even her bed are hundreds of cookbooks, food memoirs, and several year's worth of back issues of Food Network Magazine, Cook's Country, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, and Tea Time. She has chef crushes on Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Rocco DiSpirito, and Giada DeLaurentiis. She has gone to great lengths to discover the best arancini in Brooklyn, the best sushi in Queens, and the best cupcakes on the Lower East Side. She plants an ever expanding garden each spring, harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas, cucumbers, edamame, corn, eggplant, zucchini, strawberries, Roma tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, and purple striped heirloom tomatoes all summer. She takes great pleasure in stalking her neighbor's fig tree to find the fruits at their ripest. She shops at local, organic markets. She volunteers at a farm on her days off from work. She believes in sustainable agriculture and picking vegetables at the height of freshness. She bakes as often as possible, spoiling her colleagues with irresistible calories. She pores over restaurant menus, absorbing every word, memorizing dishes she will attempt to recreate at home. She instagrams her favorite meals.
In short, Kimberly loves food. It is a part of her life. A part of her soul. Reading about food, writing about food, taking pictures of food, making, sharing and eating food are passions she could never survive without, nor would she want to try.
Fade back to dinner on a snowy Saturday night. A fancy restaurant. Candles on every table. Dark wooden chairs. A fireplace roaring. Jazz music in the background. A floor to ceiling wine vault behind the bar. Large windows to watch the flakes drifting downwards. The magic and mystery of a first date.
Sitting next to me is a man who orders a plain hamburger, no cheese and a Corona, no lime.
How can this be? He makes so much money (SO much money!) He drives the snazziest Mercedes I've ever seen. He dresses well. He smells good. He's overweight for sure but he's trying to hide it. He gets major bonus points for choosing the classiest restaurant in town on a Saturday night. I want to eat just about everything on their menu. Maple glazed salmon with fennel apple slaw, candied walnuts and sweet potato puree. Shrimp over rosemary grits with thick bacon and baby tomatoes. Wild mushroom risotto. Lobster mac n cheese. Brick chicken with boursin potatoes and brussels sprouts. Caramelized onion flatbread with arugula, truffles, and taleggio cheese. My mouth is watering from the moment we sit down. How can he possibly order a hamburger???
Also, this is a wine cellar! The whole place is built around what meals pair with the wines they serve. He doesn't eat anything on the menu besides the hamburger and he doesn't drink wine. At all. So he'll have a beer please. And no lettuce, tomato or onion necessary on the burger. No cheese. No condiments. And a knife to go with it ... because he cuts his burger up and eats it with a knife and fork.
I know what you're thinking. I'm being too picky. Too harsh, judgmental, critical, you name it. It's not the burger that I questioned necessarily. It's that ordering a burger in a gorgeous French restaurant is like ... well it's like ordering a Corona in a wine cellar! You can have those at a backyard barbecue. Why would you want them here?
Potato Man tells me that his mother struggled to feed him as a child (which you would never guess from the looks of him now). She was always trying to make him try new things but he deemed himself "a picky eater" and has stubbornly remained that way well into his thirties. He's gotten away with not eating new foods this long. Why start now?
Kimberly: So if I was going to come over and cook for you, what would I make?
Potato Man: I don't know. Pasta?
Kimberly: What kind of pasta do you like?
Potato Man: The kind in the blue box.
Kimberly: *shakes head* No, I mean what size? What shape? What kind of sauce?
Potato Man: Ummm, the sauce from a jar?
I can see we are getting nowhere fast with this line of questioning but then he brings up this gem.
Potato Man: My mom comes over on Sundays and cooks dinner for me. I usually have leftovers for the whole week.
Kimberly: Do you cook on nights that you don't have leftovers?
Potato Man: I can make just about anything in the microwave. Sometimes I use the toaster oven. If I don't feel like cooking at home, I just stop off somewhere on my drive back from work.
Kimberly: Where are your favorite places to stop for food?
Potato Man: Oh, you can find a McDonald's on almost every corner.
He's slowly killing me. I now understand why he's overweight. Also, he's kind of a mama's boy!
Kimberly: So you don't cook at all in your new home? But you built a beautiful kitchen all by hand. You've got state of the art appliances and all the counter space a person could wish for.
Potato Man: Yeah, right now my fridge mostly stores beer and my freezer is full of mom's leftovers.
I'm dying to run away but he insists I order dessert. In this place? You don't exactly have to twist my arm. I choose cinnamon sugar doughnuts filled with dulce de leche inside and a dark chocolate espresso panna cotta on the side. He declares when the dish arrives that he doesn't eat dessert, especially anything the consistency of pudding. He has a pudding aversion. Kill me now.
I insist that he must at least try one of the doughnuts as they are delicious and it can be his Something New for the day. He cracks it open, scoops out the dulce de leche, brushes off the cinnamon coating, takes a bite and says they're "not too terrible." For the record, those doughnuts were freakin heavenly!
Ok fine. Maybe I was being a little hard on him. The poor kid is out on a first date. He's nervous. He made an effort to take me to a nice place. When I asked him (politely, I swear!) why he chose this French wine cellar if he could only eat a hamburger here, he replied very kindly "Because it's the best and you deserve the best."
Aaaaaaaand I'm officially a bitch. Maybe I didn't give the kid a real chance? Maybe I was too busy criticizing his choices to really get to know him? Which is how I found myself on a second date with him three weeks later.
Last night, Potato Man suggested we go to the Cheesecake Factory. Sure, it's a step up from the 2 for $20 menu at Applebee's but it's overrated, always crowded, and I've been there a bajillion times with friends. It's not very dinner-date-y (just my humble opinion.) So I suggested a place very close to the CF but with a much more exciting menu. I love tapas, so I thought maybe we could get a couple of small plates and share them. He could try a few new things without making a real food commitment and I could avoid another hamburger disaster. He checked the menu out online and gave me the all clear, so we agreed to meet up.
After we actually sat down was another story altogether. For starters, he didn't even look at the menu. When I asked him if everything was ok, he said "Yeah, I just know what I'm having." To me, half the fun of going out to a restaurant with another person is looking over the menu and Oohing and Aahing over dishes together. Talking about what looks good, what sounds good, spying on other people's plates as the waiters pass you by, wondering if you should have whatever they're having. Debating the merits of Spanish chorizo and parmesan croquettes versus pot roast smothered cheese fries with gravy. Fried pickles versus eggplant fontina fritters. Asian short rib mini tacos versus Brie and pineapple wontons. His answers were as follows: I don't eat sausage, gravy, pickles, eggplant, anything in a taco shell, and what is Brie?
He'd never heard of Brie!!!
I know, I know, not everyone spent the same time in Paris as I did and I swear that I am not trying to be a pretentious ass here but who in 2014 does not know what Brie cheese is??? They sell it in Stop & Shop for crying out loud. Brie is no longer the exotic Parisian treasure it once was. Brie is so far removed from being foreign these days, it's practically domestic! How can I date someone who's never eaten Brie???
Finally, I choose the most inane appetizer on the menu, imploring him to try one thing with me. Mashed potato spring rolls with cheddar cheese and bacon. They come with sour cream, which he does not use. Sour cream goes against his No Condiments Rule. He takes a small bite of one little potato roll and declares that he likes cheddar cheese and bacon, but he does not like mashed potatoes.
I give up and let him order his hamburger, plan and Corona, no lime.
He asks for no lettuce, tomato, or onion on his burger. He takes his pickles off while making the face of a five year old handing over a huge booger. He picks up his knife and fork and proceeds to cut up his hamburger and eat it. At this point, I gulp down my Reisling and all my harsh words with it.
For dessert, (you knew I was getting dessert, didn't you?) I glance over my choices: Molten chocolate lava cake, rustic caramel apple pie, pecan peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream, lemon blueberry buckle over butter cake, warm sticky bread pudding with cream cheese frosting, banana toffee pie in a cookie crust...The list goes on and on. I sigh a deep exhale of disappointment and disillusion that this "great guy" I've been talking to for almost four months turns out to despise all the things I love the most. It is clear that we have nothing in common, and worse, nothing to talk about. He is all about clubs, parties, sports, beer, cars and television. I am all about books, music, food, and travel. In a sentimental nod to my love for far off places, I choose the beignets with chocolate, raspberry, and creme Anglaise sauces. I figure that in a last ditch effort to enjoy my time with Potato Man, I will close my eyes as I bite into the beignet and imagine being back in the French Quarter at Cafe Du Monde, a rich cup of hot chocolate nearby, powdered sugar falling into my hand, the warm Louisiana sun on my face and jazz music hanging in the air.
When Potato Man asks the waitress for our dessert, he orders baguettes instead of beignets. I do not have the heart to correct him and neither does she. Upon their arrival, he exclaims "Those look just like zeppolis" and he picks one up to eat it. My excitement returns. Would he? Could he? Two bites in, he decides that a beignet is not, in fact, a zeppole, and puts it down.
No, my friend. A beignet is not a zeppole, jello can never be creme brulee, and you and I are done dating. Check please.