There was a big white envelope perched precariously atop the organized chaos of my desk the morning of October 1. Inside: a certificate, printed on expensive résumé paper, heralding my two years of distinguished service at my company. Signed by the CEO.Oh, right. Happy anniversary to me. You're welcome.
Two years with the same job. Doesn't sound like much, right? (Right, it doesn't seem like much to me, either. And yet, it's seemed like an eternity.) But it's the longest I've ever gone without scratching the itch to seek out greener pastures. The beginning of October also marked the beginning of my third-year lease on this apartment, the same one I moved into when I came to Chicago. The longest I've ever lived in the same place as an adult. Pretty. Auspicious.
What better way, then, to celebrate my unprecedented corporate loyalty and stability of housing, than to leave the office an hour early and enjoy a night of decadence out on the town? Sure. Booked: 60-minute massage. Blowout. Dinner reservation…for one. In the spirit of disclosure: I'd actually made all those reservations long before I realized the significance of the day. But for the purposes of this piece, let's go with the original premise.
It rained all day, and it was already nearly dark as I stumbled into the Ruby Room, an hour early, shaking out my polka-dot umbrella, pants soaked to the knees. Before the girls at the desk could check me in, I blurted, "Is there anywhere to get a bottle of wine around here?!" Dinner reservations were at a BYOB, and the idea of showing up to a BYOB without a second B is…well, it's not something I'll even consider. (Hello, we're celebrating here.) Apparently the staff at Ruby Room doesn't drink, so I was on my own. Luckily, that particular stretch of Division Street is alive and kicking with corner stores stocked to the drop ceilings with Olde English, Smirnoff Ice and Yellow Tail. And, actually luckily, a few passable bottles of Chilean red wine stashed in a corner, away from the discerning clientele. Done and done. Back inside the spa, I settled back into the plush waiting room pillows with a big mug of herbal tea and…massage consent paperwork. And then the Lincoln Park newlyweds came in for their couple's massage. You know, to relax before their honeymoon in the Virgin Islands. Three weeks into their blissful union and already at each other's throats; after hearing them kvetch about condo contracts, getting towed earlier that day and hammering out some kind of litigation, I vowed then to stay single forever. (Actually, I vowed simply never to marry a Chad. Crisis averted.) The massage itself was glorious: The table was covered with soft sheets and quilts that looked like family heirlooms. I was so warm and relaxed and blissed out that I nearly forgot where I was, and I certainly wasn't interested at first in going back into the rain when I remembered I still had dinner reservations. But alas. A girl's gotta eat, especially this girl, and I had only a few minutes to get to the restaurant. So I channeled so-fucking-urban Paige, hailed a cab and zipped over to bustling…Logan Square. And the essentially unmarked building that holds Bonsoirée. The cab driver gave me a look that said, "Are you sure this is the address?" Yes, I'm sure. Now leave me alone with my foodgasm, Madam.
My two-hour foodgasm, thank you very much.
I opened the door to a blast of warm air, loud conversation and foreign aromas. Hoping for a quiet, calming meal, I suddenly wondered what I was getting myself into: bare walls, bare tables (flanked by hard, bare chairs), pretentious foodie patrons, some armed with cameras. But as I sank into my seat, poured my first glass of passable Chilean red, and my server asked for my one decision of the night — four- or seven-course? — I decided none of that mattered. I would lose myself in a book until my first course came, then I'd lose myself in the food. And as soon as the amuse-bouche, a creamy ball of peekytoe crab rolled in pumpernickel dust and pan fried to heavenly, glorious glory, was set in front of me on a white porcelain spoon, I knew the problem wasn't going to be the getting lost. It was going to be finding my way back. This is the part of my blog where I lose my faculties of language. Sometimes I can write about food; sometimes there's no point in even trying to describe the experience. And really, most of the meal was just nice. But my notes on the soup course, already two glasses and three courses in — and yes, I took notes, but only because they didn't hand me a typed-out tasting menu — begin with HOLY SHIT and devolve into addled scribbles, the written equivalent of speaking in tongues. The soup: Sweet, smooth, piping hot Japanese squash purée, garnished with paprika oil, marigold petals and, you know, a white chocolate ribbon. Outrageous. The server encouraged me to skip the oversized spoon and sip straight from the cup; I encouraged the server to call back the rest of my courses and let me go to the kitchen and eat more soup straight from the pot. I can pretty confidently say it was the best thing I've ever tasted. But saying it out loud scares me. So I take it back, for Babbo's sake. Admittedly, the course after that was heaven: Lobster, which was submerged in a bath of wasabi and duck fat before it was steamed, served with eggplant. Prepared five ways. Including candied. My first taste of pure Wagyu beef, which I think I'm morally opposed to but so in favor of in my blind hedonism, left me reeling after the chef's highbrow take on a Stroganoff. And the cheese course, a sliver of Humboldt Fog topped with crumbled, freeze-dried blackberries and garnished with three perfect halves of Concord grapes, made me swoon. But the food itself isn't…really what did me in for the night. It was the feeling that I was stealing a happier piece of myself back from a shadowy corner of my psyche, one of the few pieces that's missing to complete the woman celebrating two years of many things. This piece of me is proud to be seen dining alone. She talks to strangers at nearby tables and leans through the window of the kitchen to shake the chef's hand for the marvelous soup. She leaves a big tip and drives home in the downpour, confident the sun will come out again.
It's a little funny to me that on this anniversary of finally choosing to stick with a company, a community — a life — I would choose to spend it alone. One of the things I simultaneously loved and hated about living in New York was the isolation. On my worst days, it was easy to let myself feel beaten down by the hordes of harried people who wouldn't have pissed on me if I'd been on fire. But at my best, there was something incredible about surging down the street en masse with those hordes of harried people and feeling strangely placid. Not faceless or meaningless, just…part of it. Lost, but in a good way. And I've surrounded myself with people here, too. But they're friends. People I drink with. People I laugh with. People who read my blog. And all the knowing and the closeness and the need to be on? And it's a joy to share my life with people, but it can leave me feeling pretty beaten down at times, too. Overwhelmed, but in a good way. So spending the evening on my own, basking in everything I love about my life here, remembering how well I can do on my own — but knowing I don't have to unless I choose it — was calming. Energizing. Affirming. Perfect.