Solo dining is either embraced or feared. I decided a long time ago to embrace it and look at it for what it is – I’m hungry and am allowed to eat, by myself, alone at a table and enjoy my meal just like the couples and groups around me. I really don’t care what other people think about me alone – they can feel sad, pity or jealousy, that’s their emotion not mine. Rather than hide in the hotel with room service (not that I haven’t before), I try to explore the new city and food is part of the exploration. So ditch the book (I play a game or two on my phone sometimes) and immerse yourself in the restaurant experience – watch the people, the servers, the action – make up stories of people at tables, interact with the staff or the table/person next to you – have fun, enjoy the food and make it part of your story – the story of your travels. Just don’t eat and run to hide – you have every right to eat at the restaurant and “Table for One” should not be a bad thing.
New York City – Eataly NYC
My friend Mindi of 2FoodTrippers mentioned the Italian Market, Eataly NYC, a mecca of fresh foods with seven restaurants. The concept is that the various departments of the entire market are there for you to enjoy on the spot or to go. Their motto is “eat better, live better”. The restaurants are next to their speciality area – fish, meat, pasta & bread, produce, cheese, panini, rotisserie with takeaway, counter seats and tables. There are also cafes too – gelato, coffee, desserts and a rooftop bar! It sounded solo friendly with many options so I figured I’d give it a try.
So, I’m in New York, it’s a Saturday night at 7:30 and normally this would be a trifecta of “no table available until 10pm” or a great reason to do room service. However, my hotel, 70 Park, did not have room service or a restaurant on site so I had to forage and jumped into a cab to Eataly NYC, located at 200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd & 24th streets. The sidewalk was abuzz with people going in/out of the market. I entered on the wrong side of the market for a hungry person – gelato and pastries. Tempted to just eat cake and sorbet for dinner, I quickly walked through the crowds to the heart of the market and it was packed with people all enjoying themselves in conversations, laughter and wine – just as it should be on a Saturday night.
With pasta and pizza in mind, I approached the hostess stand of La Pizza La Pasta with a bit of apprehension as the couple ahead was told “an hour or so wait”. So with my “do you have space for one?” query, I was happy to hear “sure, about ten minutes” so I milled about the area waiting and watching. My beeper went off and I was shown to the last seat at the counter with a view of the open kitchen. On my right was the kitchen pickup area for the servers, I was overwhelmed with amazing pasta choices coming from the kitchen and didn’t even have my menu yet.
When I sat down, the woman on my left (also solo) offered me pizza. The woman on her left (also solo) as well as the waiter all chided me to have some pizza. So while you shouldn’t take candy from strangers, it’s ok to have pizza! This offer actually solved two dilemmas – one I wasn’t sure if I should order pizza or pasta, and two, would I have anyone to talk to during dinner. My dinner friend was a local having dinner after shopping while waiting for her husband. As I was visiting for the travel show, the topic, of course, turned to travel. Everyone loves to talk travel -where they’ve been, what they’ve seen and where they are going (or dreaming of next).
My free slice of margherita pizza was tasty – fresh mozzarella with the right amount of sauce and a doughy crust. That one slice satisfied my pizza craving. Having looked at the special board during my wait, I already knew that I wanted the truffle gnocchi but I let the waiter give me the menu to further confuse me as all different pastas kept showing up on my right side that I wanted to identify. As I love gnocchi (really who doesn’t?), I ordered the special with a glass of Italian red wine.
A fresh chunk of bread was delivered to me wrapped in the Eataly paper with fresh olive oil to dip. I wasn’t quite done the bread when my gnocchi showed up and it looked fantastic! One bite and I was smiling in the land of carbs. Service was friendly and quick and despite the people waiting, I never felt rushed to leave.
After dinner was finished, my new friend and I said “goodbye” as I wandered (beelined it) for the desserts (I know it’s really a problem). With so many choices (thankfully, no calories were posted), I settled on two items (they were small)- a panna cotta (my new favorite dessert) shot and a small gluten free sponge cake with fruit (somehow, convincing myself that this was a healthy choice).
With my takeaway boxes, I joined the buzz of people on the sidewalk and with the cool night, walked back uptown to my hotel. It was a great meal with good conversation and a food/travel memory that was much better than room service.
Do you have any favorite solo dining memories in New York City? Any wonderful restaurants to recommend to others visiting New York City?