Since having the Chatterbox and Raging Bull, dinner has become an event that I tend to approach with some dread and trepidation. The whole process – a fraught, stressful 30 minutes – usually involves some screaming, threats, bribery, flying food and the ritual humiliation of kneeling on the ground and retrieving vegetables that have been smashed into the floor, interspersed with some swearing. There was a time when dinner used to signify relaxation and conversation. But the person who used to enjoy these things didn’t think she’d end up trying to scrub crayon out of walls with baby wipes.
So, when there is a chance to actually do something once-familiar and civilized, such as going out to dinner without the kids, I grab the opportunity like it’s the last bottle of water on earth after an apocalypse. Since moving to San Diego, these opportunities have not come along frequently. Maybe it’s the lack of car (I share it with my mother, who has a more active social life than I do) or the fact that I don’t seem to have a steady stream of single friends with ample time on their hands or it could be the lack of funds since leaving the job, but dining out has dwindled.
Imagine my excitement, then, when an old friend suggests going out for a fancy, slap-up meal, and getting dressed up for the occasion. On the night in question, I drag out one of my only little black dresses and madly rush around trying to get the kids ready for bed. Then it’s off to meet a group of friends, and I’m only running about 20 minutes late (kind of the average these days).
Our destination is a restaurant called Nine-Ten in La Jolla, a coastal part of San Diego with a very high percentage of rich, retired people who discuss plastic surgeons with the kind of fervor you see in fanatical football fans at a World Cup final. I’m excited because this restaurant has had some good reviews and, so far, my experiences of eating out in the city have been mostly disappointing. I’m still scarred from a singularly bad dinner with the husband before he went back to London at an American interpretation of a gastropub. I remember having a bunch of grilled vegetables with cold, tasteless polenta. Here’s a chef, I thought, who barely tolerates vegetarians.
With Nine-Ten’s menu, I am glad to say, there is plenty of inspiration. I choose a starter called ‘Anson Mills Green Faro’, a type of grain mixed with apples, celery root, roasted onions, chanterelle mushrooms and rocket salad. It was delicious – rich and both sweet and savory; it tasted like autumn on a plate. The grain inexplicably had the flavor of bacon, as the waiter said it would. Being a rather unimaginative, lazy cook, I suspect the closest I’ll ever get to faro again is badly cooked couscous, so I linger over every morsel. My main course was red snapper (excellent) and, after two glasses of wine, I got greedy and ordered half-baked chocolate cake and coffee. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night after so much food and a late-night coffee. After the husband sees the credit card bill, he might not sleep well either.
All of my close friends know that I tend to be a glass-half-empty person. But if I had to say that there was an upside to kids who kill your social life, it’s that these nights out are exciting. If you’re always eating out and seeing friends and, you know, have cash to splash, I suppose an evening at a nice restaurant might not exactly thrill you. I spent a lot of time thinking about my night out and, for that reason alone, it was worth every cent.