Raise your hand if you love eating out in good restaurants. Now raise your hand if you're willing to eat out alone in good restaurants.
Hmm, where did all the hands go?
There are plenty of pleasures to be savored in a solitary restaurant meal. I say that with some authority because I do it every week of my life. But I'd also be the first to say that some restaurants are more welcoming about it and some are more likely to offer the solo diner better conversational possibilities than others.
When I walk into a restaurant, I don't want to be greeted with a reminder that I don't have a significant other or friend meeting me. Rote questions asking if someone is joining me or how many there'll be in my party send a message that a party of one is less than welcome. What would I like to hear? How about the obvious: Table or bar?
Personally, I'll take a bar seat every time. Doing so offers the potential for chatting with not only other bar sitters, but with the bartender, and in some cases the chef. For those shy about eating alone, it's far easier to blend in at the bar, whether or not you're drinking.
And if you're concerned about the place being busy and needing a reservation, there are restaurants in Richmond that take bar reservations. I've reserved stools at Acacia, Bonvenu and Six Burner, so it never hurts to ask to see who'll have a stool waiting for your solitary self.
The bar at Bistro Bobette [formerly Bistro Bouchon] is tucked into the very back of the restaurant, and it's a cozy place to enjoy a meal alone. Its bar menu is noteworthy both for the $6 and $14 pricing and also for the tantalizing variety of dishes that show up on it. Veal kidneys, onion and olive tarts and whole trout are a few of the well-priced French delights I've enjoyed there by myself. The bartender and owner are quick to spend time with bar customers, and it's a rare night that chef Francis Devilliers isn't coming out to check on how you like his creations. You'll never lack for conversation, whether with the staff or the devoted locals who frequent the place.
For company, creative food and an excellent view of the chef at work in the kitchen, Bistro 27 is difficult to beat. The staff is gregarious and attentive to those needing some company, and the eclectic menu offers something for every taste. I'm especially fond of the shrimp Bobo, a recipe inspired by chef Carlos Silva's mother; jumbo shrimp are pureed in yucca roots, palm oil and coconut milk and served over toast points for a taste of Africa Brazilian-style. The chef is guaranteed to come over to see how you like his mother's recipe.
For those looking for intimate places where the staff treats singles like everyone else, Aziza's on Main and Bonvenu go out of their way to be welcoming. Their bars are small and their staffs friendly, making for a comfortable environment to be alone and enjoy a meal without feeling like you're the odd man out.
Another thing I've noticed with all my solitary eating is the frequent presumption that the solo diner is eager to be served quickly, as if she or he needs to escape as soon as possible. I tell my server right up front that I'm in no hurry and I'd like a little breathing room between courses. Just because I'm eating alone doesn't mean I don't want time to linger and enjoy the experience.
And if you're feeling a bit awkward about your lack of dinner companionship, just look around at the other diners. Far too often, I see people who barely exchange two words during the course of their meal. I'd far prefer my own company or maybe that of the strangers around me to a shared but silent meal.
The way I see it, eating alone means never having to settle for anything other than exactly what you want out of your restaurant experience. Solo, but satisfied, so to speak. S
Karen Newton is a columnist for Belle, our monthly magazine for Richmond women, and writes the blog icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.