When I’m traveling alone in an unfamiliar city, I gravitate toward a certain kind of restaurant. I look for simple food prepared in interesting ways and a good cocktail on the side. It doesn’t need to be overly trendy or expensive – a local neighborhood joint is what I prefer. I try to order several small plates instead of one large entrée. It gives me a chance to taste multiple things without the guilt of overeating. If there’s a bar, I perch myself there, a classic dining alone tactic. Otherwise, I slip into a booth with full view of the restaurant so I can observe the locals like a National Geographic special.
I was recently in Boston attending a writing conference. The days were spent navigating between three floors of conference rooms, squeezing in a quick lunch at the convention center food court and networking in between. Dinner was my time for peace, observation and reflection.
A few blocks from my hotel, that neighborhood joint was Coda Bar + Kitchen. Dark drapes masked the entryway and prevented cold air from rushing in every time the door opened. The dining room was relatively small, a narrow rectangle with exposed brick along the left side. Ten tables clustered in the front half of the space with taller tables sitting opposite a long bar in the back.
I slipped into a booth facing inward toward the dining room. Four men in their mid-thirties sat across from me, each with suit jackets draped across the backs of their chairs, looking relaxed with a draft beer in their hands. In nearly perfect succession they would laugh, make a comment or two, and then laugh again. An older couple sat to my right. The man, grey haired and wrinkled, called out each server’s by name to say hello as they walked by. To my left, a woman shared intimate details with her dining companion about her uncle’s recent funeral and the subsequent family drama. Even in that state, she too looked relaxed.
One of the main reasons I choose this restaurant was for the deviled eggs with arugula. Sure I’ve made plenty at home, but have never ordered them at a restaurant. The yolks were whipped smooth with paprika blended in instead of sprinkled on top, allowing their sweet smokiness to linger and then stop short by the peppery greens. A small plate of crisp calamari lightly tossed in sweet and sour sauce was next. Lemon aioli filled a silver ramekin on the side. Rounding out the meal was a wide-rimmed bowl of Brussels sprouts, cut in half and sautéed in butter.
After I scooped up the last cluster of calamari covered in aioli, the plates were cleared away and the check was paid. It was time go. The old man and his wife had since left, his cane punching the floor when he walked past me to the door. Funeral talk had since changed to kids and work somewhere between the entrees and dessert. The men with their suit jackets were still laughing and drinking as I pulled back the curtain, stepped onto the sidewalk and turned left toward my hotel.