Last night my roommate and I met a friend at Gottino, a still newish wine bar that was recently lauded in New York magazine and therefore was packed—candelit faces were lined up along a brick wall with a ledge and gathered around bistro tables no larger than the stool seats at the bar.
Hooks and fake spigots were fastened every here and there for hanging handbags and coats. I love pretty, practical things like that, but I held my gold sequin snap clutch in my lap so I could gaze at its impractical prettiness. We all kept our coats on, even after we got drinks and seats, because it was bitterly, hatefully cold out and we were reminded of that every time someone came or went through the window-paned door right behind us.
Almost everyone was wearing a coat or cold weather accessory. Our corner of the bar was crowded with wicker and wire baskets of walnuts and bread and quince and pomegranates and the menu of glasses and small plates was written in chalk on the wall, so when I got my “craft beer”—a Hennepin, which I chose in keeping with my New Year’s Resolution to order something new every other time I’m out—I sort of felt like I was attending an elegant autumn bonfire spirit rally.
The waiters were passing plates of crostini and cheese and garlic sausage and butternut squash bruschetta through the harvest on the bar to the head chef (wearing a jacket and scarf over a hooded sweater), who was standing on our side to serve the food. She brushed against me a little whenever she reached for a new dish. She kept apologizing and each time as I forgave her, I apprised whatever morsel she was sliding beneath my nose.
At 1:00, the crowd had diminished. Caitlin, Amy and I had room to put our elbows up on the bar and brandish silver nutcrackers at the complimentary walnuts and chestnuts. Eaten plates began to return from the tiny tables. I found myself eyeing a torn-off bread crust beside a mason jar of pâté just yearning to be scraped clean; most of a dollop of whipped cream and two strawberries that had been pushed off the top of a pastry and left behind—leftovers. Leftovers are my favorite foods.
The thing is that I have a taste for texture. I crave the taut chewiness of pizza crust and the brittle crisp of burned cheese with the pulpy, viscous tomato sauce in between more than I crave the flavors.
I like hot food upon its return to room temperature. I like the edges of things, the crusts and crumbs that normal diners brush away. I like the way a bite of bruschetta dances across my tongue and the way whipped cream sings between my lips. And the last few “I couldn’t eat another” bites that other people forfeit at the end of a meal are just about the right portion size for me.
It was pathetic and a little sad and pretty icky, the way my mouth was watering over someone else’s leftovers. When Amy asked me, “are you hungry? Why don’t you order a plate?” I said, “because I’m not really hungry. I don’t want my own plate. I want what’s on that one.”
Caitlin’s used to my grazing. She just glared at me and pushed the plates out of my reach, away from my sly, grabby hands. “Finish your beer, Em. Crack me another walnut.”