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07.28.10

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Phaedra

Single Serving

Dining alone requires an odd arsenal of skills and a willingness to laugh


I am a big grownup lady. Big grownup ladies do things by themselves. Big grownup ladies can do all of the things that couples can do, that groups of friends can do, that people who unreasonably love pets enough to take them out in public can do. It's just that sometimes they do them alone.

And so it was that dinnertime came and this grownup lady found herself to be hungry. Hungry not only for dinner itself, but hungry to try a new restaurant, to have a new experience. And so it was that on a recent Wednesday evening at dinnertime, this grownup lady went out to eat all alone, without the sulky comfort of a book or magazine, iPhone app or knitting project. Chewing while looking thoughtfully out into space, sipping wine while pretending to consider the world's knotty problems and merely sitting with hands politely in lap are difficult talents not easily won.

But they're worth wresting, particularly within the tiny, cheerful confines of Scopa, the Italian restaurant opened in Healdsburg some two years ago smack between John & Zeke's and Bistro Ralph.

Big breath, and in I went without a reservation. A tiny deuce the width of my shoulders was amazingly empty—Yelp is lousy with reports of people waiting two hours here for a table—and I squeezed in, hands politely in lap, only to learn that it was winemaker night.

("Winemaker night" means that the beleagured individual is actually there, pouring samples of his or her wine while trying to make enough unstilted friendly conversation with strangers so as to encourage them to purchase said wine, tell all of their friends about it and order it by the massive caseload while not actually being so overbearing as to ruin their meal.)

Goll dang winemaker night. But sipping wine while pretending to consider all of the world's knotty problems was on my agenda, and I had an empty chair. Please sit, handsome winemaker with no wedding ring. Sit and tell me about your wonderful, fascinating wine so that I might buy some. He did. I did. As the evening progressed, he sat again to sell his fine beverage to the people on my left. And then again to the people on my right. I grew slightly fond of the sight of his earnest face in profile as he extolled the benefits of Barbera.

My radicchio salad arrived. The austere table held neither salt nor pepper, and the plate frankly needed their companionship. I whispered to the waiter, "Um, I don't want Chef to come after me with a knife, but may I please have some salt and pepper?" He nodded curtly and I sat back, solving knotty problems through the miracle of Barbera. I chewed another piece of unsalted radicchio, looking thoughtfully out into space. I glanced up. There was Chef, bearing my condiments. He also had a really large knife.

Things slid slightly sideways after that.

My steaming bowl of house-made tagliatelle pasta with wild boar Bolognese was enthusiastically sampled by the couple to my right. They pronounced it excellent. So did I. They were upset with vintner Dario Sattui and thought I should be too. (After the condiment escapade, I was too smart to actually argue about the exorbitant costs of firefighter-pension funding.) Dessert arrived, a panna cotta with berries that was such a sensuous snuggle of cream on the tongue that I laughed out loud.

I laughed out loud, seated by myself all alone, with nary a book or a magazine or an iPhone app or a knitting project. I made all that noise, a big grownup lady. My hands in the air, knotty problems and fake contemplation thoroughly abandoned, I laughed out loud.

Scopa, 109-A Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707.433.5282.

—Gretchen Giles


Going It Alone

Other solo dining spots we love

Azzuro Pizzeria E Enoteca

Look hon, if it's really over, and if this is what you're doing to me, then I only ask you to take me out one last time. OK? Yeah, to our place. Pizza Azzuro. Except we're not going to sit together. You're gonna sit at a table all by yourself, over in the corner near the window, and I'm gonna sit up at the counter. And you'll get to see just what it is you're giving up. That cook back near the ovens you hate who always flirts with me? I'll be flirting back. Majorly. That tall, deep-voiced bike-frame builder who keeps trying to buy me a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon? I'll take him up on it. Hell, we'll split a bottle.

You'll be the loser in the corner, shoveling that rigatoni you love down your mouth and washing it down straight to your ever-increasing gut with a beer, watching me, laughing, drinking and pouring it on for the other single people at the bustling counter over salumi and bruschetta. Graphic designers from Seattle. Creative marketers from the Mission. Shit, I'll even settle next to a CPA from Palo Alto if it'll make you see what you're leaving. Remember the first time you took me there? And we talked about the future? Over that amazing mushroom pizza that you hated and almost sent back because you're such a jerk? Look at your future now, hon. Watch it all unfold. 1260 Main St., Napa. 707.255.5552.

El Coqui

When Sol Food this restaurant Sol Food opened Sol Food last year, Sol Food everyone Sol Food compared Sol Food it to a Sol Food certain San Rafael Sol Food eatery that Sol Food happened to also Sol Food serve Puerto Rican Sol Food cuisine.

That's just about every conversation I've ever had about Santa Rosa's El Coqui, littered with constant comparisons to that other Puerto Rican institution in San Rafael. But after a year, El Coqui has grown into its own, and especially as a place to enjoy alone. Best yet for solitary diners, it's busy with plenty of distractions. Small tables hugging the full-length front windows are choice for people-watching on the sidewalk, and sitting at the counter only means you're closer to another Costa Rican Imperial cerveza, por favor. Take in the Latin music playing, the photos of famous Puerto Ricans. Order up some plantains and empanadas galore, with avocado salsa. Let the ceiling fans cool your overworked soul. And be glad that you don't have to drive all the way to San Rafael anymore just for fine Puerto Rican cuisine. 400 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.542.8868.

Willi's Wine Bar

This used to be the Orchard Inn, didn't it? That fading, tiny building with the yellowed globe for a sign? It sure has changed. Willi's Wine Bar7#8212;it sounded like a crazy idea at first, but then I actually came here. Goddamn the food is good. And right here at the counter is my favorite place to sit. Usually I'm next to some thirty-something couples done winetasting who didn't make a reservation and aren't in the mood to talk to a stranger rambling about the old days of Larkfield, but you, man, you're all right. You want some more mac 'n' cheese, or maybe some of those carrots? 4404 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa. 707.526.3096.

—Gabe Meline


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