When Lucullus Dines With Lucullus
The Roman general Lucius Lucinius Lucullus Ponticus was one of the richest men in ancient Rome. He was known for his elaborate banquets and feasts, and so elaborate were they (for dozens and sometimes hundreds of guests), that Pompey and Cicero were said to have refused an invitation to dine with him fearing for the expense he would go to for even a simple dinner.
A famous story tells of his chief cook asking for forgiveness one evening (as Lucullus was taking him to task) for a modest repast placed before the general as he dined alone. “I thought that, as there were to be no guests, my master would not want an expensive supper,” said his chef by way of an apology. “What?” exclaimed Lucullus, “Dost thou not know that this evening, Lucullus dines with Lucullus?”
All of this is by way of saying that if you’re one of those who dreads, avoids, or maybe just hasn’t mastered the art of dining alone—you are truly missing something special. For eating alone, especially in a good restaurant, is one of life’s great pleasures. ELV didn’t always feel this way of course. Like many of you he used to be embarrassed to sit alone, in a crowded eatery, feeling pathetic and stared-at the whole time. Rushing through his meal, he savored little and cringed a lot at his sad, lonely life.
BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY….
When you make the decision (or the decision is made for you), to dine alone just look at the freedom and the unbridled hedonism that lies before you: For example….when you dine alone:
*You can order what you want, when you want.
*There’s no menu bartering with your dining companions (e.g. “If you’re having the pompano, and she’s taking the salmon, I guess I’ll have the sole, just for the halibut.”)
*You can get as stewed as you want (as long as you’re not driving).
*Table manners? Why bother?
*You can fill up on bread, or, even better, scarf down butter or olive oil with impunity. ELV enjoys shamelessly dipping a host of breads into the butter with no regard for the butter knife or bread dish. Barbaric, you say? Well, yes, but oh so satisfying.
*Red wine with fish? No problem. Three gimlets before the degustation? Why not?
* Eating salsa is soooo much easier. We all know how you have to finesse your dipped chip into your mouth while everyone else does the same — avoiding the dreaded double-dip? Well, shoveling your salsa solo saves time and there’s more to savor;
*You can flirt shamelessly with the hot hostesses/ waitresses, or waiters — depending on who’s floating your boat that evening;
*You can eat with your fingers, mix up stuff on various plates….and even drink up the sauce.
*On a more serious note — you save money. We all know how prohibitive the cost of a meal is at gourmet destinations like Le Cirque, ALEX or Savoy or Robuchon. Go alone and you can concentrate on the food, and discuss it in depth with the very knowledgeable wait staffs (at least the one’s you’re not trying to pick up). Chatting up the staff becomes an education, and a way to make a new friend, at a pittance of the price if two or more are present.
So the next time you truly want to luxuriate in a great meal — try remembering that the word “luxurious” comes from the name of the noble Roman — who had no greater dining companion than when Lucullus dined with himself.