My best first date involved cold tofu satay, which I didn’t finish due to whirring flocks of butterflies. My worst first date was at Billy Kwong, where at the waiter’s practical suggestion of how best to enjoy the share menu, my dinner companion deadpanned, ‘why would we share? I’m not sharing.’ We ate our individual main courses in silence. Still, it was nice to be invited. It’s my last night in NYC and I’m going out to dinner alone, for the first time ever, having given my date the wrong date. On Mulberry Street, Nolita, Torrisi Italian Specialties occupies a small shopfront hidden behind white lace curtains, a little old-school gold leaf lettering your only clue as to what lies within. Or maybe, like me, you’ll be trying so hard to look like you know where you’re going that you’ll miss this gilt clue and walk right on by. (eds note: the trick here is to keep walking, for at least two blocks, before doubling back). After completing my detour I push, realise my mistake, and then pull the door open to… oh. Oh right, cool, yeah wow, it’s a really small restaurant. ‘You’ve never been here before, have you,’ says the waiter, after I’ve whispered my apologies. It’s not a question, more a statement of fact. I take in the tables for two, low lighting and economical square-footage… ‘Um, no?’ I hear the collective gasp of the New York ladies; the slow, grating drag of wooden chair across tile as diners with their backs to the door struggle to see; the tinkling of each jewel in the chandelier nudging shoulders with its neighbour, hissing Chinese whispers at my gaffe (eds note: there is no crystal chandelier at Torrisi) Suddenly it’s stifling. “Haha I ah, I told my friend the wrong night, because the days are all different, ah, because it’s tomorrow in Australia…’ At my romantic table for two, facing the room from the banquette, I fossick busily in my bag, for all of my important things that I don’t need and can’t find. I keep looking. My perceptive waiter, somehow sensing my ingeniously disguised discomfort, slides the first of seven prix fixe ($75) courses in front of me. I make light work of the warm mound of fleshy house made mozzarella, lolling in olive oil. Then wonder if I’m eating too fast. As he lays fresh cutlery, perceptive waiter starts with small questions: Did you enjoy that? Yes, thank you. More water? Yes, thank you. Please let me know if I can get you anything. Yes, thank you. The third of four anitpasti courses, the salmon tartare is soft and delicate, Rubenesque; like kissing. Accompanied by Everything blinis (a la Everything bagels) it’s like all the best kisses and my cheeks flush. We discuss the merits of Sydney restaurants, talk about Tetsuya. My cheeks flush. The Italian sausage pate is smooth, studded with pistachios and skimmed with piquant red pepper aspic. A handsome chef (eds note: his appearance coincided with an obvious spike on the awkward graph) is the bearer of sheep milk ricotta gnocchi with chamomile and fava beans. It is silky and soothing, a mid-meal salve and, according to my furtive notes, ‘subtle as fuck.’ A second attentive waiter wonders which other restaurants I’ve eaten at, and how long my flight was, as he pours more sparkling water. He is hip to my scene and asks only questions I know the answers to. Lemon and ginger ice cleanses the palate and cools my cheeks, before the meal finishes with delicate lemon cake, pierced with silly-good cheesy tuile. If a good restaurant complements time spent in fine company, satisfying food woven unobtrusively throughout, then surely it’s a great restaurant where the food stands up to the laser-focus of a lone diner, and whose staff offers company as gracious as their service. My perceptive waiter pulls the table out for me to squeeze past and kindly averts his gaze to avoid focusing on where my shorts have ridden up during the course of the meal. I thank him, for all of it, and head out into the steamy NYC summer alone, juggling a box of complimentary house made cookies and tugging green cotton shorts out of my crotch.


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