Le Cafe de Paris 

Dining alone on a Saturday night in a fancy French cafe is not usually my idea of fun, but last weekend I decided to take myself out on a date to get to know myself a little bit better. It had been a while since I last saw myself, and I was excited about going somewhere quiet and foreign that is not one of my regular haunts. I wanted to sit back and enjoy the ambience. I wanted romantic, but not too romantic. I wanted a glass of wine, but not a place where I could have been tempted by the evil gin, for that would have resulted in me taking advantage of myself. I may be a lush sometimes, but I am always a gentleman.

People sauntered in for dessert and dinner as I sat at the four-seat bar in the last available seat one crowded night. When on a solo date, it's important to bring something to do--even if it's only a ruse--because strangers get uncomfortable when you stare at them for any period of time. So I casually disguised my evening's eavesdropping by thumbing through the latest issue of National Geographic.

When dining alone, you also don't have anyone to share an appetizer with, so I opted for a nice bowl of soup on a chilly October night. I chose the fresh cream of mushroom. It was not some can of condensed soup--au contraire, mon frere--but a broth of fresh, finely chopped mushrooms with a long dollop of fresh whipping cream (unsweetened) on the side, meant to be merged with the soup. I did so lovingly. The marriage not only cooled the soup slightly, but gave it just the right richness.

The entree came well-timed, just as I soaked up the last bits of mushrooms with the quickly disappearing bread. I looked at my plate: a sirloin cut of lamb, cooked medium rare, with mashed potatoes and zucchini. I must stop here and make a statement about the temperature (or color) of meat. One restaurant's "medium rare" may vary greatly from another. In my experience, European kitchens tend to go on the pinker side, so I usually order meat cooked more than I would in other restaurants. In this case, with such a nice cut of lamb--the sirloin has a little more fat than the rack, and we all know fat equals taste--I wanted to hear the "baaa." And I almost did. As my father says, "You can always put it back on the fire, but you can't add back in the pink."

The lamb was bathed in a hearty, savory reduction sauce, perfect for a solo diner. A glass of Pinot Noir helped it all down and made conversation even more pleasant with my date, at least for me. Nearby patrons may have been disturbed, but at this point, we were lost in our own little world.

I usually pass on dessert, but tonight I wanted to treat my date to a sweet and a coffee before returning home for soft light, a nightcap and some Tom Waits on the stereo. Chocolate mousse and a cappuccino led to goodbye and a kiss on the hand goodnight ... to salvage a lost drop of mousse.

--Bingo Barnes is never alone because he is always with himself.

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