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Probably one of the most challenging nights to book a reservation at a top New York City restaurant is on Valentine’s Day. Much like the churches that are only filled on Christmas and Easter, the prime eateries are packed to capacity. The big name restaurants usually have a specific date and time at which they commence accepting reservations for Valentine’s night. The date varies from place to place but a month in advance is about average. Individuals savvy about this process normally call the establishment well in advance to determine this critical piece of information. Thus, at the magic moment, the restaurant is inundated with an onslaught of phone calls. Like a frenzied swarm of salmon impelled to locate a specific mating site, throngs of otherwise uninspired men are driven to book that special table. And for the record, allow me to say that you once-a-year romantics are a thorn-in-the-side for us hopeless romantics who regularly share romantic dinners with our beloved, and must now overcome nearly insurmountable competition to do so.
Having lived and worked in NJ all my life, I have numerous contacts that could assure me a table in the Garden State. But this year my sweetheart and I decided to spend Valentine’s in the city. Thus, I headed upstream with the masses in an effort to procure that elusive, heavily vied for, and proverbial table for two. Being a quite determined individual, my plan was to slip into the river ahead of the first wave and improve my odds. Ha!
Five weeks before the big day, every place I called was either completely booked or not taking reservations until a later date. My first choice, which fell into the latter category, was the famous Gramercy Tavern, Chef Tom Colicchio's four-star paradise in the Gramercy/Flat Iron district. Saturday morning, January 17th, 9:30am was go-time. 9:27am I made my first call only to encounter a busy signal. Apparently I wasn’t the only fish endeavoring to get a jump on the pack. I then spent the next two and a half hours repeatedly hitting the redial button, finally getting through at noon, only to discover that they had completely booked by 10am AND had a sizeable waiting list as well. Damn once-a-yearers.
And then the real nightmare started. Confident that I would have booked the Gramercy Tavern, here I was less than 30 days from Valentines with no dinner reservations. Yikes! Suddenly I was this obscure fish, lost in the rear of the spawning run, scrambling amongst millions to find a spot for my mate and I. All I needed now was some hungry grizzly to snatch me from the water and make me his dinner for my fate to be complete.
But I remained undaunted in the face of adversity. That means that I had to lower my standards. The four star places would all be booked by now. Not that my sweetie is that superficial. She’s satisfied knowing it’s my heart, and not the table for two, that’s in the right place. And that’s one of the reasons I love her. But I’m still a man and thus, I have this primordial, evolutionary need to impress her. Male doves flap their wings and coo, male frogs croak, male peacocks exhibit their plumage and I wine and dine my partner in romantic settings. There’s something to be said for good old-fashioned courtship.
So with my Time Out New York restaurant guide, my outdated but still serviceable 1998 Wine Spectator New York issue, and the Internet, I began calling restaurants. Some were out of business, some were booked, some had inhospitable menus, and some were just simply not romantic. But I was intent on finding a tributary to swim up. Too much of the pack was ahead of me in the main stream. If I was going to find a mating ground, i.e., a table for two, I’d have to make my own path.
They say fortune favors the foolish but for me it’s just simple willfulness and determination. Or maybe it’s both. Maybe fate smiled on me as a reward for my resourcefulness. Either way, I finally found this cozy and highly rated Italian restaurant, with a good menu, in the same neighborhood as our later show plans. Apparently I got one of the last reservations. And with a huge sigh of relief, I nestled into my little cove, safe from the grizzlies and the rest of the competition.
Food may feed our bodies but love is what feeds our souls. Sharing a meal together is merely a vehicle for expressing that love. It’s not the pricey food, the best bottle of wine, or the grandeur of the ambiance that ultimately matters. It’s showing our partner that he or she is special, and deserving of all we have to give. That can be done in the best four-star restaurant or right in your own kitchen. And if you can do that, then you have truly captured the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
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