I knew Adam Bernbach was working—he’s one of my favorite drink makers in the city, which frankly was half the draw. The place was packed. Every seat was taken except one. I shimmied over to a corner of the bar by a brick pillar and snagged it, realizing too late that I was flanked by a couple so in love they were feeding each other small bites. Their arms may have been intertwined as they held pursed fingers of food while one or the other nibbled daintily. I think I might have seen one look her partner in the eye as she licked the red-pepper reduction from a croquette before taking a bite.
I don’t know why I tried to disappear behind the Sunday New York Times arts section, fervently wishing I’d melt into the pillar as opposed to finding a new seat for myself, but such was the case.
“Hey, I didn’t see you there,” said Bernbach. Not quite invisible. I needed a drink.
“Make it something challenging,” I said, in keeping with the theme with the night. Instead of a fun boozy “slushito” or some celebratory cocktail, I got what I requested: a 1930s Champagne coupe filled with a combination of Americano Cocchi, Maderia, Old Raj gin, salt, and lemon rind. It tasted like a douse of ocean had made its way into my glass, combined with the complexity of Maderia and the pucker of rind. Note: This is good. I’m an acid abuser. I ask for plates of fried lemons at Palena. I squirt lemon and lime on pizza. I can’t get enough. The no-name drink was a challenge I liked.
A few sips later, it became easier to tune out the lovers. A Germany-versus-Spain soccer game played on flat-screen TVs overhead. One of the most lovely men in all of Washington sat across the bar with his partner. An attentive bartender made sure I was well fed and cared for.
I perused a hilarious Times article about why Danny McBride, also known as Kenny Powers on HBO’s Eastbound & Down, wouldn’t wear a chain-mail leotard while holding a joint and a sword for the new movie by the Pineapple Express guys named Your Highness. I thought about my own work direction, prompted by an earlier conversation with a stranger from England. He has lived here for five years, ever since a woman prompted him to move from Hong Kong after he’d called that city home for 15 years. We discussed what propels such life-changing moves and whether it’s possible to feel a sense of home when ambition and a restlessness to immerse oneself in other cultures drives a greater hunger.
In the meantime, I grazed on a boquerone pintxo with artichoke heart and olive. I savored the croquettes with jamón. And I devoured the sherry-glazed halibut with smoky romesco, spinach, and pumpkin seeds, using extra bread to mop my plate.
Toward the end of my dinner, I could help it no longer: I lusted after the lovers’ newest plate. “What is that?” I asked them. “It’s the blistered shishito peppers,” crooned the woman. “We get them every time.”
“Do you want one?” Both the bartender and the woman asked at the same time, the same wording for very different questions. I looked from one to the other: the bartender ready to take my order, the woman, holding the small end of the charred green pepper slathered in olive oil for me to try. I considered my own order, then a considered bite, then I laughed. “Maybe another time when I’m in a different frame of mind.”
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