Five Leaves On A Friesday
Oysters, a negroni, and eavesdropping on a table of insufferable people.
By Kareem Rahma
Table for One is a monthly column in which Kareem Rahma records his observations, thoughts, and learnings from having a meal in solitude.
When I first moved to New York City 11 years ago, I would often eat alone. Not because I wanted to. How could I eat with friends if I had none?
I’d sit at my table for one with a book prominently placed next to the silverware. Of course, I had no intention of reading it. The prop was there to create potential, specifically the potential of a conversation with a pretty woman asking me what I thought of the book. That never happened, but it seemed like a good idea. Almost as good as the time I decided to never leave the house with a rolled up Economist in my back pocket.
Eventually, I ditched the prop book and accepted the fact that I’d be having a few meals alone until I made some good friends in the city. “That’s okay,” I thought, “People in movies set in New York eat alone all the time.”
One Sunday morning in 2012, with no errands to run, friends to see or ambitions to aspire to, I decided to go on a solo vacation in the West Village for brunch. I arrived at Joseph Leonard with a copy of The New York Times tucked under my arm and asked for a seat at the bar. I ordered a bloody mary and a soft scramble and probably some fries and pretended to do the crossword puzzle.
About an hour into my sitting alone, a beautiful older woman, maybe 60 or 70 years old, with gray hair and blue eyes and the kind of smile that makes you feel unworthy, asked if the seat next to me was taken.
No, of course it isn’t.
She sat next to me and we talked for hours, pounding mimosas until brunch turned to happy hour. We even did the crossword. I remember that her vocabulary was impressive, but my knowledge of pop culture was vast. Together, we were a great team.
To my delight, she asked if I wanted to accompany her on a visit to The Met Museum. Her husband (some sort of famous actor who I’d never heard of) hated museums, and she was going to go alone. But now that we were friends, she wouldn’t mind some company. I lied to her and told her that I loved museums because I probably needed a friend more than she did.
There was nothing sexual in nature about the whole ordeal, but I think it made me feel interesting, which is why relationships exist. As my new friend and I snaked our way through The Met, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Here I was, the main character, off on a whimsical journey with a charming woman I had picked up in a restaurant.
We exchanged numbers, hugged goodbye and said, “Let’s do this again sometime!” which I now know means “I’ll probably never see you again,” in New York. I forgot her name, so I couldn't find her in my phone and we never saw each other again.
Still, the experience of dining solo and meeting someone on a whim was meaningful to me. I have friends now, but dining alone is an art — one I want to indulge in more. And so, my column, a monthly report on solo dining experiences (the food, the people, the feelings, etc), commences.
Below, my first installment:
Photo courtesy of Kareem Rahma.
Five Leaves, Greenpoint.
Wednesday, 4:55 P.M.
When I pulled up to Five Leaves on my bicycle, a girl told me she loved my outfit. We were off to a good start.
With this newfound confidence, I entered and asked for a table for one. The host asked if I wanted to sit inside or outside. It was a nice day, so I said outside. He smiled. “Great.” I thought to myself, relieved he didn’t shame me.
I sat down at a table outside facing Starbucks. At least they painted it black.
I browsed the menu and was relieved to see that they had a veggie burger, which is a food I thought had gone extinct in NYC after the invention of fake meat. The patty was made of a bunch of stuff like beans and chickpeas and not whatever kind of stuff fake meat is made of.
They had a martini on the happy hour menu, but I felt self conscious drinking a martini at 5 P.M., alone on a Wednesday, and decided that a negroni was more acceptable.
I considered not getting the half dozen oysters because it looks weird to eat oysters alone and then I realized that getting the half dozen oysters alone would actually make me look very cool, like a king, enjoying the splendors of his kingdom.
Oysters at Five Leaves. Photo courtesy of Kareem Rahma.
After waiting what seemed like 45 minutes but was actually only 7, I thought, “Okay. Welp this is awkward, they forgot about me!” And then by the good grace of God, a server appeared and I didn’t have to spend any more time with myself.
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll take a negroni.”
“I’ll take half a dozen oysters”
“Will that be all?”
“I’ll take a veggie burger.”
“Fries or salad?”
I tried to think of something funny to say, to break the ice, maybe make a new pal.
“Maybe they should change the name of Wednesday to Friesday because I’m having fries!”
She smiled, probably to be nice, but at least there was that.
Once she was gone and I was alone again, I began to think that everyone else was looking at me. They weren’t. The two annoying girls next to me were still talking about a guy called Thomas. They’d been talking about him since I sat down.
The food came out all at once, and as expected, the oysters provided a sense of opulence that I needed to disguise my feelings. I was glad I ordered them. The veggie burger smelled and looked terrific. I could tell the fries would be great if they were hot, but they were just warm so they were only good.
The girls next to me stopped talking about Thomas, and stared in my direction as the food was being flown in. I waited for them to say something about how cool it looked, but they didn’t say anything at all. I thought about telling them that their choices in food (Avocado Toast) and Men (Thomas) were shitty, but instead I squeezed lemon onto my oysters, dumped ketchup onto my plate and asked the server for another Negroni.
I thought about striking up a conversation with them just to change the subject, but after eavesdropping for another 30 seconds, I decided not to because they were insufferable. I tried to sit with my thoughts, but when you eat alone every passerby starts to look like someone you know. Every time I was about to think of something good, I’d get distracted by thinking I saw someone I knew.
Like magic, a guy who looked like my friend Nico rolled past on his bike. And then I realized it was Nico. My first instinct was to yell his name, but I held back and made note of the impulse to invite someone to sit down.
I ate with confidence. The veggie burger tasted nostalgic and delicious and I appreciated that it was already cut in half. The oysters were fresh and tasted like rocks from the sea. As expected, the fries were good but could have been great if they had been piping hot.
The best thing, though, was that I could tell that the staff liked me. I was an unfussy and simple customer, unlike the two annoying girls next to me who asked if the iPhone they had charging behind the bar was fully charged. The server winced at the question. I winked at her platonically and smiled, hoping to be on the inside of an inside joke. She glanced and smiled back. We were in cahoots.
They dropped off the check without asking, as if I had somewhere to be. I didn’t, but I appreciated the gesture.
I tipped 20% and wanted to stay and relax at my table a while longer to enjoy the weather, but the annoying girls next to me shifted into talking about their pandemic experiences and I completely lost interest in their stupid conversation.
I would eat here alone again.