The best restaurant if you're over 50
A few years ago a well-connected friend of mine suggested that I join her for one of the first, invitation-only nights at what was sure to be the hottest new restaurant in Washington. When I told people, they were so jealous of me I became jealous of myself.
Then we got there. The place was rigged for bedlam: awkward corners, tight squeezes and, of course, the merciless ricocheting of sound. We were seated at a communal table of sorts with strangers - festive! - and there was so much sharing of so many dishes that I lost track of what I’d tried, what I hadn’t, what I’d loved and what I’d loathed. By the hour mark, I had heard about one stranger’s European jaunt, another’s job promotion and, if memory serves, a third’s veterinary bills. The pooch maybe had respiratory problems. Please pass the shrimp.
Did I used to enjoy this? I don’t anymore, and there’s no vivid anecdote to explain my slide into culinary curmudgeon. There’s only the passage of time. I was once under 50. I’m now over that mark. And it’s not just sex and sleep that change as you age. It’s supper.
A large part of that, yes, concerns your physical evolution. But a larger part concerns your spiritual one. Your appetite matures, in terms of both the food and the mood you crave. Virgin sensations are less important; knowing that you’ll be able to hear and really talk with your tablemates, more. If
having that reassurance means patronizing the same restaurant over and over, so be it. A roasted chicken in the hand is worth two in the bush.
What you want from restaurants, it turns out, is a proxy for what you want from love and from life. None of these is constant.
All reflect the arc that you’ve traveled, the peace that you have or haven’t made. When I was 34, I wanted bling, because it persuaded me that I was special. When I was 44, I wanted blinis, because they made me feel sophisticated. At 54, I just want martinis, because I’m certain of what’s in them and of what that potion can do: blunt the day and polish the night.
I’m in good company, by which I mean that most people who are about my age or older don’t have the same relationships with restaurants that they did decades ago.
I know because I’m always asking them, and what they say is familiar: They no longer sprint to the next shimmering frontier. They won’t suffer stools with no lumbar support. They keep their smartphone flashlights at the ready, in case the same dimness that’s such a kindness to wrinkles renders those letters on the menu - when did they get so tiny? - illegible.
“There definitely used to be several factors in choosing where I wanted to eat, but all of them pale now in comparison to quiet,” said Mo Rocca, the actor, TV journalist and host of the CBS News podcast “Mobituaries.” He proudly turned 50 two months ago.
“I have no problem saying that I’d rather eat at a place that’s more like the library,” he told me. “In fact, if the library opened a restaurant, I’d be first in line.”
Loud is no longer exciting. Trendy is overrated.
“In my 20s, I’d go someplace because it was new or ‘fancy,’” said my friend, Sandra Bernhard, the comedian and host of “Sandyland” on Sirius XM radio.
She’s 63 now, and said that she needs better reasons than that. She’s not worried about impressing anybody, least of all herself.
Ina Garten, the wildly popular author of the “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks, told me that she and her husband, Jeffrey, “go to the same restaurant over and over again until we just can’t do it anymore, then we go to another restaurant over and over again until we just can’t do it anymore. And that can last two years.”
She’s 71, he’s 72 and they weren’t quite this set in their ways decades ago, she said.
Because the couple lives near New York City, acquaintances are always asking her about the latest, greatest place to eat there.
“Haven’t a clue!” she told me. “Once in a while we’ll try a hot new restaurant, and then we’ll go there for two years.”
I surveyed several restaurateurs: They didn’t find her habits unusual. Older diners, they said, are more likely to be regulars - and the most frequent regulars at that.
That’s not just because we tend to have more money. It’s also because we’re tired of being invisible.
If you’re under 50 and definitely if you’re under 40, you have yet to experience how you disappear over the years, especially if you’re not a looker and all the more so if you’re a woman.
Sustained gazes, casual glances and solicitous words go disproportionately to the young. To age is to feel as if pieces of you are falling or fading away, so that you somehow take up less space in the world. So that you’re harder to see.