he_restaurant-menu-man_s4x3_lgLet me offer a simple tale of caution to those navigating the piranha-infested waters of modern relationships, where seemingly minor decisions made without consideration may abruptly alter the ultimate outcome of your life.  This one’s impressive, and a little close-to-home:

After a date, my wife once broke up with a boyfriend for ordering the chicken.

Yes, it was that simple.  Choosing the poultry option on a Saturday evening dinner date brought a budding romance to a screeching halt, and there was nothing he could do to recover.

Tough crowd, right?

Before you demonize my wife (I can already hear her howling in protest), this likely requires a bit more explanation.  She claims that her decision to end the relationship the next day was not based on a general prejudice against our fine feathered friends (or whatever limp vegetable that probably accompanied it).  The chicken itself was not to blame.  It’s what his decision to order the chicken represented about him, confirming her previous suspicions that he was not right for her in the end.  Ordering the chicken was pedestrian.  It was safe.  It was ordinary.  And, above all else, it, was BORING.

And so he was gone, perhaps confused as to why she no longer returned his phone calls but hopefully at least somewhat satisfied by his Chicken Piccata.

As for me…on our first date, I had the pasta.  Or maybe it was a steak, I’m not entirely sure.  Whatever it was, I can pretty much guarantee it wasn’t chicken.  And thank god for that, as I had no idea that what I chose to eat that night was fraught with such importance.

But here’s the thing:  I actually like chicken.  

In fact, I think I like it a lot.  I’m a fairly adventurous eater, and have become more so with a greater willingness to experiment and try new things.  But chicken remains an excellent fall-back, a fail safe that can be counted on to deliver in almost any circumstance.  And a great Chicken Parmigiana remains one of my comfort food staples, tough to beat on a cold winter’s night…or really any night when I just want something good to eat.


So, this begged a question that has been nagging at me for some time:  did my choice not to have the chicken that night reveal something true about my soul and its penchant for passion and excitement…or did I somehow dupe her into thinking that I’m not boring, when essentially I’m as dull as that Mr. Perdue she dumped years ago?

If I step back for a minute, and am totally honest with myself, there’s a huge list of things that I like that could (and probably should) be classified as classically boring.  These include:

  1. Watching baseball games on television
  2. Fire pits
  3. Lucky Blue Jeans
  4. Hot tea with lemon
  5. Lakeside docks at sunset
  6. Watching Shawshank Redemption on Netflix for the 146th time
  7. The Eagles
  8. Fantasy football (and incessantly talking about it)
  9. House Hunters International on HGTV (I blame my wife for this one)
  10. Dry gin martinis

Holy crap!!  I’m bored just writing this list.  Looking at the above, it’s become abundantly clear to me that I’m dull as a board, and it’s only a matter of time until my wife realizes it and packs her bags to hunt down Ryan Gosling and force him to take her away to a life filled with spontaneity, surprise and poultry-less dining experiences.

So what to do?  I could go quietly into the flat, dry, tedious night…or I could defend my life’s choices and interests, show my judgmental spouse that there is pleasure to be found in what may appear uninteresting to the wandering eye.

I chose the latter, and in as direct a method as I could think of.  I decided to take her to a chicken dinner.

On a recent anniversary, I made a reservation in Manhattan at The NoMad, a fantastic restaurant that I had been to for several business dinners.  Tucked inside The NoMad Hotel (called for the neighborhood just north of Madison Square Park), NoMad has received stellar reviews from food critics for its “casually-elegant” food from a chef previously heralded at the renowned Eleven Madison Park (a foodie paradise).

While NoMad has a thorough menu, they are most renowned for a single crowd-pleasing entree:  a whole-roasted chicken for two.

Now this is no ordinary chicken (as only one as apparently uninspiring as my menu-challenged predecessor could order).  The chicken at NoMad is roasted with foie gras and black truffles, the fat in the foie gras virtually melting into the meat and bursting with flavor.  Ok, so it’s not exactly the flaccid rubber chicken breast you’ve been served at a million banquets…this is something altogether different, and spectacular (don’t even get me started on the crispy skin that accompanies it).  But it’s still chicken, and would serve my purpose.

So I informed my wife of my plan, and drove to the city fairly drooling over the thought of the culinary pleasures that awaited us.

We arrived in the city early, grabbed a drink at the crowded bar (filled with mixologists pouring obscure bitters from unlabeled bottles into colorful cocktails).  I talked to my wife about the great reviews, the previous meals I had consumed here, and how I was going to blow her chicken-averse mind out of the water.

As we sat down at our table and perused the menu (focusing mostly on the appetizer choices), my wife looked concerned.  Eventually, she lowered her menu and spoke.

“I don’t think I can do it,” she told me with remorse.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“The chicken.  I can’t order it.”

“What?  Why not?”

“There’s too much else on the menu that looks better.  And I just don’t want to.”

Just like that, I knew it was over.  As amazing as this dish was heralded to be, a paragon of texture and flavor, my wife couldn’t order it.  Because it was still, at its core, just chicken.  I spent a few careful minutes trying to justify my point of view, that I had chosen the restaurant just for the chicken, but she wasn’t having it.  For a moment, I considered ordering it alone for myself, but decided that eating a dish meant for two on one’s anniversary was a bad omen.  So no chicken for us.

My grand experiment to celebrate the possibilities in blandness having failed miserably, we ended up having a wonderful meal.  We admired each other’s choices (a lobster here, some pasta with truffles there), and toasted to more years of health and happiness together.

When I confronted her later on her decision to opt-out of the chicken for two, she twisted and contorted a bit, claiming I had failed to tell her the details of the dish and its grandeur, that if she had only known how amazing it was supposed to be she surely would have ordered it.

That’s bull.  While I allowed her to absolve herself, she’s not being truthful.  In the end, I know that her decision was based on a carefully-constructed narrative, and that the ordering of any chicken dish in a restaurant filled with dazzling choices could only be a condemnation of her own taste and joie de vivre.  

In the end, I know the truth about where her need to protect her self-image has left her.  She’s an anti-chickenite, and not even a foie gras / black truffle infusion is going to change her mind.

So what does this mean for me?  I’m not entirely sure.  I’m at an interesting age, an intersection in which I continue to try new things yet often fall back on the comforts of the familiar.  But if I’m going to find pleasure in the boring and unimaginative, so be it.  I’m going to have my chicken, and hopefully she’ll stick around long enough to see me eat it too.

But take my advice:  if you’re in that early-impression mode, presenting yourself to someone that you think has long-term potential, you might want to reconsider your choices.  Look at that menu carefully.  Because a simple grilled chicken breast could mean more than what you think it does.

If I were you, I’d play it safe.  Order the steak.