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A Love So Rare


My priorities are frequently wrong and I realize there is a vast divide between the food-savvy and the chain-lovers, but I’m still surprised at the negativity projected on the poor souls who might dine at chain restaurants by choice.

I’m not saying I genuinely think that Red Lobster would be a romantic place to celebrate Valentine’s Day (I have tamped down a tiny chuckle at this commercial for unfunny men free from the shackles of marriage for a week, Hall Pass. “Are you sure Applebee’s is the best place to meet hot, horny women?” “What are you thinking? Olive Garden?” Um, everyone knows single chicks are at Cheesecake Factory. Hooters is just way too obvious) but the repeated use of “sad,” and “depressing” to describe people who would do so is well, sad and depressing.

The most depressing Foursquare mayorship according to Buzzfeed is the Port Authority Au Bon Pain—and by a woman who shares my first name, no less! Number two’s a fat joke (though it is funny that the mayor of the Norman, Oklahoma Lane Bryant is man. I’m assuming he works there and isn’t merely a BBW fetishist). I don’t really find any of the fifteen–including Riker’s and the Betty Ford Clinic–to be depressing.

If someone were to ask me adjectives to describe chains I would think happy, corporate, consistent, unadventurous, cheesy (literally and metaphorically), fun. A chain will always cheer me up (maybe not Boston Market—I’m very resistant to visiting one, though giving-in to the sit-down Pizza Hut in Saratoga Springs a few months ago was a fulfilling experience). I’ve always championed the underdog, though, perhaps to the point of grotesqueness.

Maybe what I had thought of as going to a happy place is actually embracing darkness? I’ve always had a hard time articulating why I like chains without seeming superficial and ironic. It could be how I’m expressing a youthful sullenness in a contemporary way, backlashing against the cosmopolitan, artisanally crafted and healthy in the way that a small-town goth enjoys being misunderstood and contrary. I’m not trying to shock squares or revel in misery, though. For me, chains are not self-punishing; eating a 2,310-calorie Bloomin’ Onion is not the same as cutting myself.

I’m toying with trying the new Astor Room tonight and it’s going to be tough knowing that it’s right near that out-of-place suburban patch of the neighborhood with a flashy Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s. The lure of a chain is strong.

And if you want to know where I ended up on Valentine’s Day (technically, I celebrated the holiday two days earlier with a lovely omakase at 15 East), it wasn’t a chain and it wasn’t remarkable. My goal was to eat somewhere low-key, not requiring reservations in the neighborhood and ended up at generic, independently owned Smith Street restaurant that I’ve been uninterested in trying for years but was perfect for this occassion and was served well-done steak frites with a hair broiled into the surface despite ordering the meat medium-rare and hairless. Kind of sad and depressing, if you ask me.

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