I feel like I’m constantly in the process of setting someone up. A friend, a cousin, a co-worker or the Fedex guy’s daughter I’ve never met; a large percentage of the single men and women in my life are looking for love and apparently they think I can help. It could be my yenta-like soul, or maybe it’s because they see my relationship with Jonathan and think “geez, why can’t I have that?” which is ironic, because if you were a fly on the wall observing my relationship you’d probably think being independent and single was ideal. The grass is always greener, right? Just kidding, I love you JK! Or maybe single people are just tired of going on one disappointing first date after another thanks to some online dating service algorithm created by a team of super smart computer engineers, which if we’re being honest with ourselves, has no greater chance of working than a blind date, because I can’t remember the last time I met a programmer who wasn’t socially awkward…. exactly! Why on earth are we allowing them to automate the century old practice of love brokering?
Regardless of why I’m picked, I’m flattered and happy to play matchmaker. But I do it on one condition and one condition only, that a blind date needs to be blind. And I’ll tell you why I feel so strongly about this rule. If you don’t go into a blind date blindly, meaning you have more than a basic knowledge of the person you’re about to meet (IE: sex, age, occupation), then whether you know it or not, you’re going to develop an opinion about the date before you’ve given yourself a chance to develop one in real time. We look at the pictures and overly edited profiles strangers post in hope they’ll project a desired personality into the world, and naturally, whatever summation we make about their cute smiles, sexy dimples, witty answers, and impressive pedigree, it’s gonna lead to preconceived notions that shatter when we meet them in person. Whether it’s on paper, in a photo, or on the computer screen, there’s no way to accurately judge someone in one dimension. People are a lot more complex then that. Besides, you need to develop your own opinion and not just build off the series of character traits and random details that were hand picked and chosen for you by the person who’s trying to make him or herself appear more appealing. Whether our assumptions end up being slightly different (or very different in some cases) when we first meet they’re going to be wrong. Making a good first impression is hard enough as it is when you’re not battling the jarring effect of a wrong assessment.
So here’s what I suggest to all of my setups. Don’t look your blind date up on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or whatever other source you have for cyber stalking strangers. Don’t ask to see pictures, and don’t ask for a copy of their W-2’s, because their wealth will mean nothing if you can’t stand how they chew with their mouth open. Don’t ask questions about why your setup is single, because you’re single too! Have faith in the person setting you up (me) and know we’re not pairing you up with a total looser, psycho killer, drug addict or thief. When you get their contact information just email them a day and time to meet and go for it! Pick something easy like coffee or drinks, which is cheaper than dinner and socially acceptable for you to end in an hour. You can always make it longer or plan a second meeting if the first encounter goes well.
“But what if it doesn’t work out?” you ask. First of all, you need to think positively. Be open-minded and remember that most people need a little time before they let their guard down and open their heart to strangers. As much as you think you’re deciding whether or not you want to be on this date, you’re in the hot seat too. And if it seems hopeless, just think of it this way, it’s an hour of your life that didn’t lead to true love. It’s no different from the hour you spent beached like a whale on the couch devouring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s during the season finale of The Voice. So make the best of it and if it’s clearly not going to work out, just be honest about that, and ask each other for referrals. Sloppy seconds swapping on a first date is totally acceptable. Each of you might have a friend or an ex or someone you went on a previous first date with who would be a good fit for the other. That setup is no worse than finding strangers through an online dating site. And if all else fails and there’s no connection between the two of you, and you both can’t think of anyone to set the other up with, then here’s your silver lining; you just met someone you didn’t know and you’ve now increased your network by one.
Toast Kitchen & Bar in Rockridge, Oakland
Like our romantic setups, I think we should go to new restaurants with an open mind and closed eyes. Thanks to the World Wide Web we’re so used to picking restaurants by opening an app or clicking a few keystrokes. We’ve lost all sense of adventure going into every situation having conducted some “research.” and the art of spontaneity is gone. So in an effort to reclaim the adrenaline rush that comes from flying by the seat of my pants, I’ve started to rely less and less on restaurant reviews and Yelp listings when searching for new places to eat. And that’s how I stumbled upon Toast Kitchen and Bar in Oakland’s Rockridge District. Jonathan and I were meeting a friend in the east bay right after work for some drinks and an early Friday dinner. Thanks to the a Spring heat wave in the Bay Area, we needed a “dog friendly” venue and ended up finding a place with four stars and a “dogs ok” description on their Yelp listing. Unfortunately, the information so readily available to us is not always accurate, and they no longer allowed dogs. Poor Eddie! So in a last minute scramble we decided to go to Toast, a restaurant on College Avenue we’d just passed in the car and figured…. looks crowded, let’s give it a shot. They have a large outdoor patio in the front, which is the perfect gathering place for foodies and their four-legged friends to sit and enjoy some well-priced wines while people watching. Chef Rebecca Boice’s menu is broken up into mostly small plates and salads with a handful of delicious entrée size dishes. Her Italian inspired cuisine is clean, crisp, and pairs perfectly with their $15 featured flight (they call it their “patio party”), which for us was the Pinot Gris (Jules Taylor Wines, Marlborough NZL), Sauvignon Blanc (Hill Family Estate, Napa) and Torrontes (Jose Mounier, Finace Las Nubes, Salta Argentina). The Jules Taylor Pinot Gris was the group favorite and we ordered a full bottle. Everything was light, fresh, and balanced with a focus on local ingredients that are in season.
If you’re looking for a great place to gab, grab, and grub, then Toast Kitchen and Bar is one restaurant you can go to blindly….even if you have read this post!
Here’s what we ate:
Bourbon-spiked chicken liver pate on mini toasts. Perfect bite sized pieces of rich and smooth liver with freshly ground black pepper. The texture of the pate mixed with the crunch of the crostini.
White bean spread, and lemon oil on toasts was like a milder hummus dish, giving the olive oil a blank canvas to shine on.
Gioia Cheese Company burrata, zucchini, basil, pumpkin seeds and urfa pepper. The paper-thin zucchini was just a vessel for bringing this gooey burrata to your boca and the pumpkin seeds added a nice little crunch to each bite.
Roasted baby carrots and marinated beets with a mignonette vinaigrette and fresh dill. This dish was so simple in execution and yet so complex on the tongue. The natural sweetness of the jewel like beets and baby carrots were heightened by the delicate zing of the vinaigrette.
Baia pasta, zucchini, spinach pesto, fennel seed and Vella Cheese Company’s smooth and creamy mezzo secco (a dry aged Jack cheese).
Grilled chicken breast on a bed of frisee and fried potatoes with a garnish of tomato and sorrel salsa with paprika aioli. The chicken was perfectly cooked with a moist interior and some crispy skin. The aioli was like a rouille, and once it melted into the broth it added a creaminess to the dish that could be soaked up with all the elements on the plate.
And for dessert we shared a slice of the decadent Boca Negra cake with a caramel sauce and fresh whipped cream. With each bite of this dense flourless cake, my life changed for the better. And yes, I did lick the plate and I didn’t care who saw!