The Key Ingredient (Recipe)
We were sitting adjacent in a booth, with a view of the entire restaurant, lights dim as is the trend in most Brooklyn restaurants so we couldn’t really see anything but each other. We could barely even read the menu. He was holding the small tea light up against the menu. I was doing the same. We were on the same page, no pun intended.
This was our second date. Our first one had gone so well that naturally, our second spontaneous daytime hang out spilled over into the evening. Our nonstop conversation did as well.
He was the first guy I met who seemed normal and kind of interesting. We both swiped right on Tinder, engaged in some witty banter, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Here we were, at my favorite restaurant in Greenpoint, knowing full well that dinner was just a precursor to “dessert” at his apartment later.
“We should share plates,” he suggested. At this point, I was swooning – hard.
“And why don’t you pick for us?” he continued.
It was like he entered my brain, looked around, and exited through my heart. And my heart was bursting with a million butterflies.
“How about the broccoli and fava bean salad?” I asked.
“The radish appetizer sounds amazing too, doesn’t it”
“Let’s get that too.”
Two for two so far. I was on a roll.
“Let’s try the rabbit,” I said confidently.
There was long pause.
He finally spoke. “Hmm. It has cilantro. I don’t eat cilantro.”
Not to be dramatic, but my heart sank. It really did. I love cilantro.
“You won’t even eat it on a carne asada taco?” I sheepishly asked, not wanting to make the cilantro thing a thing. Even though it already was.
“No way. I hate cilantro. The taste of it makes me gag.”
Not even on banh mi? I wanted to press on. But I stopped myself. Persecuting him would not have been sexy. Though he already seemed less so.
We skipped the rabbit. I can’t even remember what we had instead. The entire meal felt off. It wasn’t like I was hung up on the cilantro (or lack thereof); but I was suddenly very aware of the little things he did that bugged me. I noticed he was a curmudgeon. He complained about everything and seemed to dislike most bands, most professions, most humans. Sitting there, he also looked like maybe he had a short torso. I was snapped out of my romantic daze and pulled back down to earth.
Weeks later, the dude and I stopped trying to hang out. His cilantro gag reflex was just the garnish on top. We just weren’t compatible. So I was back on Tinder, slightly jaded, ready to give up on flaky men and their weird food restrictions when I matched with a man named Brian. We exchanged a few jokes. He asked me out to dinner. I said ok.
Dinner ended up being at popular barbecue restaurant in Brooklyn. (His pick.)
“Why don’t you order for us,” Brian courteously suggested. Sounded familiar.
“Sure. Is there anything you don’t eat?” I held my breath.
He shook his head no. I was relieved.
Brian and I went on our first date almost a year ago. Our first date went well and the dates thereafter have been stellar too. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about him. He’s a single dad, obsessed with barbecue, sleeps with his mouth closed, makes an Americano every morning but insists is an espresso, and has an impressive collection of gray t-shirts. Oh and he likes cilantro. A lot.
Po-Po’s Signature Sauce
Makes 1 cup
This cilantro-heavy sauce can be used as a dumpling dipping sauce, cold noodle dressing, or for bon bon chicken aka 棒棒鸡. Po-Po makes a huge batch of this stuff and stores it in the fridge. It’s good for at least two months, believe it or not!
2 scallions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
handful of cilantro leaves
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water (or more)
1 tablespoon sugar (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground, toasted Sichuan peppercorns
11/2 teaspoon chili paste (doubanjiang)
Blend everything in a blender or food processor. Adjust ingredients to your liking.