I was 45 minutes late to our first date at Osteria Mozza when the Cute Gardener took one look at me over the rim of his glasses, pushed a menu toward me and asked if I would mind if we just ordered a bunch of plates to share. Flustered from my driving experience — it took me nearly two hours to get from Venice Beach to Melrose Avenue on the windiest night of the year — I sputtered: "Yes, you can have bites of all my stuff."
"I can have bites of your stuff?" he asked, in a deep and sexy voice that I have come to love. "Now that can be construed in a variety of ways." In that moment I knew I was hooked.
Not only did he love food, he possessed my favorite, funny sense of sarcasm.
We met on a popular online dating site after I moved to Los Angeles from Palm Springs, where all of my friends were either gay or married, and the singles scene for a straight female in her late 30s was virtually nonexistent. I was accustomed to being the third wheel in my social life and pretty OK with filling that role even if deep inside I longed for a partner with whom to share my life. At first I completely ignored all potential suitors who emailed me, but then I saw his face and a profile that looked as if he could have been writing it just for me.
He was a food and wine lover and grew his own fruits and vegetables; I had a blog on which I waxed poetic on cuisine, restaurants and farm-to-table recipes. He enjoyed woodworking; I was an artist, obsessed with making wooden frames and boxes for my work. When he told me he was looking for a kind, sexy, intelligent, creative, boozy glutton on one of our early phone calls, I knew I could fit the bill.
At the end of our first date, $300 and two hours of smoky ragu, squid ink pasta and fresh piles of fluffy burrata later, he handed me a bag of fresh tomatoes from his garden that had been in his car.
Our palates quickly proceeded to spend more time together. He came over on Christmas to taste my special sage sausage stuffing. I became acquainted with his famous noodle dishes. He blissed me out with succulent, homemade fried chicken. On New Year's Eve we cooked buckwheat blinis upon which we spread samples of various types of caviar from Surfas in Culver City, and we rang in 2012 toasting with flutes of Champagne and ice-cold vodkas. Valentine's Day had me cooking butternut squash ravioli, from scratch, in what could have been an episode of "I Love Lucy" in my kitchen.
Now, a year later, we've taken Los Angeles and the surrounding Southern California cities by storm with a perpetual "to dine at" list that quickly changes as our taste buds get accustomed to the myriad cultures around us. We've scoured the city to engage in experiences that include the cursing, beer-drinking, chicken-heart-skewering cooks at Little Tokyo's Kokekokko and the sophisticated, upscale sushi chefs at Studio City's Asanebo; the romantic and butter-laden feast at Hatfield's and the oblong sweet onion-topped burger at Father's Office; flatbread pizzas overlooking the sea at Pizza Antica and an Austrian sausage fest in Beverly Hills at BierBeisl.
We've consumed the Parisian-style baked leeks and egg dish at the Mignon Wine and Cheese Bar downtown, the sinful pot de crème at Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and the tomato and sausage strozzapreti and the luscious fig dessert at Il Fico on Robertson Boulevard. Our burger list has evolved to include an exquisitely bloody pig candy-topped patty at Plan Check; the lamb, tzatziki and arugula version at Short Order; and the musky French brunch bombshell version of traditional beef at Comme Ça on a lazy Sunday morning. We checked deep dish off our "must eat" pizza list on a dimly lighted summer night at Masa in Echo Park and had our taste buds spoiled by white truffles and cannellini beans at Pasadena's swank the Royce. We rarely revisit a place — there are simply too many restaurants to try.
As we embark on another year of eating adventures, I realize that the old adage does ring true: The way to my heart certainly was through my stomach. Hundreds of appetizers, entrees and cocktails later, my love and I are still sharing plates.
Kimberly Nichols is a Venice-based writer and artist.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times