Forty. Forty was the number of restaurants I’d been to on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles. Some of these I had known about for years, but the majority of them were new ones that I had been checking off the list, with D. We were college acquaintances, but reconnected last year, turning a friendship into a whirlwind romance.
It started with casual drinks and post-college catching up at the now-shuttered Freddy Smalls. Then, on another night, pizza and spicy fusilli at Jon and Vinny’s, where we stayed too long and were bribed with free bombolonis to leave. There were bottles of wine at Ester’s in Santa Monica. Incredible mozzarella sticks and a beautifully layered eggplant parm at Cosa Buona. Bolognese that comforted the soul at Rossoblu. Several pastas and an airy, chewy focaccia at Felix followed by an ice cream flight at Salt and Straw.
My stomach was incredibly happy, but so too was my heart. The best part of these outings wasn’t the food; it was exploring new places and parts of my city with someone I connected with in a way I hadn’t before. Everything felt easy and effortless.
While I salivated over the spicy fusilli at Jon and Vinny’s, what I craved more was that feeling of delight I experienced when D laughed at my jokes. I can’t remember the exact bottle of wine we had at Ester’s, but I’ll never forget the moment my heart fluttered when he put his hand on the small of my back for the first time. While the mozzarella sticks at Cosa Buona were unforgettable, I couldn’t stop thinking about the moment earlier that night: We realized we were running late so we chugged our beers at Mohawk Bend and raced across the street — holding hands and laughing — to avoid losing our table. When I sat across from him at Felix, I realized that I want to sit across from him for the rest of my life. He made me want to be better, to try new things and conquer Los Angeles with him at my side.
But just as quickly as it started, it quickly ended.
I’ve never been physically sucker-punched, but this breakup is what I imagine it feels like. To have the rug pulled out from underneath you. To feel completely certain about something and then to realize that you were completely, utterly wrong.
We were eating cacio e pepe (my favorite) and the tonnarelli all’Amatriciana (his favorite) at Uovo and something felt off. The conversation wasn’t flowing the way it usually did. D’s demeanor seemed guarded. We ate in silence, and it just made me feel more anxious. When I asked him if something was wrong, he chalked it up to being stressed out about an intense week at work, so I just let it go.
The next day, he texted me at work and asked if I was free that night, but offered up no other details.
The last time he had asked me if I was free for a mysterious outing it turned out to be a surprise trip to the Museum of Ice Cream, where we fell in love with McConnell’s Earl Grey Tea & Shortbread Cookie ice cream. But this time felt different.
Later that night, as he sat on my bed, the look on his face said everything.
We were about to have “the talk.”
I honestly can’t really remember everything he said, but the main takeaways were that he wanted to apply to graduate school so it would help his career. In order to accomplish those goals, he didn’t have time or room for me in his life.
I used the term “sucker-punched” because this truly came out of the blue.
He had never before mentioned the possibility of graduate school. In fact, at one time he told me that he didn’t need to go to graduate school because he was considered a wunderkind at work and was already on the fast track. Like me, he too wanted to conquer Los Angeles. But his version didn’t have me by his side.
And just like that, it was over.
I’ll never understand how things dissolved so quickly. Ultimately, I don’t need to understand. It came down to this: He didn’t want to be with me anymore. And I need to move on.
Sharing a meal with him could be so intimate. Certain bites still transport me back to that past. I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about him when I eat the spicy fusilli at Jon & Vinny’s or when I scroll through Eater L.A.’s list of new restaurants. I still feel a pang of sadness when someone mentions Rossoblu because all I can think about is how he is no longer in my life.
Don’t feel too bad for me, though. I know this is something I’ll eventually get over.
I still have 61 restaurants left to discover — whether by myself or with someone new by my side.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
MORE L.A. LOVE STORIES …