Saturday, March 31, 2007

Breaking in a new restaurant

Establishing relationships with restaurants is another new experience we are undergoing here. Cafe Amanouz on Main Street in Northampton is the first restaurant I've eaten at in the Pioneer Valley that I feel sure I will return to regularly. I've been there four times now, twice with Dave and twice alone; I enjoy eating alone occasionally. Well, I guess I already do go there regularly.

It's just my kind of place, small, cozy, Moroccan. You order at the counter and they bring perfect food over to your table: stews with chicken and olives and vegetables over couscous for a cold wintery day, and platters of humus and grape leaves and pita for the warm weather; sweet mint tea and Middle Eastern pastries for dessert.

Going to a place over and over is a process of getting to know the place, the staff, the menu, the routine. The last time we ate there, the night of the Mary Chapin Carpenter concert last weekend, I could see my future at this restaurant, the predictability of the slow service, the crowded tables but frequent turnover, and I could sense that I will be eating there a lot.

As it's still so new, each time I look at that enormous blackboard listing tons of dishes, all sounding delicious, I still get overwhelmed. I don't know it yet. We still need to figure out portion size and what dishes are very shareable and in what combinations. But we will; we are. And not just my future but also my past flashed before me, as this cafe reminded me a bit of the Olive Vine on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Not the Olive Vine national chain, this is a small local place run by Jordanians who make their own pita and pita pizzas.

Last weekend was our first official date since we moved here, with a babysitter and everything. It was Saturday night and all the fancier restaurants were packed with 40-minute waits. We finally decided to eat cheap, so stopped by this place. While it was also crowded we did get a table. We were lucky to see Lily's fabulous teacher, eating dinner with her fiance, and they helped us decide what to order.

We also really liked our meal at Paul and Elizabeth's, a vegetarian place in Northampton. My mother and step-father took us there for brunch a few weeks ago and the food was simple, fresh, reasonably priced, and really good. I definitely intend to return there, too.

Not just the quality and variety of restaurant choices, we have been really struck by how friendly people are in Northampton, too. At this Moroccan place we were sitting at a table for four and when we saw a couple desparate for a table we sat New-York-City style, just moving the other other half of the table over a couple of inches, and listening in on each other's conversation and observing menu choices. They were happy to have a place to park and eventually we started chatting and they were very friendly.

This weekend we had friends in from Brooklyn and we had an adventure-filled day, starting with pancakes at the Williams Farm sugar house in Deerfield, a tour of the campus of Lily's new school, a couple of real estate drivebys, a climb up Mount Sugarloaf -- perfect day, incredible view -- and ended up eating big pizza slices in Northampton and walking around in the sunshine. Lily met a woman with a dog, of course, a min pin who is usually very shy, apparently, but came right over and sat in her lap.

The dog couple had borrowed the animal from friends and were socializing her on the steps of the municipal building. The woman half could not get over how much she liked Lily and how much Lily reminded her of herself when she was young. She kept calling her a mini-me. It was pretty funny, actually.

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