Lunch Before The Wedding

Sometimes there’s so much love all around it comes in through the air, it comes in through the hamburgers.
cafe zuni

Some friendships are built on the momentous, others on smaller moments. My friend Schooly and I have known each other for 15 years, our friendship played out over so many unremembered jokes and afternoon walks. Ours is the kind of friendship in which we might go a couple rounds of the seasons without seeing one another, but an evening like any other can, for some unknown reason, become one that you carry with you for years.

So I’m in town for Schooly’s wedding. She’s marrying a man named Bobby, whom I’ve just met, but whom I already love from pictures, for the way they smile when they hold each other, for the way he blushed at the rehearsal dinner when her friends reminded him how lucky he was.

Of course, being in San Francisco also meant that I had serious eating to do, and I found myself trying to knock places off my list at every turn, sneaking in a lunch at Zuni Café an hour before putting on my suit.

If you’ve never been there, you enter it at the point of a triangle, and the restaurant expands and soars before you. It’s lovely, intimate at night but magical and expansive in the California sun, the kind of place you want to always end up; a place that feels full of comfort and promise. I sat upstairs, at the far end of the room, giving me a ghost’s vantage of the table Schooly and I had shared years ago, the night we had the greatest roast chicken of both our lives.

That memory put me in the mind for classics, and I asked for a hamburger and a Caesar salad. There was a feeling of celebration in the restaurant, one that came in through the windows and the doors. A woman, a man, and their young child sat a table over, their skin pinked from standing in the sun, the boy playing with the rainbow flag they got at the Pride Parade. I thought about the fact that all over this city, friends were already gathering in happy anticipation and, though I was alone, this family was good company to be in.

The Caesar came, nothing new and utterly perfect, bright lemon and sharp garlic, mellow anchovies, crisp greens, crunchy croutons. The burger was as tender as a you would ever want a hamburger to be, yet it had a sort of magical spring to the bite, an integrity. Its flavor was buttery, almost creamy, round and meaty but not in that bloody, mineral way. It was gentler than that. I ate it quickly, too quickly, but not out of hunger or greed. I ate fast so as not to let the spirit of it escape, vanish with the steam coming off it.

This was food so good it put me firmly within myself; its charms made me acutely aware of how intentionally I was tasting, feeling the textures between my teeth. Eating it was a way of celebrating myself, of singing myself. And yet, in between tastes, I was also happy for the opportunity to look down at that table, to remember and be joyful for my friendship and my friend. And I was happy for the opportunity to be in the presence of that family, to hear the sounds of revelers coming in from the parade downstairs. It occurred to me that no celebration of yourself is complete without celebration of those around you, not just the people you love but also those you don’t even know.

I carried that thought with me all the way to my hotel, where I dressed myself up to share and to celebrate a moment with Schooly and Bobby and all our friends.

Subscribe to Gourmet