A friend forwarded an article yesterday, just as I was mulling how nice it’ll be to sit down in a restaurant again. The article defined a Japanese term, kuchisabishii, that means “lonely mouth” or “longing to have or put something in one’s mouth.”
It’s the best such term I’ve heard since learning about “wabi-sabi,” which I’ve morphed into a catchall term for my love for things that are perfectly imperfect, or fine as they are. There’s a lot of wabi-sabi in our lives these days. Unfortunately, there’s also been a lot of Lonely Mouth that’s pushed me way too often toward our refrigerator and pantry for leftovers and all those great Aldi/Trader Joe snacks.
I’ve convinced myself that the reopening of restaurants will help me lose weight. There’ll be less leftovers than when dealing with takeout, or our own at-home gourmet experiments, let alone the Taco Tuesdays, Whatever Wednesdays, and Burger Mondays that are our teen son’s favorite meal nights.
Absence has sharpened, or perhaps softly fogged, my fondness for a few places. Not so much the fancy, chef-heavy faves of critics and Tripadvisor, but reliable stalwarts, places with a wait staff I recognize, menu items my parents or a rich uncle might have ordered. Martini-and-prime-rib Friday night specials, say, or a wood-paneled Chinese-American restaurant filled with old photos, or a wallpapered Italian joint where the framed newspaper reviews go back 50-plus years.
The last two places we ate out as a family were Shining Rainbow in Albany, where all the booths were filled with groups sharing hotpots and large glasses of bubble tea, and a neighborhood trattoria in a residential Milan neighborhood where the owner treated us like old friends.
I miss the hole-in-the-wall old-style French bistros on Manhattan’s West Side, the softly-lit sushi bars, the basement ristorante within walking distance of our home, I love places where I get the sense that there may actually be no better place to be than there.
It’s all going to be different with fewer tables and the wait staff in plastic gloves and masks. With months of more takeout before us, I suspect the first places we visit when eateries reopen in a few months will be either too quiet or too loud. But perhaps we’ll experience kuchisabishii combined in truly wabi-sabi ways.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.