Table for one, please

“Just me,” I said, lifting one finger to the guy behind the counter when he asked how many people I needed a table for. I’m never sure who can hear the muffled voice behind my mask.

About a month ago, I was supposed to be on vacation in Australia for the first time, tagging along on my boyfriend’s trip back home to renew his work visa. As I plopped down alone at a small sidewalk table in SoHo last week, surreptitiously eyeing the tables of twos, threes and even fours around me while I rummaged through my tote for hand sanitizer, I thought about that cancelled trip and my boyfriend almost 10,000 miles away.

So many new normals to get used to.

Thai Diner, from the team behind the recently closed Uncle Boons, a beloved restaurant and a pandemic casualty that actually made me sad, opened just before New York— and really the world— shut down. I’d been excited about eating at the Thai influenced American comfort food diner when I first saw their menu online, already planning how many different things I could try between my boyfriend and me.

All those months after first telling him about it, I finally went, alone one day for lunch in the middle of last week, which I had taken off both to use up some of my vacation days and to reward myself for surviving a move to a new apartment, a hellish August, a global pandemic for six months so far.

With no one to give me a weird face for eating breakfast at 2pm on a Tuesday, I ordered George’s Egg Sandwich, a messy  affair of eggs, cheese, avocado, bok choy, and Thai basil wrapped in crispy roti. I’m not sure who George is, but he has a damn delicious sandwich. Messy sure, with its oozing cheese and bits of scrambled egg falling out between piping hot roti slippery with oil, but very much worth it. All the delicious green in this sandwich, the creamy avocado and dark, leafy bok choy, the kicky, spicy Thai basil, filled it with flavors and textures that set it apart from any breakfast sandwich I’d ever had at a diner before.

While it wasn’t quite the experience I had imagined all those months ago (especially since I didn’t get to split the Thai Tea Babka French Toast with anyone), Thai Diner was just what I needed: different, delicious, and as it so often is with food for me, distracting, transportive, and comforting.

I never thought that with a week off from work the most exotic and adventurous thing I would do was ride the subway into Manhattan to eat a Thai inspired breakfast sandwich, but there I was. I also didn’t think I’d be living in a new apartment with a new roommate instead of my boyfriend, who I wasn’t sure when I’d see again thanks to a global pandemic, but there I also was.

So many new normals to get used to.

When I was done eating, I sat at my table for one, fingers glistening with oil, back of my hands shiny from every time I’d wiped my mouth between bites. I did the quick math in my head, as I so often do throughout the day now, to figure out what 14 hours ahead made it in Australia. Boyfriend would still be sleeping for several more hours so I reached for the hand sanitizer instead, cleaned my greasy hands until I smelled vaguely of cheap grain alcohol, and went on with my day.

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