We show up at Lilia at 5:15 because it’s impossible to get reservations at this place and apparently it’s also impossible to get seated as a walk-in, not without waiting two hours, and queuing for food is something I refuse to do, which is why we’re here fifteen minutes early. Lilia opens at 5:30, and there’s a small group of us already waiting, and this is the one time I look at you slyly, ask, Don’t you have, like, chef contacts you can use to get us a table?
You laugh, say, I don’t like being that person.
But then what’s the use in dating a chef?! I ask, feigning outrage. Y’all don’t cook at home, so it’s not like I’m eating awesome meals at home on the regular, so, if I can’t even use your connections to get tables at restaurants …
You laugh again, a full-bodied laugh this time, throwing your head back before saying, Chefs also work shitty hours, and we always smell like kitchen grease, so I don’t know — what is the appeal?
I don’t know. Writers work shitty hours, too, and we can be really self-absorbed, especially when we’re deep into a project, and we can be super needy and need constant reassurance that we aren’t failures all the damn time, so …
Win-win for us all around?
When the restaurant opens at 5:30, we’re second on line, and we’re seated immediately at the bar. I like sitting at the bar in restaurants, like watching bartenders work, but you give me that look, the one that says, Don’t even with the bartenders. I’m RIGHT HERE. The man next to us orders one of the specials of the night, a giant slab of meat that’s bone-in and costs $115 for the smaller portion, $135 for the larger. We aren’t here for meat, though, so we ignore that, get the focaccia (with roasted leeks! And green butter!), grilled scallops, mafaldini, and agnolotti. The mafaldini is a cacio e pepe with pink peppercorns. The agnolotti is stuffed with a sheep ricotta and has honey somewhere in there. I’m not the fondest of stuffed pastas (I typically find them too heavy, too much), but I love honey on things like pizza and pasta and fried chicken.
Uhm, so you know how you’re a chef and you cook and make pasta, too?
Yeah? you say, mouth half-open, a forkful of pasta paused en route to your mouth as you get ready to laugh.
Can you make this agnolotti for me?
You laugh, eat your pasta. Why did I know you were going to say that? I can make you a lot of other things, too. I do make pasta — pretty good pasta, if I say so myself.
I know, so maybe you can make your own riff on this but still use the sheep ricotta and honey, and I don’t know, throw some Calabrian chili oil in there or something to add a kick to it?
Don’t you make pasta at home? I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to make you that — or anything at all, honestly …
Okay, yeah, I can make decent pasta noodles, but you don’t want to see how hideously I fold things. I can’t even fold dumplings pretty.
As long as they taste good, that’s all that counts.
Wow, don’t even. I’ve seen photos of your food. You plate things with tweezers, and they’re beautiful.
I’d eat whatever you make, you say, and you pause, water glass raised as you laugh again, eyebrows high on your forehead. Oh my god, are you scraping off the peppercorns?!
… yes …? I’m … not the biggest fan of pepper. I kinda don’t like pepper, whether it’s black or pink or rainbow.
We could’ve ordered something else! The spaghetti, for one! I think it was lemons, pine nuts, and parmigiano? Or even the rigatoni!
It’s fine — I like mafaldini, and I like the idea of cacio e pepe? I just … wish there’d be less pepe?
Good to know, you say. I’ll keep that in mind and never make it for you.
Cool. Can you also not put cilantro in anything you make for me?
Yeah, don’t worry. I’ve watched you pick cilantro off your tacos. I’ll also remember not to use too much cucumber in anything.