The Significance of Sur La Table

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Seeking escape from the heat radiating off of Broadway, I run into the nearest oasis I can find.  In this case, it’s Sur La Table.  It just might be the best place to break away from SoHo, since most of SoHo doesn’t follow you inside.  Everyone down here is more interested in the Kate Moss capsule collection at Top Shop or inhaling iced lattes through green plastic straws.  The stores are inevitably as crowded as the sticky streets.  Sur La Table, however, is the exception to the rule, apparently.  In New York City, there is a general flagging in demand for excessively expensive and delightfully frivolous kitchenware.

Before my move to the city six months ago, I was what you might call a collector of kitchen things: baking pans, roasting pans, woks for stir-frying, steamers, cookie cutters, even an ice cream maker donated by my mother (used once, of course).

I also had a bit of a problem with cups.  I love cups.  Vintage finds from random thrift stores.  Petite china coffee cups with confetti-cake sprinkle designs.  Rose and cream cups perfect for serving dessert.  Stout flecked-gray porcelain with brown wheat stalks stamped in — my mother abhorred these because they reminded her of the unfashionable part of growing up in the 1970s.

Knives.  One mustn’t for get about knives.  I had all kinds.  Knives with wooden handles for when I wanted to impress dinner guests with my good taste.  Knives with black handles that were good for cutting steak.  Bread knives.  A cleaver for squash and other tough articles.  Butter knives, although I find them silly and needless, though I shouldn’t be the judge on either account.  And as a housewarming present, my lovely friends D and X bequeathed unto me a charming set of cheese knives from the aforementioned Sur La Table.

There was nothing terribly bourgeoisie about my kitchen; it was just well-stocked.  My plates had chips in them, the floor was linoleum, the counters were a standard renter’s Formica.  I had dinner parties on a regular basis, inviting ten to twelve people to dine on mismatched dinnerware over mismatched placemats under a chandelier whose hung crystals gave off the most beautiful geometric shadows across the old coved ceilings.  I’d run out of the right dinner forks so half of my guests would be eating with the chubby-pronged ones intended only for salad.  But the food and company was always beyond palatable.

Before I fled the state and my old life, I packed up my cooking accoutrement into small boxes and tossed them into my mother’s attic to join other remnants from previous lives.  My vintage toaster that looks like the one I had when I was a child, the vintage blender whose motor elicits a burning smell whenever you make a smoothie, even the chandelier was dismantled – each little crystal taken off and placed into plastic bags, the cylindrical gold mesh cage rendered barren and lonesome.

It was all over.

What didn’t end up in my mother’s attic was donated to Goodwill.  I had no need for most of the stuff anymore.  My wine glasses, purchased from a Goodwill to begin with, went back to the shelves.  They weren’t proper wine glasses — more bulbous and round and probably better suited for port or something like that.  I loved them because they looked like a glass imitation of an unpretentious goblet.  My boyfriend at the time hated them and grimaced every time I pulled them out of the cupboards that never fully closed.

The martini glasses I purchased before moving in with my best friend into our first apartment?  Those went, too.  The margarita glasses followed suit, wrapped tightly in the remnants a stolen Los Angeles Times and placed in a plastic bag.

I didn’t need any of it anymore; I was moving to New York.  I came to look at those dinner parties as me turning prematurely lame and boring.  I had replaced dancing until 2 a.m., high off of energy drinks and perceived witty conversation, with playing Catch Phrase on a wine buzz.  I was twenty-five going on fifty.

I have not hosted one dinner party in my New York apartment.  I don’t have the spices, I don’t have the twelve-person table, I don’t have the twelve friends I would ordinarily fill that table with.

At first, I didn’t mind that my meals consisted of frozen spinach pancakes and a lump of salad if I felt like being creative.  I didn’t really care that I was eating alone all the time.  But then that itself began to eat at me.  I missed my old life.  I missed the dinner parties and the china cups, friends bringing over food for potlucks.  I missed calling my mom for her roasted chicken recipe despite the fact that I had made it nearly twenty times, never remembering and never writing it down.

Last night I sat on a bench, alone, in the middle of a busy cross-section of downtown.  Kids did tricks on their bikes and drank bottles of Miller High Life out of brown paper bags.  Old men dragged on their cigarettes wearily, their mouths marred in a star-shaped pucker from years of the same behavior.  The noisy racket of skateboard wheels knocking against pavement rolled on behind me.

It’s everything I always wanted about New York.  The life, the noise, the people.  But I felt so far removed from it all – so unengaged with the universe.  In that moment I missed my old life, my quiet life with my good friends, sitting around a table laughing about God knows what, I can’t remember.


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