Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dining Alfresco

Outdoor dining: love it or hate it?

It's something about which most people I know have a strong opinion, and I happen to love it. Whether it's coffee out on my deck or a romantic dinner in a secluded garden strung with twinkling lights, nothing says "summer" more than enjoying a meal outside.

But there's outdoor dining and then there's its ugly step-sister: urban outdoor dining. If you live in Bergen County, NJ, it's highly likely that alfresco is nothing more than a few tables crammed together on a busy sidewalk situated along an even busier street. The roar of motorcycles and aroma of bus exhaust hardly creates a desirable atmosphere, and yet that's what most local restaurants have to offer. Which is why I understand when any dining companion chooses to sit indoors instead.

This week I've been fortunate to experience the upside of eating outside. In one 48-hour stretch, I ate lunch on a cliff high above the Wanaque Reservoir; sipped a beer on a patio at one end of Greenwood Lake; had dinner on my deck overlooking a small creek; enjoyed breakfast on an outdoor deck on Lake Hopatcong (where it was so chilly they had the overhead heaters on); and stopped for a late lunch in Frenchtown at a cafe beside the Delaware River. The only time noise was a factor was in Frenchtown, where the cafe is at the foot of the bridge that leads in and out of town. But even then we could have chosen to sit in the screened-in porch, far removed from the bustling road.

I savored every minute of every meal. Being in the open air always creates an illusion of space, even when you're within spitting distance of the next table. There sure was plenty to look at--from hawks swooping overhead to sailboats glinting in the sun. I relished the cool breezes. Succumbed to the water's hypnotic powers. Was soothed by the sounds of birds and crickets. And the food? Well, somehow it just tasted better! The colors were more vibrant. The flavors more distinct. I chewed more slowly. Appreciated each bite.

If only this sort of experience could be replicated by restaurants closer to home. Where the best tables offered a fresh perspective--and a view worth seeing.

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