Eat your heart out

Reclaiming special Sactown food spots from the memory of old loves

Illustration by Rob Zammarchi

Friends tell me I’m somewhat of a romantic. Of course, that can be a blessing and a curse—a blessing if you’re one of those people who’s managed to stay in a long-term marriage or relationship, but more of a curse if you’ve bounced back and forth between “single” and “in a relationship” status for large blocks of your adult life, like I have.

One problem with having those aforementioned romantic tendencies comes when you form attachments to places. They can become colored by your experiences with another person—that special restaurant where you realized your feelings for one another had suddenly shifted from casual to sweetly intense, or the coffee joint where you spent hours getting to know each other. It’s all well and good when you’re still an item, but should things go south, you’re left with a bunch of places that can trigger some bittersweet memories. How can you reclaim those places for yourself and enjoy them once more, without any painful emotional subtext?

For me, Andy Nguyen’s on Broadway was one such locale. I’d never really explored its charms until I embraced a vegetarian diet after my marriage fell apart at the end of 2006. By the following summer’s end, I’d entered into a nice, warm relationship with a woman close to my age. We got into a comfortable routine of long walks through leafy Land Park neighborhoods that would culminate in dinners at Nguyen’s, with Wish Fulfilling Jewel soup and Enlightened Mind spring rolls.

A year and change later, that relationship was toast. And while it was painful going back to Andy Nguyen’s post-relationship, I got to a point where I had to face down my misgivings and reclaim an old favorite. How could I live without Wish Fulfilling Jewel soup?

When you’ve been a serial monogamist who’s lived in Sacramento for a while, like I have, our local map contains a chronology of events from relationships: the Indian restaurant (now Kathmandu Kitchen) on Broadway, where the girlfriend from the mid-’90s and I would eat before hitting the Tower Theater; the Weatherstone on 21st Street, which provided a setting for a number of my relationships; the La Bou at Del Rio Road and South Land Park Drive where I spent lots of morning coffee time with my Andy Nguyen’s lady friend. And then there’s the 10 years with my now ex-wife, which—inexplicably—I can’t seem to remember today, except for the Kaveri Madras Cuisine restaurant on Fulton Avenue—and maybe a weird attempted Christmas dinner at Sam’s Hof Brau.

The key, if there is one, is the knowledge that painful memories will subside over time. And if you really do like a place, and you don’t want to write it off, then round up a couple of close friends and go there again, so that you have some nice new experiences that overwrite the old tapes. Life is too short to let go of food we love just because of stupid things like broken hearts. Besides, it might make you feel better.