True Love Bites at Gran Forno, but Can He Pass the Picky Eater Test?

Categories: Love Bites
Hang on to your sporks, folks; I think I've met "the one" -- the mac to my cheese, the bangers to my mash, the nilla to my wafer. 

After decades of dating countless guys, some of whom possessed nothing more enticing than a penis and an appetite, I was just about to consider either joining a nunnery or enlisting in some obscure culinary school where I could bake the perfect man. (I initially thought a gingerbread version would suffice but then reconsidered after admitting it would be too tempting to chow his head off during a monthly PMS-induced frenzy.) 

It began with an email with the subject line: "Love your writing. Coffee or caramels?" It certainly caught my attention, though the Good Will Hunting reference went right over my pretty little head.

He wrote that he worked with a cousin of mine years ago in California and had heard about me but was waiting until he moved back to South Florida before reaching out. I grilled him with email queries to prove the story was legit, then eventually shared my digits. Our first phone conversation was filled with laughs, and the chemistry was palpable, so I agreed to a lunch date.

Per his suggestion, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I met him at Gran Forno, a charming little Italian Bakery in downtown Fort Lauderdale. We drank Orangina and scarfed down enormous turkey sandwiches made with fresh-baked focaccia, ever conscious of the flour dusting that kept accumulating around our mouths. I wasn't loving the fact that I just swallowed enough sugar and carbs to stretch out my dress, but I was so smitten with this new prince that I don't even think I bothered to chew.

As the backdrop of pastries seemed to form a swirling halo around his head, I wondered, What's wrong with this guy? He's handsome, charming, funny, smart, polite, tall, dressed decently, has a great job, loves animals, recycles... There has to be some flaw. Is he an escaped prisoner? Is there some hidden tattoo on his inner thigh with his mother's likeness? Then, just a mere hour into the date, the ugly truth emerged: He was a picky eater. 

I fretted. How could he hang with the Diva of Dining forevermore?

The only way I could determine if he was up to the challenge was to bring him to Pairings, the New Times-sponsored event last month. Sure it wouldn't be romantic spending our second date shoulder-to-shoulder with scads of people determined to get their ticket price's worth of wine and eats, but it was the best way to see how he would handle feeding himself sans menus.

After visiting at least 15 of the 50 tables, I'm happy to report he emerged a champ. Though anything containing visible signs of seafood, pork, or mushrooms was quickly pushed onto my plate, he unapologetically shoveled in layered dip from Rivals, Coca Cola beef ribs from Lola's, gnocchi from Bova Prime, and more than a few hunks of "smashing pumpkin" and "key lime twist and shout" breads from Home Slice. Hope surged through me faster than the four cans of La Croix I stole from the distracted sample guy.

Then, just as I finished berating the Stork's folks for closing down the Las Olas location years ago and shoveling down at least three of their decadent cupcakes, we bumped into one of my favorite local food critics. He was holding hands with a darling blonde whom he introduced as his fiancée. Without missing a beat, I blurted out, "Congrats! We should totally double date sometime!" I guess I assumed my favorite new dish would want to stay in the game, and perhaps would even be up for socializing with another serious foodie or two in the near future. "Yeah," the critic agreed, with a smile. "I always need people to hit new restaurants with. Especially steakhouses, since my fiancée is a vegetarian."

That was the sign from up above I sought. Heck, if he could vow to live with a veggie lover for the rest of his days, snarfing down animal flesh as she daintily gnaws on carrot sticks at the same table, I could certainly make it happen with Mr. Persnickety. I figure, if my guy is willing to broaden his epicurean horizons, I'm open to eliminating the number of potential suitors I had penciled in for future wine-and-dines. But I refuse to give up hope. Maybe someday I can convince my darling new beau that ceviche is an aphrodisiac.

Gran Forno Las Olas is located at 1235 E. Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-467-2244, or visit granfornolasolas.lbu.com.

Freelance writer Riki Altman eats everything that won't try and eat her first (with exceptions, of course) and dates younger men, older men, and older men who act like young men, along with locals, tourists, illegal aliens, and just plain aliens. Love Bites is a compilation of what happens when her dining and dating ordeals collide. Sometimes, it just ain't pretty.



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