Levi Hastings

The Chicken for Two at Le Pichet

It happens to everyone. You are in love with someone. This person is not in love with you. Maybe it makes no sense for you to be in love with this person, maybe this person is in love with someone else, maybe this person isn't even gay. No matter. A feeling is a feeling, and unrequited love is one of the hungriest.

He took me to Le Pichet for dinner. I will never forget it. It was my birthday, which explains why he paid for it. (In my imagination, he paid for it for other reasons.) Le Pichet is a small, bustling French restaurant on First Avenue, with tiled floors and mirrors on the walls. A chalkboard publicizes the day's cheeses and desserts, and the customers and servers look chic and sometimes speak French. But it's not pretentious and it's not stuffy. It's my favorite restaurant in the world.

Le Pichet has the most romantic dinner in America, the chicken for two. It's a whole chicken; each of you gets half. Your half-chicken always comes with extras, and the extras change—maybe greens, maybe lentils, maybe bits of bacon—but the chicken doesn't: salty, steaming, super moist. It's lip-smackingly delicious and nourishing and happy-making, and it's cooked perfectly.

Because each chicken is cooked to order, you have to wait for an hour for yours. This gives you an uninterrupted 60 minutes to look into the eyes of whomever is across the table from you, or eavesdrop on the people next to you (the tables are close together), or try the French wines, or eat some snails (Le Pichet is the only place I've ever eaten a snail—tasted like butter), or just sit there anticipating the perfect main course.

When it arrives, when your date takes a bite, he will look at you as if he loves you. What he loves is the chicken he's eating. What he loves is that you love this place, and that you shared it with him. That's a wonderful feeling, even if he doesn't love you back. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE

Duck Laap at the Edge of the World

Four years ago, as newlyweds, my husband and I spent a week in Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos, a tiny village on the Nam Ou river that was accessible only by boat. Every stiflingly hot and humid morning we sat on the front porch of our rented thatched hut reading books, drinking coffee, and sweating.

Every day for lunch, we ordered the same things: sticky rice, green papaya salad, and the local specialty of flash-fried, sun-dried river weed, salty and crackly. The innkeeper would walk onto the lawn in front of our hut holding a large bamboo stick that she used to knock a papaya out of its tree. The salad was bracingly spicy, drenching us anew in sweat. Afterward, we'd retreat inside to nap under a mosquito net, our sticky limbs intertwined.

After the sun set and the village's generator had been turned on, giving the town electricity for a few hours each day, we walked to the same restaurant each night. We sat on the outdoor patio, dwarfed by the limestone karsts surrounding us, sipped Beer Lao, and watched the river flow. The sky grew inky blue, then black. The lights flickered on and off (mostly off), and a sea of stars emerged from the darkness. We'd tear into a plate of duck laap with our hands—the musky, rich meat, mixed with fresh chilies, lime leaf, lemongrass, and mint, was so flavorful that it seemed unreal. We licked the plate and our fingers clean. Then we'd order another serving. We had nothing but time and everything lay before us.

You can still take a boat to Muang Ngoi Neua, which has had full electricity since 2013, but now a newly built road runs directly there. Now my husband and I have jobs and a baby and are always pressed for time. But whenever we eat Laotian food here in Seattle—at Viengthong, Thai Savon, or Song Phang Kong—I understand, with an intensity that borders on disbelief, how far and wide and deep love can grow. ANGELA GARBES

Storming the Bastille with a Special Fella

It took me six years to fall in love with my friend, and two more to say anything about it, because I thought, as I'm essentially a straight man in a woman's body, the sex with him would be something like that between a human and a petrified tree. After discovering one night that in fact we were both either humans or fossils, we decided to go on a real date, to Bastille in Ballard.

My wool suit was soaked in sweat when I arrived, and the Roman candle I brought in place of a flower had fallen out of my pocket. He was wearing his grandfather's 80-year-old black tux complete with tails, white scarf, and top hat. He was the scariest fucking thing I had ever seen in my life. The gravity of the moment hit me—I was going on an actual date with my best friend to an actual fancy date restaurant, and we were both wearing suits. I'm usually the one with the tie, OH FUCK. I thought do not screw this up and stretched upward to kiss him (also surreal for someone who's usually the tie-wearer), and we got a table in the glass-walled patio.

The light in that room was gold—and with the high ceilings and wicker chairs, it felt like Rick's in Casablanca. We ate a lemon thing and a chocolate thing that probably would have been delicious if I had any saliva. Mostly we drank—many glasses of neat Four Roses whiskey. Of the sweet things he said, there were some I'd heard before, but his careful choice of words suggested he'd been thinking about them. I was struck by how, even beyond his appearance, beauty was his predominant characteristic. We held hands on the way to his house, and the feeling of that shocked me in a way it hadn't since high school.

Later that night, he found me staring out the window of his dark room naked, and he asked if I was practicing to flash the elementary school across the street. There was a cherry tree with white flowers in the yard that looked fluorescent at 3 a.m., and I was staring at it because I knew I would remember it forever. We went on like that for only two or three months, but I didn't screw it up—I predict we'll be friends for as long as I remember that tree. SARAH GALVIN

An Unfortunate Episode Involving a Greyhound and a Grilled Cheese

Twenty-four hours before Daniel and I stepped onto the Greyhound bus, he told me he loved me for the first time. He said it when we were both naked, about to get in the shower at my dad's girlfriend's house in suburban Philadelphia. No one else was home. Light poured in through the window. His hands were trembling.

I told Daniel I loved him, too. I was 21 years old, and he was the first person I had ever really, truly, crazy, passionately loved. We met as college students in New York City, and the trip to Philadelphia was the first time he'd met my family.

Before heading back to New York, giddy with the naked confession of love we had just shared, Daniel made a request: to eat one final Philadelphia cheesesteak. The problem was that we were stuck in the suburbs, where it's harder to find a good one whiz wit. Pressed for time, we stopped at a dingy sandwich joint that I had never been to before. He ordered the cheesesteak, and I got a grilled cheese that, for some strange reason, had mayonnaise.

Not long after we got on the Greyhound bus, I started feeling dizzy. Daniel was kissing my forehead and my cheek, but I wanted to throw up. Was this love? Maybe it was just the movement of the bus, or the greasy food smell that seems to accompany every Greyhound ride between Philly and New York. I promised myself I'd hold it down until we got back to Daniel's apartment in Brooklyn.

Somehow I managed. But within 30 seconds of crossing the apartment's threshold, I ran to the bathroom to throw up violently, and continued doing so for the next 12 hours. I lay on Daniel's bed the next day, completely immobile, breathing raggedly through my stale mouth while he tried, in vain, to feed me oatmeal. "I'm in love with you," he said, attempting to spoon me the instant Quaker Oats. "Gatorade," I told him weakly. "Gatorade." SYDNEY BROWNSTONE

Making Red Sauce at Home for People I Love

Everyone's first and most lasting food love affair is with their mother's cooking. I will never love any applesauce as much as my mother's. I've even tried to re-create it myself, following her recipe exactly—and nope. So how does a stepmother cook for the children she loves? Is her cooking doomed from the start to be an inadequate substitute? Um, yes. But only if you think of it as a comparison game.

My secret shame is that I rarely cook for my stepkids without comparing myself to their mother, who is a great cook. I approach the stove with apprehension. I try to duplicate the special red sauce that involves marinara, cream, tomato paste, and herbs in a combination that forever eludes me. I deliver the plates to the table with anxiety and doomed hope. This is my embarrassed subconscious wish that I were their mother—a taboo to even bring up.

But here's what I do about it: I let it be. I cut myself a break. Of course I'm jealous of my stepkids' mother! She had many more years with them! At the same time, I must admit that stepmothering has special benefits, too, perhaps even ones a mother could be jealous of. In many ways, that is what makes both of us lucky.

It's not about the red sauce; it's about love. The red sauce, even for stepmothers, is always about love. JEN GRAVES