Food Issue

Tampon-Sized Snacks

The Hot Dog Challenge

Suckin' the Bone

Breakup Restaurants

Notes on Food

Cooks and Cowboys

Sweets for the Sweet

Pizza of Death

Pim and Francie

Like a Clear Blue Flame

Of all the modern rituals that lend themselves to grand gestures, dining out seems to most generously stage the niceties that, like most rituals, reveal the machinations behind society: During dinner with parents, you prove your generosity by ordering an entire bottle of wine; when dining with the boss, you refrain from becoming too drunk. You might show your thoughtfulness to a date by signaling the busboy for more water for him. And of course, there's the whole "who will grab the bill first" ritual, sometimes complete with hand-slapping miming motions.

But by far the most anthropologically revealing dining-out ritual is the Breakup Dinner. Performed by couples worldwide, the Breakup Dinner unveils itself to witnesses with immediately recognizable grace: When you're seated for dinner, the hostess inexplicably leads you in a wide arc around the breakup table. Then, as you open your menu, you might note the static electricity of strained silence emanating from said table. Sipping your water, you glance curiously over. The couple sits with perfect posture, each staring unwaveringly at his or her own untouched dinner plate, each with the congested expression of someone holding back very mean statements. One of them may finger a fork, delicately but with clear, if repressed, intent.

Then you realize: Oh, god. They're breaking up.

Nothing is more awkward than having to either serve a Breakup Dinner in progress, or to sit next to one. It's worst when you're in close enough vicinity to intercept eye contact, which always leads to the possibility that you might be asked to take sides. "Did you hear what he said?" one of the breaking-up diners might demand of you, as you carefully insert a portion of chicken Marsala into your mouth.

Once I witnessed a couple breaking up over dinner at Flowers, in the University District. As restaurants go, Flowers is a particularly poor choice for breaking up, because it features low light, large candelabras, and a lot of mirrors. When you are breaking up, you do not want a romantic atmosphere; you do not want open flame; you especially do not want to glance angrily away only to confront your ex-lover's equally angry gaze in an inconveniently placed reflection. Not only that, but Flowers is a small place, with not much in the way of furnishings to cushion loud conversation. The couple I witnessed seemed completely unaware that anyone else was in the restaurant. "That just proves you never think of anyone but yourself!" one of them shouted. "Oh, and you do?" the other replied. Those of us around them shifted in our chairs, embarrassed but operatically fascinated, as their server, wearing a contemptuous facial expression, delicately plucked their untouched dinners away.

A good breakup restaurant should feature a tolerant waitstaff, large menus to hide behind, easily accessible escape routes, stiff drinks, a minimum of sharp objects, water served without ice (more convenient to throw), ready parking or bus routes, some kind of sound-dampening surround, and the probability that no one you know will be there.

One option is the famously strange restaurant Bizzarro Italian Cafe, on the cusp of Wallingford and Green Lake. Bizzarro serves molecularly stable pasta that won't upset your already queasy stomach. But the primary reason it's a good breakup environment is that Bizzarro sets itself up as a kind of theatrical event: objects hang from the ceiling like suspended stage sets; the waitstaff is notoriously eccentric--in short, people go there looking for a spectacle.

Another highly recommended breakup joint is the Aladdin Gyrocery on University Way. This cave-like eatery mostly serves takeout, so it's usually empty, and you can smoke inside. Its primary attraction, however, is that it's open until 2:00 a.m., and the waitstaff mostly ignores you, so you won't have your "discussion" curtailed by an aproned interloper.

The Aladdin, however, does not serve stiff drinks, so you may wish to consider breaking up at the Liquid Lounge, at the Experience Music Project. The Liquid Lounge serves drinks with such ridiculous names as "Blue Suede Booze" ($6.95, house cosmopolitan) and the "Lovely Rita Margarita" ($6.25) providing much-needed comic relief; also, you will not know anyone here because the place only draws out-of-towners. The real bonus, though, is that the Liquid Lounge's drinks are so over-the-top strong you will soon be making out with complete strangers, not to mention your potential ex.