When dining solo, some keep it simple, while others indulge

Eating alone.

For some, it’s a sad and lonely-sounding phrase, bringing to mind resignation and lukewarm microwave dinners shoveled down in front of the TV.

For others, it’s a phrase that tastes of utter freedom. To eat whatever one wishes, without regard to kids’ nutritional needs or a spouse’s tastes. To create a quickly prepared meal that doesn’t involve a single pan, mixing bowl or measuring spoon. To enjoy, for once, all of the dishes that spouses and kids absolutely loathe.

Open a can. Grill a steak. Order out. Pick something up. Go right to dessert. Whatever. It’s just you, for once, so let it rip.

Take Patty Barba, who turns family dinnertime into solo snack time on those rare occasions she’s not dining with her family.

"When I cook for the family, especially in our culture — we’re Mexican — we’re used to having tortillas and beans with everything," says Barba, owner of Patty’s Closet Fashion Boutique. "So you make chicken and you make rice or beans to accompany it, with tortillas. You have the whole feast."

But, Barba says, "if it’s me, alone, and my husband and son are gone, I’ll get a small bowl of cottage cheese with salsa and chips. That’s my dinner.

"I just love having snacks, and they’re more meal-driven," Barba explains. "So they sit down and want to have the whole meat-and-potatoes thing, and I’m more like, ‘I’ll have some veggies with dip.’ "

Barba does, however, set limits on what she will and won’t eat when dining alone. For instance, "I could never have dessert as a meal," she says. "I could never have something sweet as a meal."

Catherine Margles has no such qualms. When she’s dining sans husband and kids — her twin sons turn 3 this week — Margles’ dinnertime indulgence probably will be "some form of dairy or ice cream."

"I’d have some nice yogurt," says Margles, founder and president of Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas. Or, even, "two flavors of yogurt.

"If I’m going to be on my own, it’s going to be something that doesn’t require cooking, because I do that for a living. And, quite honestly, I have some of the best chefs in the city working for me."

And, because those chefs probably aren’t making yogurt during classes, yogurt it will be when Margles dines alone.

Susan Lednicky is practical when it comes to solo dining. If she were facing dinnertime without her husband, "I’d just choose whatever’s left over in the fridge," says Lednicky, a nutrition educator with Nevada Cooperative Extension.

And, Lednicky continues, "if I’m by myself and I don’t have any leftovers, then I might eat a sandwich.

"I know, when I was younger, before I was married, I’d sit down and eat a bowl of rice, and that’d be dinner. But as we’ve had kids and I’ve gotten older, I guess, my choices have changed."

One classic dining-alone strategy is to take advantage of the opportunity to cook for yourself something that nobody else in the house likes. That’s the tack Lednicky says her husband, Rudy, would take.

"My husband, he’d go out and buy some chicken livers and make them," she says. "Nobody else in the house likes chicken livers. I can’t even stand the smell of liver."

Bob Ansara, owner of Ricardo’s Mexican Restaurant, enjoys several foods when he’s dining alone, including ice cream, spicy peanuts and beer.

"But my all-time favorite is pizza," Ansara says. "Absolutely. It’s my favorite food if I’m just going to eat something."

Even so, Ansara can’t resist doing a bit of cooking whenever he orders one.

"I’m a traditionalist. My favorite pizza is pepper and mushrooms," he says. "But our little twist in our family is, when we take pizza home, we fry it in olive oil. That way, it crisps it up."

Chef Mark LoRusso of Botero at Encore at Wynn Las Vegas usually will cook for himself, even when he’s dining alone, although he will keep things simple.

One favorite solo meal, for example, is to roast a bone-in chicken breast to enjoy with spinach and — here’s a shortcut he otherwise wouldn’t take — already-cooked brown rice from Whole Foods Market.

"Most of the time, I’ll cheat with the brown rice," LoRusso says.

John Bisci, media relations manager for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, also hits the kitchen when he’s dining alone.

"I love to cook," Bisci says, so when his wife is away, "I usually make a regular meal anyway. One of my favorite foods is rib-eye steak, so I’ll make myself a steak and a salad."

Or, Bisci adds, "maybe I’ll go to Grimaldi’s (Coal Brick-oven Pizzeria) and bring home a thin-crust pizza. But there’s nothing earth-shattering here. I don’t get 60 bags of M&Ms and a can of Red Bull."

Chef Christopher Lindsay, an instructor at Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas, and Mindie Johnson, his girlfriend of 10 years, share the cooking at their home. But one dish Lindsay might prepare when he’s breakfasting alone is a simple, but way better-tasting, take on a fast-food breakfast sandwich.

Lindsay’s version includes pan-seared ham, scrambled eggs and Muenster cheese on a toasted bagel.

In addition, a snack that Lindsay occasionally makes for himself is likely to remain his alone: Hard-boiled eggs served with a dip of soy sauce and rice-wine vinegar.

His girlfriend doesn’t like it? "Absolutely not," Lindsay says. "She looks at me, ‘What the hell are you eating?’ "

Chef Theo Schoenegger, executive chef of Sinatra at Encore, grew up in northern Italy in a culinary tradition in which meats and wild game — hare, grouse, "all the things nobody else likes" — were prized.

"So, I was brought up on extraordinary foods," says Schoenegger. However, the problem now is that "my family, they’re mostly vegetarian. So forget about getting them to eat any of those things."

Schoenegger concedes that he’s eating a lot less meat these days than he used to. But when he does have the rare opportunity to dine alone, Schoenegger’s favorite solo repast will be "some charcuterie, some great foie gras and a great glass of wine."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.

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