Thursday, May 28, 2020
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Fine Dining and Breathing

In the last few weeks, I can understand that it may have been irksome to see thousands of college students flood their Snapchat stories, timelines and other feeds with a presumably overly sentimental post on their last first day of school. By the fourth post its redundancy may have read as purely unnecessary and insincere.

But it is the harsh reality that we, seniors, are going to be thrown into the real world in a matter of months, that compels us to voice this moment.

This week, I encountered my last first day of school at UC Irvine. I am now a fourth-year Literary Journalism major with an anxiety that grows the closer I get to D-Day, graduation. My day of battle with making something out of myself, independent of this university, is a challenge that “thrills” me.

Coincidentally, The Halal Guys, a New York inspired restaurant in Costa Mesa, came to my senior fears’ rescue by offering me comfort and a distraction with their delicious Middle Eastern and Mediterranean inspired food.

I ended this loaded day with an unofficial celebratory dinner with some newspaper team members at the restaurant’s private pre-opening event. I have never eaten at one of their franchises, so starting the new year with new food ended up being very appropriate.

Once I walked into the restaurant, their respected logo which has been making its rounds on food carts in the streets of New York for 25 years, was the first to greet me on my right. I was also struck by the room’s vibrant colors of red and yellow.

I ordered one of their signature items, the chicken and gyro platter, and embarked once I was seated.

I was immediately overwhelmed with how deliciously giving this American Halal plate was. It consisted of chicken, gyro, pita, rice, lettuce, and tomatoes. I also cannot forget to highlight how everything was topped with their savory, renowned “secret white sauce.”

I mixed and matched the different elements of the plate, and enjoyed a unique, tasty bite every time.

The food is not remotely oily or saturated with sodium, but is large which leaves you with the homely, healthy satisfaction  similar to dinner made by your beloved Ma.

My favorite part of the meal was the amazing falafel. This traditional, Middle Eastern dish is a small, deep-fried ball made usually from some kind of peas or beans. It has a crispy texture and is soft and moist inside.

While enjoying my food, an old UCI acquaintance came by my table to speak to one of my team members, Brendan. I recognized the face as one of the older, intimidating guests my journalism instructor once invited to class to talk about his writing involvements and work with the local magazine, OC Weekly.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that almost anyone who is older than me or is at a place where I want to be professionally intimidates me. Therefore, it is incredibly unlike me to just speak up to my apparent mentors.

However, once he was at our table, I saw it as an opportunity to seek advice from him about this sensitive place I am floating in between: senior year and the upcoming transition to post-grad independence.

He admitted that he filled out and forwarded at least several applications everyday for weeks once he graduated. He emphasized to approach everyday after college with an objective and sense of commitment; if you set a project for yourself, then complete it. He also, most of all, endearingly shared that it was possible to get where you want but that it requires you to really work.

Prior to this evening, I expected to just taste and fall madly in love with some new foods as per usual. However, I did not anticipate to gain two worthy, sneaky pounds and a small dose of reassurance and optimism.

For the last few years, I have always dreaded the questions: “What do you plan to do with your major after you graduate?” and “Can I read your articles?” I have been too focused on enhancing my writing and reporting to ever let myself think that far ahead. This view of myself as “a work in progress” also stopped me from sharing my work with friends for a while because I was always too embarrassed.

This vulnerability has thus drawn me to crown many people in my mind as mentors, such as journalism professors, writers, journalists, and the like. So I cannot emphasize enough that I did appreciate his two cents of advice.

Now I am not going to tattoo Charles’s few sentences of input onto my arm because I was so immensely inspired. However, it is pretty significant that I started my year by voicing my main anxiety and did it to someone who has surpassed it.

I concluded my first meal at the Halal Guys with Baklava, a dessert I am sure was strictly designed for royalty. This pastry consists of thin layers of unleavened dough with honey, syrup, and nuts. It is incredibly sweet and almost requires a glass of milk for every bite. It would honestly be ideal if my last three quarters at UCI could match up to the bountiful richness of this pastry.

But overall, the nonstop, unexpected sentiments of newness of today — new food, new people, and new advice — is a refreshing, great way to start this new year.