The first time I ventured into the residential part of Maple Lawn I was entirely creeped out. It reminded me of trailers I had seen for The Truman Show. So evocative, so derivative, so many perfect details that reminded one of real places without actually being a real place. At least that is how it felt to me. Like a movie set: beautiful, but fake. If there is such a thing as being the victim of emotional architectural manipulation, that is how I felt.
I have since met real people who live in Maple Lawn, and who are quite happy to live there. And I am also keenly aware that my personal experience doesn't automatically translate into the truth for all people. I'm sure there are people who venture into Columbia who have similar feelings about our neighborhoods, with the added discomfort of feeling that this is a movie set that's getting rather worn around the edges. A less-than-important back lot, perhaps.
Last night, after saying we would for almost a year, my husband and I went to dinner at Ananda. We were the recipients of a gift certificate from my husband's guitar class parents. They knew we love Indian food. We had heard so many rave reviews. But setting aside an evening for just the two of us when neither of us was sick, tired, or committed elsewhere took a lot longer than either of us had expected.
What can I say? Ananda is the perfect date night restaurant. The ambience is perfect. You will be able to hear your dinner companion speak. A table for two is still large enough for you to reach your hand across the table and give your partner's hand a squeeze. Service is gracious, the pace is smooth, unhurried. We arrived just before sunset and the views around us as the sky changed from light to dark were gorgeous.
Just enough dark. Just enough light. Fairy lights around the ceiling, plus a multitude of tea lights fluttering around the edges of the room gave a magical glow. And a fire in the fireplace. (Were those real gaslights at the entrance?) Many carefully thought out details combine for a feeling of warmth. Eating dinner at Ananda is a special occasion.
The food was unbelievably fresh and gave me the feeling that someone had lovingly cooked for me in their home kitchen. I tried things I hadn't had before, and loved it all. My husband was able to order two favorites from his Manchester conservatory days that he's never before found in the U.S. : onion bhaji, and a chicken Madras. If we hadn't been so comfortably full we would have ordered dessert, because we really could have stayed there for hours.
In fact, we ran into some of my husband's friends from work on the way out and stayed a while longer to chat. They were sitting at a table in the bar area, which was a very popular place to be on a Friday night. A note: I made reservations through the Ananda website, and it's clear that reservations are recommended.
Columbia often seems to be the home of a continuous string of chain restaurants. I have been hard-pressed to come up with that many that I consider "date-y" or romantic. Ananda hits the mark. It is an oasis of all the good things in a world that's often too fast, too cruel, too cheaply made.
Would I move to Maple Lawn to be closer? Probably not. But maybe, if someone built me a house directly next door to Ananda, I might consider it.