Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weren't we supposed to be welcomed by the lollipop guild?

(Note: I am trying to really apply my goal of appreciating my locality, no matter where I am. First post of the year is for when I went around my home base of Walnut Creek.)

When I have a ‘night on the town’, sometimes I play a game called ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’. It consists of having a general plan but basically when we stop at a place, strike up a conversation with someone there and ask where to go next and (if applicable) what to order. I always have a backup plan if I hit a roadblock, but in general, people are more than eager to give their advice about places they like.

This has a few advantages : I often go to places that I otherwise would miss, it prevents me from staying at one place and running up a huge tab, it gives me the feeling that I am actually doing something instead of warming a seat and consuming empty calories.

So, one autumn evening, a friend is visiting so we start at home in Walnut Creek. I ask Wife where we should go and she suggests Shiro (formerly Sushi Groove) and she doesn’t care what we order.

So we walk to Shiro and the place is mostly empty. I recognize the bartender, Blake, and order a hot sake to warm me up. I ask how the economy is affecting business and he notes that it’s really sporadic, but the place is doing ok. One thing I found interesting was the opening of a huge Cheesecake Factory on the other end of town that other restaurant owners were concerned would cause a huge drop in business. Fortunately for them, the "Cheesecake Effect" was a myth and things are the same as ever. I think to myself about all the empty calories I am consuming and know that a different "Cheesecake Effect" is definitely not a myth and I'll have to run some extra miles over the coming week to burn it off.

Blake points us to the next stop: Prima’s bar to order Manhattans. It’s a semi-upscale Italian restaurant a few blocks away. (The line between fancy and casual dining is really blurred in this area. Basically you will have a fancy place filled with people in jeans because they have enough money to buy the place and don't care about dress codes.) The bartender comes over and asks what we want, we say that we were sent there to order Manhattans. She chuckles and says, “Oh, I know who sent you here. Blake.”

We get our drinks and they are excellent. We decide to order some food, ask what’s good, and order the flatbread pizzetta. When it comes, I am shocked. It is quite possibly the best pizza slice I have had in my life. This isn’t a pizza joint, but I make a mental note that if I have a hankering for a top-shelf slice instead of a pepperoni and mushroom monster from a delivery place that I must come back here.

Feeling relaxed and happy, we nurse our drinks. They close the doors and I ask to settle up, but they assure me that there is no rush and we can hang out while they go through their closing work. I offer to help bus some tables but they laugh and decline. They turn up the radio and it’s set to a random download from the Pandora website. (If you haven’t seen Pandora, basically you enter a song or artist and it makes a ‘station’ that chooses random music that it thinks you will like.) After a few 80s hits, I ask what the station is set to, and the manager responds “Eye of the Tiger”. Brilliant.

A short night, but a fun one. Once again, the yellow brick road led me somewhere new and proved that I can still travel in my own backyard.

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