Catching up with Friends: Good Meals and the Art of the Check-Dance

When I think about catching up with friends my thoughts automatically go to “ooh, it would be fun to go to this/that restaurant with her.”  It’s rare for me to see friends without eating something with them.  I’m headed to New York tomorrow and will be reconnecting with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a while.  My calendar is filled with lunch plans with an old colleague, dinner with that friend, brunch with this couple, and so on.  I think sharing a meal is a great way to catch up with friends, but I find the inevitable “check-dance” where we fight over who is going to pay for the meal quite stressful.  I love you my friends but sometimes you have to let me win!!!

After going rock climbing with me the night before, Paula met me for lunch at Mint 54 the next day where we pretended we were in Italy, dining al fresco with our delicious pasta dishes and a bottle of rosé.  But San Francisco was doing what it does best and kept sending us bone-chilling winds all afternoon.  We stubbornly refused to relocate inside and instead, chose to move ourselves every 15 minutes or so, physically picking up our table and chairs to stay warm in the sun.  I know, idiots!  Paula really saved me after lunch by going to pick out sunglasses with me.  I may be perfectly happy and capable of doing just about everything by myself, but I really think shopping is best done accompanied by a girlfriend.

On Saturday I walked through Chinatown to North Beach to have coffee with Kelly, an awesome woman I met a few months ago in Buenos Aires.  It was so good to see her again and to hear about her exciting plans to travel around the world.  We promised to keep in touch and meet up somewhere on the other side of the globe..  The weather was so gorgeous that I didn’t hesitate in my decision to walk all the way over to Japantown where I had plans to see Sandy for lunch.

We hung out for a bit in Sandy’s beautiful Victorian home chatting about her talented girls, her flourishing business, and about an apparent summer obsession that’s sweeping the country – a series of books called “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  A thing about my traveling 9-10 months out of the year outside the U.S. is that I have no pop culture references for fun and witty conversation.  I’ve come to rely on my girlfriends, not only for helping me shop but to fill me in on what’s hip and cool and interesting in the world of entertainment and beyond…  Who else am I going to have silly conversations about this stuff?  I had no idea Miley Cyrus was engaged, Reese Witherspoon was remarried, and Kim Kardashian was married AND divorced while I was gone.

Well, back to reality and to my friends.  I had just missed Sandy’s birthday by a week and I was determined to do something nice for her.  I’ve lost count how many times she and Dave have treated me, and it was clearly my turn this time.  I can always trust her to take me to a yummy place, and this time Sandy, her sweet sweet Caroline, and I got to have a fun girlie lunch at OTD: Out the Door (a sister restaurant to Charles Phan’s Slanted Door) near Filmore.  We mostly chose from the special weekend/brunch menu, and had a feast of steamed bbq pork bun, grapefruit & jicama salad, soft scrambled eggs with dungeness crab, and chicken porridge.

I was seated closest to the waiter so I thought I had the check situation figured out and gleefully went to scoop up the check.  I knew my plans were foiled when Sandy glanced over and flashed me a sly smile.  She told me that while I had gone to the ladies room to wash my hands (BEFORE we placed our order) she took care of the bill.  I never even had a chance…  Something similar happened last week when I went to dinner with Mark.  He insisted that it was his turn to pick up the check (again, argh!), and told me that once he called a restaurant to make a reservation and during that call he gave them his credit card information to prevent any check-dancing later.  Now that, is some serious pre-planning and thinking.  I am such an amateur.

After a couple of days of fun in SF, it was time to head down south.  Paula and I caught an early evening CalTrain to spend the next two days in Silicon Valley.  Of course there were more meals, check-dances, and other shenanigans (I stayed at Kimpton hotel properties both in SF and Cupertino, and Paula & I took full advantage of their daily afternoon wine reception).  Kevin picked us up and we crashed a boys’ dinner at Kappo Nami Nami in Mountain View where we had a great Japanese meal (my first in six months).  Some of our favorites were eel with foie gras (had multiple orders), fish tempura (came with the crunchy bones and all), fresh scallops and uni, and salmon ochazuke.

The check-dance at Kappo Nami Nami was won by Marco.  He did it so casually that I dare say it was suave; I wasn’t anywhere near the action to even make an attempt.  Paula claimed the next dance at Gelato Classico across the street…

Peter came out the victor in the check-dance Sunday morning when we went to have breakfast at Hobee’s (unbelievable hunks of warm coffee cakes with sweet crunchy top, served with a dollop of butter).  Lunch that day was at a Thai place in Mountain View with Phil and Joy, with whom Kevin and I went to the Galapagos Islands last year.  Expecting their first child in September, both Joy and Phil were glowing, and I was thrilled to see them so happy.  As I excused myself to go to the bathroom I thought, “OK, here is my chance!”  But I was foiled again, this time by my own self and embarrassingly lost out to Kevin.  I had my credit card with me when I got up, but I made a wrong turn and missed the waitress.  Kevin and Phil, even Joy and Paula chuckled and laugh at my failure.  I really AM an amateur at this dance…

From Cupertino, Paula and I set our sights farther south to Monterey.  It was to be just the two of us to catch up and for me to treat her for her birthday (I tend to miss most of them…).  With all my girlfriends we have long since stopped giving each other gifts for our birthdays but we try our best to celebrate it in some manner.  Sometimes it’s with a trip, a shared meal, or even just with a note to say that we’re thinking of them.  It’s not easy with everyone’s schedules, work, family, and whatnot to plan so I’m really thankful and happy when we do get to see each other.  And with Paula, if there is good food and a place where we can walk, it’s a done deal.  So simply put, the itinerary I had in mind had us eating and walking for two days.

On the first day we drove towards Santa Cruz to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to kick off our road trip.  It was a beautiful day and with the tall majestic redwood trees at the beginning of the trail providing the shade we needed, we got off to a great start.  The redwoods at Henry Cowell weren’t the giant ones that you can drive a car through but they were amazing nonetheless.  We could get an idea of how big and old they are by looking at this cross section of a redwood tree.  In the photos below Paula is pointing at a sign that says “birth of Jesus”- i.e. this tree was ~2,000 years old.  We climbed up to the observatory and had a peak over to the Pacific Ocean, and tried our best to loop back down using a different trail.  We didn’t have a map for our 3 hour hike but all turned out well.

By the time we arrived in Monterey it was nearly 3PM and we were starving.  A friendly local pointed us to a neighborhood taco joint called Turtle Bay and we happily scarfed down a couple of tacos and I enjoyed a big glass of horchata (I really needed this Mexican food fix!).

After a brief stop at the hotel we went to get a drink at Estéban, a tapas place, where we encountered the dirtiest wine glasses we’d ever seen.  The place was quite pretty but those glasses were frightening…  Since we wanted to see the town, we took a long walk to the ocean, all the way over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium/Cannery Row and back ~4 miles.

Not wanting to pass up a chance to try a James Beard award nominated place in Monterey, we went over to Restaurant 1833 for dinner.  The food (particularly the bacon cheddar biscuits with maple chili butter) and our server’s recommendations were spot on.  We shared the charred octopus, kataifi wrapped shrimp, beet salad, and grilled endives.  We toasted to our good fortune, friendship, and most of all, to Paula’s birthday.  We finished our meal with a delicious bourbon pudding and I had my very first glass of absinthe.

I remember feeling blessed to have such wonderful friends, and to be able to enjoy and share this life with them.  I went to bed, happily looking forward to another day of hiking and good food in California.


Mint 54: 16 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, CA

Out the Door: 2232 Bush Street San Francisco, CA

Kimpton Hotels: various locations throughout the U.S.

Kappo Nami Nami: 240 Castro Street Mountain View, CA 94041

Gelato Classico: 241 Castro Street Mountain View, CA 94041

Hobee’s: Multiple locations in Silicon Valley

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: 101 North Big Trees Park Road
Felton, CA 95018

Turtle Bay Taqueria: 431 Tyler Street  Monterey, CA 93940

Hotel Abrego: 755 Abrego Street, Monterey, California 93940

Estéban: 700 Munras Ave Monterey, CA 93940

Restaurant 1833: 500 Hartnell Street, Monterey, CA 93940

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One Response to Catching up with Friends: Good Meals and the Art of the Check-Dance

  1. Thank’s for including the info/address of places you have stopped. The photos are entertaining too, not mentioning mouth watering. 🙂 Fae.

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