Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lessons never learned

Why do I torture myself?

As I was plugging a quarter into the meter in front of the Pearl Dragon, a "pan-Asian" restaurant in Pacific Palisades, they came skipping excitedly down the sidewalk. Two little moppets with LED-flashing sneakers. Down the block, their mother was feeding the meter beside a hulking white Range Rover.

They dashed past me and into the foyer of the restaurant, impatiently dancing from foot to foot as they waited for their mom. As I sidled around them, the hostess asked me how many were in my party. "One," I told her firmly and I grabbed a stool at the bar, where the only other customer was a gentleman drinking a Tsingtao and watching the hockey game on TV.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. I'm sitting at the only place in Pacific Palisades with a full bar, at Happy Hour, seeking a dark, quiet place for a cocktail and a snack after work. I know better, but Josie's was closed, and parking was a mess by El Texate.

Pearl Dragon was once a typical American-Chinese restaurant called House of Lee, notable for possessing the only liquor license in this neighborhood whose homespun elitism earned it the nickname "Mayberry by the Sea." Today Pacific Palisades is a charming village populated by a demographic that skews wealthy and white.

I remember the moon-gate entrance of House of Lee on Sunset, but I never went in the place. Sometime after the millennium, it closed and re-opened as Pearl Dragon.

There's something alluring about a dark, quiet bar with a touch of exotica. Fans and pagodas, bamboo and lanterns. Rich red and black lacquer. A hint of intrigue that flickers behind the Chinoiserie screen. A tropical drink with an umbrella garnish. You can pretend you're in a noir film, meeting a mysterious stranger.

Except here. There's a twittering of high-pitched voices, like birds, or perhaps feral parrots. Small figures dart between the candle-lit tables, giggling. Somewhere in the back a toddler shrieks in frustration. At the hostess stand, a woman requests a table for seven, and half a soccer team trails behind her. The waiter takes a tray with four glasses of milk from the bartender.

"Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom." At one table, a boy doggedly vies for attention, until his mother hisses, "What IS it?"

"Hey guys!" calls a dad. "Why don't you guys share a caterpillar roll?"

I browse through the Happy Hour menu. I order a lychee martini made  with vodka, pineapple juice, and lychee cordial, along with half a fancy maki roll. The drink arrives - its golden yellow with a froth on top.

A slight lad in baseball pants with a sideways ball cap dashes past the bar, barely missing a Latino man carrying a plastic rack of clean glasses from the kitchen. He dodges expertly. None of the staff seem bothered in the least.

"How's that drink?" asks the bartender.

It's actually pretty weak and tastes like watered pineapple juice, but I tell him it's great.

"I've been here for seven months and I still don't know what's a lychee cordial," he says.

A family of four enters; Dad in cargo shorts and sockless sneakers, Mom in yoga togs. The kids park a scooter and a bike in the Zen garden at entry, helmets slung over the handlebars. Somewhere behind me, two siblings are sword-fighting with their chopsticks.

Why do I do this to myself?


Gary's third pottery blog said...

I would imagine NOLA will offer a fine array of watering holes with a more eccentric and entertaining cast of characters :)

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

You will love New Orleans! If you can't find a nice quiet bar to your liking, you can get your drink TO GO and find your own nice quiet spot. Every time I've been there, it's seemed incredibly civilized...as long as you leave Bourbon St. before midnight.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Other tip...don't stand in that dumb line at Cafe du Monde in the morning. Beignets are awesome in the afternoon too!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I could not eat there -- the noise and chaos would drive me crazy! (And yes, I do have 4 children!)