Fine Dining on the Way to SF | California | Living in Mexico

Fine Dining on the Way to SF

We've arrived in the land of flushable toilet paper. We're staying in a modest renovated Victorian hotel, the Stanyan Park Hotel, located at the corner of Stanyon and Waller Streets. From my desk in a round turret, I look out over Golden Gate Park, watching dog walkers and joggers in tee shirts and shorts. The weather is warm and skies are clear, unusual for San Francisco in the Summer.

The second half of our journey, the Houston—San Francisco leg, devolved into slapstick comedy. Sitting in the President's Club, drinking my Presidential Diet Coke and eating my Presidential Peanuts, I looked out the window at a line of planes hooked up to jetways. Through the glass, I heard the penetrating whine of some machine. Occasionally the pitch of the whine dropped, and a thick cloud of black smoke squirted into the air from somewhere behind one of the planes.

That turned out to be our plane.

As the afternoon wore on, the President's Club emptied out as one flight after another took off. In the terminal corridors, the crowds thinned. On the status monitors, the projected departure time for our flight approached, and then receded. Each time we came within a half hour of takeoff, someone set our ETD back another couple of hours.

Unaccountably, we had planned on Continental feeding us dinner. Call us crazy. We somehow thought that having been treated to a first-class upgrade would provide us with actual food. Meanwhile, we sat in the President's Club, staving off hunger with tiny bags of Eagle Brand Honey Roasted Peanuts. There were some apples in a bowl, but they were hard and underripe. I had forgotten how bad fruit in the U. S. can be.

When hunger overcame our good sense, we wandered over to a cluster of food court restaurants: Popeye's, Pizza Hut, Harlan's BBQ... Just past the cafeteria-style places, I spied a place called Bubba's Seafood Grill. It had proper tables and waiters, and a darkened, sophisticated-looking atmosphere. Inside, the atmosphere turned out to simply be bad lighting, but we prepared to seat ourselves in a crowded row of small black formica tables. As I turned sideways to squeeze between two tables, my carry-on bag brushed against a large bottle of catsup on the table behind me. The bottle fell to the ceramic tile floor and shattered explosively.

Catsup and glass coated a large part of the entry aisle. Red glop adhered to one of my shoes. My pants were splattered.

I was embarassed, feeling like a clumsy oaf. That is, until a waiter said, "No problem. That happens all the time." Then I noticed that on every table, the same trap had been set: Large bottles of catsup and hot sauce perched at the very edges, waiting to be brushed onto the hard floor.

A surly woman in a plastic smock and shower cap arrived with a broom and dust pan. She swept up most of the broken glass and smeared the catsup around. Defeated by its viscosity, she quit trying to get it off the floor and instead just placed one of those folding yellow "wet floor" signs in the middle of the aisle. Then she turned her back on the mess and slouched back to her lair.

After we had completed our penance by waiting long enough, a waitress brought our menus, addressing both of us as "Honey." It was clearly time to leave, but we were by now too hungry to be sensible.

Jean opted for the Caesar salad—always a mistake in an airport restaurant—and I ordered a shrimp cocktail (six jumbo shrimp—$11) and the meat loaf—a daring contrarian move in a seafood restaurant. The Caesar salad turned out to be leathery outside leaves of romaine tossed with Wish-Bone dressing and sprinkled with some kind of grated cheese food product. The shrimp were tired and rubbery and were served with catsup-based cocktail sauce (retribution?). The meat loaf had been prepared during the Clinton Administration.

How can you screw up meat loaf? Bubba's found a way. It had sat for so long before I ordered it, it was actually crunchy. Kind of a meat loaf beef jerky food product.

We forced our dinners down and returned to the President's Cub for another hour when our flight was finally called.

They'd given up on our original aircraft, which still sat, smoldering, at its gate. It was replaced, praise be to Allah, by an international-class 757. Our first-class upgrade meant we were gonna sit in those huge fully reclining seats and watch our choice of any of 50 movies on demand on our individual fold-out LCD screens. And, we were gonna get a gourmet meal!

The plane took off. We stretched out in our seats. Jean started to watch Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. The flight attendant came by to take our dinner order. She said, "We've given up on the salmon. Six hours on the ground, and it's just not gonna make it. You have a choice of beef tips with rice or a salad and pizza from the back."

How appetizing.

I went with the beef tips, which had also suffered from the six hours on the ground: stale and dry. Jean ordered the pizza. (She often makes the worst food choices.) Back came a tired, six-hour-old salad and a cello-wrapped "pizza-ette." She didn't even bother opening the package.

Disappointment and resentment derives from unrealistic expectations. Somehow, we were anticipating an improvement in our dining experiences just because we had started on our trip to SF. The truth is, there is no good food in transit between León and San Francisco. What were we thinking?

Tonight's going to be different. We're going to join my sister Suzie for dinner at a great sushi restaurant over on Ninth Avenue. Hopefully, this expectation is not unrealistic.