It’s not that I actually drank all THAT much coffee, but the fact that I had two cups of coffee this morning plus a decaf at Starbucks (and everyone knows that Starbucks decaf has twice as much caffeine as the regular at most other places) has led me to believe that everyone wants to know about the trip my husband and I took to Costa Mesa this weekend. Or perhaps it’s just that the caffeine-induced words bouncing around in my head need an outlet, and the kids are at a movie and The Husband is running an errand at the moment.
At any rate, it was The Husband’s birthday, and since men of this age are so very hard to buy gifts for, I came up with the winning idea to whisk him away for an one-night adventure (“winning” because that meant I got to go too). And since it was one night, and since I knew he would want to drive, it had to be close to home but still far enough away that we wouldn’t bump into the kids when we went out for dinner. Because it’s not much of a birthday gift if it involves driving for four hours. At least, not if you’re my husband.
We had stayed at an Ayres Hotel once for a marriage retreat, and found it to be very nice while economical, so I decided to look for one of those when I made the reservation. I found one just 52 miles away that was running a buy-one-night-get-a-$50-gift-card deal, which brought the room price down (technically) to $70, so when I was finished with my happy dance, I booked it.
When we got there, it was all exciting and new until we headed for our room and I recognized the cabinet next to the elevator.
“Wait a minute… didn’t that other Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat have that same cabinet?” I asked. The Husband looked at me funny for a second and said,
“This IS the Ayres we stayed at for the marriage retreat.”
“Oh,” I replied, considering playing it off like I’d known all along, but realizing there was no way to do so at this point. “Well…. at least we know it’s a good one.” In my defense, I didn’t drive to the hotel on that trip, either, so I hadn’t really been paying attention.
So, for those interested, the Ayres Hotel in Costa Mesa is quite nice, with friendly staff, clean rooms and bubbling fountain in the inner courtyard. I recommend it.
Our first task upon arriving was to Find Nourishment. We whipped out the trusty Google map we had printed out before leaving home and agreed that, given our need for gluten-free, dairy-free fare, a nearby Cuban restaurant named Habana was our best bet.
Well. That proved to be a fortuitous decision.
We found ourselves at a place our older kids would love. In fact, if I had to give it a slogan, it would be “Ambiance Adult Children Will Appreciate, At Prices Only The Parents Can Afford.”
The music was straight off KROQ’s playlist of two years ago, the decor was urban-Pinterest-repurposed-hipster, and the staff were of the young, cool, pierced, bearded, hatted and tatted, disinterested-yet-friendly ilk.
Fortunately, we are surrounded by this culture at home and were therefore able to appreciate it, unlike the older couple two tables over who looked like they might have been Cuban and had come out looking for a taste of home but were entirely puzzled by what they had found.
The food at Habana was amazing. This is not an exaggeration. From the freshly baked bread delivered to the table while we waited (which smelled so good we had to flag down the the server and ask her to remove it to remove lest we be tempted to try some and end up in gluten-sensitivity-induced agony later that night), to the roasted-red-pepper salad, ropa vieja, roasted chicken (the seasoning was so good I actually sought out and ate every scrap of blackened skin, and I don’t like skin), homemade pickled onions, plantains cooked just right and even the rice (the secret there is lots and lots of butter, the server confided), every mouthful of the meal was delicious.
And then came dessert. Hands-down, best flan either of us have ever eaten. Even if the dinner hadn’t been so appetizing, it would be worth it to us to drive the 52 miles back down there JUST to eat some more of this flan. This is not an exaggeration.
While we were eating, since The Husband’s back was to the rest of the room, I kept up a running commentary on what was going on behind him.
“APPARENTLY,” I said between mouthfuls of salad, “There is no bathroom in this restaurant.” Just then, as if on cue, a young Asian woman in a short white pleated dress floated past us with hands raised in concern and called to her friend in a distressed voice, “They don’t have a restroom!”
By the time the main course came a middle-aged woman had met with a waiter near our table and confirmed, “So, the restroom is out in the mall, right?” I wanted to flash her a sign of middle-aged solidarity, for being so au fait in such a Millennial kind of place, but I couldn’t figure out what that would be, so I didn’t.
During dessert I almost choked on my flan. It took me a minute to calm down and tell The Husband what I had seen. A young couple came into the restaurant from the outdoor patio, she pushing a stroller and looking concerned, and he holding a baby, who looked to be about 10 months old, under the armpits, at arms distance. They walked across the width of the room, conferred with a waiter, and then did an about-face and walked back across the room and back into the patio, the panic on their faces having doubled, during all of which the baby remained at arms distance from the father. I will never forget this image as long as I live. That man must have had some formidable arm muscles.
By the end of our meal, the room had been taken over, at least from an acoustic standpoint, by a group of early-40s Girls Night Out attendees. At one point I looked up just in time to see one of them, who was standing, turn back around to face the table while lowering the back of her shirt and hitching her pants up. All I can surmise is that she had a new tattoo on her lower back and had just displayed it to the table. As the noise level rose exponentially with the amount of alcohol they consumed (leading one to ponder whether it was actually the alcohol or its anticipated effect that was contributing to the tone of the conversation), we decided it was a good time to make our exit.
On the way out, I asked the host whose job it was to light the candles in the wall sconces. There was one inside, and another two outside, each holding about 40 candles. This was in addition to the candles that lined the indoor balcony. He smiled and said, “Those are electric candles and they’re on a timer, but up until six months ago, it took an hour every day to light them.” Not to mention blowing them out at closing, one supposes.
The adventure continued outside the restaurant. Habana is located in a mall called “The LAB Antimall.” Don’t let the name fool you. It’s a mall. But it’s an “our mall is so much cooler than your mall we couldn’t really call it a mall” kind of mall.
The name stands for “Little American Business,” and true to its name, many of the shops in it are the type that you might find relegated to a cart at a big, corporate mall. This is where The LAB is way cooler than the average – besides having closet-sized shop space indoors, they also had shiny metal Streamline trailers scattered around the outdoor shopping place, housing jewelry-makers, macaroon bakers and other small-time, handcrafted vendors.
A Buddha statue with a single daisy propped in its grasp sat inside a plexiglass box on a pedestal with a sign that simply read, “Why?” Another sign next to it instructed us not to take pictures of it, and, inexplicably enough, I obeyed it. I intend to return with a real camera to take better pictures of it. The mall, I mean. Far be it from me to disobey a posted sign on-camera. Ahem.
We originally planned to extend our night on the town with a movie, but this weekend apparently falls in the lull before the Christmas movie storm, so there wasn’t much worth watching, and we went back to the hotel and were asleep by 9:30 p.m. Bliss.
–To Be Continued–