Last night we were lounging around the house for the thousandth time, purposeless and without plans for the evening. For whatever reason (I hate winter, even though we don't have 'real' winter here, contemplation of enduring the whole useless crave/cramp/misery cycle of woe for absolutely no reason...for twenty more years, January twenty-fourth, the troll infestation and poor spelling of Santa Barbara Craigslist, take your pick) I've been a bit down in the mouth lately.
The prospect of an evening perusing my TiFaux options (Rear Window, Ugly Betty, Lakers, 24) and continuing to return my eleventy-billion emails (Actual count of email I missed, sent and still need to catch up on as penance for going to Vegas: 1,427) was not attractive. Having already spent the better part of the week cleaning, I was not about to find a useful project, and it was too cold for a walk. "Cleaning" in this case means doing smoke-saturated laundry*, obsessing over precisely which bin Scott could be allowed to drop his clothes in without destroying the new, zen-like order of my bedroom. *Some by hand! In the bathtub! Like a...person without a washer! Enter our buddy Scott (we call him Scotty) and his wife. These two are true-blue - the first people to offer to pitch in, barbecue, clean up or have fun, they always come on The Walk with us and are really 'our' friends, made as a couple. He rang up to see if we wanted to go to "the opal" with them - their treat. I do not need to be asked twice to go to The Opal (really, it should be called The Opal) and made all possible haste to get ready.
Since there was a symphony at the Arlington, there was a bit of a wait to get seated, so we retired to our living room with some martinis (twist of tangerine, please) and chatted for a while. Once downtown, we had a seat at the 'action bar' (watch the sous-chefs prepare hand-made pizzas and throw them in the wood-burning oven - now that's some action!) and started with my favorite starter*, drinks**, the killer homemade bread (always two kinds!) and Black-Pepper Crusted Seared Ahi 'chip', and the - This sounds fairly simple (isn't seared ahi so...1999?), but they do a fine-chopped Japanese salad with crisp-tender cucumbers, and homemade won-ton rounds for crunch. The pepper crust 'bit' well with the tender ahi and crunchy won-tonwasabi cream sauce bounces off the cucumbers just....right.
*Shredded Phyllo Wrapped Tiger Prawns - Flash-fried phyllo (say that ten times!) around prawns would be a lovely bite on its own, but when you add the curry dipping sauce, killer 'Napa-style' salad, tangerines and almonds and a tangy vinaigrette...Heaven.
"Drinks" - They have hundreds of wonderful wines on their ever-changing list, including the famous '87 Opus One, a huge premium bar and great beer on tap as well. The bartenders are some of the best in town and always have a smile and a new suggestion for you. This night, we sipped: My first love, their Rosemary Lemon Drop (not too sweet, not too lemony), The Flirtini (vodka, peach schnapps, pineapple and a tot of bubbly) - to me, a Blondie with a peachy kick, but I didn't think it required the cherry...a bit too sweet, plus I don't like anything bigger than a twist taking up the room in my glass - better suited for those who like 'girly' drinks. Sour Apple Martinis aren't my thing (again, too girly and they usually taste like a Jolly Rancher) but I heard the one they served Scotty was "excellent".
-Scotty loved the Basil fettuccine with sauteed tiger prawns tossed with homemade pesto, tomatoes, roasted peppers and a smoked mozzarella cream sauce. I didn't try this and thought the pasta was a pesto pasta, but Scott did and he said it was really interesting. (In a good way!)
- I tried the Grilled Chicken Scallopini - Rolled with goat cheese and pesto on a salad of baby Arugula and watercress with avocado, tomatoes, herb vinaigrette. They also have this one on the lunch menu (same price - a reasonable $10.95) and even though I gave some to everyone, I didn't finish. The pesto isn't overwhelming, just a seasoning, the four good-sized portions of chicken was perfectly done, not dry, and the huge pile of slightly bitter arugula goes great with goat cheese and those perfect tomato 'fillets'.
- Spicy Filet Mignon Pizza Smoked Mozzarella and a chipotle glaze, tomatoes, red onions and fresh cilantro was Scotts' dinner - he's had this one before and always looks for it on the changing menu every time. Put it this way - for about the price of a good regular pizza, you can be delighted for dinner and lunch the next day.
Just when we thought we couldn't eat a...single...bite...more, out came a beautiful plate with "Enjoy" piped in luscious chocolate on the rim. Floating on a sea of raspberry coulis (not too sweet! hooray! I hate it when dessert tastes like jam!) was a chocolate-shelled something... which turned out to be the "Like Water for Chocolate" Surprise. Belgian Callebaut Dark Chocolate is your friend, and that's all I'm sayin'. You'll have to eat there to discover the surprise bit. The real sweet bit, though, was the generousity of our friends. You can bet my thank-you card is already in the mail.