Photo by OCW staffMe, I like Christmas shopping. I know, I know, but I do. The decorations, the meandering, the misery—especially the misery, which reminds us that everyone, even the crone screaming at the counter lady about the diamond tennis bracelet, has someone for whom they are willing to endure hardship. I just like it.

I don't like Christmas buying. Christmas buying involves lines and money and decisions. No, give me someplace fanciful, someplace like South Coast Plaza—the Disneyland of malls—laden as it is with wreaths and carousels and lights and Olive, the Other Reindeer. I've already been several times, haven't bought a blessed thing, and think you should go and not necessarily buy anything, too, while reveling in the wonderful things you will not be getting from Mont Blanc.

If you do as I suggest, you'll stay a while, and if you stay a while, I suggest you get something to eat, and if you eat, I suggest you go outside to Caf Pascal. It's there on the mall's second level outdoors.

Caf Pascal has wonderful food, but there are other places with wonderful food in South Coast Plaza. The problem is that they are in the Plaza. Even I realize that a long day of walking and pricing the handbags at Dolce & Gabbana can wear a body down. You need to retreat, to re-energize.

Caf Pascal sits snugly between Tiffany's and Macy's but a good distance from both amid a grove of Christmas trees. It's on the shore of a tiered, concrete babbling brook, at the base of the footbridge that connects the Plaza to what used to be called Crystal Court. The creation of Pascal Olhats, whose Pascal Restaurant in Newport Beach is consistently rated among the best in the county, the caf allows you to treat yourself to his signature light, Provenal fare at a fraction of the restaurant price.

The last time I was shopping, I stopped in for lunch with a friend. We started by splitting a Nioise salad ($7.99) that came with a quarter-inch thick albacore tuna steak atop butter lettuce, eggs, new potatoes and red peppers. The dressing was tasty bitter.

We moved on to the main course. I had the prosciutto panini ($8.75), a flattened baguette stuffed with the aforementioned as well as cheese and tomato. Crispy and light, it's an effeminate calzone—and terrific. My friend got the very good turkey curry sandwich. With each entre, you get a side salad. He got the potato, which was good; I got the pesto pasta salad, which was great.

So we sat and ate and talked and watched men bursting from Tiffany, jauntily swinging their tiny turquoise bags as if they'd discovered Mom had packed two Ding Dongs in their lunch. We watched the people striking out for the footbridge and the wide verdant fields to the north—Pottery Barn and Fossil! Sport Chalet and Borders! We watched the severe women you can find at the plaza any time, women who, having married well—I make no judgments—approach shopping as a job. It was a wonderful hour, and I felt every bit as full as when I go to the Del Taco next to Sears, minus that coated feeling in my mouth and stomach.

A waiter told me that most people just emerge from the mall and come in for a piece of quiche or a pastry, some coffee or a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. "And then," he said in a tone consistent with war documentaries on the History Channel, "they head back in."

Which is what I did. My friend is not into shopping, so he left. But I went back in and shopped some more and ended up in Rizzoli Bookstore, which I love, and found this great book of underwater photography for my daughter. It was 50 bucks. Lunch was so great I bought it.

Caf Pascal, located at 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, is open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (714) 751-4911. Beer and wine. Lunch for two, $20, food only. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.


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