Smash the Jock-ocracy!
If you're still not convinced that the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Trustees is the administrative equivalent of a million monkeys typing—except this time? No Hamlet!—then consider my friend. Let's call her Ana. Ana is as SanTana as they come: born and raised in the city, with a sojourn up to a Bay Area university for schooling. She planned to live in Progressive Paradise until the End Times, but the SAUSD's ever-declining test scores touched something in Ana. She came home to teach at her prep alma mater. And teach she does: she's a female Socrates who challenges students to envision a world outside of their Bristol-and-17th lives, a human Roman candle that burns long after school every day to the detriment of her social life.
Ana is everything a school district could want—unless the district is Santa Ana Unified. She'll most likely collect unemployment come summer. On March 15, board trustees sent out notices to more than 400 teachers revealing they'll get the boot if the district decides to balance a $29.8 million budget by firing employees. Teachers with less than three years' experience, like Ana, are the first before the guillotine; teachers who moonlight as athletic coaches remain. Ana thinks her home town should drop its official motto ("Education First") in favor of a symbol that doesn't require you to actually know how to read: a deflated football.
Ana's not in the happiest of moods, but her appetite remains. Knowing this, I promised her a sunset dinner at Eva's Caribbean Kitchen, a cheery Laguna Beach dive that could spark a smile from Buster Keaton.
Eva's occupies the same simple cottage that the dearly missed Drew's Caribbean Kitchen rented for many years. Though ownership changed about two years ago, little else has: the same gentle pastels constitute the interior color scheme, and an annoying guy still warbles Beach Boys tunes with a steel drum from time to time. The best remnant from the Drew's days is an open kitchen that continues to flambé and sauté a cruise-ship tour of Caribbean cuisine, with stops for moist Bahamian conch fritters, a sweet St. Martin-style salad and enough varieties of rum to give Captain Morgan cirrhosis.
Evil tempests seemed to conspire against Ana when she and I visited Eva's one recent Sunday, however. The radiant afternoon had gone overcast by evening, and a nasty chill made her shiver. Inside, illumination came in the form of dozens of votive candles—how could namesake British Guyanan owner Eva Madray divine that Ana was in mourning? The restaurant's warning to patrons (they operate "on Caribbean time. . . . You can't rush a good thing, you know; like good loving, it takes time and care") proved a cute excuse for painfully slow service. When Ana's first appetizer arrived—eggplant stuffed with garlic and other seasonings, overcooked by a couple of hundred Fahrenheits—a look fraught with bitterness and hunger flashed across her face. Good solace I turned out to be, her slow munches said.
But the mood changed once the sun dipped into the Pacific. Ana's second entrée, an order of Cajun prawns, was everything one could ask from a crustacean—monstrous, marinated with ruthless doses of lime and chile, and accompanied by a passion-fruit chutney that nearly justifies the indentured servitude thousands of subcontinent Indians endured during the 19th century. A smile rose from Ana's face as she sliced into the soft prawns—good sign for the food and her feelings.
Ana is ever the thoughtful one even during times of personal despair, so she inquired about my jerk pork loin. "Jerkier than superintendent Al Mijares," I chortled, referring to Santa Ana Unified's overlord. She laughed—an assertive, vibrant laugh—as I cut away at two giant hunks of hog grilled to perfection, topped with pineapple slices and a slow-burning, gritty rub.
Watching Ana confidently take chugs from a light Brazilian beer—I chose the bubbly guava juice—I knew she would be fine. So we talked. Ana plans to sub next year while pursuing a master's at one of the local colleges. She asked me about Anaheim high schools, requesting I rank them according to prestige. "It's easy," I started. "The best way to ascertain a school's worth is by their football team . . . . "
The line barely escaped my lips before Ana's eyes became as ice picks. She launched into an impassioned speech against the jock-ocracy that threatens teachers and students alike and vowed to one day teach again at Santa Ana Unified. A city of children awaits their general's return.
Eva's Caribbean Kitchen, 31732 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6311; www.evascaribbeankitchen.com. Open daily, 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Dinner for two, $20-$40, food only. All major credit cards accepted.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.