The Bemusement Stops Here
Photo by Tenaya HillsA friend took me to dinner last week. It was a fancy dinner at one of the county's fancier restaurants, but I was early and he was late. Although the restaurant hosted only two tables worth of diners, it was 15 minutes before I was offered a drink and another 40 with only bread for company.
The busboys were very conscientious about keeping me in bread and hot tea, but until a man was seated at my table, a waiter would not grace my little Siberia. I asked for an appetizer menu, but the maitre d' informed me that our table would be receiving the prix fixe menu because there were many things the chef wanted us to try. This sounded decadent and wonderful, as things often are when my friend's got trade at restaurants.
I was starved, sick, and mildly bemused. Then my friend and the food came, and we were bemuseder. Bemusement gave way to horror when the check came. Our teeny-weeny "tasting" courses—one of which was a "salsa stack," or a stack of salsa—had set my friend back a cool $78 per.
Which is not how they treat you at Santa Ana's Green Parrot Café. My son and I walked in one evening soon after the prix fixe fiasco and ordered up a storm within moments of being seated. Our waiter sensed we'd rather eat than gab, and saw conscientiously both to timing (bringing out my son's salad when I got my first tasting course, and keeping him deep in extras for the other courses to come) and to often-overlooked restaurant points like separate silverware for the house salad, which was a giant mound of baby weeds; diced tomatoes; sweet, crunchy red onions and a dressing reduced from red wine. We were full before we'd even finished the first item from the chef's tasting course: perfectly golden scallops coming on a bed of julliened zucchini "noodles" sautéed with citrus and brushed with just a dusting of kosher salt to give them a nice snap.
Asparagus and spaetzle (German dumplings, but not at all gross) were next, along with a not-teeny blood-orange salad with bleu cheese and walnuts. My main course was a giant hunk of salmon on a sweet bed of radicchio—I wouldn't finish it until three hours later, watching About Schmidt on HBO. I didn't even need to nuke it in the microwave; it was still delicious cold.
Already bursting, we had about two bites of my son's meatloaf—it will be my lunch in about 20 minutes—and it was fine. But it's the one place on the menu where the Green Parrot Café gets snooty. "Made with a succulent blend of ground veal, pork, beef, pistachios and fresh spinach," the menu proclaims before warning us not to even think of asking for ketchup. Honestly, ketchup is exactly what it's missing. Hey! Don't look at me like that! It's meatloaf!
The coffee was delicious and strong and at my side within moments of ordering it, and my son wants it known that his lemonade was far better than what his grandmother makes. "She would be embarrassed by this lemonade," he told me thoughtfully. "It has plenty of sugar in it." Gotta love his honesty, but he just became the Boy With No Gifts from Nana.
We had appetizers, we had salads, we had the tasting menu and meatloaf, all while looking out huge windows that oversaw the twinkly-lighted courtyard. And there was more. When our waiter brought out my fourth course—a nicely crusted, although unevenly heated, crème brûlée—he discreetly supplemented it with an identical one for my son. He did this despite our not shelling out for a tasting menu for my son; nor had we even asked for the complimentary dessert. At the Green Parrot, they know how to dish up hospitality instead of an endless bread basket and a maitre d's neglect. And not one of the courses was salsa.
Green Parrot Café, 2035 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-6040. Open for lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tues.-Fri., from 4 p.m.; full bar. Dinner for two, $35-$90, food only. All major credit cards accepted.
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