Noelani’s Bar and Grill Creates Escape to Hawaii, San Carlos, CA

Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows
Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Photo by Eva Barrows

I take a few cautious sips from the hurricane glass filled with Mai Tai. Warned about the strength of the drink from a disclaimer on the menu enforcing a three Mai Tai max per person. I try to take it slow. Guzzling a drink with three different kinds of rum is never a good idea.

It’s Friday evening after work, my weary husband takes his time looking over the Hawaiian fusion items on Noelani’s Bar and Grill menu. He’s concerned about not ordering enough food and points to the words “plate lunch.”

“It says lunch, does that mean it’s a small portion?”

“You know what a plate lunch is,” I say. “Pick a main course and add a scoop of rice and the mac/potato salad to it.”

Skeptical, he continues to look over the menu. Eventually he picks salmon from the dinner specials and I go with my taste buds and order a kalua pork quesadilla.

I can tell he’s not completely happy with where we’re sitting. He makes the universal “I’m cold sign” crossing his arms over his chest and tucking his chin in. He asks the staff to turn the outdoor heating lamps on and that helps everyone outside warm up.

The live Hawaiian music starts and I’m disappointed that I can’t hear it too well outside. I stand up to go inside the restaurant real quick to listen. The two sips of Mai Tai already coursing through my body.

A male guitar player/singer and a female backup singer un-obstructively serenade the sports bar atmosphere. After a few minutes enjoying the warm vocals, I go back to our outdoor table. I relay the fact that there are a few open tables inside the restaurant.

My husband speaks with the hostess and we’re re-seated inside, only a table away from the live music. Our experience of the place gets better. I’m warm enough to take my jacket off and I absently sip some more Mai Tai.

The musicians play a Hawaiianized version of Orlean’s “Still the One.” I mouth the words to my husband across the table and he smiles knowing how I hate it when he mouths lyrics at me. I grab his hand over the table and do over the top googly eyes at him, something else that makes me uncomfortable when he does it. We’re doing all the cutesy dating things and make the people at the next table squirm in their seats.

The Mai Tai is only a quarter gone and I’m feeling distanced from the hustle of the dining room. I feel like it’s just me, my husband and the musicians. I don’t even know what game is on or if anyone’s staring at us. I put my hand up to the side of my face as if to block the musician’s view.

“Do you think he can see us?” I shout over the table. The musician looks straight ahead when he performs, he’d have to be looking at us from the corner of his eye.

Suddenly a two foot long quesadilla appears in front of me. My husband gingerly picks through his serving of fish. I can tell he doesn’t think it’s enough food. I offer to share my mac/potato salad and he digs in. I shove greasy cheesy flour tortilla in my mouth and I taste the tender smoky flavorful kalua pork.

I shout again to my husband, “This is my new favorite restaurant!”

He laughs, “You know what happens to your favorite restaurants.”

“Oh no! I didn’t mean that!” I say feeling my eyes widen wishing I could take that sentiment back. All of my favorite restaurants close.

I continue stuffing my face, sipping Mai Tai and bopping my head to the music. My husband and I have gotten into the habit of listening to Hawaiian during dinner when we’re at home.

There’s one song that goes “pineapple, mango, pineapple, mango.” My husband wants to request it but I stop him thinking that’s not sophisticated enough to request.

Our meal nearly gone, the waitress comes over and asks if we want to see the desert menu. I wave the “bring it on” hand gesture at her.

I order malasadas for us, mini doughnuts without a hole served warm and rolled in sugar. We also got a scoop of pineapple-coconut ice cream that we eat in tandem with the malasadas. We eat it all and agree it’s a heavenly combo. I slurp down the last of the Mai Tai.

The escapist evening was ending. I walk past the musicians and the guy stops me. He said something to me I can’t understand and hands me his business card. I take it and thank him.

“He did see me dancing in my chair!” I exclaim to my husband as we walk out to the street.

What restaurant provides an escape for you?

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Google Maps Point Hungry Travelers in the Right Direction

I stood on tiptoes peering out through the shutter-covered unusually high-placed hotel room window to see what eating establishments existed across the busy and dark Ventura Boulevard of Studio City, CA. My husband’s Fitbit had declared long ago that we’d put in ten thousand steps by midday and we had many more steps to go on our site seeing day.

Art by Eva and John Barrows
Art by Eva and John Barrows

Squinting through the window at the place straight across the street from us I tried to figure out if it was a viable option for dinner. I had a feeling that the place was fancy because the restaurant name was in script lettering and climbing ivy was all over the front of the building.

I took my smart phone out of my purse and brought up Google Maps. I dove into the map and found that I was looking at Bistro Garden, “Continental eatery for upscale dining” with three dollar signs next to it. Yes, that would be an expensive place to eat at.

My husband suddenly hovered next to me to see what I was up to. My head bowed over the phone, “There’s supposed to be a Five Guys over there,” I said continuing to look over Maps.

He glanced out the window and said, “Yeah its right there.” I shifted slightly to the right and there it was! Red block lettering indicating a very affordable burger joint that we’d had the pleasure of experiencing in our own neighborhood.

I was a little embarrassed at my restaurant hunt method. Usually we’d walk around a new place, peer in windows and read over menus. I told my hubby that I just wanted to find a decent place for us to have dinner. I wanted to know what was out there…without having to go out there.

Taking a virtual walk down the street with Google Maps, I found it! Four doors down and on the same side of the street as our hotel was Hyperion Public, “Rustic-chic American gastropub & lounge” with only two dollar signs. That is where we’d go for our night on the town. We grabbed our coats and walked briskly down the street.

Becoming temporary inhabitants of the candlelit and fireplace warmed dining room, we finally relaxed. When the food came, there wasn’t enough light to see the details of it so we had to rely solely on our taste buds to report back.

Despite my husband’s blatant tourist “Oceanside” blaring sweatshirt, the Los Angeles swanky diners and waitstaff couldn’t judge us as outsiders because there wasn’t enough light to make out what his shirt said. I knew we had succeeded in posing as Angelenos when our waiter asked if we’d like to take our leftovers home.

Google Maps was a quick way to get familiar with an unfamiliar neighborhood. Maps helped us make an informed decision to the always pressing question, “Where are we going to eat?”

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