Pleasure and Pain: A Night Out at the Estate
So it was decided among the four of us that comprise the core of the group that we were gonna go check out a Filipino restaurant. This particular place was located near a corner we all knew well, because next door to it on one side is a Japanese grocer we'd all been to before, and on the other (right on the corner) is a Brew-pub I've been meaning to check out. On top of that, Da Nang (mine and Bob's favorite Vietnamese restaurant) is across the street on the corner. Raquel had been to this particular Filipino restaurant, Royal Kubo, many years ago and said it got her seal of approval. Herself being of Filipino decent, we took her word on it. Upon entering we stood confused... There was no "Seat yourself/Please wait to be seated" sign, and no employees in sight. Spreading out slightly and moving into the minimalistic decor of the sparsely populated dining room, walking toward the large curved bar directly in front of us, scanning the doorways for any sign of movement that might indicate that they actually WERE still open. I overheard a bit of the conversation from one of the tables we passed, not catching any details, but they were apparently confused about something to do with their bill. Soon a lone waitress (and only employee, it seemed) emerged and gave us passage to seat ourselves. We decided on a table, and after a wait of a few more minutes, she made her way to our table, menus in hand, and scurried off. We looked over the "menus" placed in our hands with something like bewilderment. They were two pages of worn paper stapled together, photocopies of what was obviously a real menu at one time. Bobs was stapled together backwards, and there were items on them that were crossed off in sharpie. Things did not look good... Bob made the suggestion to leave at this point, but I was gonna try to look past this, trying to be optimistic. Maybe the food would be worth it!(?) The server returned a few minutes later to take our drink orders. I was first and asked what beers they had (no surprise there) but the server was struggling to recall the bottle list. I ordered the first non-crap offering that came out of her mouth just to cut the pain of her awkwardness short. Kirin, an Asian beer I'm quite familiar with. It came to Raquel, she asked if they carried any Plum wine. The waitron standing before us looked confused. She hesitantly asked, "Is that like sake?" Raquel's stammering response was, "No.. it's... like Plum wine..." with an obvious 'duh!' look on her face. Waitron unit then informed us she was unsure, and mentioned that she could go check if we so desired. Bob said, "Could you please?" with what was, apparent to the group, the intention of getting her to leave, promptly. "Let's go..." were the words from Bob's mouth as soon as she was out of earshot. My response was, "Noble's next door, they have a sushi bar, and Da Nang is right across the street..." It was decided, instantly and unanimously... Da Nang. Almost embarrassed at the thought of walking out while the hapless server fumbled through coolers in the back to put together our drink order, I tried to make it out the doors before she made it back, but I knew there was no time for that. I saw through the window in the door to the kitchen that she had, in fact, located the Plum wine. I heard Bob's voice from behind me remark, "It's ok, we're just gonna leave." Knowing who he was talking to, I didn't even turn around, the door was just a few feet in front of me... Out on the street, on our way to Da Nang, a memorable part of the conversation was Ian's comment of, "That was like walking down the street and seeing a guy laying on the sidewalk that just got the shit kicked out of him." The sentiment struck home with all of us. The cringing pity at seeing someone who'd just had insult added to injury, whether he deserved it or not. Strolling into the dining room at our new destination, Kim had a look of delighted surprise when she saw us, quickly ushering us to a table on the patio. After being seated Bob asked her, "Why didn't you warn us?!" Kim's diplomatic reply was, "Well, I didn't want to badmouth the place, I wanted you to find out for yourselves." "You still coulda warned us!" Bob snipped, in typical Bob fashion. Throughout the rest of the evening, periodically and from out of nowhere Bob would say, "God, that place sucked!" (even on the ride home). Upon being seated, Ian informed us that we were "breaking his cherry" as far as Vietnamese goes. The response from the rest of us was an almost simultaneous, "Huh? Really?!" We were not disappointed in the least, but that was no surprise, we never have been there. The next hour and a half was perfect. Kim, always attentive, came out periodically to chat. We all shared appetizers; spring rolls with shrimp, scallion and pork along with a papaya/mango salad with shrimp and sweet lime dressing. Ian and I had a few glasses of wine between us, sampling each others of course, and we all got the Pho. That beef, noodle and broth soup that is the pretty much the national dish of Vietnam. Raquel, surprisingly, got the tamer version of what the boys got. She's not one to back down from odd foods, but she apparently has an aversion to the tripe that was in the version the rest of us got. Not like us to order identically when at a restaurant, but we KNEW it was gonna be amazing, and Ian, never having had Vietnamese before, felt it only appropriate to start with Pho. They have a Malbec on the wine list (can't remember the name, though) that Ian and I were pleased to find goes with Pho quite well. It played well with the basil, melted into the broth, and embellished the chili peppers. Malbec is my favorite varietal, so finding out almost by accident that it pairs well with one of favorite dishes was a huge bonus. The night air was very pleasant out on the patio. Not hot and humid, as it's been lately, but comfortable with a slight, but cool breeze. Therefore, the massive quantities of Sriracha, raw Jalapeno, and chili paste we were shoveling into our steaming bowls of beefy, brothy goodness (especially Bob and I), didn't make us sweaty and miserable. It was the perfect meteorological accompaniment. We were blissfully content. It seemed we had achieved nirvana... The meal wound down and Kim was closing up shop at this point. We all ate way too much. The saving grace was it was all very light on the stomach, so we weren't uncomfortably bloated, just satisfyingly stuffed. Bill paid, tip given, goodbyes said, we made our way to the brewery. Ian and Raquel headed straight there, Bob lingered a bit to chat with Kim, while I ran our haul from the market to Bob's Jeep. In the ram-shackle interior of the Black Lotus Brewpub, we found ourselves a table (the patio didn't have any tables available that would accommodate four) and quickly realized there was going to be live music on the stage right next to the table we chose. Raquel is the bass player in a cover band, and I, being an ex heavy metal frontman, didn't mind the thought of live music, but it was mentioned that this wasn't exactly what we had in mind. The waitress was a bit slow getting to us, and getting us our drinks. Ian and I were the only ones that ordered, we got the tasting, all brewpubs have them. A collection of small glasses, six at this venue, each containing a different beer made on site. By the time our order arrived the band was already in the middle of their first song. Instrumental jazz, and, as it was later commented on by all of us, very well executed. Those guys knew their instruments. The beer, while not horrible, really didn't impress. The flavors were dull and flat. Too many micro breweries tone down their brews to appeal to a mass audience, or maybe the brewers are over-reaching their abilities and palates (also common among chefs, might I add). I say, have the balls to stand out from the herd! In the case of the Black Lotus I think it was an over-reaching brewer. He was trying to do a few things different, but, unfortunately, they fell short. The pilsner was forgettable, the apricot pale ale was decent at best (Magic Hat #9 is by far superior), the seasonal heffe-weizen wasn't very "heffe", the IPA was dialed back a bit, and the dunkel weiss had no spark. I don't even remember what the sixth one was... Bob was heard to say at one point, "I've never seen two guys not enjoy that much beer!" There wasn't a lot of conversation, the band was a bit loud from our front row seats, Ian and I pondering the beer, Bob texting friends about our adventures this eve, and Raquel and I watching the band, impressed by the performance. While the music wasn't our "cup o tea", they were talented. About six songs into their set we had finished our drinks and finally got our bill from the server. Paid, tipped, run for the door. By this time it was about 11:00, and out on the street saying our fair-well's for the evening the emotions were quite mixed. However, we were still pleased with it all. Despite what could have been a very unpleasant taste left in our mouths, it was Da Nang that washed it all away. Kim, and her staff, had saved the day!Ian was gonna be joining us late, around 8:00, so the plan was this; Bob, Raquel and I would meet at Noble Fish, the Japanese market with a small but excellent sushi bar in back, and upon Ian's arrival the four of us would venture to Royal Kubo next door, and finish the night at the brewery on the corner. The night did not go as hoped.... The decision was made that I would drive to Bob's and the two of us would car pool from there. We arrived a little early at about 7:00, and parked in front of Da Nang, since it's all within walking distance. Da Nang now has a new patio, and as we walked passed we noticed the owner out at one of the tables. We stopped for greetings, a short conversation, and Kim asked us if we were going to be needing a table. We told her of our plans, she quickly and half jokingly chastised us for not coming to see her. We explained that most of us had never been to Royal Kubo and wanted to check it out. We parted and made our way to the market (we probably would have gone back for a brief goodbye anyway, we were thinking). Bob and I arrive at Noble, do some shopping, and Raquel arrives. We all continue browsing the aisles, commenting, cracking jokes, trying our hardest to restrain ourselves from buying everything in the damn store! Quite a few gems were found, I stocked up on few things I wanted to have around and bought a new Makisu for work (rubbing it in that MY bill would be tax deductible because of this). Bob, in typical fashion, dropped a large chunk o change, one memorable item were these crabs no bigger than a quarter, fried whole, seasoned and sealed in a plastic bag like potato chips. Raquel showed quite a bit of restraint with only a few items purchased. We all retired to Nobles new patio (seems to be a rash going around on that corner, all the places we visited in that immediate area had brand new patios) and awaited Ian, snacking on some of the booty begotten from the market. Those little crabs were awesome! So tiny that fried, as they were, the shells had a crunch like a thick cracker, and the crab flavor was intense. Bob and I both immediately wanted a beer to go with them. Ian arrives and decides he can't be standing if front of Noble and not pick SOMETHING up. He goes in to emerge a few minutes later, having shown the same restraint Raquel did with only a small bag of plunder. We all make our way next door to the restaurant.