When people ask me about the best parties I've been to, my stock answer is "mansions in Rancho Santa Fe." Heading to one recent party in Rancho Santa Fe, however, I was driving on streets that weren't finished. After several miles of "off-roading," convinced I was lost, I called the house. The guy who answered asked what street I was on and said, "Then you aren't lost," and he hung up.Toward the end of the street, I saw a few houses under construction and a few that were completed.
Chef Alexandria invited me. She cooks at a restaurant called the Bambu Bistro in Hillcrest. She said, "I throw these parties every six months for about 20 friends. I enjoy cooking for my friends." I said, "That's nice. So many people want to do potluck when they get together."
I stopped in the middle of the street, thinking I had found the house. I could tell there was a car following me because when I made funky turns, he did too. It was the blind leading the blind. When we parked, I apologized to the driver of the other car. I shook his hand as we introduced ourselves and he cringed. "Shaking hands hurts because I broke my clavicle snowboarding." I told him I had never been snowboarding, but that all my friends who have ended up breaking bones. And since I had broken my arm four times, snowboarding would probably be the fifth. Little did I know, one person who snapped my arm like a twig years ago would be at the party.
The snowboarder asked, "Do we have to wear a coat? It hurts for me to wear one." I said Alex told me to dress nice but that a broken collarbone is a good excuse not to wear a coat and tie.
I asked if anyone had seen Alexandria and was told that she was in the guesthouse cooking. As I walked over, I could smell the aroma of her cooking wafting through the air. I introduced myself to her. Her arms moved deftly over several pots and pans. There were a few people helping her out. One was a shy woman who resembled the actress Sandra Oh. Another was Alex's boyfriend, who seemed to be stressed about something, so to give them privacy, I told Alex that I was going to the wine-and-cheese table by the pool. She asked her friend Shari to show me around.
As Shari, a pretty blonde, showed me around, she talked about living in La Jolla. She mentioned knowing Raquel Welch's sister. When she told me she worked for Colgate, I joked about how she probably gets all the free toothpaste she wants. We walked over to the pool for a glass of wine. A few people were talking about dating, and Shari told me a story about a first date she had on Valentine's Day. The guy lied about his age when they met, but he showed up with a bouquet of flowers. He took her to an expensive French restaurant and ordered for her. When the bill came, he showed it to her before paying. We both agreed that was cheesy. "He then took me to this new-age dance thing in Point Loma," continued Shari. "It was in some woman's house. We walk in and sit down, and they are doing these weird dances, and he's sitting there with his eyes closed and moving along to the music in his chair. He grabs my hand and looks at me and says 'I love you.' He also bought concert tickets and tickets for a cruise. It was way too much for a first date. Don't you agree?"
I agreed, as did two women standing nearby. I told one that she looked like Cameron Diaz. "Thanks. I haven't heard that in a long time. Not since I gained weight."
I asked her to tell me about Alexandria's cooking. "We ate at her restaurant on Valentine's Day. Two women -- walking in there in Hillcrest -- everyone thought we were lesbians. Alex had let her staff go home early.... She was being nice because it was Valentine's Day. But then she had to do all this work herself. She asked us to help with the dishes. This straight couple came in -- a black guy and white lady. They ended up coming back and helping with the dishes, too."
When we sat down to eat, Alex was serving soup and salad. I asked her why chefs wore big white hats. She explained that in France, it shows the different classes of chef. The bigger the hat, the better the chef...or longer they've been cooking.
Alexandria served tri-tip, roasted asparagus, and garlic mashed potatoes. Since I'm on a diet, I stayed away from the desserts. A Brazilian woman who sat next to me insisted that I try the dessert she brought. I asked her -- since she had been talking about cooking Southern food -- how she stayed in shape. She told me that she's a former tennis pro and had a tennis scholarship to Mississippi State. That's where she learned how to cook Southern food.
I sat a few seats away from a guy who owns a dry-cleaning business that uses liquid carbon dioxide, which he said is good for the environment. He told me that there was a two-page feature on his business in Newsweek and that he was featured on MSNBC and KPRI.
When I mentioned the story about Shari and her horrible date, the Brazilian woman told me about a guy she invited to a party who attacked one of her dogs. "I was preparing food. He said he got bit. Then he threw his watch at the dog. He insisted on going to the hospital. I apologized and looked at his hand. It didn't look bad."
When I later talked with Shari, a San Diego native, she asked me if I was born in San Diego and where I went to high school. I said Mira Mesa; she went to Poway. She did, however, go to Hickman Elementary, which is the elementary school that I went to. She was five years older than me, and I figured we never crossed paths. I asked her what street she grew up on, and when she said New Salem, I told her that I lived there from when I was four until I was eight. She remembered that her dad had built a white picket fence, and I said, "I lived two houses away from that house."