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Costa Azul

1031 Orange Avenue, Coronado




“Sweetheart?” coos Carla. “Honey? My heart? Mi corazón?”

When Carla slips into Spanish and uses “th” for the z, something’s up.

“Uh-huh?”

“Call from my brother. He’s launching his book here. That academic book? He’s invited ten friends to come to the book signing, and, uh…”

“And?”

“Well, I was worried nobody would turn up. So I’ve invited ten of our friends as well, just in case, and…”

“Invited? To what? The book signing?”

“Yes, the book signing…”

“Good idea.”

“And…”

“Oh no…”

“A dinner. So that’d be for 20.”

It tumbles out like a car dealer’s radio ad.

“A dinner for…20? Us paying?”

“Darling, we’re obliged. I’m his sister. This has to be me celebrating Scott. I want him and his VIP friends to see we can, you know, run with that crowd.”

“Run?” I say. “We can’t even crawl after that crowd! Sweetheart, let me describe our problem this way: Money. You know, dinero. Moolah. Bread. Dough. Lettuce. Alfalfa. Spondoolicks. Hardtack.”

“Ed.” She places her hand over my mouth. “I’ve worked that part out. Remember cat insurance? Barking Cat?”

Oh no. She’s not taking that? Barking Cat (her meow sounds like a Chihuahua’s yap) had hyperactive thyroid treatment a while back. Cost a thousand smackeroos. Honest. Wrecked the Bedford economy for months. Fortunately, just before the diagnosis, we’d started cat insurance, which promised to return “80 percent” of anything like operation costs. Eventually.

“It should be here by the end of next week,” Carla says. “That’s gotta pay for at least 20 guests.”

“And where are you going to fit 20 people? Not in this matchbox.”

“Quite right, dahling. No, it has to be Coronado. Because that’s where the book launching is. Bay Books. Orange Avenue. What can I say?”

Oh, man. That upscale ’burb? I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad if Brother Scott had written a blood-and-guts Navy SEAL book. Then we could all hive off to McP’s pub and get soused there. But no. He’s written a campus-published treatise on marine life up where the narwhals play.

“Sweetheart,” I say. “With the best will in the world, us paying for a 20-person banquet ain’t never gonna happen.”

* * *

“So,” Carla says, a few days later. She and her friend Linda are poring over a large sheet of paper on the table. They’ve drawn all kinds of things on it — boxes, circles, T-shapes. And they’ve scribbled names around them. “If we put the admiral there, and the nature photographer next to him, and the three female oceanographic students around Scott — they’re babes. Scott’ll love the attention…”

“Uh, Carla,” I say. “What are you doing?”

“Planning Scott’s dinner, sweetie,” she murmurs, without looking up. She only uses “sweetie” when she holds a trump card. “Barking Cat’s insurance came in. Five hundred! So we can do it after all, right?”

Lord. That’s only half of what we paid out, but even that’d come in useful for a zillion other things. But — d’agh, what can you do? Carla hasn’t seen her older brother for I don’t know how long, probably because he thinks she married “down.” Meaning, me. She’s got something to prove.

“I’m sure you guys can do it on this budget,” Linda says. Hmm. You gotta respect Linda, because she graduated from Johnson and Wales University. The culinary place back east.

So I swallow big and come over to the table.

“OK, I’m in. How are we going to do this?”

Carla flings her arms around yours truly. “Oh, Ed! You won’t regret this. First thing is, it’s got to be close to Bay Books. Second is, it’s got to be good enough for his snooty friends but not bust our financial butt.”

She scrabbles around under the papers and hauls out a blue-and-white menu. She holds it aloft.

“Ta-daa!”

She hands it to me. “Costa Azul, Coronado,” it says. Ah. This is one of those places we know. Carla and I have stopped in there after her weekend hairdos at Diane’s on the island — she refuses to go to anyone else. What can you do?

But to keep 20 people down to a small roar? I open up the menu. I’m looking at entrées, “Regional Specialties” like a 12-ounce New York steak, $17.95. Coconut crunchy shrimp, $16.95. Lessee. Multiply that 20 times…that’s over $350 already, not counting booze and dessert and taxes and tips.

“No no, you have to cherry-pick,” says Linda. “Rule Number One is limit what they can eat. We do the choosing.”

So, OK, they have a whole panoply of appetizers at around the $7–$8 mark. Seafood samplers, calamari strips, taquitos, nachos.

“Appetizers?” I say.

“Forget it,” Linda says. “If you get into more than one course, the bill will go through the roof. Be tough.”

We scan the menu. And it’s surprising. Between the $16.95 garlic shrimp-type dishes, Costa Azul squeezes in a half rotisserie chicken with mash and veggies, or rice, beans, and tortillas, for $9.95. Or fish and chips, same price. Or baby back pork ribs with fries and coleslaw. The full rack’s $16.95, but the half-rack’s only $10.95. A shrimp burrito runs $10.95.

“What you have to do is make a deal with the people there,” Linda says. “So you know ahead what the entire evening’s going to cost. I think we’d better go see them.”

* * *

Costa Azul feels surprisingly large when you walk in off Orange Avenue, just a few yards south of Bay Books. It’s stucco cream and brown on the outside, a wide patio with umbrellas along the railings. Pole heaters stand ready to warm the evening. “Wow. We could have it out here,” I say.

Inside is cavernous, too. A couple of dozen golden-wood tables with heavy wood chairs are scattered around, some under large black wrought-iron chandeliers with rings of electric candles, though most are blue-glass hanging lamps. Nice idea, boys, except the blue lights give it a cold kind of glow. Large, colorized pictures of Coronado back in the day, like around 1900, break up the all-white walls. Cactus plants and ficus trees make it all feel a little gardenish. A large sit-up bar fills most of the left wall.

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