8110 Camino del Oro, La Jolla
"Ho, ho, ho.”
He sits four chairs down, at the end of the bar. Cherry cheeks, white mustache, Burl Ives beard. Would make a perfect Santa Claus, but you can tell he’s saying it out of boredom.
“What was that?” asks Alyssa, the barkeep.
“I just said, ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ ” he says and goes back to staring at the sunset.
I do too. But no way am I bored. What a view! This place looks straight out over 180 degrees of ocean. Beach, ocean, sand, and water — that’s it.
“Ever see the green flashes at sunset?” I ask Santa Claus.
“You’d better believe it,” he says. “Maybe 15 times over the years. They call it the prism effect. When the sun actually dips below the waves, the atmosphere separates the colors, filters out all but red and green images of the sun. Red’s stronger. That sets first. Then for a moment the green image of the sun has a chance.…”
This place was kind of like a green flash for me. Been up at Scripps again. Started wandering the beach on my way to the bus. Sun was setting, that magic hour. People clinging to the warmth of the sun in murmuring clumps, laid out like seals. Kids tearing ’round the wet part of the beach. Splashes forming rainbows.
I stood watching all this just below a glass-and-timber building that comes right down to the beach with a long gallery at the front. Hotel. Luxury hotel.
“You guys have a happy hour here?” I asked this guy.
“Absolutely. Five for five, 4:00 to 6:00, Monday to Friday.
I’m not exactly loaded, and what da heck is “five for five”? I go into this dining room/bar and sit me down at one of the bar “stools” — man! Plush, cushy fawn-and-gray suede and blond wood. Beautiful servers whisk back and forth, dressed in blue blouses and black aprons. Only thing more beautiful is that view. And here above the boardwalk, old folks out taking an evening stroll, kids on skateboards, and a bunch of girls on the beach playing soccer. If van Gogh were alive, this’d be his scene.
Alyssa comes between me and the view. She puts down a little menu. “These are our happy-hour choices. Five dishes and five drinks, five dollars each.”
Hmm...five dishes. First up: Steamed Carlsbad black mussels, cooked in “dark beer, criminis, linguiça [a garlicky Portuguese sausage], sourdough bread.” Enticing, but trying to remember what criminis are. Then they have a “Baja fish taco.” It’s mahimahi in a corn tortilla, and you get rice and black beans with it. The “Midwestern Beef Burger” comes on a Kaiser roll with bacon, grilled onion, and Vermont cheddar. There’s a chicken quesadilla with chili peppers, Monterey jack, and cilantro cream to sex it up, and a Caesar salad comes scattered with herb croutons and shaved Parmesan.
Price is right. Only one nagging question.
“How filling is the food?” I ask Alyssa.
“It depends how hungry you are,” she says.
So I order the burger. For insurance, I’m tempted to go for the mussels too. But first I have to ask Alyssa about them. Turns out criminis are baby portobello mushrooms. Tasty. In the end, though, I hold back.
“And to drink?” Alyssa asks.
Lord, guess you have to pay to play, as they say in Illinois. The $5 drink menu lists a blood-orange martini (vodka, Grand Marnier, blood-orange juice); “shaken or stirred,” your actual 007 gin or vodka martini; a glass of red or white wine; or an interesting-sounding Middle Ages–style Quebec beer named “Blanche de Chambly,” among others.
But, hey, red-meat burger rules. “House red,” I say. And so glad I did. The wine goes with the grilled, garlicky tang of the beef patty, made salty by crispy bacon and those slippery sautéed onions. Plus french fries (I could have had onion rings or fruit).
“Griff was at Pearl Harbor,” Alyssa says, nodding toward my Santa Claus buddy.
Wow. He doesn’t look old enough.
“I’m 88,” he says. “Heck, I saw Will Rogers rope his last calf. Texas Cowboy Reunion, 1935. I was 15.”
But, Pearl Harbor? “I was playing trombone in the ship’s band. USS Nevada. Battleship. Moored right ahead of the Arizona. Five minutes to eight in the morning we’re playing colors on deck when my buddy, out of the side of his mouth, says, ‘See that plane? It’s got red circles on its side.’ Then all hell broke loose. They dropped six 1000-pound torpedoes. But our band didn’t move till we finished playing. We were lucky. We split colors duty with the Arizona’s band. It was our turn that morning. If we hadn’t been on deck, we wouldn’t have made it.”
Man. I remember the scene, in Tora! Tora! Tora! And Griff was there. Funny: Here we sit, 68 years later, watching the sinking sun, looking for green flashes. But can’t help thinking about those rising-sun planes and their red flashes.
“Guess I’ll have one more,” Griff tells Alyssa.
“Guess I’ll have those mussels,” I say.
The Place: The Shores Restaurant in La Jolla Shores Hotel, 8110 Camino del Oro, La Jolla, 858-456-0600
Type of Food: Light American
Happy Hour Prices: Steamed Carlsbad black mussels, $5; Baja fish taco (mahimahi with black beans, rice), $5; beef burger on a Kaiser roll with bacon, grilled onion, cheddar, $5; chicken quesadilla (with chili peppers, Monterey jack, cilantro cream), $5; Caesar salad, $5
Happy Hour: 4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m., Monday–Friday
Nearest Bus Stop: La Jolla Shores Drive and Vallecitos