Walter Mencken 3:39 p.m., June 18
Oh man. Seems every day off, the lovely Carla wants to head for Diane, on the sceptered isle of Coronado, to get her hair swished up.
She's there now. Me, wandering lonely as a cloud, till I pass this place I've always been curious about, La Terrazza (1309 Orange Avenue, 619-522-0077). Upstairs, exclusive-looking. And the menu? Don't even go there.
"Hi," says the gal at the lecturn, but without much hope. Just kinda pro forma, I ask, "Do you guys have happy hour?"
"Oh, sure. Every day, three to six."
Right now we're talking five.
She hands me a little one-page menu. Huh. "Piccola Bruschettina con balsamico, $3.50." OK, I think that means "Small, little mini-bruschetta with balsamic." So I guess you can't say they didn't warn you. But they have other stuff, all, wow, priced between $3.50 and $5.50. Like, mini-meatball panino with marinara sauce and mozzarella ($4), or seafood combo trio, breaded scallops, calamari, and shrimp on greens ($5.50).
Guess I'll have to leap up those steps to the second level terrace (they have an elevator, too).
Once I'm up there, gotta say, the view, even on a cloudy day, is great. Del's red towers line the horizon, yellow, blue tablecloths, giant yellow and blue umbrellas checker the terrace, and the top fronds of palms rustle just beyond the parapets.
So hey, without spending a penny, you already feel important.
Except, now comes the waiter, Manny.
"What would you like to drink?"
'Course I'd been hoping to get away with water. But now I look more closely at the happy hour menu, and I see it says "All of the above offers with the purchase of one beverage minimum, per guest."
And the happy hour drinks are house wines and domestic champagne, $5 per glass, well drinks, $3.50 off, domestic beer, $3.50.
Ho-kay. I have to ask the uncool question.
"Uh, which happy hour dish would fill me the most?"
Most are either mini panini or pasta dishes like "tortellini tre colore," ricotta-stuffed round pasta with "a touch of spinach in pesto Genovese sauce ($4)."
But then I see they have appetizer-size pizzas. Margarita ($4), pepperoni ($4.50), eggplant and tomato ($5), gamberetti (shrimp, $5.50), and veggie ($4.50).
"Well," says Manny - and he's been here ten years, so he should know - "actually most people get something that will go well with their drinks. The most delicious taste combo for me is the bruschettina. It's probably the most popular, too. But filling? I'd say the pizzas."
That's good enough for me. I ask for a glass of the house Chablis white wine (because Manny says it'll be sweet enough but not too), and the pepperoni pizza.
And guess what? It's not that small. Maybe eight inches, and plenty of pepperoni, plus nicely oozing tomato sauce and cheese. Thin, crisp edges, and with the wine, you start to feel like the king you should be by rights.
And really, it's a beautiful li'l pizza.
Suddenly look at my watch. Ayee!
"Carla, what's happening?"
"What's happening? I'm waiting for you, That's what's happening. Actually, darling, Diane and I have been talking. She's still drying my hair. Another twenty minutes."
"Okay. No more." Great to have the upper hand. "You'll have five minutes to get here. La Terrazza. We can afford it, long as you make happy hour."
"Great! See you in 30 max."
Then I have a thought.
"How will I recognize you?"