1450 Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park
Two women who work from home walk into a bar, find a huge crowd, and suddenly realize it’s Friday.
“I usually avoid going out on Friday nights,” I say, as we take in the long lines leading to where food and drink can be ordered. “We should grab a table as soon as we can, since we’ll be four.”
“I’d prefer you wait until you have a number before sitting,” says the young hostess who materializes before us. “The tables turn over pretty fast.”
I got from her polite smile that this was more than a suggestion. I said to my friend Mel, “Let’s wait in the drink line and order a drink and we’ll just deal with the whole ‘food and sitting’ thing when Grace and Jen arrive.” We stand at the back of the line and check out the space.
I’d been here before, usually during the day, on my way to the sculpture-strewn lawn I only recently learned is called San Diego Museum of Art’s Marcy S. May Sculpture Garden. I call it “the Sculpture Garden.” After 15 minutes, we are at the front of the line and getting our drinks. I got a Braques Poppies ($9) with vodka, berry syrup, and ginger beer.
Mel and I stand off to the side and catch up as we watch grown-ups picnicking on the benches and lawn and children running to and fro to touch the sculptures that the signs say not to touch.
Finally, because we were early, the rest of our party arrives. Together we make our way to the food line. This is when it occurs to me that should I end up wanting a second drink after we order and sit, I’d have to abandon my friends at a table and return to wait in the long line. I sigh.
Two of us take the other two’s orders and send them to find a seat, which they do before we reach them, our food order numbers in hand. The guys behind Panama 66 also own Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! (both with the same line-ordering system), so I knew it was a good idea to get Tiger Fries to share ($4).
When my sandwich arrived, all of my line-related irritation faded away. I’d gotten the Summer Squash sandwich ($9), which was more like a giant salad on a focaccia bun. Inside was grilled squash, tons of arugula, feta, pepitas, and balsamic reduction. The focaccia had been slathered with avocado chermoula (a Northern African marinade that usually includes herbs, lemon, garlic, cumin, oil, and salt). I know it’s supposed to be a summer dish, but seeing as we’re in the land of endless summer, I hope this one stays on the menu.
The sun had set by the time we all set off to return to our cars, strolling slowly to appreciate the lovely lighting on the buildings throughout Balboa Park. “We should come back here with our guys,” I said to Mel as I hugged her goodbye. She agreed but added that we should do so on a weekday.