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Fine dining

I think the least about food. I enjoy good eating, though not so much ‘dining’, which seems a strained and overwrought experience. My standards for good eating are modest, things like a hot sandwich or an omelet–nothing elaborate, though when done well are satisfying and sustaining. Food has always been a means to an end at best, and oftentimes an annoyance, a bodily accommodation and expense that interrupts and requires additional biological attention hours later anyway. It hardly seems a good use of your time.

So for my beach excursion I apply my usual level of food planning. This results in the following provisions:

  • Ample water – about 5l
  • Pop-Tarts, one box, strawberry
  • Ritz crackers, two tubes
  • Peanut butter, one large jar, Target’s finest
  • Whole wheat bread, one loaf, Safeway’s finest
  • PowerBars, six, the ones most like Snickers bars

More than sufficient for a week. I consider I may want something else, but there are stores to go to, and I’d rather focus on something else.

It’s good eating, meaning fulfills all business requirements. Miles of swimming requires protein which I have thought through the most. The Pop-Tarts function like flat donuts and provide an elementary-school-flavored sugar boost.

The PoweBars don’t do so well. After sitting in the car all day they can’t be picked up without drooping inside their wrappers, and I don’t have a way to cool them. Having eaten them before in this state I know they will too closely resemble something else soft, warm and brown to be palatable, so I leave them alone.

Do not despair. I do buy restaurant meals which others would find respectable, or at least sane.

First is the second-best hamburger I have ever had. (The first was at Ultimate Burger, in Kona, last week. Expensive local grass-fed beef, but easily the best I’ve ever experienced.) This second-best burger was on Thursday night, at a little hole in the wall just down the road from the beach. I don’ t know the name of the place or have a picture, but it is easy to visualize: a long, narrow storefront in an isolated strip mall, thin one-person tables along one wall, enough space to walk to the counter, and a giant flat TV above the register tuned to a sports channel but down too low to hear. It is blast-furnace hot.

The kid behind the counter suggests the fountain drink as the best bet going unless I want a beer with a mushroom bacon cheeseburger, and I sit at the farthest little table. I am the only patron aside from a pair of fine-limbed, white women with perfect skin and magazine eyes. They appear married or related to the cook-owner, a fast-moving fireplug of a man who trots out dishes for them to try. He is dressed like a junior high football coach; the women have the sundresses and flimsy sandals that I am certain are far more expensive than I can realize.

He brings out my burger and fries in a plastic and paper basket. The fries are a mound as big as my head; the bun’s brown crown is polished with buttery oil. The burger is a riot of rich, fatty goodness, so full like a presence. The fries are crispy but melt like candy. This is my second hamburger in I don’t know how long, and it is sickeningly good.

It takes me over forty minutes to eat it. The guy offers me enchiladas he is experimenting with and I can barely speak to say no.

For weekend meals I consult my guidebook. Turning to the Kona-Kailua section, it suggests that the Starbucks and Costco are great places to eat. I put the book down and walk along the shore a while, then check again. Yes, the book really does rave about Costco pizza. It’s one of those moments when Hawaii seems like an expensive Texas.

Saturday morning I have an omelet at Lulu’s. The book is lukewarm about the place, but it seems fine to me. It’s one of those ‘crazy crap on the walls’ joints that Moe turns the bar into, the walls covered with dollar bills patrons have written messages on. It has a spectacular view of the ocean, which I regret the iPhone has smeared. It’s a fine and its being a tourist trap doesn’t detract.

Sunday evening I try the highest-rated Chinese place the book knows. At six-thirty it is deserted:

Already taken out

Already taken out

The book is enraptured with the buffet, which seems overpriced and lamp-baked. I get my usual Kung Pao chicken, which is exactly like the dish in every other Chinese place I’ve ever been. It’s crunchy and saucy and amazingly I can eat the whole thing.

Two attentive women fill my water after every sip. They do a good job of not making me feel uncomfortable until two other women come in and start a loud shrimp bargaining session that consumes their attention. Live music starts at the bar next door and my water glass reverberates like the dinosaur-stomped ones in Jurassic Park.

What is the point here? Perhaps I am proving to some, or myself, that I am taking in enough calories of sufficient quality. Or that I am justified in my normal reliance on Safeway and spaghetti. Or maybe that the pleasure in eating out comes from not doing it by yourself.

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