“I don’t know, where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. What are you in the mood for?”
“A salad? Maybe a panini?”
“Yeah, a salad sounds good. Something light.” I respond, thinking about all the impending indulgences to come over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
My mom drums her fingertips on the steering wheel. “We could go back to Old Vine?”
I scrunch up my face in a visual display of protest. “Eh, we’ve been there so much lately.”
“Yeah, I guess we have.”
“It’s kind of expensive, but we could finally try Café R+D?” I suggest. “It’s always crowded – it can’t be too terrible.” Even if it is a chain, I think to myself.
“I was actually just going to mention it!” My mom says with a smile.
I grin back – this is why I love spending exorbitant amounts of time with my mother. We are almost always one the same page when it comes to our stomachs.
“I’ll call and see what the wait time is.”
Twenty minutes later, we are standing amidst a modest crowd of stroller-toting individuals outside the spacious open-air restaurant at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. I glance at my watch – only a few minutes have elapsed since we’ve arrived, but judging by the rate at which the parties in front of us are being seated, it looks promising that we will be digging into our salads soon.
“Do you want a devilled egg while you wait?” Asks a server, armed with a tray filled with the café’s signature appetizer.
My mom raises an eye brow at me. I can tell she’s pleased by this development in our Café R+D experience.
“Yes, please!” I enthuse, grabbing the largest egg off the tray. My mom follows suit and we grin at each other as we stuff the unexpected amuse-bouche into our mouths.
“Mmmm…” I moan around a mouthful of the impeccably prepared egg. “I love the crunchy stuff. Celery maybe? Pickle relish?”
My mom ignores my speculations. “I like any place that feeds me while I wait.” She announces.
A minute later, the hostess is directing us toward a round table on the restaurant’s covered patio. I’m slightly chagrined to discover its proximity to the back door, but my mom immediately jumps in to neutralize my disappointment.
“I like this table.” She says. “It’s like we have our own personal space!”
“Uh huh.” I respond noncommittally and turn toward the menu. The table’s location is not worth the pout.
“The Chopped Chinese Chicken Salad ($17) sounds good.” My mom notes.
I nod. “So does the Café R+D Chicken & Spinach Salad ($16).”
A cheese burger ($14) passes by our table and my eyes are enraptured by its glistening homemade bun and the coy blush of its meaty interior.
“Did you see that?” I ask, my eyes drooling with carnivoric lust.
The sparkle in her eye betrays her answer.
“We shouldn’t have burgers.” I say. “We’ll feel gross after.”
“True.” She agrees. “But did you see the side of fries ($4)?”
I shrug. Fries don’t do it for me like they used to when I was a picky kid who would go to McDonald’s, snub the burgers, and make a meal out of a super size order of their golden fried taters.
“I’m getting the chopped salad.” I declare with finality. “We’ll come back and have burgers for dinner sometime.”
“Okay. I’ll get the salad too. And maybe an order of fries on the side…”
We put in our requests with our friendly server, and he commends us for our selections by telling us the dressing is addictively delicious. I resist the urge to ask him if this is why the salad costs $17, and smile and giggle girlishly on the inside instead. I like receiving praise for making prescient ordering decisions. Even if the cost of said ordering decisions will prohibit me from purchasing the new dress I covet at Anthropologie.
The lovefest continues when another server brings me a fresh glass for my free refill of iced tea ($3.) Ahhh, the joys of being in environmentally-unconscious Newport Beach, I think somewhat ironically.
Our salads arrive moments later. The properly portioned (ie. not gargantuan) mounds of chopped chicken, cucumber, mango, fresh herbs, almonds and noodles are decoratively displayed under an arc of iceburg lettuce. The presentation is surprising, but appropriate given the salad’s eclectic composition – this is no ordinary Chinese Chicken affair.
The pliant noodles, fresh bite of cilantro, crunchy nuts and vegetables, tender chunks of roasted chicken, and sweet mango pieces are an addicting combination. I easily devour my salad, and even feel compelled to eat more than two of my mom’s order of surprisingly well-executed hand-cut fries.
“They aren’t greasy at all.” She observes.
“And they are perfectly salted.” I counter, as I snag a couple more from her plate.
Despite the warning signs that my stomach is sending my brain, when my mom surrenders her salad fork, I immediately leap on the opportunity to finish her lunch.
“Are you going to write about this too?” She asks, nodding at the results of my handiwork on her now empty plate.
“Maybe I will…” I say, as I dive in for a stray almond.
“This could be bad.” I tell my mom as we head toward the door, $50 lighter from our celebratory “It’s a long weekend!” lunch.
“Yep.” She agrees. “This could be bad.”
We both know what’s coming. Another salad that we will be forced to order again and again. Another obsession that will lead to malnourished bank accounts and lack of dining originality. And yet another reason for me to make the trek down the 405 to visit my parents. (Even if they do have a Santa Monica location near the Promenade.)
Cafe R & D
555 Newport Center Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660-6937