When I was in high school, my mom and I had a once a month Saturday ritual. We would go shopping at South Coast Plaza, where I would attempt (and fail) to find jeans/pants that were long enough for my long gangly pubescent legs, and then we'd go to lunch at the Clubhouse, an over-sized chain-esque American restaurant with standard American fare.
Because my mom and are creatures of habit and tend to order and reorder and reorder our favorite menu items, we always got the same thing -- the southwestern chicken wrap and the vanilla bean creme brulee for dessert. We loved that lunch. Craved it. Would make up excuses to go to South Coast Plaza just so we could eat it. Over and over and over and over again.
Then, one disastrous day, we arrived at the Clubhouse to discover that the chicken wrap was no longer on the menu. It had been replaced with the evil buffalo chicken wrap that did not tickle our fancy.
For a while we continued to eat there, attempting to assuage the pain of the loss of our favorite lunch with the Asian grilled chicken salad, but ultimately, we developed new menu obsessions at other restaurants – like the Di Mais salad at Quattro Café or a bowl of Nordstrom Café’s tomato basil soup. We moved on from the Clubhouse, and for years, avoided that side of the mall in favor of our other favorite eateries.
Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a Yelp review of the Clubhouse. The reviewer gushed about a pomegranate chicken salad she’d enjoyed for lunch there – an item that was never on the menu when my mom and I used to dine there. Curious, I logged on to the restaurant’s website and checked out the menu. After reading the description of the new salad, my eyes wandered down to the sandwiches.
There, underneath a bacon ranch chicken wrap, was the long lost southwestern chicken wrap!
I immediately called my mom, and we made plans to return to the Clubhouse the next time I was down in Newport (ie. that Saturday).
This time, we weren’t there to shop or spend hours trying on ill-fitting jeans at Nordstrom. This time, we were there for one thing and one thing only – the chicken wrap.
The restaurant has changed some since the days when I was a cross-country nerd and lunch there was the highlight of my week. As my mom and I walked into the decidedly less-bustling restaurant a few weeks ago, the velvet drapes, dramatic high ceilings and expansive bar seemed to have lost some of their luster. It looked the same on the surface, but different somehow. Less impressive perhaps now that I prefer intimate dining locales with soft lighting and muted tones that do not clash with my outfits.
I was also dismayed to discover that the upstairs dining room is no longer open during lunch. My mom and I had always eaten upstairs overlooking the bar below. The tables downstairs are not nearly as exciting – the only view I had during our lunch was of a neighboring table’s heap of sweet potato fries. My growling stomach was not amused by the temptation.
Table matters aside, my mom and I were still happy to be there, and eagerly put in our orders for the chicken wrap ($12) – hers with a side of coleslaw and fries (diners have the option of half portions of each or a full portion of one of the two), and I paid a dollar extra to get fruit instead.
The chicken wraps looked exactly how I remembered them – they stood tall and proud on our plates, the jalapeno tortilla crammed full of grilled chicken, black bean corn relish, tomato, avocado, lettuce, and light BBQ ranch dressing. The fruit was how I remembered it also – rather uninspired slices of ripe melon and pineapple. I wasn’t much concerned. We were there for the wraps, not the sides. (Though the sweet potato fries may make for a compelling excuse to return some day.)
While the wrap itself hasn’t changed since the days when my forehead was pimply and I registered a 9 out of 10 on the awkward scale (my friend Hank says I now register a 4), it didn’t blow me away like it used to. It tasted plain. The ingredients were fresh and I had no reason to not finish the whole hefty portion, but as I munched away, I began to realize just how much my palate has developed since high school.
I eat foie gras now (and actually like it when it’s served cold). I don’t pick the mushrooms out when they come with a dish. My shaker of red pepper flakes is never far from my hand when I’m cooking. And I am eager to challenge my tongue with new flavors and combinations (except for olives).
That’s not to say that I can’t be satisfied by a simple turkey sandwich with honey mustard or a bowl of oatmeal, but I like a bit more pizzazz when a lunch or dinner out is going to be the highlight in my week of home-cooked meals and brown bag lunches.
I enjoyed my mom and my walk down memory lane, but the Clubhouse wrap just didn’t do it for me. And in a way, I’m glad that it didn’t. I like the new restaurants my mom and I have discovered and continue to discover. I like breaking out of the mold. And I like knowing that I’m not only less awkward than I was in HS, I’m more adventurous in the dining room as well.
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA