Early Bird Dining — the Next Generation

| December 31, 2013 | 0 Comments
Vestige is a vintage shop on 30th Street in North Park.

Vestige is a vintage shop on 30th Street in North Park.

by Dove Kirby

This past year I turned forty. Though that is considered a milestone birthday, I didn’t feel much different– at first. But soon into my 41st year of life, I made a new and wondrous discovery: Early bird dining. I am now a devotee of dinner at 5 p.m. and am here to sing its praises.

Let me preface this with a little history. For the last five years, a girlfriend and I have been going out for a weekly “mandate” (how the name came about I’m not exactly sure, but it has stuck), which typically consists of dinner at a new hotspot (my friend is a foodie and always knows of the new San Diego eateries). We usually invite other members of our circle of friends, but often only the two of us can get away.

My friend claims she was born in the wrong decade, feeling more at ease with the lifestyle we generally associate with 1950s housewives than today’s “do it all” moms. She enjoys sewing, makes most of her daughter’s clothes, and come midafternoon, begins preparing an elaborate meal to present to her husband upon his arrival from work, but not on Wednesdays.

On Wednesdays she leaves instructions to heat up leftovers and heads out the door to have dinner with me. And lately, she has been heading out the door earlier. Somehow our usual reservation time has crept from seven p.m. to five. Only at five, you don’t need a reservation. This is just one of the many benefits of early bird dining. We have also discovered that we never have trouble getting a table when the restaurant has just opened. After waiting for over an hour to be seated at some popular establishments, this is a breath of fresh air.

There is no settling for “first available.” We sit exactly where we’d like to sit. We generally have the place to ourselves and can have a conversation without shouting or straining to hear one another. Another hidden bonus that hadn’t even occurred to us was the happy hour specials. Though they don’t exist everywhere, occasionally we will stumble upon an entire menu dedicated to half price goodies. Talk about a pleasant surprise!

Parking is another joy of dining before the throngs. More often than not, there are plenty of spaces to be had that early.

Recently, another friend of ours was able to join us for mandate. When we told her that we’d be meeting at five, she responded with an incredulous “Who eats at five besides my abuelita (little grandmother)?!” Smug, we told her that with age comes wisdom and that her abuelita was on to something.

That evening, on our way to dinner at Jayne’s Gastropub, we passed Vestige, a wonderful vintage shop on 30th Street in North Park that had always been closed back when we used to have dinner at a more conventional hour. We had been relegated to merely peering longingly into its windows, admiring the unique pieces. But on this day, long before most people headed to such restaurants, it was still open and we were actually able to enter the store. I left with some delightfully kitschy coffee mugs and a positively fabulous mid-century bedroom lamp, a piece that I had been on a hunt for literally months. I was triumphant– yet another benefit to our newfound habit! “Who’s laughing now?” I asked our mocking friend.

I can’t deny that I feel almost superior when we are walking out as the crowds are just beginning to flood in, especially when it’s a hip joint where I know many of these people will end up waiting for a table as the night goes on. We have just dined in peace, with excellent service (often the case when there are only one or two tables occupied), possibly getting some of our food for half off! We are getting in our cars, parked conveniently close by, and waving goodbye long before dark, heading home where I will read books to my son and put him to bed, and spend time with my husband, and maybe curl up with a book of my own. None of which I’d be able to do if we had eaten, and therefore returned home, later in the night.

I will always have friends that don’t want to go to dinner at five p.m. And I don’t mind going later for them. But when it’s mandate for two, or date night with my husband (who has enthusiastically boarded the “early bird” train), we’ll be arriving early.

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