“I don’t know why, I don’t know why. I return to the scene of these crimes” crooned the singer over the stereo speakers just above the black laminate and school desk, wood brown bar. Glancing up at the open steel kitchen in front of me, I’m drawn to the same waitress, cloaked in her midnight black work blouse and deep-sea dark jeans, returning again and again with interruptions of order corrections. “Can I get the dressing on the side for the salad?” “Oh! And don’t use the cream sauce on the shrimp scampi.” “Need the sauce on the side for the caramalized peach.”
The California Pizza Kitchen at Emeryville in the East Bay is as deserted by customers as one might expect from this name-brand chain. Like the Top 40s singer who lamented, “I don’t know why I return to the scene of these crimes”, I find myself wondering why I too return to an old, familiar East Coast lunch-time, crunch-time destination. The answer is simple: The savory sweet and delectable crunch of their chicken lettuce wraps paired with an astonishingly affordable Coppola Pinot Grigio ($7). The order tickets, pumping out of the plastic black box in front of me, hang on to each other like a string of Tibetan prayer flags. The expansive space of booths, unpopulated, sit underneath the peppy sounds of the radio, ready and willing to accept the Emeryville shoppers that see the logo and know there is a reliably decent meal awaiting them inside. The string of tickets are evidence enough that this restaurant is doing just fine. And, with staple menu items like the chicken lettuce wrap and white corn guacamole, lunch time guests looking for guaranteed seating find their way here. Attentive bartenders like Cynthia, know exactly why I’m here and are ready to help, “So, the Coppola Pinot Grigio? 6 ounce or 9 ounce?” She knows, and I know. How could you come here, lit by the warmth of the school bus yellow tiles decorating the wood fire oven, and not order the 9 ounce?