Dinner on successive nights in the City and the Valley: Monday with Dervala at Fringale, Tuesday with Lauren at La Strada in Palo Alto. The differences are instructive, and the distance can be deadly.

First, my thanks to both my dinner companions. If my experience is any guide, making an effort to meet the people you’ve come to know electronically is a really good idea. The actual person never matches the mental image, but the surprise is usually pleasant. Dervala and I had a fine meandering talk, even if for some reason the Society of Jesus kept coming up. And as for Lauren on Tuesday: someone else was taking care of the kid, the whole Valley was ours to command, what’s not to like?

Anyhow, Fringale (which Dervala says is about to close, how sad) was just super; the appetizer was fabulous, the main course good, the dessert a bit disappointing. The ambience, in an unremarkable low-ceilinged room in a frankly ugly part of SoMa, is still somehow warm and peaceful. The customers, both dressed-up and dressed-down, were dressed well.

La Strada, frankly, I didn’t like. It’s on University Avenue, which is charming, in downtown Palo Alto, which is charming, and it has beautiful vaulted ceilings in pale wood; and a patio fronting on that charming street. But the service combined clumsiness with ostentation (our waiter had a trailing sub-waiter), and the high hard ceiling made for a lot of decibels, with not much chance at intimacy. The customers were the typical well-heeled style-oblivious Silicon Valley hodepodge.

The two restaurants spoke loud to me, about the gulf between City and Valley; I wonder how things will change in the coming decades?

Oh, that deadly distance; Tuesday morning, driving down 101, there was a slow patch around Redwood City. I was in the right lane and eventually had to move out around the blockage. Two fire trucks, an ambulance, and police cars were clustered around a taxi on the shoulder, upside-down and mostly crushed. One of the cops was walking away as I passed, face set, head shaking. You can pretend that a lifestyle where you drive everywhere is OK, but it’s not free, it’s not even cheap.

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April 13, 2005
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