17th Street Cafe
1610 Montana Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90403
** UPDATE: My sister and I went to 17th Street Cafe at the end of January LAST YEAR, 2007 to do reconnaissance for a friend's baby shower, LAST YEAR (which ended up at Marmalade Cafe at The Grove). Don't ask me why I am bringing this up right now, but suffice it to say that The Delicious Life operates in a wicked little time warp, which I will explain in a future (oooh, but maybe it'll be the past; you'll never know) post. **
You know what girls do after a fight?
She speeds along the freeway replaying the entire evening in her head, each time adding a supporting detail that she had left out in the previous rev. With each exit ramp she passes, indignation grows until she makes a quick stop at the market to prepare for a short anger management session with Ben and Jerry when she gets home. The emotional journey travels over a long commute from pride to anger to realization to hurt.
She throws her bags onto the floor. They will be left unpacked for what will be days because there is nothing in them that she needs right away, for they are all smaller “his place” versions of regular-size things she had at “her place.” She yanks her laptop out of its bag, flings her emotionally weary body into her desk chair and waits impatiently for the machine to start so she can find someone - anyone - online. She switches between buddies, clicks between windows, tabs between applications, to tell the story, lay out the facts, take polls, discard the unsupportive responses, email her girlfriends because it is beyond polite to call them at that hour. All the while an email grows longer and more detailed – an email that will forever remain in the "Drafts" folder of her gmail for future emotional reference. By the time she falls asleep face down in her diary, it's almost 3 am.
Four hours later, she bursts out of a nightmare with contact lenses still in, but unable to see. At many points during the night she has cried, transforming tears into an ocular adhesive. It's “the morning after.” She checks her email. Nothing. She checks her phone. Nothing. She calls her phone from her PDA to make sure it's working. Goddamit, it works.
She calls her sister because it’s okay to call at 9 am but not 9 pm the night before. “Come over for breakfast,” her sister demands supportively. Still in her pajamas that are now doubling as "loungewear," she tears across town to her sister’s house. She recounts the events over breakfast, recounts the events quietly during the baby’s nap, recounts the events intermittently during The View. Her sister suggests they go out for lunch to get fresh air. And a fresh perspective.
They tuck themselves into the back of a cafe for lunch.
17th Street Cafe is not special enough to deserve a drive, but right in the midst of Montana Avenue, the restaurant is convenient on a Friday afternoon for those who are already in the area – neighborhood moms pushing Bugaboos after late-morning yoga, fourth wives shopping with their third husbands’ money, and girls after a fight undergoing retail therapy. With exposed ceiling beams, light wood furnishings, bright lighting from both windows and overhead, and artwork on the walls, the airy, open dining room feels a bit like a casual gallery. Bare-naked glossy wood tables that get white tablecloths at dinnertime only have small green cuttings and condiment bottles. The vibe is energetic at lunchtime, almost to the point of being too loud, unless the light din is necessary to keep individual conversation private.
There's a smaller adjoining room with skylights overhead that can be made private from the main dining area, perfect for a cheerful, intimate...baby shower. "Oh yeah, " she recalls, "a baby shower, something I'll never have because I'm never having babies because I'm not getting married because it's over because...because...because men are worthless!" She sighs. "Men are worthless," she has to keep reminding herself.
The menu is substantial, but thankfully, uncomplicated. She wouldn't be able to focus on detailed descriptions of ingredients and preparations. Her eyes move over the page of offerings that are standard for a cafe - pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and salads - all California fresh with an occasional influence that anywhere else would be considered "ethnic," but in LA, is Wolfgang Puck. She can't decide. It isn't that the items don't inspire her; it's that nothing registers on a mind that is blazing backwards and forwards at 180 mph. She has no appetite, and yet she wants nothing more than to dive head first into a bowl of Dulce de Leche Ice Cream armed with a Flamin' Hot Cheeto as a utensil. 17th Street Cafe doesn't have that on the menu.
Most of the starters should be shared, but alone could be a very light meal. Cafe Bruschetta is essentially a modified Caprese salad. Red, ripe juices from chopped tomatoes weep into slices of grilled bread, softening them just enough to make it comfortable. Salads seem expensive at $11 to $13, but reasonable for an entire meal. Caesar, Spinach, and Chinese Chicken all make a requisite appearance. The Chopped Grilled Vegetable Salad was nothing special except for the staggering $13 price, plausibly justified with the half avocado on top. If the Pasta Special is any representation of the rest of the pastas on the menu, pastas are a bland, dry mistake at 17th Street Cafe. Even the grated Parmesan cheese that came in a Denny's dressing-on-the-side plastic cup don't help.
At any other time, 17th Street Cafe's service would have been maddeningly unreliable. Servers were few and far between, impatient when present, all too patient when absent, and the kitchen must have been short-staffed. Lunch for two of salad and pasta could have been 45 minutes, but it was more than double that amount of time. She used up every minute of it to approach the issue from every angle. Again.
She wonders, hurts, worries, fears, regrets, feels jealousyangerdisappointmentpride all at once while pondering a different pair of shoes for every emotion. Kelly green Pumas - jealousy. Red strappy sandals that tie around the ankles - anger. Baby blue Kate Spade ballet flats - disappointment. Black patent leather stilettos - pride. (My God, is this just too easy or what?) After shopping - but not buying because why would she need to buy anything because she's never going out - she goes back to her sister's. She talks it out, her sister talks it out, they talk it out. When she finally goes home long past everyone's bedtime, she falls asleep feeling everything all over again.
The day after the fight, she thinks it out, plays it out, replays it out, writes it out, emails it out, IMs it out, walks it out, shops it out, talks it out. She talks it out, talks it out, talks it out. She does that. She does all of that. That's what girls do.
You know what boys do after a fight?
They play video games.
Who Else Lunched it Out at 17th Street Cafe?
~ 15 Citysearchers give it an average of 4½ stars
~ Yelp likes it 4 stars out of 5
~ The Guide at LA Times lists 3 stars (but there aren't any user reviews)
~ Metromix recommends that you "think about checking out the daily breakfast or weekend brunch"
~ Chowhounds generally recommend it
~ Aubrey at What's to Eat LA was "shocked at why they weren't packed." (Sep 2007)