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San Clemente Journal

The Early Bird Catches the Worm A Professional's Guide to Eating Early and Cheap

May 01, 2001 05:28PM ● By Don Kindred
by Maggie Zeibak

Ben Franklin was so wrong when he said "One should eat to live, not live to eat."
Obviously, the restaurants in his day and age didn't offer 'Earlye Byrde Specials by Candlelyte', not like the ones that we, here in the coastal towns, enjoy. Besides, Mrs. Franklin wasn't likely to yell "Change your breeches, Ben, we're eating out tonight and we've got to get there by 6 p.m."
Contrary to my European background, I like to dine early so that my food will digest properly. Hubby doesn't like to wait for a table, and I can barely keep my eyes open past 9 p.m. The solution? Early Bird dinners. Oh, and did I mention the price and portions are just right?
A favorite for those early birders in our fair city is Taka-O Japanese Restaurant where decision-making is easy. 
The Beef or Chicken Teriyaki Special Combo for under $8 is served under subdued lighting in the
traditional garden atmosphere of the dining room. Away from the tempting Sushi Bar, this area offers a peaceful setting surrounded by parasols and peacock décor. Jin, one of the smiling and helpful waitresses, will bring you satisfying, piping hot Miso soup to start. By the time the last noodles are slurped, a tray of food, casually adorned with an orange umbrella, will arrive. The Sashimi compartment holds Octopus, Ginger and Tuna together with pungent gimmee-some-water, green Wasabi ­ just marvelous for clearing the sinuses. Shrimp, large stems and slices of vegetable Tempura accompany the Beef and Chicken, along with a mountain of snowy steamed rice. Very tasty fare.
Benjamin F. also said, "He that waits upon fortune, is never sure of a
dinner". How true. When you consider the choice Senior Citizens have from 16 entrees daily between 1-6 p.m. it isn't worth cooking at home. Cash that Social Security check on the 3rd of every month and treat yourself to a $5.25 meal tucked in a comfortable booth, waited on by an ultra-friendly staff at the Brig Restaurant in the Dana Point Harbor.
Ready to spice up your life, Mr. Franklin? Down at Dave's Mexican Restaurant (they claim to be the oldest Mexican Restaurant in San Clemente) you can order their combination plate. Choose burritos, tostadas, tacos, enchiladas, or tamales, all served with beans and rice, and get $2 off the regular price. This is caliente news indeed for you chile rellenos addicts.
Our good statesman BF also mentioned in passing that "In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eats twice as nature requires". I'm sure that deafening word "gluttony" was ringing in my ears when I crossed the bridge into the Beach House to try their Sunset Specials. This popular eating-house, established in 1968, offers an up-scale menu to be enjoyed while viewing life at Dana Point Harbor. Their sourdough bread, slathered in herb butter, is mandatory consumption. Choosing between Filet Mignon, Salmon, Prime Rib, Swordfish and Chicken, all under $12, is a challenge, to say nothing of the Lobster wagging his tail at $14. Each entrée is presented on over-sized, parsley-spattered plates, complete with vegetables and rice
or potatoes. Adding a splash of purple color atop the garnish of sliced
wheels of white beets, lays a resplendent, velvet Dendrobium orchid. The Filet Mignon is wrapped cozily in bacon and flaunts a jaunty mushroom cap ­ it tastes as good as it looks; prepared to perfection. No room for dessert after these ample portions.
More Japanese Early Bird specials are available from Yama Teppan House in Dana Point whose Mini Boat for two runs $16.95 and San Clemente's Ichibiri Steakhouse's dinner specials of Shrimp, Scallops, Steak or Chicken start at $9.75 (includes choice of soup or salad). Could Benny have a problem with these? That old spoilsport remarked, "I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand". Tsk. 
I often wonder whether the Franklin family ever had any fun. Did they ever throw a party, invite the beer boffins and dress-down? No chips On' dips, no burger On' fries, no pizza and, I suppose, no high cholesterol. Our easy lifestyle let's us call the New York Pizzeria on Mondays and Tuesdays for their "Beat the Clock" large pizza with one topping. Order a posse of pizzas and you pay the time of day that you order. For example, if you order by 5.01p.m.Tuesday, you pay $5.01 (dine-in or pick-up only).
For those of us who don't enjoy the culinary climate of the kitchen, these restaurants provide many inexpensive opportunities to dine out, on our own tummy terms. What's that I hear?
"Beware the hobby that eats"
Hush up, Benjamin.