You can't overstate the pleasures of a well-executed Monday during Restaurant Week.
Goodness knows, it's not that I'm antisocial, but why would I put myself into that madness when I don't have to? With a little judicious planning, I can be in all the uncrowded places over the course of one evening and never even have to deal with all that.
Like Sabai, where the the music was pure funk, the vino verde was well-priced and only four tables were occupied, one with a trombonist and his yoga partner for life. It was a far cry from the madness of summer the last few times I was there.
Or like Dinamo. where only a few tables supported customers and the rest sat awaiting an influx of the hungry. The surprise was on me when I felt a tap on my shoulder and all of a sudden, it was 2004 again. Standing next to me was a woman who worked for me as an editor in another lifetime.
When I inquired if she still lived in Woodlake, she grinned and responded, "No, we moved to Brandermill. Less traffic." I wanted to laugh but I wasn't sure if she meant it. On the other hand, she's doing the social work she'd always wanted to, and that's admirable.
My date had shown up with stories of small town shady dealings and on-demand loans, but they took a back seat to Dinamo's iconic white pizza, a beet and fennel salad I could eat almost every day, plus taglietelle with Gogonzola, pancetta and radicchio, all eaten while admiring the miniature menorah on the shelf behind the bar.
During the two hours we took to chow down and discuss life, customers straggled in - the stylish older couple, the six-top with the woman whose voice could carry through a brick wall, and the overly loud Middle eastern man, whose foreign language patter was interrupted with the words "roast chicken."
I'm fascinated by how certain words are said in English, no matter the language being spoken (see: X-ray, refrigerator, Technicolor).
But, all in all, it was the least crowded I'd ever seen Dinamo and it was delightful to enjoy a meal without the madding crowds closing in around me. Restaurant Week, you were not missed.
The meal ended richly with a Nutella and hazelnut cookie to accompany a dish of caramel sea salt gelato (imagine butter pecan without the nuts) whilst discussing appealing destinations for winter vacations. Argentina? Belize? Somewhere else in the Caribbean?
I'm absolutely agog to think that Christmas is barely two months away and 2016 looms right behind it. May I be the first to say that 2015 passed in the blink of an eye.
Walking towards the door to leave, a friend spotted me and, without hesitation, asked where the music was tonight. As if I'm in charge of knowing what's playing where. Okay, I did know and we were on our way to hear some.
When I told him it was sibling country music, so I wasn't sure if he'd like it, his response was, "I'm from North Carolina. I grew up listening to country." Given his honey-coated southern drawl I bet he did.
The final uncrowded stop of the night was the Camel, a place I hadn't been in ages, despite its proximity to home.
We managed to make it there in time to hear BTW - also known as Ben Willson - singing and playing keys. He's been a long time favorite of mine and his closing cover of "Hallelujah" was gorgeous with its breathy vocals and weighted lyrics.
Meanwhile, my date thought he recognized Ben and he did - I'd taken him to see We Know, Plato! one of Ben's early band projects, years ago. Ain't it funny how time slips away?
Up second was singer/guitarist Jon Brown (and his body) playing the earnest songs he's known for in Horsehead.
I gave him major points when he shamed a couple of loud talkers during his set. "Can you just stop talking?' he asked rhetorically. They didn't. The shame was that one of the talkers was someone he knew. Some people are just raised by wolves, that's the only explanation for their bad behavior.
Tonight's headliner was The Cains from Alabama, a quintet of two blond sisters and a brother in a trucker hat, plus a crack guitarist and rock steady drummer.
No, I'm not usually much into country music, but I'm the first to admit I'm a sucker for sibling harmonizing.
They were only a few songs in when lead singer Taylor commented about the frog in her throat and apologized for not being able to make the notes in a song. She put lead vocal duties on her brother Logan, while they also adjusted the set list to include more covers and avoid the high notes of their new record, "The Cains."
From "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to "Landslide," they managed to harmonize well enough to distract us from the relatively few new songs they were doing, "Smoke on the Hill" being an exception. The ubiquitous "Shut Up and Dance with Me" got a half dozen energetic women on the dance floor because, well, shut up and dance with me.
When Taylor mentioned that they were just back from a tour of the UK, "Which was great, but we're happy to be back here in America," sister Madison raised a fist overhead in solidarity. I bet two blond sisters singing country - their first album was produced in Muscle Shoals, their second in Nashville - were mighty popular across the pond.
Despite regular apologies for the cracks in Taylor's voice and the altered set list, they really sounded quite good once they got going, a fact borne out by listening to their music now that I'm home.
I know because one of the benefits of going to an uncrowded show is that the band members come around to talk to everyone in the crowd afterwards and give out their CDs. Both of them.
An uncrowded show and party favors. Hallelujah.