The Art of Finding that Very Special Dining Experience

When engaged in finding that vacation spot that will promote that “Ah Ah” moment you must weave together the daily activities that brings the final meal of the day into a beautiful crescendo.

In major cities that are known for their art, music, theatre, and of course dining, there is a myriad of experiences that can accentuate the flavor of that city. In New York it is Central Park, the museums, Broadway, Carnegie Hall, 3 star Michelin restaurants, world class hotels, and a vast array of restaurants fashioned for every different taste on the planet.

In Boston it is traveling inside an historical picture wherever you walk. The Boston Harbor with historical drama’s highlighting the Boston tea party. As you walk past the parks with countless monuments honoring the revolutionary war there is a feeling of pride and a wonderful connection with the past. Then there is the gas lamp district which has gas lamp poles, quaint shops all adorned with hand-crafted wooden signs and a still functional butcher shop that was once frequented by Julia Childs.

Chicago embraces its past with an architectural boat cruise, Wrigley Field, the Willis Tower, and the Clarke house described as the oldest surviving house in Chicago. Beyond that there is the comedy of Second City, the Winters Jazz club, the legendary Harry Caray, deep dish pizza, the Chicago hot dog, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Al Capone.

The city I grew up near, San Francisco is now the culinary capital of the US. This beautiful city has the Golden Gate Bridge, the number one photographed man made structure in the United States. Then there are the iconic hotels on Nob Hill, the winding Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, and more Michelin rated restaurants then any other city in the U.S.

This brings me to the title of this blog. When researching your destination and what you’d like to witness, be apart of, experience, there is no better way to end the day than engrossing yourself in the culinary joy of a beautiful meal. Now we have menu’s printed on line, reviews, and historical information about the restaurant and of course the chef.

For every type of cuisine we can look to their sources for acquiring the freshest produce, fish, and wonderful meat selections. One thing I must caution you and that is the fact that if you are dealing with world class chefs anything is possible in the realm of acquiring produce, fish, meat, or anything associated with food. The relationships are key to the link between the chef and the purveyors. I always tell the guests at Jean George Steakhouse, it’s funny you have to come to the desert for the best shellfish in the world.

Check the menu first, then reviews, then atmosphere, and finally the key components:

Chef, ownership, and length of time in business. Also, how far the restaurant is located from where you’re staying. The best idea is to Uber it or cab it to your hotel or home. Then enjoy that rare dining experience that creates a memory you will never forget.

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My Restaurant Career Began Here

my restaurant career began here

Within the confines of the four walls of a restaurant lie the stories that engage, confound, and perpetrate a culture that only those with intimate knowledge can relate.

My first job in the restaurant business was at the Caprice restaurant in Tiburon, Ca. I was in high school and worked as a busboy at the Caprice. The restaurant was located next to elephant rock with a view of Angle Island, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Belvedere, and parts of downtown Tiburon. With hand painted globes encasing candles on every table and huge bay windows, the setting was engrossing, magical, and captivating. My favorite view was when there was a full moon which lit up the island, bay, and beyond.

Downstairs was a private dinning room with a bar, a rock fireplace carved out of the California coastline, and the windows were portholes from the USS Texas. The waves would come crashing underneath the structure providing the perfect natural cooling system for the wine cellar also located in this downstairs private dining room. The ceiling was a configuration of old wooden Bordeaux and Burgundy wine cases aligned like ceiling tiles so that you could read the vineyard and vintage for every hand-crafted case. For private parties… there is no better setting.

The owner was a real character out of some weird nautical novel about a man possessed by excess that throws caution to the wind. He looked exactly how you would picture the captain of a ship with a grey beard and face off the cover of some old sailor whiskey bottle.

One day at Christmas time we had a lunch party for the executives of Hallmark greeting cards. There were approximately 30 people at this luncheon.

The owner, Kirby Atterbury, was in rare form as he came down from his home up on the hill and not too far away from the restaurant. This was about noon and he was already plastered. His nose was so red he could have guided Santa’s sleigh through the darkest of nights.

Upon arrival to the restaurant he walked past the entrance and started for the party. No one could stop him, I mean he was the owner and had a propensity to fire people for no sane reason. He just happened to pick the table the host was sitting at and began to tell some crude jokes. When I say crude this man could make a stripper blush.

Insulted by this bawdy man (the host didn’t know he was the owner), threw this degenerate out of his own restaurant. Then the host made the mistake of making his way to the restroom. While the host was in the restroom Kirby snuck back through the kitchen and proceeded to sit down at the hosts table and finish the host’s entree.

After that, Kirby sat at his bar which was right by the entrance and began powering down even more vodka. As the host was incensed by this display, he couldn’t figure out why this man was still in the restaurant. When he found out Kirby was the owner he led the group out of the restaurant, not waiting for desert.
Needless to say Hallmark never returned to the Caprice. I would have loved to have witnessed the Hallmark card that event inspired.

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Recipes That Make You Dance

Recipes That Make You Dance pazaz premium bakeware
Ever since I was shorter, I loved food. I remember the first time food captured my senses and I couldn’t believe how wonderful that experience was.

I was five years old, had oatmeal for breakfast, played all day in anticipation of the barbecue my parents would prepare later for their friends. I threw the ball to myself, climbed a tree, ran around the neighborhood and played with the neighborhood kids until I was hungry. I’ll never forget that meal as it was the first time I felt like it wasn’t just sustenance, it was more then that. It was the combination of flavors between charred, sweet, and savory.

That delicious sensory experience catapulted me into the passionate realm of food lover. I will share with you that magical recipe for the barbecue sauce as written down by my mom. She had several recipes in her repertoire but as I mentioned, this was the first time I paid attention to food.

      • 4 Tablespoons of olive oil
      • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire
      • Chopped onion to taste
      • 1 cup red wine vinegar
      • 1 cup chili sauce
      • 8 tablespoons brown sugar
      • 1 cup catsup
      • 1 cup water
      • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
      • Sea Salt to taste ( substituted from original table salt)

As we traverse the landscape of any culinary event we are blessed at times to remember that dining experience. Usually for me, when I now enjoy a meal at a restaurant it isn’t something I could prepare at home. I save for the meal that has the potential (based upon menu description and reviews) to create that very special memory associated not only with the restaurant but the city that restaurant is located in. It is the culture, ingredients, and the slightly different demeanor of the staff that captures the heart beat of that place and time.

In the fall, Nancy and I went to Chicago, a city I’ve never been. We took the architectural boat cruise, went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, had deep dish pizza, enjoyed jazz from the Winters Jazz Club, but the event that elevated our trip was a meal at Spiaggia.

The staff was amazing, gracious, eloquent in menu description, and the kitchen was spot on. In every coursed meal there is one dish that stands out. In this case it was the hand-crafted fettuccine with the chef coming to our table and grating fresh white truffles into a mound of savory delight over the top of the pasta sitting in a Parmesan cream sauce.

Sometimes when I think of that trip to Chicago I’ll remember that beautiful dish. I remember the effort it took to create the perfect marriage of ingredients, and the chef with a smile on his face when he realized he elevated our dining to a memory that will never be forgotten.

One other meal that took place for me that I will never forget was over 30 years ago at the St. Orres Inn in Gualala California. In this case it was a combination of the meal and the way it was described. Before I even tasted the dish I was convinced it would be the best lamb I’d ever had.

The server compared the lamb in France, where they came from, the grass they ate, the topography of the surrounding landscape, and the breeze that gently cascaded over the plain to create the perfect conditions for raising the lamb. He then compared the exact same conditions to a small (farm to table) ranch producing the finest lamb in Northern California. This meal was prepared and served inside a building with a Russian Mosque design, 40 foot ceilings, limited tables with long stem roses, and Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” album playing in the background.

You see, these amazing dining experiences would not be possible without the passion necessary to create a symbiotic relationship between the design of the restaurant, chef, server, and the guest. It is this devotion to elevate the dining experience that promotes a dance inside us musically, spiritually, and figuratively.

Next time you dine I hope you are blessed to find that culinary dance that promotes an event you will never forget.

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Friends Forever

friends forever

Nothing is as precious as the relationships you develop that last over the course of a lifetime. I realize it’s pre-mature to state that since my life time is still continuing, evolving, and moving at the speed of time… however, any relationship that lasts more than 40 years should be in that elite category.

I’d have to say that if you have friends from your childhood and or college and your over 50 then you qualify for the blessed category of “life long” friends. The beautiful part of “life long” friends is that they know things about you, and you know things about them that are precious. Those jewels can be taken out of the memory box and discussed as if it were yesterday. And, for that brief moment, you can travel back in time which usually results in laughter or a comment like, “I can’t believe we did that!”

Every positive, long lasting relationship, brings us closer to a fine wine that ages gracefully as we pop the cork on a beloved memory. It starts with a wonderful sensory experience that creates a connection transcending space and time propelling us into a galaxy only reserved for what the best of humanity can provide, love.

I’ve got a couple friends I’ve known since boy scouts. We have stories that start in the third grade and continue through college, marriages, children, jobs, and continue to the present. Every birthday we call each other to wish the other one “Happy Birthday”. It seems like such a simple gesture but that call or card reflects a commitment that has lasted almost our entire lives.

When we count our blessings we should count those wonderful people in our lives that have lasted past thick and thin and have endured the changes that test even the most stedfast relationship. Another reason that these friendships are so special is because almost everything else is about beginnings and endings. Our schooling, our jobs, our hobbies and or interests over time… but friendships over the course of a lifetime evolve into that rare beautiful bottle of wine that only gets better over time.

If you can count even one friend like that you are blessed. I encourage anyone reading this to reach out to those that have made a difference in your life creating the bond that is even stronger as those memories become the glue that binds us together for a lifetime.

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I look forward to looking back to see how far I’ve come. The past, present, and the future seem to crystalize into a notebook. Each page you turn in your dreams brings clarity to the visions that is the reality defined by the hourglass of time.

Along the way are defining moments that seemed innocuous, a single event, a step away from something or towards something. And then as we look back those moments become a collection of variables like a math problem solved by the passage of time.

I joined a fraternity (Sigma Nu) at Chico State University in northern California that produced one of those “defining moments”. I didn’t realize at the time what a difference, and what a powerful statement joining an organization, a group of men, with a single mind-set could be.

A brotherhood with a voice that spoke to those who joined about the importance of “love, truth, and honor” and how that message is timeless. That message is the glue that binds our interaction with others so that we can listen, improve, and connect with humanity in such a way that cultivates our greatest strengths.

Today I look at the brotherhood which is still vibrant and growing as a legacy to those that started it, those who built it, and those that defined it. The values set forth by those men that started Sigma Nu fraternity January 1st 1869 at the Virginia Military Institute are a timeless reminder of what power there is in the fortuitous gathering of young men to propel ideas into the next two centuries and beyond.

Another event that took place that helped direct, change, and vitalize my life that I did see coming was the birth of our daughter, Chelsea. Those of you reading this can relate to the wonderful change we experience when we are blessed to have children. Children are the single most important gift to help you take your eyes off yourself and put them on another person. I always wondered (in my youth) how my parents could overlook certain “situations” that seemed to me to be inexcusable. However, after I was blessed with Chelsea I realized the definition of ” unconditional love”.

As life moves forward with our family and friends we understand the value of these relationships and the umbrella of wisdom it takes to insure these important connections last for as long as forever is.

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