The Old Bath House
Thursday, March 5, 1998
Anyone familiar with local lore is probably aware that Lovers Point began full of ecclesiastic intention. For the Methodists congregating around Pacific Grove''s serpentine shoreline back in the 1870s, the craggy outcropping that stretched into the Bay became "Lovers of Jesus Point." A few years later a little frame shack was thrown up nearby to house a crude hot-tub prototype--actually more like a big tank of cold seawater--to cool off an excess of religious fervor.
From there the notion grew into a real bath house with 22 dressing rooms and private salt water baths. It was in 1949 that the city put up the structure that stands today. When local restaurateur David Bindel came along 25 years later, an A-frame roof, turret and covered staircase were Victorian embellishments he added to inspire an air of elegance. No one is really sure when the area became simply "Lovers Point," but the number of wedding parties that frequent the spot is testimony to its romantic allure. And it''s by indulging these amorous activities with a complement of fine food, genteel surroundings and impeccable service that The Old Bath House Restaurant established a reputation for proliferating romance.
"The Bath House has always been known as being real romantic but a couple weeks ago, this guy topped it," says Dorothy Maris-Ildiz, the restaurant''s director of operations sharing a laugh with Executive Chef Sheri O''Connor. "A gentleman phoned to make a reservation and to let us know that he would be proposing to his date that evening. So he shows up early that evening and spends about 45 minutes with three of us, each one, going over everything. We were supposed to hide the flowers he had delivered so that he could then excuse himself to the restroom, collect the flowers and make a trail with them down through the park, where he would make the proposal. We, in turn, would give her a note with instructions on where to find him!
"So several of us stood out at the side railing, shouting encouragement and trying to keep her on the trail, since it was dark and she couldn''t see much. When we heard a shriek--we thought it was of delight--we figured it all worked out!"
Usually, however, O''Connor is found in the kitchen overseeing a menu that she describes as "customer-oriented and not all Frenched-out." Promotion to the exec chef spot last year brought with it an opportunity to put her own twists on this fine-dining bill of fare, utilizing experience that she garnered working a circuit of top-notch places.
After graduating from New England Culinary Institute in 1989, she held positions at Highlands Inn, L''Escargot, Tarpy''s Roadhouse and Crme Carmel.
O''Connor now enjoys having some fun with specials like the signature veal porterhouse that she might pair with Cambazola cheese and portabella mushrooms or fresh artichokes. The popular rack of lamb gets a savory crust of pistachios, and grilled prawns are skewered on rosemary branches served along with wild boar sausage as an appetizer. Beef Bindel, a variation on the classic Wellington, remains a menu standard, lavished with prosciutto, mushrooms and truffle pt.
Maris-Ildiz and O''Connor work well together, proud of the fact that they are women who hold the top-level positions at this high-profile spot. And O''Connor feels she''s hitting her stride now, after the first year "I''m on the line four nights a week," she says, " seeing what works and what doesn''t. After the first few months, when one of the wait staff started referring to me as ''Chef,'' I knew I''d made it." cw