Chewing Up The Scenery
The origins and orientation of a food critic looking for love.
Thursday, December 28, 2000
Amazingly, the year 2000 has come and finally is about to be gone. Aside from the hyper hype and fanfare on the front end, it was pretty much like any other year. Now we''re about to wave bye-bye to the holiday season--a time for spiritual thoughts, loving acts, joyful gatherings and hardcore partying.
I remember in the old days, businesses would begin to lighten up and put out cookies and goodies in the offices and stores halfway through the month of December so that workers and customers could partake of the holiday cheer.
Lunchtime would become a time to meet up with old friends or new associates at the local hot spot for leisurely, drawn-out food and drink fests. Not a whole lot of real work actually got done, but spirits were uplifted, holiday stresses were diminished and happiness became the goal of everyone.
Nowadays--with a social climate inching toward controlled behavior modification campaigns aimed at eradicating traditional fun--the holiday season has lost some of its freewheeling panache.
While I''m in this reflective mood, I thought it would be a good idea (actually, my editor had the idea--I just had the good sense to agree with him) to look back on past restaurant adventures we''ve shared, reminisce a little and explain a bit about what exactly it is that I''m doing week after week in this column (no snickering, please).
In the Beginning
The thought of writing a regular column about restaurants was not something I set out to do. The last writing gig I had was covering college basketball games, but 17 years of restaurant and nightclub humping combined with 25 years of intensive dining out experience left me with a couple of lifetimes'' worth of material coiled up in my brainpan.
One day this past year, my good friend and neighbor (Larry, of Three Stooges fame) came running to my sweetie (Curly) with a wanted poster from the Weekly. It was seeking a food writer to visit area restaurants and write about them. Both Larry and Curly agreed it was right up my alley.
I was a bit nervous and a great deal hopeful that I would be able to express some of what I''ve learned about the wonderful wacky world of westaurants (homage to Elmer Fudd).
The paper kingpins wanted five samples of my writing and a make-believe restaurant review. I dug up some crinkly old samples of my work and wrote up a piece about a visit to Passionfish, Pacific Grove epicurean epicenter.
Well, the editors decided to give me a shot (I heard later that I was the only one who applied and they were pretty desperate). They wanted me to be as fair as possible and not shy away from any negative impressions, with the hope of effecting positive change where it would be helpful.
What I have tried to do is provide a peek at our culinary and cultural adventures in one particular restaurant on one particular evening. I don''t try to be too clinical about it because I don''t think many people are interested in knowing every gory detail about every technical aspect of what I see in a restaurant. Having managed restaurants, including one of the highest-volume restaurants in the country, I learned to see way too much. All that stuff gets cloying and boring.
When I go out to eat, I want to enjoy it. I try to find the best things about a place, trying to be very forgiving of minor annoyances. I still get excited about visiting a new place or going back to a favorite. So I try to share the feelings I''ve had during my visits and not get too caught up in anything but the adventure of it.
I remember the fun we had when we visited Crpe Escape, the cool fast food joint in Carmel''s Crossroads Shopping Center. Here was Joe LaSorsa, a guy who had never worked in a restaurant in his life, who decided to open this crpe place. He was working about 900 hours a week, just getting the crpe beat out of him, but learning on the fly and putting out a really nice, interestingly new alternative for folks. It was a joy to write about our experience there.
And I fondly recall the time we first tried Alberto''s, the tiny trattoria on Forest Avenue in PG. To experience his downhome Italian cooking and Alberto''s one-of-a-kind personality is a constant source of enjoyment to me and one that brings people back.
Then there was the beautiful interaction with the family-owned Barn Thai restaurant in Seaside near Gold''s Gym. In the article, which praised Barn Thai and the great job the folks there were doing, I also wrote a line about the ugly-looking ceiling. Within a couple of weeks, they had totally redone the ceiling and spruced the place up. Nice, but what was really gratifying was to have made the public aware of a little hidden treasure of a place.
Speaking of little treasures, Fifi''s in Pacific Grove, the groovy French-style parlor serving wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinner pops to mind. Stop in and say "Hi!" to the ever-congenial and witty Calvin and the always mysterious and sultry Michele.
One of my favorite total experiences--from the anticipation and the trip down and back to the magical dining environment and the meal itself--was Deetjen''s. Located about an hour down the Coast Road at the Big Sur Inn, Deetjen''s is truly a journey into the wondrous fairy tale that is Big Sur. We Three Stooges often recall that spectacular evening.
Those of you who have been along for the ride know how often I write about the power of love in a restaurant. Without it, the food, the service and the ambiance all become one-dimensional. Without love, no real nourishment of any kind can occur. With love, it''s all food for the soul.
I remember those beautiful folks at Golden Fish on Main Street in Old Town Salinas. True artisans of the art of giving, the nobility of service to their fellow humans is on display there.
That''s what I''ve always been in it for. When the rare combination of love in the front of the house and love in the back of the house is present in a restaurant, every day is Christmas.