Sunday, February 15, 2015

An Evening of Fine Dining

Farm Boy and I went to a "special" dinner the other evening. The dinner was held in a woman's home where she has installed a professional kitchen and turned a large room into a dining space squeezed to the very limits of cozy with five tables. To avoid all the regulations, requirements, licensing, and inspections that are necessary to open an actual restaurant in California, the owner hit on the idea that she would merely invite "friends" into her home for a lovely meal. You must be a member, which is a $1.00 fee, so perhaps setting it up as a private club also helps her avoid legal crap. All monies for the cost of the meal and drinks are considered "donations." Then, once or twice a month, she holds dinners on the Friday and Saturday of a particular weekend, seating 24 people twice in one evening. She posts the menu and features the chef on her website, and sends out email invitations to members. Sounded interesting to me! What we didn't know until we arrived and were seated was this terrific idea also entailed a signed paper from each guest that if we died of food poisoning, etc., we could not hold her or the kitchen responsible.

Despite the rather unsettling thought that my signature on that paper could actually prove necessary, the idea of running a restaurant without rules was intriguing and appealed to my renegade "fuck the government" nature, so I signed away my rights -- or signed my own death certificate, depending on how this meal would turn out - and decided to make the best of it. I really wanted it to be fabulous and memorable; Farm Boy just wanted to survive after I forged his signature.

C'est la vie. Bon appetit!

Well, we didn't die, but it wasn't memorable. It was thoroughly disappointing, to be truthful. I will admit right now that I am not that easy to impress with food, but I am also fairly accepting of that fact and manage to find something pleasant about almost anything I order in a restaurant. In other words, I may rarely roll my eyes, gasp in delight and savor every mouthful, but I generally can enjoy any meal as perfectly serviceable. This wasn't even that. But we didn't die, which is what Farm Boy likes to point out every time I bitch about what a disappointment it was.

Part of the reason for my serious criticism of this place is that it is a fabulous business model from a profit standpoint, and from a chef's standpoint -- so it was even more disappointing that it was done so poorly. Each meal is completely set by the chef who then has the luxury of preparing a menu exactly as they see the courses building on each other. There is absolutely no waste and the kitchen can be run like a catering operation. There are only two seatings a night. Easy peesy. I could run a restaurant like that. Basically, they are catering two identical parties for 24 on the same night. Obviously much of the preparation and cooking can be done ahead of time. The cost was waaaaay overpriced because every course was teeny weeny, the pours of wine were ridiculously small, and so, by my conservative calculations, they were making out like bandits! Shit! Even the napkins were no more than 5 inches by 4 inches big. Cover your dress? Yeah? Fuck you...we don't follow no stinking rules. Well, okay then. How about plates? Another big finger. Our first course, an antipasto course, was served on little wooden cutting blocks with legs, so your food was perched 8 inches above the table and threatened to roll off every time you attempted to pick up a bite. This
The infamous chopping blocks. You thought I was kidding.
necessitated that everyone at our table of six, Farm Boy, myself, and four strangers, all self-consciously fixate on their chopping blocks like children allowed to sit at the grownups table for the first time, carefully poised over the precariously perched food, praying they weren't going to be the one who saw an olive roll off the high, flat surface and bounce gaily to the table or floor. We did see one plate halfway through the meal, for our fish course, but it left and never returned. The main course was a bite of pork over polenta served in a tiny little bowl, and imagine my delight when the chopping blocks showed up again for dessert! Even better, this time the chopping blocks, holding two utterly flat, tough, chewy chocolate cookies sandwiching a fallen whipped cream filling, were accompanied by little itty bitty glasses which contained a chocolate sauce. It tasted just like Jello pudding. I. Kid. You. Not. Of course, that's if you could manage to taste it. Honest to God, half of the people at our table, Farm Boy included, had been left with cream soup spoons which were simply too big to fit into the teensy tiny little precious glasses. This predicament, coming as it did at the end of a rather exhausting struggle masquerading as a dinner without nearly enough wine, did not delight Farm Boy one bit. Tossing his spoon to the side, he stuck his finger into the gooey pudding/sauce and scooped it out to suck it off with the relish of a kid working a Jello pudding cup. You are not keeping Farm Boy away from dessert, even shitty Jello pudding dessert.

So fuck you. We don't follow rules either.

The only saving grace about the meal was that the other two couples at our table were fascinating and I enjoyed probing them with questions about their lives. Meeting strangers is one of my favorite things because I find I really like just about everyone for about the first two hours; after that it gets dicey. Farm Boy knows this and thanked me as we walked to our car for not bringing up politics. One of the gentlemen had come from Boston, gone to Harvard, even had a grandfather who had been a professor there. This, among other things, stamped him a crazy ass liberal. 

And I said nary a word. Butter wouldn't have melted in my mouth. If there had been any. An entire meal...and not a pat of butter.

Don't get me started.....

So here is a recipe that will make you gasp in delight. Promise.


2 servings


  • 4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 T. white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 T. drained capers
  • 1 1/2 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 1/4 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
  • Juice from one lemon, add according to your taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 2 8 to 9 oz veal rib chops
  • Salt and pepper


Whisk 3 tablespoons olive oil with next six ingredients. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Prepare barbeque grill. Brush veal chops with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill to desired doneness. Medium rare is best.

Serve with sauce.

This is divine accompanied by small, roasted potatoes, cut in half and tossed with some oil, butter, fresh thyme, and garlic. Start these ahead as they take about 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Sauteed green beans or wilted kale would be lovely as a vegetable.

Accompany with a glorious pink champagne.


  1. If they're skirting the regulations about health inspections for the kitchen by being a private club, I'll bet they can't get whatever commercial insurance covers a regular restaurant. Or it might just be too expensive for them. Thus the waiver.

    I wonder if they're really making out like bandits. Sounds like she had this great idea and then it turned out that the expenses were higher than she thought and she wasn't really enjoying it for what she was making. Maybe she started out doing the cooking herself but meals for 48 wasn't so much fun so she hired a chef, or her house insurance went way up, etc. So she got chintzy with the portions to boost her margin.

    If she's been operating for a while like this and it was packed I guess it's working for her. From what you describe I don't know why, unless you just happened to be there on a bad night.

  2. The lady who runs the place never cooked. The business model is built around invited "celebrity" chefs, but in my neck of the woods, that doesn't mean much. And from the vibe I got, it's a bunch of hippies wanting to work bare minimum for their supper (or the case may be). It was very expensive and with the portions served, they had to be making a good turn. No, she isn't making six figures or anything, but to work one or two weekends...she just hosts...and the chefs who come in cook two nights...not a bad gig.

    1. I would sooooo do it if I were in my twenties. But better. HAHAHA!

    2. And the portions were tiny because it was all so very very precious. Everyone there acted like it was fabulous! I was hard pressed not to laugh. The first course was simply cheese, Italian cold meats like coppa, some olives and a piece of bread. The next course was a broth that needed salt so badly it was tasteless with two seriously undercooked ravioli, the next was a piece of toast so dry it cracked like freaking Rye Crisp when you bit it covered in a cold tomato sauce with seared tuna...barely...I had one TINY piece of tuna. Then pork on polenta that had gotten cold so it was pasty, a salad that was little more than shredded Romaine with anchovies and oil, a light little sorbet that wasn't bad because it wasn't anything much at all, and a completely blech! dessert. I'm guessing they didn't have more than $10.00 per head in food, if that.

    3. Oh, hippies. Looks like she knows her target market then and you're not in it. "Oooh, it must be special, the portions are so small" vs "The food's not very good, but at least the portions are small."

    4. HAHAHAHAHA! Exactly!! I even said to Farm Boy that at least there wasn't much to have to get through. The liberal Hahvad man told a story about attending a wedding in Oman and that as a guest of honor, he was offered (and had to eat) freshly killed raw goat brain. So Farm Boy started saying, "This isn't bad, but it needs more goat brains." I thought he was hysterical.

    5. Hahaha! He sounds like fun. Reminds me of a scene in a novel which, if I remember correctly, boiled down to "What disgusting thing can we convince this dumb foreigner to eat by telling him it's a local custom?"

  3. Are goat brains brain food?

    Seriously though, a good idea but if the cook sucks it doesn't matter. Except to artsy fartsy types, I reckon.

    1. Goat brains brain food? I'd bet money no one ever got smarter by eating them. I'm guessing RG is right. They had to slaughter the goat for the feast, so they passed off the icky stuff on the gullible foreigner.

  4. Did you stop at a crystal after and get something to eat?

  5. No. LOL! We went home and raided the frig.