Sunday, August 14, 2011


Have you ever stepped out with the idea you were going to make a dining experience an adventure?

Tonight was such a night. I walk into this place which is a culinary jewel buried within a chain hotel. People don’t know about this place, and if they do, they assume it to be something it isn’t just because of where it is and what they think it is.

The old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ holds true for this place. It’s the little restaurant that could. It is not a diner. It is not a chain. But rather it is a tucked away place where graduates of Le Cordon Bleu have an opportunity to refine their culinary educational experience on a level that is expected to please business travelers who teleconference; while hometown brides-to-be who tap into the hotel’s catering for their big day. It’s also where the city’s wealthy chamber of commerce utilizes the facility for upscale for their snootiest of society events, which no one cares about except for the relatives of those whose faces make the local newspaper.
So needless to say, this is not your typical hotel dining experience. This is something taken to another level, but if left to experience it on a path of reinvention and rediscovery – it could actually change your world.

As I sit by the window, I am automatically given a romantic setting as a waiter lights my candle flickering in a frosted votive, caged by rusted/distressed, coppery ironwork with vines and leaves that almost scream to me as if they knew I was coming. My signature style resting on table, paid homage to my love for modern-day chic with artistic, unexpected rustic flair. The linen table cloth needed ironing in its’ fold-marked peachy hue, the napkins were crisp though, simply folded without the swan or fan extension.

When presented the menu, as a glass of ice water was poured without a single drip, with the kind of ice your teeth love, because it’s slightly crushed, so you need not fear of any enamel damage… I was delighted with the black leathery bound menu’s selection. Usually when I dine, I like to order something I won’t go through the trouble of making for myself at home. And there isn’t much that I won’t go through the trouble of making unless it’s live seafood (I feel sorry for the live crustaceans and what I am about to do them) or something which requires artful preparation or the assistance of a skilled butcher.

It was evident what I had to do since I was nowhere yet near the ocean, I had to order the rack of lamb, but opted for the half-rack in order to indulge in the dessert menu which was already capturing my sweet-tooth motivated eye scan. But before I could do this, the waiter presented me with the Amuse Bouche – a lovely salmon, green onion, cheesy creation adorning a quarter-sized toasted sour dough round. Bite-size love, compliments of the chef. Thank you. Fantastic.

As dishes started to arrive… I noticed something very interesting. The five of diamonds. Why was this catching my eye? The dishes were square… and the next set of dishes I purchase are going to be square. Huey Lewis is echoing in my brain “It’s Hip To Be Square”… indeed it is, especially when you position the squares to where the dish points point to you and outward energy across the table, in the diamond position. I counted the number of dishes doing this on the table between the bread plate, the dipping plate and spare, the amuse bouche, and my just arrived starter course. Five diamonds. Most people reading this would think I have some sort of Rain Man residue, but truthfully, I don’t. I just happened to notice this and I have no idea why.

The starter course needed to be a salad – perfect for a balmy summer evening. Baby greens, with sweet grape tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese with candied pecans, dressed with a white balsalmic. I was content as my plate arrived seeing something familiar to me. Years ago I attempted to create my first-ever ‘cucumber ribbon’ salad, with lovely artistic wide ribbons of cucumber. They look so lovely and creative. My salad arrived with a thicker ribbon actually wrapping itself around my bed of greens – as if it were a present. It was delightful to see the creative chef create something that was to be opened with care and enjoyment. The frisee and baby red lettuces couldn’t help but peek out. It made me smile to see validation on a plate that, such an attempt with a ribbon was presented with the exact effort and creative passion I felt as I enjoyed it.

The pairing offering with the half-rack of lamb was, to my pleasure a pinot noir. While I enjoy all wines, and have most recently crossed over into the organic wine fan base, I was interested in trying this La Crema Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir wines are the highest maintenance of wines to produce, they take longer, more focus and care to create. The grapes themselves are antioxidant rich black grapes and the buzz today is that this is the healthiest of wines to imbibe, for its cholesterol-reduction benefits and cancer prevention. So of course, logic and pure passion enable my lips to say ‘yes, please…I shall indulge.’ When it arrived, the bouquet was lovely, berry notes and yet when sipped, velvety and smooth… surprisingly rich and not overpowering, the acidity was relatively low and while it had an earthy elegance to it, it wasn’t heavy. Perfection in a glass. And I am no connoisseur, nor am I educated by any sophisticated sommelier, I just know what I like. And this was it. I couldn’t be more pleased sipping on this as I awaited the arrival of my lamb.

I hadn’t even received my entrée yet, but I was content. And not just for the choice I made in taking myself on a culinary adventure, revisiting my intense love for fine food – but with the new epiphany that had just floated across the table. I realized that while one is going through hell of reinvention, rediscovery and trying to find life’s navigation bar of where to go next and how to find the path of smiles once again after enduring a rut of stale detours… it became evident this occasional splurge is well worth its own indulgence. Why? You get back in touch with senses and simple pleasures lost in the rat race of everyday life.

We don’t often get an opportunity to stop in our tracks and enjoy things. We don’t notice things like details, mannerisms, artistry, special care taken to do things a certain way for the pleasure of others or even for ourselves. It gets missed driving through drive-thrus, brown bagging it or cramming something from the cafeteria line down the hatch to fill the hole. What we miss is the real deal --- of something WHOLE, COMPLETE, AUTHENTIC. Why? Because we’re too darn busy doing and going through the process of what we think is important in life. In the end we need to realize that life is here and meant to be enjoyed. Every part of it. This is not to say we must do something decadent or extravagant to get the same message. My epiphany could have been from a New York hot dog vendor on the corner, who took the time to make sure relish didn’t saturate the hot dog bun. But the message, regardless, of where you get it is clear.

So onward and here comes the rack of lamb. The waiter apologetically said that he hadn’t forgotten about me. Truthfully, I hadn’t noticed. I was too busy having epiphanies, sipping my La Crema Pinot Noir and contemplating life and life choices for happiness and what the heck that truly means.

The lamb was lovely, cooked to perfection…the sexy medium rare pink tender bits were juicy looking and beautiful, savory crust, velvety centers, divine. I appreciated that the bones of the chops were not dressed with the fancy white paper frilled décor. The dish appeared simplistic and elegant, and yet uniquely Californian sitting atop a bed of peppery arugula. The triangle of soft goat cheese in the center was almost reminiscent of fresh brie in texture, which made a lovely compliment as I created my own bread, tomato, arugula, goat cheese bruschetta of sorts with what ingredients presented themselves on my plate and at the table. Lovely, not heavy. Perfect dinner.

A nice hiatus post-meal, gave me time for life reflection and dessert contemplation.
Isn’t it horrible to have to choose between a buttery lemon tart; a red velvet pie and a long list of other desserts to die for?

I ended up choosing a Tahitian vanilla crème brulee topped with fresh berries, but as I took my first bite the beauty comes from what I thought my instinct told me was an umami taste. I asked the waiter and he became wide-eyed at the question of ‘what it could be.’ And like a little kid raising his hand in class anxious to answer he said “ooh, ooh, I know, I know …” But before he could tell me what that umami was, he first praised my palate and said I would be the first person to ever question and that I should take note in the fact I have great culinary senses. He then told me the berries were soaked in Grand Marnier…….ah yes!

The crème brulee was smooth, creamy, comforting and the torched crusted sugar top was caramelized bliss with just the right amount of crunch and brittleness to the bite The berries were a lovely sweet-tart compliment and the dessert as a whole wasn’t heavy, but rather refreshing and palate cleansing to the perfect meal.
As I took a sip of my black Torrefazione Italia coffee, I rejoiced in what was a lovely evening. It was a moment to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of what life offers we don’t usually allow ourselves to indulge in.

What did I learn about myself during this meal? I learned that when you are comfortable in your own skin, no matter where you are, you can take the time to stop the clock and take part in something amazing. You can allow your creativity to be enhanced and ignited by the very things that make you happy and feel excited about life. And above all, your own sense of being, sense of living and sense of grace can be brought forth to your own attention as you say grace and are thankful for the daily blessings of life and what it has to offer.

Give us this day, our daily bread…. Just be sure to make sure you’re enjoying every bite along the way.

© 2011 Queena Verbosity 100% Real Words
Media Monster Communications, Inc.
Stacey Kumagai

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