Hospitality @ Home: Table Settings

It begins with a plate. One plate per person, set directly in front of her chair, about an inch away from the edge of the table.

Next, the entree fork and knife join the party. Fork on the left, knife on the right, with the blade opening toward the plate. The Gent was once a protocol officer in the Air Force, and he told me a story he learned at protocol school about knife blades. According to service mythology, there once lived a King who loved to feast. He loved to drink and tell stories almost as much as he loved feasting, and as a drunken storyteller is wont to do in the middle of a feast, the king flung his hand wildly as he regaled his guests with a tale of recent adventure. His hand brushed the the blade of his knife, which was pointing away from his plate, and the king sliced his hand open.

I have no idea if that story is true, but it is a good way to remember which way to set knives on a dinner table.

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Restaurant 101: Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche– [ah-myooz boosh] — is a word you may have heard bandied about in restaurants. As it is French in origin, it can sound like a bit of secret code when it falls from the lips of a discreet maitre d’ or a waistcoated server , especially when re-purposed as a verb as in “Has table twenty-two been amused?”

While it is possible these theoretical staff are wondering how the maitre d’s starchy humor landed on a group of diners, it is more likely they are discussing a bit of service business.

An amuse bouche is simply a bite-size dish from the chef meant to stimulate your palate. An amuse bouche typically appears at the beginning of a progressive tasting menu with several courses.

A great amuse is true to the origin of the french word– to cause a person to muse, to ponder. Perhaps to ponder what is in store in the meal to come, or perhaps to be amused by a particularly stunning flavor combination that they would never have imagined enjoying.

An amuse need not be overly complicated. It can be more like Ikea furniture; well designed and easy to assemble. So easy, fact, that you can easily arrange some at home.

If, for instance, you are throwing a dinner party, you can elevate your game by arranging slivers of several elements from the meal in a stack, on a spoon, or threaded on skewer.

Think tiny, and think piquant flavors that will make an impression. Continue reading

Sneak Peak– Picnic recipes

basic tomato basil bruschetta
the simplest Bruschetta recipe you’ll ever make… former chef at the National Gallery of Art in D.C taught this to me years ago, and it’s been staple ever since
garlic ginger dry rub
ingredients for a garlic-ginger dry rub
Picnic Sherpa
The Gent carrying the picnic basket for me….
spicy sweet toasted almonds
I am obsessed with these toasted almonds. I love mixing them with kale chips, too, for a guilt-free crunchy snack
olives and almonds
can’t get simpler than a jar of Caselvetrano olives with toasted almonds, sea salt, and olive oil
picnic spread
the picnic spread
garlic ginger picnic chicken
garlic ginger oven-roasted picnic chicken
garlic ginger chicken
chicken, pre-oven
Barnsdall art park wine tasting
great location for a picnic– Barnsdall Art Park Friday night wine tasting

Just to whet your appetite for some upcoming recipes–

Marche Bacchus

I almost don’t want to write about this spot. I almost don’t want anyone else to know where it is, that it exists, or where to find it. It’s like when you first discover an incredible band. And in the beginning, you can go to a concert in a intimate little club and be right by the stage. Then suddenly everyone else in the world discovers that band, and as happy as you that they are succeeding, you also long for that time when everything was simpler…


But here I go.

For my birthday dinner a week ago, The Gent whisked me away to a lovely little oasis in the desert of Vegas, a lovely, clever, well-appointed bistro called Marche Bacchus. It’s a waterfront bistro behind a wine shop, in the suburb of Summerlin. There is no strip, no slot machines, if it weren’t for the heat, you would never know you are in Vegas.

In the United States, 9% of the total workforce finds employment in restaurants. In Vegas, the percentage must be three times that. It is this fact that creates the perfect recipe for Marche Bacchus. The wine shop in the front of the dining room is your wine list. You can stroll among the aisles, roll the bottles in your hands, debate with your dining partner about the pros and cons of this bottle or that one. Then decide to just compromise and get both.

You are not going to find any Kendall Jackson or Barefoot here. The collection is incredibly selective. And if you see the prices that restaurants pay for wine, like I do, then the prices are gob-smackingly competitive. As in “how the heck can they stay in business and charge $40 for a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, when most restaurants charge twice that?”
The Gent and I started with the Melka ‘CJ’ Cabernet. Then nabbed a bottle of Kistler Chardonnay after we ordered practically every seafood item on the menu, and thought we should have a white wine, too.  Two bottles of wine enjoyed between two people is a recipe for a lovely birthday dinner, but a terrible one for getting photographs in focus, so this post is slightly lacking in the latter.

Our server, Paul, was perfect. As much as I love LA, and I love my staff, there is nothing like being in the hands of a server who truly enjoys food, wine, and service. He was conversational when we had questions, knew the menu like a song, and was gracious when we came in close to the end of the night and bought two bottles. He knew he’d be there to close the place down with us.

The food was all thoughtfully prepared. We started with the cheese plate, which we usually do if there is one on the menu. Rather than just the usual brie, chevre, and humboldt fog, this one featured mimolette, something like an asiago, something goopy, something bleu…. it got fuzzy with all the wine and good company. But they were all tasty. If there is escargot on the menu, the Gent always bites, and I ordered the beet salad with smoked trout & apple to start. Entrees were Prince Edward Island mussels, and pan-roasted Idaho trout with a crab and roasted pepper salad. We couldn’t have possibly fit dessert in our stomachs, but Paul grabbed us a decadent flourless chocolate cake for my birthday.

I generally hate ‘closing the place down,’ but this time it was unavoidable. You can’t order two bottles of wine with dinner and not stay awhile.  We definitely left an appropriate tip.If you are in Vegas, and you love wine, you should definitely head to Marche Bacchus. But don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Be cool.

Opportunities for Improvement

A couple of days ago, during a lunch rush, a guest confronted me at the host desk.
“I need to talk to the manager.”
What can I do for you? I said.
“You’re the manager?” he sneered.
(which always bugs me. Because I’m a woman, or maybe I have one of those faces, but people ALWAYS assume I am the hostess. )
But I tried not to bristle, obviously he was upset about something; he was visibly shaking.
“This is the worst restaurant I’ve ever been to, the service is terrible. Which is a shame because I love the food, but I won’t ever come back.”
I was sorry he felt that way, if he could please tell me what made him say that…?
After a few moments of incoherent stops and starts, his main complaint was that he and his guest had not received their drinks before the table next to them had received their appetizer.
He wouldn’t tell me who the server was, nor where he was sitting, nor his name or any way to contact him in the future.
He didn’t see me, he only saw The Restaurant.
I apologized profusely.
I offered to change his server, to take care of his lunch today or any other day.
No dice.
He wouldn’t even take my card.  And he stormed out.
From the time he was seated to the time the front door slammed behind him, less than 20 minutes had passed.
What could we possibly have done to anger this man so much?
After taking a minute to catch my breath, I delved in the third-degree with the staff.
And piecing together each account, the picture developed. This guest was seated in one server’s section, and felt slighted by the extreme disconnect between the service he was receiving and the service he saw being provided by another server, just one table away.
Which can seem like a small thing. It’s easy to brush off this man’s behavior as over the top. After all, he had come in without a reservation! He had only been sitting for 20 minutes, and he had bread, he had water, and the waiter had taken his order! So his coke hadn’t hit the table yet, it was on its way!
But– I say this to my staff frequently– to guests, a lunch is never just a lunch. It is an anniversary, a meeting with a client that took months to land, a spare hour in which to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen in years. It can be a birthday, an apology, or a long-awaited gossip session. When service suffers on any level, we are not just ruining someone’s lunch, we could be torpedoing a deal, or tossing a grenade into a first date.
I was shaken by my conversation with this guest. I was angry with myself, with my staff, and with the complete breakdown of communication (which is a constant struggle in restaurants). Because however it might have appeared to him, I do genuinely want all of my guests to have an incredible time in my restaurant.  And when we fall short, it is hard for me not to take it personally; I’m a cancer after all.
It is conversations like this that make it taxing to work in hospitality. But work it is.  So I just have to take the opportunities for improvement, and….. Well…. Improve them.

Hospitality @ Home: The Perfect Cup for Coffee

Three years ago, in the heat of my move to Los Angeles with The Gentleman, I did a terrible thing. A thing that has hung over our relationship like a grey raincloud over Eeyore. I gave away the perfect coffee mugs, for which The Gent had scavenged and scrounged, refusing all other mugs until he found them.
This was all before my time, however, so when I was packing up the house and hit that “I can’t wrap another piece of glassware in newspaper or I will scream” wall, it seemed like a small shortcut to gift the mugs to our friend who had a theatre company and would need an endless supply of props.
The thing that made them perfect props, was also the thing that made them the perfect coffee cup, AND ridiculously crazy to find again.
They were pure white, eggshell finish, 12 ounces, with a C-handle that was the same width all the way down, so the 6’3” Gent’s paws were comfortably accommodated.
Who knew that NO ONE makes these anymore?
For three years, all I have found are mugs that come thiiiiis close, but the handle narrows at the bottom (like an ear rather than a “c”), or they are only 8 ounces, or they are 20 ounces, or they have a fussy design somewhere.
Three Years. Three years, I have lived in purgatory.
But then, perusing the aisles of a restaurant supply store in Beverly & Fairfax, I found these from Palate and Plate:
Pure white? Check.
Not to shiny? Check.
Handle that fits enough fingers for optimal grippage? CHECK.
Nothing fussy, nothing goofy, nothing girly? Check, check, check.
So…. They are only 10.5 ounces rather than 12… maybe he’ll be so happy he won’t notice…..