Thursday, November 24, 2005
How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?…I was musing about one of the double-edged swords of the restaurant business—the regular customer. As a restaurateur, it’s great to be able to rely on a steady clientele that appears with predictable regularity, no doubt about it. The industry is so unpredictable, so maddening, that any type of stability allows a place and its staff a measure of relief.
However, sometimes, maybe even often, regular customers begin to feel like you are their personal staff, or their dear friends (actually, many friendships develop between customers and restaurant folk—which adds another set of problems) and begin to expect other- worldly treatment, even favors. Over the years, whenever I found myself going to the same place too regularly, to the point where I began to feel too at home there, I’d back off for a while and frequent other places, just to give the place a chance to miss me a little and me to miss it a little…you know, keep the magic in it.
Living here, with the many wonderful dining experiences awaiting us every day, it’s possible to make a couple of dozen places “regular” spots…so many joints, so little time.
I Gave at the Servers’ Office…I was putting my $100 dollars per week aside, saving up for the $2,500 dollar price tag for the amazing La Tache (look it up) event at Bouchée and L’Auberge Carmel in December, when I ran into owner David Fink who told me the event sold out in two days after it was announced…some people just have too much money for my own good. Too bad you can’t put events like that on layaway (hey, some people like clothes; I like restaurants).
I’ve often been criticized by loved ones and other sane members of society for a couple of things: the percentage of my income I have spent on eating out and the percentage of that expenditure that goes to tipping.
As a former long-time restaurant guy, there were many years when I made my living from tips. As a result, I empathize with service personnel, more so than the everyday diner who might work in an office or some such thing that normal people do. So I tip the bejeesus out of everybody. I look at it as philanthropy. Some folks give to the church, some give to charities, I’m tithing to service personnel.
Drink Up…Speaking of service personnel: a few area restaurants have added or are adding full liquor licenses to be able to offer their customers. (Wait—I need to stop right here for a minute on that word, customer. Along the meandering path of my restaurant working life, I encountered every type of management, ownership and peer philosophical outlook about the business. Over the past decade or more, the preferred term throughout has been to refer to customers as guests. I have always disputed this. A guest doesn’t have to pay, a customer pays. I don’t believe the word customer has any negative connotation, nor should it.) So…anyway…there are a few operations offering their customers cocktails along with their regular beer and wine.
Just because a restaurant doesn’t have an actual bar, doesn’t mean you can’t get a drink there. Some of the ones that have that availability are Grasing’s, Fandango, L’Auberge Carmel (I think), and Christopher’s, to name a few. Sweet Thing and I stopped into Dishes Bistro in Marina, Andre and Gudran’s in-spot for local movers and shakers. They put in the full license last year so I asked Andre what the effect has been on business. “It keeps the people who would like to have a cocktail from leaving, or not coming in,” he said. “Some nights we might not make any, and others we make a lot, but it’s been really good overall for us.”
That bodes well for a couple of Carmel eateries about to embark on the same journey. Carmel Bistro, which sits directly across the street from the Eastwood Building and KRML Jazz and Blues radio, recently reworked by Firok of Da Giovanni fame (in fact the bistro has been renamed Bistro Da Giovanni) along with Chianti Ristorante in the Crossroads, owned by the irrepressible Domenico (with guys like Firok and Domenico, first names are all they need) will be offering spirits.
Cocktails are one of the largest growing segments of the restaurant world, and a savvy player in the business can capitalize on that momentum. Plus, offering martinis and other spirits provides another level of service to a knowledgeable and demanding customer base.
Winners Circle…A Taste of Monterey recently did its very cool People’s Choice blind tasting of 12 local Syrahs. There were 100 people in ATOM’s (hey, that’s a slick acronym) in Oldtown Salinas trying the wines and voting. The 2003 Chateau Christina won gold. Three silver medals (tie) went to ’03 Antiquus Gary’s Vineyard, ’03 Pianetta and ’02 Scheid, with a bronze going to the ’02 Morgan Tierra. Call Ken “Don’t Ask Me” Rauh at 646-5446 for more info.
One of my favorite people in the restaurant world, Julio Ramirez, was recently given the Anton Careme Medal by the Chefs Association of the Pacific Coast, American Culinary Federation, San Francisco Chapter. Anton Careme was an 18th century culinarian born into humble circumstances who then rose to fame as a chef to kings of Europe, while all the time remaining ethical, caring and compassionate…kind of like Julio Ramirez.
Chef Ramirez, co-owner and Executive Chef of the hugely successful Fishwife/Turtle Bay dynasty, has taught culinary arts, volunteered in community projects, mentored aspiring culinarians, written cookbooks and articles, created and distributed the yearly Fishwife/Turtle Bay Scholarships, supported sustainable seafood and worked closely with the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, including translating the important Seafood Guide into Spanish (the Aquarium just made that available to the public), led the development of Nuevo Latino cuisine, taught Latin American cuisine at MPC, mentored young management candidates and was inducted into the Monterey County Restaurant Hall of Fame…to name a few things. Plus, he’s just the nicest guy in the world. I say a big right on Chef Ramirez. And I say to you all: Adios.