Saturday, April 7, 2012

Adjustments and hitting my stride

The past few months have been such a rush. I want so much to give the unvarnished truth about what it has been like to do this crazy thing (open my own restaurant), but it is so difficult to express the highs and lows... which are dizzying extremes.

This past week felt like movement. It started with a fantastic Friday night out in Martinez where I met up with friends at Creek Monkey for a burger and beers. The owner's assistant (the totally adorable Valerie or "Val") said there was something special going on at Ray' Lounge, which is kind of a smallish dive bar around the corner from my place. We all ambled over to Ray's and Val's new room mate's indie SCA band was playing. It was really really cool. We had cute 20-something hipsters following us over and we all headed back to Creek Monkey for a final beer before I embarked on one of the worst Saturday hang overs I've ever had. I tried to talk a friend into bringing me Pho, but to no avail. I canceled all but my most non-cancelable appointments for the day and laid in bed, moaning and sleeping.

Saturday night I met up with friends in Berkeley for my dear friend Adina's birthday pizza at Zachary's Pizza on College. I had never had deep dish pizza and it was REALLY filling. The place was PACKED too. I tried to get back on the horse and have a couple of beers... then a super cute friend drove me home.

Sunday I hit breakfast with another good friend and then into the Farmer's Market for the goodies for the restaurant for the week. Spring produce is finally coming around and the sun was shining and I met up with someone I am casually seeing for a coffee and fantastic conversation. Then back home to for a day of wine tasting in Napa with my room mate, Mary Carlson, who is sous-chef at the Peasant and the Pear in Danville and her mom.  We hit Oxbow Market in Napa First.

 It was pretty touristy, in a cornflake Napa kind of way. I had to go check out the Fatted Calf, which is a Napa place making their own charcuterie. I wanted to hate the place, but there is just no way to not love it. The guys were unfalteringly kind and respectful to their customers, even when it was wall to wall bodies they were constantly making eye contact and apologizing for the wait.

A place like this could be total assholes to their customers (Like they are at Big Sur Bakery) and people would still be clamoring to buy their stuff. It was great to see how well my own products hold up against such great stuff and I felt even more committed to the culture of Yes we are trying to foster at TCS.

We also got coffee at Ritual, which was kind of funny. They had this little hot plate and wire frame they were making single cups of coffee on which ranged in price from $5.00 to $7.00. It took like 5 minutes to get this cup of coffee that was kind of so-so. I suspect I have grown super spoiled by the coffee we have at work. Weaver's Coffee kicks all kind of ass.

Our first winery was V Sattui. I regretted it right away. It is like Napa's version of a Disneyland ride. With long lines for everything and every part of the winery is also a gift shop with kitschy stuff. Usually I like the wines but this time the only one I liked was $45 a bottle.  

Much better was Savour in St Helena. This fantastic tasting room is also one of my clients, but there was room to breathe and comfy chairs to sit in and all of the wines we tried were fantastic. It is always a lot of fun to go hang out with Dejan or Meghan and have a sip or two (or seventeen) of wine.

The last place we had time to hit before everything shut down was Prager Port Works. This is one of those places that has been around forever (hence the money stuck all over the wells as you can see below) but manages to still have the port maker in the tasting room to talk to people and retains an intimate and local flavor. Also... the ports kick ass! We stayed for a little while after they closed to chat with the guys and generally have a great time.

Most of the wineries close around 4:30 so we headed back to First St in Napa to grab a bite to eat for dinner. We tried to hit Oenotrie, but it was slammed. Mary and I went to school with Anders Bergen, who is the sous chef at Oenotrie and it is a fantastic place to eat if you can get in.

 We ended up at Celadon. I'd been there before with my sous chef, Brian Stein and they had this fantastic pork belly with watermelon salad. We tried a bit of this and a bit of that. Anyway, fantastic day!

The week at work was crazy. I am madly in love with our intern, who just completed six weeks of her internship. We are keeping her on part time to help with some of the work load this summer. I wish I could afford to hire her full time, but we are just not there yet.

We've finally done the 4 month temperature check on the restaurant and decided to try to get more fiscally healthy by doing a more reality based menu price costing. We determined we needed to raise a few prices. When we are as busy as we are and not making money, there is something wrong and we need to fix it.

We also are rolling out a few new things. Sliced meats in the cold display. Staying open later on Fridays starting the end of May. We will also be open for a champagne brunch on Mother's Day (info coming soon).

I told one of my regulars I would be raising prices on some of the items she likes and she asked me how much more for her latte. When I answered $.50 more she just handed me the extra $.50 right then... lol I love our regulars.

This past Friday was insanely fun. Stein had been sick a lot last week and was finally feeling 100%. We had a slamming day with customers hanging out til well after we were closed (I think our last one left at 4:30) and drinking wine. I was really proud of the holiday dinners we sent out this time. I have been unhappy with the packaging of the past few and I think we did a much better job of making the food as pretty as it (hopefully) tastes. Lots and lots of foodies in for the Charcuterie board. I especially had fun with one of our regulars named Greg, who is usually only in for lunch when he is working. He had Friday off and could sit and have a glass of wine and really enjoy the afternoon. It was a lot of fun to chat about my work background and why I do what I do and just generally geek out. It was a weird combination of me being able to chat with people and still being insanely busy. Usually it's one or the other, but Stein and I are really starting to hit our stride (WHEW!).

I also went into Residual Sugar this week to deliver a large order of our meats for their new lunch service. I ended up chatting with the owner Jim and had a fantastic conversation about salumi. He and his wife want to learn how to make salumi and I am going to try and carve out some time to spread the faith. They have a wine aging cave at their new house and I would suspect they could easily do curing for home use in that environment.

OH and I am teaming up with Sean Adrade of Andrade Wine Group for a Spanish teaching dinner! I am SO excited to be in the thick of this creative primordial ooze of the babyhood of my restaurant.

I have also been invited to Australia next year for 8 days to teach a class on breaking down a pig and making salumi. This seems freakishly exciting to me!!!!

Anyway, so there it is. My life as a (sort of) Rock StarTM Chef! Also the Best of Diablo Magazine 2012 closes on April 8th (hint hint) if anyone wants to check that out and vote... you know... for thier favorite restaurant (insert evil grin here)!