We have, in recent years, been serving pretty good food at our little hotel. Ever since Norman, our executive chef, came on board, the sauces have gotten more interesting, the combinations a little subtler. Still, among the words one would use to describe our food, in general, old-school would have to be in there. Part of that was because Norman would have to respect the suggestions of our dear general manager, who would come to him with brilliant “new” ideas like tater tots, thus filling the space for new stuff with really old stuff instead. The other part was that the kitchen staff is not exactly made up of spring chickens either and there were limits to what they were willing to put up with.
How ever many years later, though, Norman finally put his foot down. It’s unclear how he managed to woo the boss lady, who probably was on the verge of suggesting adding Twinkies to the catering menu, but he decided to quell the anxieties in the kitchen by doing a few weeks of training. Norman held the hands of our kitchen staff as he led them into the brave new world of trendy superfoods. Quinoa and kale were demystified in these sessions. Some people are still trying to get the beet stains off of their hands. The whole thing ended with a night of tastings and, however much those weeks of teaching old dogs new tricks may have hurt, the project was a success. Now, when’re looking to feed your team, you’ll have options that feel, not just comforting and easy, but nourishing and healthy. Thank you, Norman, for leading us into the present moment.
The strangest story I heard during the government shutdown came from a friend who happened to be visiting Washington DC just as everything was boarded up. The Smithsonians were all closed, which bummed her out, but was not unexpected. Still, she thought, it was warm and sunny and DC is full of iconic monuments to finally get to see up close. She headed out first in search of President Lincoln and found that a barricade had been set up and was being actively guarded against visitors. Did you follow that? The government shutdown, according to my understanding of it, was all about not paying workers’ salaries and yet in this case workers were actually brought in to do a job that does not normally exist, specifically for the purpose of punishing the public. Very strange, in my opinion.
Next in line for bizarre punishments meted out in those days had to do with the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco. It sits on government land, but it’s privately owned and run and so did not shut down when the government did. At least not at first. A couple of days into the ordeal, the Cliff House, which, I repeat, is a privately owned small business, requiring no funding from the federal government to maintain its day-to-day operation, was ordered to shut down because it sits on government land.
If you’ve never been to the Cliff House, you should put it high on your list. There aren’t many views in the world like the one it’s got. It’s the kind of place that normally gets ignored by this little newsletter because it’s so ubiquitous on everyone else’s San Francisco list. But with the next government shutdown scheduled for January, maybe you’d better try to get out there sooner rather than later.
The worst thing about having a young, ambitious staff is that eventually you’re going to have to say goodbye to each and every one of them. Stephen, who our general manager would only ever refer to as Little Stephen, will be an especially tough one for her in particular because he grew up on her street. She met him when he was a five-year-old who just kept wandering away from his parents’ house and showing up at her doorstep. She had no kids his age at the time, there was no one in particular for him to play with there, but he’d turn up every day, not unlike Dennis the Menace. A few years later his parents divorced and he finished his growing up somewhere else, but when he turned up at the hotel looking for a job, all he had to do was remind her of who he was and he was hired. He’s been here for a few years now and every time she looked at him, she saw the skinny little towhead wanderer. Well, now it’s time for him to wander away.
The funny thing about Stephen’s departure is that, while we’re all saying our goodbyes and wondering if and how we’ll ever see him again, there are some of you who’ll now be seeing a lot more of him. You see, he’s leaving us to be a courier at Apple. For those of you who are getting more Stephen from here on out, maybe think of indulging our boss with whatever little bits of gossip you can dig up from his new life. For the rest of us, we’ll say goodbye for now, and look forward to how he’ll show up the next time.
I think a lot of you already know about Dish Dash, the super-fresh, super-delicious Middle Eastern restaurant just a short little hop away from our hotel. It’s been mentioned here before, a lot of our staff talks a lot about it, plus it’s now permanently, constantly packed, so I just figure everyone’s going there, and that that probably includes you too. And, anyway, if you were one of the few people in the South Bay who didn’t know about it, it seemed better not to add you to the list of people I’m competing for tables with whenever I try to go there.
Good news, though! Dish Dash has just opened up a more casual version of itself, just a few blocks away. The new one is more about sandwiches and salads, you order at a counter. You know, easy take-out lunch style. This new one is called Dish N Dash and it has a separate website from Dish Dash’s, though Dish Dash does refer to Dish N Dash as its sister restaurant.
Ready for even more good news? In looking up the new Dish N Dash, I found yet another version of the same restaurant. This third one is called Dish Dash Middle Eastern Grill, again with a completely separate website but referring to the other two as its sisters. The menu is the same as Dish Dash’s and it seems to be a sit-down, table service kind of a place, again like Dish Dash. I know it’s got to be basically the same restaurant because even the text describing the restaurant’s name is identical and yet they do not claim themselves as a chain. I’m not saying I quite understand the strategy, but it’s pretty exciting to have unearthed two more of one of the best restaurants in town.
I wasn’t allowed to eat very many TV dinners when I was growing up. As an adult it makes pretty good sense, but at the time it felt like cruel deprivation. I loved the packages, the compartmentalized trays. I loved the easy, rich flavors. I loved TV dinners, and Swanson was always the best. Swanson’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes was my specific favorite, though, to be honest, it didn’t matter very much.
Now, I’m not sure the Swanson people will like the line I’m about to draw because there is no place on the Swanson Winery’s website that acknowledges that it is, in fact, the same Swanson of TV dinner fame. It’s more like something you’ve got to just learn. But now that I’ve learned it, I have to say that the Swanson wines give me a similar rich and easy pleasure. I know it seems like I must either be insulting the wine, or that I’m a horribly uncultured idiot to compare wine to TV dinners, but I’m going to stick to this and say that the Swanson family knows how to prioritize comfort, as has now been demonstrated in two very different fields. And, lest you think that I’m speaking of this wine as if it were not of a high quality, let me just remind you, because I think we all know, that there is nothing comforting, rich or easy about cheap wine.