This year I’m going to admit something to you all: I hate when it’s time to write about the return of Monday Night Football. Not that I’m not announcing a fun little ritual here at our fun little hotel. It is fun. We have hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill starting at 5pm. Peanuts too, just like if you were out at the game, except it’s warmer in here and everything’s free. Speaking of free, the complimentary drinks go an hour later too, til 8pm. It’s a real party, and we do it every Monday night all through football season.
The problem is that if football season is here, it means summer is over. When these games start, daylight will last almost until they finish, but pretty soon it won’t even be light out when they start anymore. Right now it’s still hot outside, and we all feel like it always has been and it always will be hot, but that first Monday night burger builds a link to winter. You know how it is, one Monday rolls into the next and pretty soon it’s dark in the middle of the day and your skin looks like white bread dough for months and months and months.
But I can calm down and enjoy the first few Mondays. No need to get crazy. It is fun. And the room is big enough that you can enjoy the free burgers and booze with or without actually watching the game, which I suppose gives away my own personal preferences. The point is: Live in the now. A warm afternoon BBQ is such a nice thing. And maybe winter won’t come this year.But I can calm down and enjoy the first few Mondays. No need to get crazy. It is fun. And the room is big enough that you can enjoy the free burgers and booze with or without actually watching the game, which I suppose gives away my own personal preferences. The point is: Live in the now. A warm afternoon BBQ is such a nice thing. And maybe winter won’t come this year.
If anyone actually reads this little newsletter, then surely someone out there remembers that earlier this year I told you that the best winery to visit in all of Napa Valley, and maybe the whole world, was Chandon. Well, let’s just say that, as I write this, I am acutely aware of how all these politicians can start looking like such flip-floppy flakes. There’s always something new to learn, but once you’re on record as declaring something to be the truth, it becomes awkward to admit you’ve changed your mind. But, what can I say? I’ve had a new experience and, yes, I’ve got a new favorite!
The Rombauer Winery is elegant and lush. It sits on top of a hill, but instead of the big valley panorama one comes to expect on a winery-hopping sojourn like the one I was just on, what Rombauer gives is a little hillside peekaboo, framed by the trees and flowers of their crazily beautiful garden. This garden, actually, is the star of the Rombauer experience. It’s got a wild and exotic array of colorful flowers, plus tall trees that make it feel more like a forest. There are picnic tables for sitting shaded on its inside, and lounge chairs for sitting on a patio overlooking it. Does this seem too serious? Because it’s also got a few random Christmas trees and some rusty dinosaur sculptures, to lighten the mood a bit. I felt enclosed in an intimate botanical paradise, with just the slightest hint of an eccentric edge.
I do, of course, realize that if it was possible to find a winery I like more than Chandon, it must also be possible that there’s still another winery that I’ll like more than Rombauer. What a strange and complicated world this is. All I can say to you, then, is that you’d better get over to Rombauer before something better shows up!
A few years ago I read, somewhere on the internet, about a swan in Germany that had fallen in love with a swan shaped boat. The problem was that swans mate for life, so this one was setting itself up for a bizarre, and ultimately unsatisfactory, swan life. I can’t remember all the details, but the real swam was removed from her beloved boat swan and was despondent. At the time the story was being reported, the lovers had just been reunited so the living swan was rejuvenated, though there was concern for the future, on the part of the boat owner in particular.
Well, unfortunately, we here at this little hotel are not unlike that poor swan when it comes to our employees. If we like someone, our natural inclination is to act as if we were mated for life. Not that anyone who works here is a wooden swan boat who’s been fooling us, but sometimes people turn out to need different things and then they have to leave to go find them. It’s a double whammy this time, actually. Sunshine and Sam Jr. are both gone. Neither one of them chose a different swan, so to speak. Sunshine moved to LA, and the commute seemed overly challenging. Sam Jr. decided he wanted to work in health care, and he wouldn’t accept our proposal that kitchen work IS health care. Understandable, and yet, if you notice a bunch of sad swans swimming through our halls in the next weeks, well, now you know why.
This month, I’d like to give you all a little assignment. I know it seems weird, like how did I suddenly go from odd little insect crawling around the floor of your life to some kind of authority figure. Well, I’ve just decided to assert myself, to become more of a mosquito than a ladybug for a moment. The thing is, I need an objective opinion. I love Tony ‘n Albas. I love it. I love the smell. I love the pizza. I love the bread they give you for free. And what I really, really love are the chicken salads. In high school I would eat them three or four times a week. I go less often now, but every time I go back, I feel that old love and promise myself to take the habit up again.
And yet it is these very chicken salads that are causing me to seek out your help. The thing is, they’re really very plain. Chicken, feta, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, lettuce and tomatoes. You’ve had that salad a million times in a million different restaurants, I know. I have too. Tony ‘n Albas feels special to me, particular. But I don’t know whether it is or not. Maybe this is only nostalgia. Perhaps this is just some little Proust thing my brain is doing and all I’m actually doing to you is sending you off to a random strip mall to eat a banal little nothing of a salad. Unfortunately, I don’t know. So, will you go and try it and report back? Anyone? You can send an email to Barbara@svgrandhotel.com, which isn’t me, but I think our general manager will also be super happy to hear how you feel about Tony ‘n Albas. Anyway, she’ll know to expect you because she reads these before they go ut. I will be so very happy if even one of you does this!
This will be a bit more about Rombauer, if you all will indulge this month’s love affair.
Normally there are two kinds of stories that get told in this space. One is a story of history, tradition and practice, passed down over the centuries. French history, tradition and practice, that is. The other is a story of modern innovation, American entrepreneurialism and Californian style. Rombauer offers us something different. The Rombauer family comes from a German winemaking tradition. And, what’s more, the family’s love of wine, almost a century ago, led into a love of all things gastronomical in Irma Rombauer, grand aunt to the founder of the Rombauer Winery, and inspired her to write The Joy of Cooking, which has been published continuously since 1936, has been one of the most popular cookbooks in this country ever since, and has probably sat on many of your kitchen shelves over the years. So when this modern generation of Rombauers started making wine, their work came not only from a different geographical region than California is used to, but also from a different kind of family lineage.
You can see it immediately on their labels. Those strong block letters and practical, unromantic color choices are neither romantic, nor are they coolly contemporary. That, friends, is German practicality. But I don’t mean to sound dismissive, there’s a reason “German engineering” is a phrase we all know. This is a powerful, correct set of wines. And if you’re wondering what that could possibly mean, stop by our bar on your next visit. Any wine you want is, as always, complimentary for you, our guests.