If you’ve traveled abroad, you know that a restaurant table is yours for the taking. Nothing is rushed; and if you are, it’s because the restaurant wants you to leave. Check out the film “A Good Year…”

From the movie notes: London-based Investment expert Max Skinner (Crowe) moves to Provence to sell a small vineyard he has inherited from his late uncle. As Max reluctantly settles into what ultimately becomes an intoxicating new chapter in his life, he encounters a beautiful California woman who also lays claim to the property.

Max also encounters Fanny Chenal, a lovely restaurateur from Provence. She’s locally known to be a woman whose heart cannot be stolen by anyone. Max Skinner comes to her restaurant to get closer. She finally lets him work for the crazily busy night and she instructs him, “Remember, the customer is always wrong.” She has also said earlier, “McDonald’s is in Avignon. Fish and Chips in Marseille. Allez!” [Get out!] Max encounters a bawdy American couple, who are clearly out of their element. Max throws them the, “McDonald’s is in Avignon. Fish and Chips in Marseille. Allez!” line, while flipping his note pad into the air in the gesture of “Get out.”

How many wait servers wish they were allowed such a moment?

In today’s American restaurant climate, there’s a trend toward… That table you’re sitting at has a schedule of an hour for occupancy… with thoughts of… I might even be able to cut that down to 45 minutes, if I can grab each plate as you take that last bite. Oh, I’m sorry! Did you still want that last bite? Here’s your dessert and your bill. Allez!

The American slow food industry now seems to have lost its mind in many places of fine dining, in my humble opinion.

So, on Valentine’s day, Jose had highly acclaimed educator George Wolfe, his New York City neighborhood friend, visiting California. And, even though we’re in the last minute throes of Dark & Delicious planning (happening this coming Friday on February 20), Jose booked a dinner. I grabbed all of the auction pages, to check to see what I had and what I still needed to create, and off we went to Kenwood Restaurant to meet George and his wife Judy Iannello Wolfe for dinner. While editing the papers, I was thinking to myself, “This must be an extraordinary couple, or there just wouldn’t be any room in my life for this right now.”

I was right; they are extraordinary. And… this was Valentine’s Day, so how many people also share that one? Personally, I’ve avoided Valentine’s Day in restaurants like the plague. It’s too hectic, and Jose and I are so in love that we don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy our love. It’s ever present… But, there we were at Kenwood…

The food and wine for the night with their fixe prix menu:

  • Little gem lettuces, roasted beets, hard cooked egg, green goddess dressing, rye croutons
    • Baron de Seillac Brute Rose, NV
  • Red pepper corkscrew pasta, flaked smoked black cod, butter poached black trumpet mushrooms, grated Estero Gold cheese
    • 2013 Trecini Sauvignon Blanc
  • Grilled rack and leg of Stemple Creek lamb, winter squash puree, Broccoli de Ceccio in goat’s cheese vinaigrette, braised nuts and seeds
    • 2008 Hughes Syrah
  • Tcho chocolate pudding, marshmallow fluff, cocoa nib brittle
    • Blandy’s Madiera, NV

Valentine’s Day 2015…

  • A night that was meant for lovers.
  • A menu that was mostly unfamiliar to the waitstaff, as not being their usual comfort zone and prepared with very specific wines.
  • Another couple, making us a foursome.
  • A getting to know you theme, in the midst of everyone working a night already being tested to the limit.

This was either going to go very well, or it was going to be a huge mistake, I knew. It turned out to be far from a mistake. It was like the world stood still for us as Jose and George reminisced. Jose produced images from their childhood, given to him by their mentor Father O’Donnell. Judy and I had never seen these images. I knew that Jose had a Roman Catholic priest who had taken him (along with his friends) under his wing… He had access to a boat and took his merry band of teens to Canada via waterways. But, I had never seen the band of handsome, young men loving life and each others’ company. Judy told me that she had heard Jose’s name repeatedly, throughout her 30+ years of being married to George. So, meeting him in person was resolution for years of waiting.

Our poor wait server Amy Davis… Everything she knew about head ’em up and move ’em out (from today’s industry standards) was completely tested. We weren’t going to be that table. We were in for the night. We were living European in America with no guilt. There would not be any “Allez” that we’d pay attention to. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. (thinking we’d get home early and could then keep working into the night). We left just past 11:30 p.m., closing the place down.

  • It was an hour before we even looked at our menus.
  • It was an hour between each course.
  • We laughed out loud like we were the only people in the world.
  • We might have distracted lovers… What? There were lovers in the room?

[Jose and George Wolfe are the two center kids, loving the ride.]

And we fell in love with an extraordinary couple… For Jose and George, it was all over again; not as childhood friends, but as friends who had evolved and were reaffirming what they already knew… BFF really is BFF.

Together, they had experienced St. Jude’s Schools, and were part of Father O’Donnell’s Sea Explorers.

Judy and I were getting to know each other. Many of our passions were the same; family, sciences, education, whole foods, time in a bottle… It was really great fun, and I knew why I had come out for the night.

This was not a slow food encounter headed toward a fast food night being egged on for speed by our Amy. She intuitively paced herself, and a simple “eye catch” (after the first hour) told her that we were ready to order. She shot back a simple reaffirming nod. Kenwood was more than accommodating, and the food was out of this world. Would I return soon, Heck yeah.. right after we get back from Puerto Rico, where every table will also be ours for the night; and, we know that we have to ask for the check, because the table is ours for the night, European style…

Once you’ve gone European, you can never go back… So wine country waitservers, take note from Amy’s intuitional moments. Your customers will cut you all kinds of slack, if you’ve started on that European foot, too. We’re not all fast food junkies, wanting to bolt our food. Some of us want more than slow food, even. We want time we’ll never get back. Amy knew it, manager Michael Gilpin (who also became part of our night) knew it, as did everyone else in the process.  We ended up with some stray wine, that had been poured for someone other than us. We were given suggestions for a dessert that would be amazing (I went off the fixe prix, because I’m so finickie). I tasted a sauce for my chicken that had me thinking… “Hum, how is this made.” And it has me yearning for Puerto Rico, where I’ll again be taking my time, far from the madding crowd.

I highly recommend Kenwood Restaurant… If you can but capture a small piece of what we had, it will be well worth your time and sensibilities.

PHOTO CREDIT: Manager Michael Gilpin became our photographer, with not only Jose’s camera, but also Judy’s phone; going the extra mile.]