Going to a restaurant where the food, ambiance, staff and location are over the top creates a memorable experience. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some excellent restaurants. When you find one satisfying most of the above mentioned criteria it is a gift. There are always those free thinkers among the restaurant set who color totally outside the lines. Recently I read in China they have a restaurant themed entirely around toilets. I have to admit this might put me off my food. I do not want my chocolate mousse served in a porcelain bowl. Just do not. It is my understanding dishes are titled in keeping with the potty theme making the experience, if possible, even more revolting. People are literally flocking to fill the seats (lid’s down, naturally), so obviously its number 1 on some foodie’s lists. I wonder if you can order “to go”?
Themed restaurants can be fun. Back in the early 80’s my family and I used to frequent a Bay Area restaurant, Bobby McGee’s, where the servers not only dressed in character, but adopted the persona of the character they were playing while waiting on your table. Mostly college kids, hired for their acting skills or comedic talents, it made dining there a bit more fun, and having your entrée delivered by Elvis or Zorro the Gay Blade provided a much-needed distraction from their run of the mill family style food. However, if you were looking for a romantic or quiet meal out, this was not the place for you. Well, not totally accurate, I did see Prince Charming propose to an unsuspecting Cinderella during dessert there once.
In the late 70’s there was a restaurant in Orange County called Baxter’s Street. Over and above their excellent menu, the price of a meal in the Louisiana style motiff entitled you to enjoy a dinner show which I would have paid to see if there hadn’t been a plate of mouth-watering scampi thrown in.
Around the same time I attended a luau at a Polynesian restaurant in Southern California. Roasted pig and poi were presented in a get to know your neighbor, family style seating arrangement. Served el fresco, a huge stage replete with a smoking volcano dominated the outside eating area. Colorful drinks accessorized with umbrellas and tropical fruits littered the tables and nubile young men and women swayed in grass skirts moving to Hawaiian music. If you could still get to your feet after a well-loaded Zombie or Mai Tai, underground dancing in five different caves each featuring a different type of music was the place to be.
In the 90’s I received an invitation to a “Great Gatsby Party”. The venue was a party boat launching out of a San Francisco marina. Besides a great band, and a menu featuring cracked crab and crusty San Francisco sourdough bread, as well as oyster shots and calamari for the more adventurous partygoers, a night cruise on the beautiful San Francisco Bay was included. Had our hosts ordered the weather right along with the appetizers, they couldn’t have made a more perfect choice. Overhead a harvest moon cast a golden glow across unusually calm waters. Alcatraz stood in the center of the Bay. Beyond the shadowed structures inhabited now only by ghosts and memories, the impressive spans of the Golden Gate Bridge. Truly a postcard of an evening. A cool breeze replaced the usual body numbing wind often present in October on the water, allowing guests to linger on deck rather than seek shelter inside. I was Myrtle that night, in my splashy red dress and matching glitzy headband. Champagne flowed from the mouth of a an ice sculpture fish, the focal point of the main table, and a cigarette glowed at the end of my elaborate pearlized holder. It was the 30’s, after all, over indulgence and decadence took precedence over good sense and moderation.
Another time I joined several friends in unraveling a murder mystery over a fabulous four-course dinner in San Francisco. This was really fun. Each course, all delicious, paired with the perfect wine. All the while, the diners interacted with the actors on the stage in a corny, but entertaining search for the killer in our midst. It was the upstairs maid. I knew it all the time.
Beach Blanket Babylon is another fun thing to see when visiting the city by the bay. Outrageous headpieces being the main attraction at this show, from a huge ritz cracker perched atop a man singing “Putting on the Ritz” to a fully lit landscape of the city balanced precariously atop the head of another outrageous performer.
For my birthday when living in Southern California I was treated to dinner and jousting at Medieval Times. Knights and wenches drank ale, gnawed on turkey legs, and mounted armored steeds to do battle in the arena. It was actually quite fun, and certainly not the average dinner out with the kids.
There was a restaurant I often went to when my children were small, long gone now, with a Polynesian theme. They had the single best shrimp puffs I’ve ever eaten. The interior fascinated me. Aside from the palm trees, occasional bursts of tropical rain in the artificial rain forest, and boats scattered here and there it was a sea of fish, if you will. Beautiful fish tanks were everywhere, filled with vibrantly colored saltwater fish and swaying greenery. Treasure chests opened and closed and diminutive divers released bubbles of air from the bottom of the tank. The bar was one long tank. While sipping a Blue Hawaii or Tequila Sunrise, fish floated by beneath your hands sometimes stopping to suck at the surface for air bubbles. As little as they were, my children still remember going there in much detail.
If left to my own devices, I would have made our restaurant a monastery. The menu would have been fun, monk fish, for example, comes to mind, or Soul Dore. Servers in cowl hooded gowns, waists cinched with rope. Another good idea that never made it out of the can (so to speak). Ah well.
These green beans were really yummy. I bought huge grapes at the store and they just begged to be thrown in so I did and the result was delicious.
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
2 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. thick sliced mushrooms (1/2 lb.)
4 green onions, sliced thin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Noir)
1/8 cup soy sauce
10 large green seedless grapes halved
1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper
Place trimmed beans in large deep skillet. Cover with water sprinkled with garlic salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and continue to cook 15-20 mins. until beans are fork tender. Drain.
In separate skillet, melt butter. Add mushrooms, green onions, pepper, wine, and 1/8 cup soy sauce to pan. Bring to boil over med.-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 8 mins., stirring frequently. Add grapes. Increase heat to med-low. Cook another 8 mins. until grapes are lightly browned and tender. Pour mixture over drained green beans. Add 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper as desired.