My husband and I were in Napa in January with my sister and brother-in-law. Our original plan was to go to Peru, but civil unrest and travel bans landed us in wine country. My only request for the trip was to dine at restaurants I’d never been to. I didn’t care how many Michelin stars they had or didn’t have; I just wanted to try delicious food.
One of our dinner reservations took us to a yurt village in the courtyard of a restaurant run by a prominent and highly decorated chef. I had high hopes for this meal, and it did not disappoint—not because the food ‘wowed’ me, but because it took so many unexpected twists and turns.
For example, one of the courses was an oyster. My sister has a seafood allergy, so oysters were not part of her experience. The oysters were delicious, but her substitution was a date—just one, small, oblong, slightly wrinkled date, placed in a little bowl and served in step with the oysters. The date was not wrapped, stuffed or modified. It looked so sad, lonely and pathetic in that bowl.
When the server placed it in front of her, she burst out laughing. This made us all laugh. That may have been the point.
The next day, we had time to kill between tastings, so we stumbled into a roadside market with a taqueria near the back that one of the sommeliers we met suggested. The menu was simple, the food was made to order and the smells from the kitchen were intoxicating. I had a chorizo taco with an amalgamation of toppings that was so satisfying and delicious that I’m sad I don’t live close enough to go back for lunch regularly.
These two end-of-the-spectrum meals amuse me for a lot of reasons. But the culinary narrative of my trip feels in line with club chefs’ daily challenges. Serve a wine dinner, but don’t include seafood for one guest. Serve the best tacos your members have ever had. Make sure to have plentiful wine—though some of your members might be ‘wined out’, so better have a great bourbon list, too.
I guess the lesson is this: When you’ve had enough, and you need a laugh, be bold enough to drop a date into a fancy bowl and pretend it’s the equivalent of an oyster.