The path of the wine trail took me today to a Chinese family who has had their restaurant for 33 years. The father has passed on, and the son and his wife now gaze into the pond of his dream and are working to re-cast their nets into it for the next 33 years.
Restaurants are like trees. If they get planted into good soil and are watered and fed and pruned, then they will flower or bear fruit or perhaps just look pretty and create a little shade. Restaurants, a subject that I have been pondering over lately, can turn into a beautiful tall tree that gives pleasure to people for many years. If the family that has the restaurant, or if it is an individual, either way, as long as there is someone with a vision, and a fair amount of passion, then that can translate into something wonderful.
Just like the winemaker. It can start with one person, and then maybe the family, a son or a daughter, can take it into the next generation. In Italy we see it often, because it has to be carried forward. There is more tradition in Italy with the wine, but we’re also talking people’s lives being lived in the service of the land and the fruit and the miraculous process and lastly, the people who will open the bottles and hope to enjoy the fruits of the labors.
So it can be with the restaurateur. It could be someone like Sharon Hage at York Street, who invites you into her living dining room. There she offers you her fresh produce and ultra fresh, but oh so simple, catch from the seas. Maybe a little sample of a tartare, and then a close encounter with the 6th taste – heat. Little seared padrons, peppers that can be better than dessert, as they leave you teetering on the ledge of an experience that has your palate hanging over, peering into the precipice. Lingering, waiting to fall into the abyss, only to be caught and taken back to safety. The tightrope is still there if you care for another bite. And why wouldn’t you want to go around on that carousel one more time?
It’s like the lace curtains with the pattern of the hills on it and the actual hill behind the curtain. What’s so important? Everything and nothing.
The Chinese couple, meanwhile, is dreaming up this place where the classic Chinese dishes dance with the four corners of their culture. “People ask if we will do fusion, you know where we mix up the Japanese with the Vietnamese and the Thai foods. But with the Chinese, we have so much richness to draw from, how can we confuse people with fusion?”
Understood. The northern Italian restaurant run by a Southern Italian, serving Fettuccine Alfredo, a dish invented in Rome. An Italian restaurant that thinks it has to have French wines or Australian Shiraz because they want to keep their clientele supplied with what they think they want. As if a wonderful Gavi or an amazing Aglianico wouldn’t suffice? As if a little common sense couldn’t go a long way?
I was talking to a long time colleague today. He said, “We’re the only industry where the experts serve at the pleasure of those who haven’t a clue.” Yes, I have prostrated myself before one or two of those this week. They are usually young and bullet-proof. They’re not that interested in what I have to offer them.
Another colleague nailed it today. He was once a cowboy and he roped cattle. He had learned a few tricks along the way, but whenever he volunteered to tell a young buck how he could save himself a lot of trouble (and pain), usually they’d shoot back at him with the response that he didn’t know what he was talking about, and they could handle it. Well, this ol’ boy told me that when these young bucks ate enough dirt, they’d usually come back to ask him how he kept himself out of harms way. But they had to want to know what you have to offer them; you can’t volunteer it for free, because they see no value in it until they need the knowledge to keep themselves from getting hurt. But they gotta ask for the help – you can’t give it away – no value in that.
That’s what’s so important.