All of us who go out to eat, be it high-brow or to a dive, are highly concerned about the atmosphere of where we go. All of us have been into place where the décor, the music and the other things Just Aren’t Right to match the food, and it seriously takes away from what might otherwise be a very enjoyable meal.
On the other hand, there are also places where the atmosphere and the surroundings are just tremendous, but the food and service are absolutely dreadful. No matter how nice the place is, it’s not going to make up for putrid, cold food or a server who is more interested in a Facebook post than in what’s going on at your table. Or a place where the owner or manager is rudely haranguing a staffer. Not good.
Lately at our house, I’ve been making an effort to bring back a more complete atmosphere to what we’ve been doing at mealtime. Of course, our house is our house and I’m obviously not going to do a complete re-do of the dining room or wherever we happen to be eating. But last week, while assembling your simple spaghetti with sauce from a jar, I cranked up Pandora on the “Classic Italian” station and turned food into a feast simply by piping Pavarotti’s version of “Finiculi Funicula” through the house. The bargain-priced wine tasted deeper and the pasta sauce (Emeril’s!) was more complex. Or maybe not. It just seemed that way.
We used to to do this to the kids when they were growing up. They’d come home from school and I’d be in the kitchen with Edith Piaf blaring and they knew whatever they’d get would be Bistro French. Attitude and atmosphere are everything – particularly at home.
We have a friend in Alabama who is a tremendous cook and goes a little more whole hog with this, sometimes putting great effort into making the family meal into a Real Event. She prints out the menu on little cards at each place, giving a restaurant-y feel. This strikes me as being a little overly Martha Stewartish (though she is certainly not), but who cares? I’d be honored to sit at her table and be treated so royally. What might be mundane becomes magic with a simple piece of printed cardstock. It’s wonderful and, to my mind, it indeed makes everything taste even better.
This coming week brings Thanksgiving and I know many who are hosting entire families in the usual fashion. Being A Man Of A Certain Age, I understand the mental adjustment that’s sometimes needed. Used to be, everyone went to Mama’s or to Aunt Whomever’s for the Big Meal. But, anymore, everyone goes to YOUR place because, well, now you have the place or you’re the senior, fully functioning member and you know how to cook. As discussed in a previous column, not all of us are traditionalists. But you still lay out a good spread and the attitude and ambiance are right. That’s what’s most important.
At work all week, we’ve been fully involved in the turkey/stuffing/dessert thing. Not that so many are actually buying it yet (that starts Monday), but we’re giving a lot of tastes and projecting the holiday attitude. It’s that time of year and it’s a lot of fun – in both the culinary and personal ways.
I can already tell what my new weakness will be. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am sure they are wonderful. The Ghirardelli chocolate folks have a wafer filled with peppermint bark. I can promise I am not on their payroll and I have nothing to gain by promoting these morsels of complete happiness and soulful contentment. But they speak to me. Loudly.
Eat and drink well and enjoy your holiday! I know we will. Especially if I get that chocolate.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.