Archive for December, 2010

Food, Dining, Service, and Life: An Overview of 20 Food and Dining Trends for 2011

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

The food, dining, and service trends for 2011 posted to were compiled based on my own expertise, thoughtful observations from visiting or eating in 2010 at over 60 fine dining restaurants, more than a dozen supermarket brands, and multiple (more than 10) fast casual restaurant concepts in more than a dozen U.S. cities including Boston, New York, Providence, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans, St. Louis, Charlotte, Baltimore, and Miami. When visiting a city I preplan an itinerary that involves visiting at a minimum, one fine dining restaurant rated 26 or higher for food (if available) by Zagat guide, one quick service restaurant (preferably independently owned) and a visit to the prepared food section of a least one high-end supermarket. It isn’t unusual for a visit to include multiple restaurants and retail markets as time and budget allows. My primary goal is to gauge the culinary talent, menu trends, restaurant design, service, wine and beverage, pricing and overall economy as measured by restaurant pricing and volume, even if based on a limited sampling of the local market.  

During my visits, in addition to dining, I usually talk with the chef or owner of the establishment and spend time prior to the visit studying the establishments web site and menu if available. After dining at a restaurant and taking notes, my experiences from select visits are posted in simple form on along with a photo record of the dishes I enjoyed and, in some cases, comments and reflection. Through the past year I have collected hundreds of photos of dishes as they were served. One of the interesting things about is that the site features photos of what I was served rather than studio shots of dishes created for public relation purposes. captures an experience in actual form along with notes based on expert opinion.

Early in December I synthesized these data while searching for patters in cooking methods, ingredients, menu descriptions, décor, service, and philosophy that I experienced in the prior year. If provided a tour of the restaurant, I look through my notes for trends in design and equipment as well. Once I have compiled a rough list of patterns from the past year I sort them according to ones that are emerging (gaining momentum), ones that are fading, and ones that have become so ubiquitous that they have transitioned to permanent. With so much data on hand, this process of sorting and listing is time-consuming but surprisingly easy to do; the patterns become obvious at the macro level.  For ease of publication and search I have posted four sets of trends:

  1. 2011 Top Five Emerging Food Trends
  2. 2011 Top Five Menu Items/Ingredients
  3. 2011 Top Five Trends that are now Permanent
  4. 2011 Top Five Trends that are Fading

The items listed are based on the synthesizing and sorting process outlined above. They are my own (with all their limitations) and represent, to the best of my knowledge, where food, dining, and service is headed in 2011. Happy New Year and thank you for reading!

2011 Top Five Food Trends that are now Permanent

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     The $5.00 Lunch

By the end of 2010 consumers resolved that lunch costs $5.00, a shift that started with the” five dollar foot long” promoted by Subway. Nearly every major competing fast food chain joined in. Value-added and prepared foods retailers jumped on the bandwagon as well, particularly Harris Teeter with their $5.00 meal solution (entree and two sides). When fast food operators and supermarket retailer’s latch on to a trend like the $5.00 lunch, the trend tends to become long term due to stubborn consumers who, once exposed to value, refuse to pay more for a meal. It will be years before we see a shift up in prices and I predict that fast food and meal solution retailers will be stuck with a price range for lunch and value added meals between $5.00-$9.00 per portion for the next 3-5 years.

 2.     Concern for Food Safety

With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, the supply chain, manufacturing and distribution practices that have served the foodservice industry for decades will undergo a seismic shift. Many of the provisions in the act are long overdue while some are examples of excessive regulation. In 2011 chefs will make food safety and supply chain transparency part of the broader discussion on food integrity. Look for chefs to have a greater influence on how ingredients are handled from source to table.

 3.     Value Prix Fixe

Like the $5.00 lunch, value prix fixe has become ubiquitous at restaurants around the country. Restaurants are using the $20-$30 three to five course prix fix menu as a promotion to draw consumers out Monday through Thursday. Having sampled value prix fixe menus around the country, I am pleasantly surprised by the quality and value I experienced. Talking with chefs who offer value prix fix, few were considering the elimination of the option. Value prix fixe will continue for the foreseeable future.

 4.     Chef Quality Value Added Foods at Retail

Sophisticated retailers like Wal Mart, Harris Teeter, Wegman’s, and Whole Foods will continue to offer chef inspired value added foods at retail. Pricing for these items will typically fit within the $5.00 meal trend mentioned above and, due to the extreme lead-time required by major retailers to get food products from concept to store shelf, the trend will continue for the next 24-36 months at minimum. Retailers like Wal Mart will broaden their “chef quality” meal solution offerings while continuing to offer consumers extreme value.

5.     Quality Fast Casual Restaurants

Consumers have had their say and quality fast casual has come out the winner over fast food. Restaurants like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Noodles & Co, have found success in a tough economy and will spawn expansion into fast casual by additional themed concepts (look for Asian in 2011) in the coming years. Consumers will continue to support high quality fast casual restaurant growth now that they have tasted quality.

2011 Five Food Trends that are Fading

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Artisanal Cheese Carts & Courses

As a cheese lover, I can’t understand why the broader dining public has failed to embrace cheese. During the early part of 2010 I noticed cheese courses or cheese carts at fine dining restaurants from coast to coast. By the end of 2010 more than a few of these restaurants pulled their cheese courses or carts due to low volume. This disappoints me but I am encouraged by the high quality and often local cheeses available a local markets and at retail. Although restaurants are shifting away from the cheese course and cart, great cheese is more available than ever.

2.       Micro Greens as Universal Garnish

The “micro greens as garnish” addiction among chefs in America is abating. As I wandered the country in 2010, micro greens were everywhere. They were so prevalent that they were no longer special. A shift had taken place where micro greens were no longer a complimentary component of a specific dish, adding flavor, texture, and eye appeal. Instead they had become the equivalent, in many cases, of the standard curly parsley garnish of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; garnish for garnish’s sake. Look for smart chefs to shift away from micro greens as a universal garnish or find better and more thoughtful ways of using microgreens in the year to come.

 3.     Constrained Spending

Finally, after three years of suffering, fine dining is expanding again as individuals and organizations open up their wallets to spend on the finer things in life. As 2010 comes to an end, more than one of my colleagues operating fine dining restaurants are reporting the best second half they have had in years. Spending has not returned to the unrestrained mode that existed prior to 2007 but the constrained spending that hampered fine dining restaurants has shifted and opened up a bit. This fading trend may contradict my earlier comment about the $6.00 meal but they are two separate things. Consumers are willing to spend from time to time but seek out value as well; both trends will continue in the coming year. As an eater, I am happy to see the extreme constrained spending of 2010 fade a bit. However, let’s not go too far and return to the excess of the early 2000’s.

 4.     Chef Gardens

In 2011 chefs will shift away from tending their own gardens. In the past year I visited more than a handful of restaurants that were operating their own full-fledged garden. These weren’t small herb gardens or token plots with a few vegetables growing, they were large gardens intended to provide a source of raw ingredients for daily restaurant operations. To a person, the chefs I spoke with about their gardens agreed that they had become a pain to operate and were money loosing ventures. Although some restaurants have found real success and profitability in operating a chef’s garden (Arrows in Ogunquit Maine and Fruition in Denver come to mind) most restaurateurs and chefs are shifting toward allowing local farmers to handle growing high quality products rather than do it themselves. For reasons of cost, time, expertise, and quality of life, chefs will focus on the kitchen in 2011 and leave the gardening to qualified local farmers.

 5.     Organic Foods Fade, Integrity Reigns

In 2011 chefs will continue to move toward a position of sourcing “food with integrity” rather than emphasizing organic foods in a effort to find balance while providing consumers with quality.  The lack of universal standards for organic foods has contributed to this shift. Chipotle restaurants started the “food with integrity” movement, a shift driven by founder Steve Ells of whom I am a huge fan. Chipotle gave momentum to the fast casual restaurant market and provided a road map for restaurants across the country through its “food with integrity” focus. Rather than draw attention solely to organics, the “food integrity movement” seeks to find ingredients that are sustainably raised (often organic) with respect for the environment, animals, farmers, and consumers in terms of value. Look for a decrease in organics in 2011 and an increase in food integrity.

2011 Top Five Menu Items/Ingredients

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Vegetables in all their Complexity

Earlier in the decade chefs made headlines by offering multicourse menus featuring vegetables exclusively. Charlie Trotter was one of the first to do this and other restaurants follow around the country. Although the multicourse vegetable menu trend hasn’t subsided it has been outpaced by restaurants offering a vegetable course as part of a broader non-vegetarian menu. Over the past year I noticed a growing number of restaurants offering one or two vegetable courses (other than a salad) as part of a prix fixe menu with some restaurants. Stella in New Orleans is a great example as is Manresa in Los Gatos, CA. Look for more restaurants offering interesting and, in some cases complex, vegetable courses on multicourse menus and broader vegetable offerings on a la carte menus.

Composition of Carrots, Stella Restaurant, New Orleans, LA

2.     Salumi and Charcuterie & Retro Garde Manger

If 2010 was the year of Salumi, 2011 will be the year of classic charcuterie. Across the country, charcuterie is making a resurgence with restaurants like Butcher in New Orleans and Sidney Street Café in St. Louis leading the way.  In 2011 chefs will return to offering charcuterie items like country style pate, rillets, liver mousse, foie gras torchon, and other classical preparations as they reconsider the lost art of garde manger in modern cuisine.

Pate & Charcuterie Plate, Sidney Street Cafe, St. Louis, MO

 3.     Eggs in all Forms

Eggs were everywhere in 2010. One of my favorite egg dishes was the pasta carbonara at Fruition restaurant in Denver. Chef Alex Seidel’s perfect sous vide egg was a sensual and delicious addition to the pork belly and pasta paired with it. I encountered egg front and center on menus in St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, and New York. Look for more interpretations in 2011, the fun with eggs has just begun.

Pasta Carbonara, Fruition Restaurant, Denver, CO

4.      Gluten Free Professional Cooking

In 2011 restaurants and retail will take gluten free food preparation and service more seriously than ever. In response authors like Peter Reinhart of Johnson & Wales University and Richard Coppedge of the Culinary Institute of America plan to release new books on gluten free cooking in 2011 adding further momentum to the trend and providing deeper professional perspective on a food trends that, until now, has received greater attention at retail and in home kitchens. Professional chefs will pay more attention to the gluten free movement in 2011 than in years prior.

Gluten Free Apple Cinnamon Crisp, Chef Rick Coppedge, CIA, Hyde Park, NY

5.     Oysters are Back (did they ever go away?)

Over the past six months I have noticed a resurgence in oysters on fine dining menus across the country. Perhaps this is a counterpoint to the devastation to the fishery caused by the gulf oil spill; perhaps not. Either way, the trend is gaining momentum and I am noticing expansion on menus of east coast and west coast farmed oysters as well as select oysters from the gulf that have sound provenance. Look for oysters on menus in 2011.

Composed Oyster, Manresa Restaurant, Los Gatos, CA

2011 Top Five Emerging Food Trends

Posted 30 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

1.     Modernist or Molecular Techniques in Cooking

Molecular gastronomy has gained traction over the past decade and nearly all of the fine dining restaurants I visited (approximately 80%) employed at least one molecular technique (usually a stabilized foam). In 2011 modernist techniques will gain greater momentum based on several factors. Major academic institutions gave the modernist movement further momentum beginning with MIT’s hosting of the TEDx Cambridge conference “How do you Eat” which featured presentations on multiple modernist topics. Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science followed last autumn with an 11 part series on science and cooking that featured globally renowned chefs including Ferran Adria.  Attention from Harvard and MIT elevated the modernist movement to a new level but it’s Nathan Myhrvold’s epic work “Modernist Cuisine” due out in March 2011, that will give even greater momentum to scientifically based cooking and will assure that by 2012 the science behind cooking and food will become central to how young cooks learn their craft and force old cooks to learn anew. The science of food and cooking, otherwise known as molecular or modernist cuisine, will blossom in 2011 and reach full bloom in 2012. I predict that culinary schools will be abuzz with curriculum changes in the coming year in reaction to this seismic shift in how we think about food and cooking. We should all thank Nathan Myhrvold for his great intellectual (not to mention financial) commitment to advancing our knowledge of food.

2.     Seafood with Integrity

Simply put, pressure will be ongoing to assure that seafood, whether farmed or wild, will have integrity. With so many varying types of eco-labeling and certification programs (including MSC, ASC, ISO, Friends of the Sea, Global Aquaculture Alliance) in use, chefs lack a reliable way of determining whether the seafood they serve has integrity. This has resulted in a shift toward hyper-local sourcing of seafood (in some cases) and chef driven source and supply chain verification to assure sustainability and integrity in farming  or wild catch practices, wholesomeness, freshness, and the technologies used to increased yield and improve shelf life. Writer Paul Greenberg hinted at the concerns many chefs have is in his excellent book “Four Fish” and I suspect that chefs and consumers will grow increasingly concerned with the integrity of the fish they serve and eat and emerging issues such as genetic manipulation of farmed fish and advances in modified atmosphere shipping and packaging (including the use of carbon monoxide). The higher the degree of seafood integrity at a restaurant, the better the restaurant will do. Consider Legal Seafoods as the trend leader.

3.     Café Cuisine and Culture

In 2011 America will experience a resurgence of café cuisine and culture as an extension of the smart casual shift in fine dining of the past three years. As I traveled the country in 2010 I noticed this shift although it started the year before. Late in 2009 the New York Times described the trend as smart casual. While fast food restaurants shifted upscale in quality (not price) to fast casual, fine dining shifted down from formal to smart casual without losing focus on food quality. The smart casual movement provided consumers with great quality fine food in a casual dining environment that was more approachable and comfortable but didn’t tip too far to the casual side. Today smart casual is shifting again to a more complicated café cuisine reminiscent of the quality you can find in local full service restaurants in continental Europe. Chef Francisco Migoya added momentum to the café cuisine trend by publishing a fantastic book titled The Modern Café (John Wiley & Sons) in 2010. Migoya is a one of the leading chefs in the country and the hands (along with some others) behind the outstanding food and service at Apple Pie Bakery at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I consider Migoya one of the catalysts behind the café cuisine trend. For an example of café cuisine in real-time visit the Apple Pie Bakery.

4.     The Necessity of Social Media and Custom Apple/Android Apps

Chefs and foodservice operators better be social media savvy and offer valued customers a custom application that works on both Apple and Android formats by the end of 2011. Having spent the past six months investigating the workings of applications for hand-held devices, it is clear to me now that we are experiencing the beginning of what will be a much larger movement in years to come. I particularly enjoy Zagat’s NRU, Yelp,  Open Table, Epicurious, and Urbanspoon as examples. In addition to applications for mobile devices chefs and restaurateurs will increasingly use social media and digital communications to build their customer base and increase customer loyalty. Facebook will lead the way (this is not new news) along with savvy email campaigns and direct to consumer promotions and loyalty programs. Companies like Campbell’s (see the Campbell’s Kitchen App) are mapping the way for restaurants and other food manufacturers to participate in mobile marketing and social networking (yes Campbell’s is a leader) in innovative and new ways while restaurants spend more time and resources than ever engaged in social networking and digital communications.

5.     Source Mapping and Transparency

In 2011 restaurants will continue to focus on the integrity of their products with an emphasis on supply chain and source management. It is likely that food purveyors, manufacturers, distributors, and restaurant operators will engage in increased source transparency and use technology to do so. Leo Bonnati, a researcher at the Media Lab at MIT, has developed a source tracking system and established as an open source platform for tracking products through the supply chain and estimating their carbon footprint. In the coming year mapping technology will be applied in a larger scale and savvy restaurateurs will be proactive and ready to disclose where their products come from by mapping from source to table digitally and making this data available to the public. 2011 will be a year of expanded source mapping and transparency. Look to Stonyfield Farm as a leader.

Stella New Orleans

Posted 23 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service


It’s 7:00 pm in New Orleans and I am in a cab headed to Stella restaurant over on Chartres Street. Darkness has settled over the French quarter and I am sensing a deep, mysterious vibe. There’s a mixed feeling and voice at night that penetrates these damp, gas-lit cobblestone streets.  It’s one part raw unbridled lust, another part window into the soul, one part history like you find in a cemetery and a final dose of voodoo draped over like grey Spanish moss. The city, with all its wonder and complexity has aspects I deeply admire and corners that I can do without.

My eyes are wide shut as I exit a rather dangerous taxi ride and try to find traction on the slippery smooth cobblestones beneath me, my eyeglasses fogging over with condensation. It’s hot and damp and I wear the humidity heavy like a wet woolen sweater.  My left foot partially slips into a puddle along the curb, acrid water splashing onto my cuff, and for a split second I can feel the quarter pulsating up through my shoes. The city is groaning in the dark; dripping wet foot, I am not sure whether it just licked me or spit at me. This is exactly why I love New Orleans; it has an edge like no other. The city is sentient with a complicated heart, thriving mind, and primeval soul. It reacts to my presence like an old friend and fights back if taken for granted. It can make you disappear, permanently if not careful, but it can also save you and shroud you in grace.  This isn’t a passive city on the decline it’s a living breathing entity that thrives despite its bouts with disaster. It’s like a person who has aged, been to hell and back more than once, hardened to a sinewy core, and used the experience to focus on what’s important. I sense all these emotions in a flash as I step up onto the curb.

On the sidewalk now with eyes open, my vision tightens into focus like the aperture of a camera lens. Stella is literally within arm’s reach, its soft second story lanterns misting light down to the street below.  If I go one block over and turn the corner onto Bourbon Street, the wave of energy there, both good and bad, would drown me. But here on Chartres Street, I am in a balanced part of the quarter where the vices are offset with virtue in both commercial and human form. Stella stands as an oasis; a safe port of call out of earshot of the same ancient sirens, now on Bourbon Street, that nearly drove Odysseus to insanity while lashed to the mast. The sirens on Bourbon Street I can do without, instead I take safe haven in Stella in the care of chef Scott Boswell. My reason for being here is food, another vice of sorts but one balanced with great virtue as well.

Stella is located in a historic looking two story brick building that looks like it was once a warehouse or a hiding place for pirates. There’s a wide balcony on the second floor that runs the perimeter of the restaurant and a series of six over six windows that run along the lower level. The main entrance has a double French door leading to a maitre d’ station just inside and a wooden box outside with glass front displaying the menu.

Entering, I notice exposed thick beams showing through the ceiling lending a rustic feel to an otherwise classically decorated formal dining room. With high-back chairs upholstered in cream colored leather, marble topped side tables with gold colored rococo legs. The dining room is well appointed and refined.

Of all the restaurants I visit on this trip, Stella is the one that I planned ahead and called for a reservation. Chef Scott Boswell is popular now and his other restaurant Stanley is getting some good press too. After a minute or two I am seated and a server approaches and hands me the menu. I order a tequila Mojito and study the menu while my server runs to the bar. He’s an affable guy in his late twenties. He knows the menu, has a great table-side manner and sets a tone of relaxation and care. My first impression is that Boswell is smart about how he hires his servers. We are off to a good start.

Boswell is known, as New Orleans is as well, for the eclectic range of ethnic cuisines that influence his cuisine. It’s easy to spot Southeast Asian, Cajun, Italian, American, and Spanish influences on the menu woven with modernist cooking techniques. Somehow this range of flavors and options works well together; a compliment to Boswells talent. I place my order and finish my Mojito settling into the comforting and sophisticated dining room.

Stella attracts a distinguished clientele of two-tops and foursomes in proper evening attire with many men in suit coats and slacks. Women are properly dressed in classic attire as well although not overly formal. I like the old-school feel of a smartly dressed dining room. As I am studying the dining room, food starts to arrive.

The first course is a Pressed Melon Amuse Bouche with shavings of honeydew, cantaloupe and two small squares of sliced watermelon. Boswell sprinkles coarse sea salt, a drizzle of vinegar and dried Miso powder onto the plate. A simple combination of sweet (the melon), salty with umami (the Miso) and sour (vinegar). Delicious!

Pressed Melon Amuse

The next course is a delicate little piece of fried green tomato with house made remoulade sauce. The sliver of crispy tomato is served on a cocktail fork placed inside a tiny bowl lined with a dollop of sauce and shaved chive.

Fried Green Tomato bite with Remoulade

Lobster, egg and Caviar: Canadian lobster, local farm egg and American paddlefish caviar $24

The lobster and egg with caviar is a surprising presentation with lightly scrambled egg with lobster placed into an eggshell and topped with caviar and chive. Although the chive is redundant and unnecessary the egg and lobster is sublime, beautifully cooked, tender, rich and delicious and the salty pungent flavor of the paddlefish roe a nice contrast. Pricey, but worth it.

Roasted potato and Parmesan gnocchi with Andouille sausage, tomato confit, sweet corn and caramelized maitake mushrooms $18

A hot dish of gnocchi is a favorite so long as the gnocchi are perfect and Stella’s gnocchi were good but not the best I have had. They were perfectly shaped, wonderfully sauced, and the presentation was outstanding but the gnocchi themselves were not as light as I like them.

 A composition of Heirloom Carrots ~ Confit of baby carrots, carrot sorbets, carrot spheres, carrot cake crumbles, traditional carrot salad, petite carrot greens and sweet carrot cloud $15

This dish was a mind-blower, a Pablo Picasso like study of carrots in multiple forms. I also love the fact that Boswell uses custom china for certain presentations like this one. The plate looks like a ceramic silk napkin spread out loosely on the table with peaks and valleys undulating across its surface. Varying types of carrot preparations are placed around each ridge, filling each crater.

Soup, Salad and Sandwich ~ Iberico ham grilled cheese sandwich, truffle potato puree and arugula, baby beet salad and 25 year aged balsamic $18

 Pan Seared Georges Bank Dry Scallops and Shrimp with Truffle Andouille New Potato Hash and Caviar Butter $33


When I talked with Boswell about this dish, he described it as a signiture item that has never left the menu. Every restaurant has a dish like this; one that is mature and representative of the cuisine and philosophy of the overall restaurant. The dish was outstanding.

Miso and Sake Glazed Japanese Mero Sea Bass with Udon, Green Tea and Soba Noodles, Canadian Lobster, Blue Crab and Shrimp Broth $38

Bread Pudding with Crispy Banana

 Composition of Chocolate

With a spread on Oysters soon to be published in Art Culinaire magazine, restaurant Stanley gaining popularity and the city of New Orleans undergoing a true rebirth, Scott Boswell is on the verge of being a nationally known chef. Stella is an outstanding dining destination and is representative of the “new” post Katrina New Orleans. Check it out.


1032 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70116-3202
(504) 587-0091

Roy’s Restaurant at Spanish Bay Resort: Pebble Beach, CA

Posted 08 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Hotels

My exploration of Pebble Beach California had to include a trip to Roy’s restaurant over at the Inn at Spanish Bay Resort. More than one foodservice insider told me that this Roy’s outlet, one of 29 Roy’s restaurants located in seven states (Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada), operated by famed chef Roy Yamaguchi is the best of all and that Mexican born Chef de Cuisine Pablo Mellin is one of Yamaguchi’s more talented leaders.  After a wonderful long weekend in a rainy Pebble Beach volunteering for a local non-profit, the weather brightened up and I set out for Spanish Bay for dinner.  There is nothing like the drive south from Monterey along Forest Lake road to Seventeen Mile Drive. Once you pass the guard shack into Pebble Beach proper the world changes and a feeling of wealth and privilege pervades everything. The community is made up of homes belonging to the rich and, in many cases, the famous. The setting is absolutely amazing and fitting for The Inn at Spanish Bay, a resort that in early 2010 made the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List of the world’s best places to stay.

We pull up to the resort in our rental car, a nice Dodge Charger, and pass the keys on to the valet.  Sitting in front, parked for all to see is a spanking new Bentley GT convertible. Although some think it’s kitschy to display cars like this in front of a hotel or restaurant, I love it; it sets a tone for the clientele and suggests that the place is special.  After all, we are at Pebble Beach. Just the night before I was in this same hotel and passed Tom Brokaw walking down the hall and said hello. I recognized his nasally voice while walking past and then had to step aside for Leon Panetta (a resident of Pebble Beach from what I hear) and his Central Intelligence Agency entourage (black Chevy Suburban SUV’s at the front door and all) as they made their way to their vehicles parked at the entrance.  Spanish Bay is other-worldly and so are the clients that visit here.

As we exit our car and head toward the resort’s front entrance, I notice a gentle but comforting heat radiating down from the warmers located in the porte-cochere ceiling above us. By the time we arrived  the weather had cooled and this little bit of gentle warmth was a nice touch. Looking around the entrance, the building was well lit with large exterior windows and high quality architectural design.  All of the sidewalks and exterior grounds were spotless and perfectly kept down to each blade of grass.  The doorman held the door for the ladies, welcomed us warmly and, more important, genuinely as we entered. It was a wonderful first impression, just the kind of attention to detail that is becoming rare in this economy as we value engineer the finer details out of commercial life.

Roy’s Restaurant Dining Room

Once inside Spanish Bay, finding Roy’s is a straight forward task. You take a quick left, then a right and pass the main lobby and the large bar and sitting area and proceed toward the back of the room until you come to a maitre d’ station at the entrance to the restaurant. On the other side of the restaurant’s entrance the room opens up to a multi-level modern space with a huge open kitchen and a large dining room with well over 150 seats. Roy’s isn’t small and, when busy, the kitchen probably runs fast like a locomotive.  When we arrive its early (6:00PM) and the room is only half full.

Foie Gras Mochi $16.50


I am with a group of three other individuals and we quickly decide to share four or five items from the menu and place our order within minutes. Service is prompt if not a bit slow but this often is the case when a restaurant is running half full. Experience tells me that the best time to be in a restaurant, contrary to intuition, is when it is running full speed. Don’t misinterpret, full speed means running at capacity not running over capacity. Restaurants hit a tipping point when more than ten percent of dining room capacity is pushing to get a table. They also hit a point of declining return when service is running at half speed. Give me a full restaurant with well managed table turns and no line at the door any day of the week. Roy’s service was running slow but, luckily, the food didn’t reflect this at all. Roy’s is also just one culinary cog among many wheels that spin and make Spanish Bay the multi-million dollar resort that it is.

Spanish Bay Sunset Roll $19.75

While at Spanish Bay I had the chance to tour the back of the house including the main banquet kitchen, pastry kitchen, the conference rooms and banquet dining rooms; all of them wheels that spin to make Spanish Bay what it is. The restaurant outlets, including Roy’s, share a common purchasing, facilities,  operations, and human resource departments. I met Chef Mellin while taking my tour and talked with him for a minute or two. With jet black hair that’s tightly cropped on the side, neatly trimmed mustache and huge smile, he is an affable, friendly, and passionate culinary leader. I was inspired to see one of our Mexican colleagues, a key hardworking group in American foodservice that often gets overlooked, finding such success and it was clear as Mellin made his way through the property that he was highly respected by his peers.  We need more of this in foodservice!

Our food arrives and we dig in. The first dish I taste is the Foie Gras Mochi with a healthy slab of seared foie gras sitting on a seared pave’ of tuna. I have had this combination before and it is a match made in heaven.  My next taste is a sampling of sushi (maki and nigiri) with one piece each of Tuna, Salmon, and Yellow Tail and three pieces of spicy tuna roll with seaweed salad. My colleague orders the Spanish Bay Sunset Roll composed of spicy tuna and avocado and I taste a piece. Everything is at the peak of freshness, tastes great and is perfectly executed. Sushi is simple and varies little from place to place other than in the fine details like how the seafood is sliced and the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Mellin is using the best he can get his hands on and the quality we experience reflects this. We continue eating and try a couple other appetizer items and wrap up our dinner. The room is filling up now and the kitchen is starting to rock and roll as we head to the door.

Roy’s Kitchen

Spanish Bay is a beautiful property and may be the nicest of all the Pebble Beach resort properties. It’s well maintained public spaces, tremendous Spanish inspired design, and pristine golf course (some say the best at Pebble beach) creates a relaxing if not ultra high-end feel and Roy’s fits right into this setting serving  a super-fresh, light, Hawaiian Fusion cuisine. There are a few good restaurants in Monterey and some interesting places like Nepenthe further south in Big Sur but Roy’s could be the leading restaurant in this stretch of California coastline (I will let you be the judge).


Inn at Spanish Bay

2700 Seventeen Mile Drive

Pebble Beach, CA 93953


Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO

Posted 05 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

St. Louis Missouri is a special city. It’s a city with a fresh and interesting restaurant scene and deep hospitality streak running right through it. I had no idea how vibrant the culinary scene was in St. Louis until I recently took the time to get out and see for myself. After a quick flight down from Chicago, hunger pangs were registering in my belly as I checked into my hotel. Room key in hand and bags in the room, I pulled out my handheld and launched Zagat’s NRU Android app, searching for a good place to eat lunch. Within a minute I found Pappy’s Smokehouse, cross checked it on Yelp to see what people were saying about it and headed down to the lobby and out the door.

With the St. Louis arch in view, I stepped out onto Chestnut Street and grabbed a cab. Riding through downtown St. Louis it became clear that the city had seen better days, been through some tough times, and is pushing to turn itself around. There were multiple buildings, small and large, that were empty or just partially occupied. At street level, I passed two stores within a half of a mile or each other dedicated to providing local consumers with pay-day loans and bail bonds; not a good sign. Yet, through the center of the city there’s a fantastic string of parks with extensive and diverse public art on display. We drove past Gateway Mall and its green space, Serra Sculpture Park, named for Richard Serra’s controversial series of steel sculptures (walls really), past Memorial Plaza and Aloe Plaza and the fantastic, water-spouting “Meeting of the Waters” sculpture by Carl Milles. St. Louis’ investment over the past century in this urban corridor of green space and diverse art exceeds that of many cities twice its size and the aesthetic the parks create is a positive yet sharp contrast to some of the areas immediately surrounding the city center. One block west of Aloe Plaza the last green patch of park serves as a home for hard-knocks daytime drinkers taking sips of booze from brown paper bags. Although threadbare in spots, the city is vibrant in others and, like many American cities on the mend; there are pockets of development that suggest a brighter future.

About a half mile past the city center Pappy’s appears on the left adjacent to Harris-Stowe State University. My cab pulls into the side street where the restaurant is located and I jump out and immediately smell hickory smoke and roasting meat. Crossing the street to the entrance, I encounter a red colored flat-bed trailer parked right in front of the restaurant with two “Ole Hickory” smokers chugging away. A chef is standing to the right of the front entrance talking with a guy with a graying goatee wearing a baseball hat, collared shirt, and jeans. Both look up as I approach, each appears in his mid 50’s. The guy in the chef coat heads over to the smoker parked in front while the guy in the baseball hat grabs the front door and pulls it open for me. I thank him and he smiles and asks how I am doing. We start a conversation and I explain that I am visiting town, just landed a couple hours earlier and came to fill my belly. He smiles again, introduces himself and we head inside. By pure coincidence, the first person I meet at Pappy’s Smokehouse is Mike “Smokey” Emerson, founder and owner extraordinaire. By the time I explain who I am; Mike has been joined by “Skip” Steele his executive chef. Skips shakes my hand, comments how lucky I am to arrive when there are only 10 people in line and he suggests I get in line fast and place my order. I take his advice and join the cue.

Before a minute passes, Smokey Emerson is back with a hot smoked pork rib for me to sample. I take a bite and the meat gently falls from the bone into my mouth. The full flavored, moist, savory and mildly spicy rib is fantastic. My mouth is full as I grin with approval at Smokey.  Arriving at the counter to order I notice how simple the set up is. There are two cash registers sitting on a counter next to each other just inside a large window into the kitchen. Two menu boards hang on the wall above the cash registers.

I order a half-rack of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans and sweet potato fries. The cashier directs me to a seat and informs me that my order will be delivered shortly. By the time I get to a barstool along the bay window adjacent to the cashiers station my order arrives in a plastic basket lined with parchment paper. A nice seven-rib rack sits on one side, the fries and beans in a three ounce Styrofoam cup on the other, and a four ounce portion of pulled pork in the middle. I dig into the pulled pork first, having already tasted the ribs. Steele’s pulled pork is perfectly cooked, tangy with just enough spice and salt and moist – just the way I like it. Pappy’s offers customers three homemade barbecue sauces; original, sweet, and spicy. I pump a few drops of Steele’s spicy barbecue sauce on the pork to see how it tastes and it’s fantastic. The beans are tasty and the fries are good but neither is the main attraction. Pappie’s is known for ribs and the ribs are the highlight of the meal. Moist and perfect, I consume half a rack in the blink of an eye. As I am wiping my face with a paper towel, Skip comes over and hands me a Styrofoam cup full of sliced beef brisket, another one of his specialties. The brisket melts in my mouth, is full of beef, smoke and spicy flavor.

While I eat, Skip tells me his story, how he was a chef working in Las Vegas, made his way east to get the “smoke out of his veins” found himself in St. Louis and connected with Emerson to put Pappy’s on the map. Steele has thirty years of culinary experience and the battle scars to prove it. After a few minutes we discover several common friends in the culinary profession and share stories about the good, the bad and the ugly of the foodservice world. As I finish eating he offers to take me to see the kitchen, a certain degree of mutual respect settling in as always when talking food with another industry veteran.

Entering the back kitchen I am stunned by how small the space is. One half of the room is filled by another Ole Hickory smoker. This one is named “Walter” and has a wooden sign above it with this name burned into it. To the right, there’s a large walk-in refrigerator with dozens of bins full of prep. Peering up along the aluminum flashing along the top of the exterior of the walk-in I notice a series of dates and times someone has recorded in sharpie pen. The dates and times start on the right and, for some odd reason, work their way to the left. Each date to the left posts an earlier time than before and I ask Skip what the dates and times represent. “That’s the record for how quickly we run out of food and close” he says.

Pappy’s makes a certain amount of food each day following a strict set of quality standards. Once the food runs out at Pappy’s Skip and Mike shut the restaurant down and head home. Reading the dates and times, it appears that every few weeks Pappy’s sets a new record for closing early. Rather than increase production and risk a decrease in quality, Mike and Skip take the high road and focus on the integrity of their food. I have tremendous respect for these guys.

We wrap up the tour and head to the front door so I can catch a cab back to the hotel. Thanking Skip and Mike for the experience, we exchange business cards and step out onto the sunny sidewalk together. I look to Mike and tell him that the level of hospitality, from the moment I entered until stepping back outside to leave, far exceeded my expectations. By now the line to order is pushing out the door. Mike smiles again and states that the level of hospitality I experienced is part of Pappy’s culture and something he and Skip work hard to protect. They have done a great job. Looking back, it was the hospitality that really made the difference at Pappy’s. Their food was excellent and the service was smooth, seamless, and perfectly natural not forced; a real example of elegant simplicity paired with authenticity. I like restaurants that are real!

Pappy’s Smokehouse

3106 Olive St.

Saint Louis, MO 63103-1213