“I have to agree with almost everything that’s been said at the table, and then I have to add that I love the staff I work with too,” Kleinsorge said. “It seems for some reason they’ve hired everyone that just absolutely gets along. You come into work, and everybody’s really cheery, ready to work, and happy. And no drama. In most restaurants there is a lot of tension.”
They had definite ideas about what they liked to eat.
Kleinsorge said, “I personally love to cook. I grew up on very organic, very, very fresh foods all the time, so I keep that.”
Rilling said, “Me too. I eat all organic, all that good stuff. Also, as a server, ultimately you’re just trying to make everyone at the table happy. The ultimate thing is the food, so if we’re confident that the food’s going to be good, that makes the rest of the job a lot easier.”
Dowd shared how difficult it was in San Diego to find fresh organic food served in restaurants. She had lived in San Francisco, where organic food is more of a mainstay.
Stebner said that after work, he went home and ate crackers and cheese and had a glass of wine. “My wife is a vegetarian, so at home I eat vegetarian. We have a lot of pasta and salad.”
Stebner, bringing the troops back to the evening ahead, asked, “Do you guys want to hear about the menu?”
“It’s a little early, isn’t it?” Johnson said.
“We might spark other conversation, I think,” Stebner said. “For fish tonight, we have char and cod. The cod is with cauliflower puree, roasted turnips, beets, and kohlrabi. The sauce is a brown chicken reduction with a little bit of butter. The char we’re serving with chanterelles, braised cabbage, cranberry mousse. Let’s see, what else do we have? Michel mussels tonight. The pasta is a little different. We’re serving it with mushrooms, snow peas, pea shoots, Parmesan.
“The special arugula salad, we’re doing with fresh cèpes — porcinis — very rare. Everybody’s had cèpes, right? It’s porcini; it’s the same mushroom. These are from France, so I’m calling them cèpes. It’s kind of the king of all mushrooms. Very expensive. They’re about $35 a pound. We’re going to serve ’em raw tonight, sliced really thin with the special arugula, a little balsamic. A real simple setup. Just accentuate the freshness. Cèpes are, even though they’re really expensive, really rare, they’re really prone to mushroom worm. So a lot of times you get a box in — you spend $160 on the box — and they are just riddled with worms. These are really very clean, so it’s nice. A lot of the ones that come from the northwest can be pretty wormy. So since these are so pretty and nice, we are going to serve them raw.”
Johnson asked if they had morels.
“We don’t have any more morels,” Stebner responded. “They’re not out of season, but I don’t want to have $700 worth of mushrooms in the kitchen at any given time. I want to keep one special mushroom at a time.
“We do have a party of 50 tonight. They’re getting, believe it or not, caprese salad, which you guys are enjoying the secondary trimmings of. These are the first tomatoes we have used in, like, six months. We try not to use things that are not in season. We’re doing caprese salad tonight because they insisted on it. The tomatoes are from Holland. They’re greenhouse-grown, so they’re as good of a tomato as you can get right now. So we’re doing that special for them. We’re also having braised lamb shank.
“On top of that, we have the owners coming in — a party of 16. They are going to sit here on the banquette. They are having a limited menu. Whoever has got them, talk to Sean about the wine, and talk to me about the menu. The limited menu is a first-course salad with mozzarella, Italian vegetables. They actually have canapés from 6:30 to 7:30 at the bar. Choice of potato or pasta and a choice of three entrées — king salmon, beef, or lamb shank. The lamb shank is not on the à la carte menu tonight. I just have enough for the two parties.
“So, very high profile. They’ve been here all day. They had a meeting starting at 7:30 this morning in the sunroom. They went off-site for lunch. Of course, Mr. Spogli, I’m assuming, being a foodie, has probably told everyone how great the restaurant is, so hopefully we want to show ’em what we’re made of. I don’t think anybody else in the party has eaten dinner here. That’s good. That’s all of the ID we have for tonight.”
“It was good last night,” said Johnson.
“A hundred and thirty,” said Stebner. “That’s really busy for us.”
“Especially for a Wednesday night,” said Johnson.
“We have 54 seats in the restaurant,” said Stebner, “so that’s keeping the restaurant full all night. We’ll be busy tonight. I think that’s it. Any questions about the menu?
“We have a meeting every Saturday,” Stebner told me. “We try and touch base for half an hour or so on product knowledge. The main thing is that these guys are willing and able to ask questions. And we’re all willing to answer them. The knowledge in the kitchen is pretty deep. It’s not just me. Everybody back there knows a lot, so as far as product knowledge goes with the food, they can ask any kind of question and get a pretty good answer. So that’s the important thing in the restaurant here is that everybody that works out here has an interest in food, and this isn’t really a nine-to-five kind of punch-the-clock sort of job. They take it as seriously as we do, so we capitalize on that as much as we can.
“I’ve never worked in a place that has as much positive, I guess, energy as this place,” Stebner continued, “and you know, I don’t take credit for that. I credit everybody that we hire. That’s how we screen people. We don’t say, ‘Oh, this guy’s been doing it for 15 years so let’s hire him.’ We hire people that we know are going to fit into a team. And if they’ve never worked in a restaurant, then that’s fine, ’cause we know we can teach them. And everybody around the table, everybody in the restaurant, may have goals outside the restaurant business, but hopefully they’re learning things that are going to help them get to those goals. Like, if they’re going to be a psychologist, or if they want to be a lawyer, they’re going to learn things from this experience that are going to help them. Not necessarily just from me and the management, but from each other. There’s just a lot of intelligence here, and there’s a lot of respect. That’s the best part.”