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attention to detail

Coffee and Tea: From a Server’s Point of View

By August 17, 2014 attention to detail, beverage junkie, coffee, customer service, having flexibility, practice, working in restaurants

Imagine running 100 miles a minute, having a list of 40 things to do next, and having to stop in the midst of it all to pull together an after dinner drink ensemble for five people. All of the 40 things I am about to orchestrate are going to be put on hold. It is time to make coffee!

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To some restaurant servers- as many as I know – serving coffee and tea can put a kink in our flow. We have to leave our sections (what we call where all of our guests are sitting) for more time than we really like to, and we often have to run around the restaurant to gather ingredients that are not within arms’ reach. It really takes a lot of time to put together an assortment of after dinner drinks for five people, unless they all decide to have the same thing – and that doesn’t happen often. People have individual preferences, don’t you know! And we want to be respected for those preferences!

Living in the wonderful world of customization, people have a lot of choices when it comes to what they will be drinking after dinner. It no longer comes down to “I’ll have regular or decaf.” People have at least 10 options when thinking about how they want their coffee. There are a variety of espresso drinks, with or without steamed milk, foam, whole milk, skim milk, etc. There’s drip coffee. At some places you can get French pressed beans or pour overs. Again, you have all of the dairy options, and don’t forget the non-dairy options: almond, rice, or soy milk.

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Then there is the sweetener option, a whole different debate for some people. Which is better to offer for guests? There’s straight white sugar, sugar cubes (a bit more elegant in appearance and less messy), less-processed sugar in the raw, honey, and stevia. Then there are the artificial sweetener choices. I could write an entire post about the “yellow, pink, and blue stuff” that people still ask for.

There are also many options for tea drinkers. Do you want honey, sugar, perhaps lemon? If you really want to get technical – which I do when I am at home – there are varying degrees of water temperature that one should be thinking about when serving tea, especially if you are having green tea.

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Thankfully for me, and for my guests, who I do not want to burden with too many choices, the place where I work only offers coffee and tea. We serve simple and well-crafted food, and our coffee and tea list matches the rest of the menu in simplicity. That means I do not have to run all over God’s green earth to gather ingredients for after dinner drinks (although it seems that way sometimes). I just have to go away from the place where I can visually monitor what the guests in my section are doing. I have to put everything I am doing on pause for 5 or 10 minutes to prepare some delicious espresso drinks and tea for my guests. Just as I do, they appreciate the way good coffee complements their dessert and wraps up their dining experience in a ritualistic way.

Lesson: Working as a server, and in life, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. Sometimes focusing on the bigger picture can make all the difference in a dining experience. When is looking at the bigger picture helpful to you in your life? 

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My o ya Experience

By July 21, 2014 attention to detail, creativity, feeding ourselves, getting out of our comfort zone, living a joyful life, nurturing, personal growth, pleasure, practice, self care, so much to learn, Travel

First, I want to extend my apologies to anyone who was looking for my post from Loving Food and Life in their inbox this last Monday. I unexpectedly did not have Internet access that was strong enough to handle posting to my site. I decided to chill out about it. Unexpected things happen. I was on a magnificent island at the time. What else was I to do?

I have at least 20 tales to tell you about the last month of my life. I have been making some leaps. I have been having a blast. I have been on vacation. I have been laughing or crying tears of joy depending on the moment. I have been appreciating these human-ly emotions that I have been feeling.

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This post is about exhibiting one of the finest meals of my life (so far). What lands it on the list of the finest? For one, I decided to take a leap and go explore the city of Boston by myself. This meal was a magical benefit of my decision to take this trip. There was no way that I could return to Boston (my 2nd visit there) without a meal at o ya. To make it even more special, my friend and past colleague from the days of working at the Magnolia Grill, Maggie Warren now lives in Boston and works as a server at o ya. She wanted to wait on me, and I was thrilled to have her share a dining experience with me.

It might be redundant for me to say this, but I dig deep into the beauty of a meal. By the time I left o ya, my eyes were filled with tears of joy. I was full of gratitude to all of the people who participated in running this restaurant. Each one contributed to making my experience grand. I was appreciative of how thoughtful Maggie chose each course for me with a perfect sake pairing to match. I almost felt like I had been transported to another world. Then I became deeply in touch with my own creation of this experience. As the tears uncontrollably fell down my cheeks, I realized how it felt to be responsible for all of this.

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I went to o ya early on a Friday night. When I made my reservation, I asked to be seated close to the “pass” at the chef counter where I could see the food coming out. I went in feeling thrilled to be there again. This was my 2nd time dining at o ya. My anticipation of many exquisite bites was bubbling over.

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I sat at the chef’s counter thrilled to have Maggie as a dining companion, while I would be the only one eating. I told Maggie to feed me whatever she wanted. I told her that I would let her know when I needed to slow down. She brought me a beautiful flute of champagne to get things started.

Here’s what happened next: (I have posted the dish and then the picture)

Kumamoto Oyster watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette

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Hamachi spicy banana pepper mousse

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Salmon unfiltered wheat soy moromi

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Santa Barbara Sea Urchin and Russian Ossetra Caviar

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Karikari Crispy Sesame Chicken Skin yuzu-honey pickled ginger, schmaltz powder

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Artic Char yuzu cured, sesame brittle, cumin aioli, cilantro

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Fried Kumamoto Oyster yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles

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Wild Bluefin Maguro soy braised garlic, micro greens

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Kyoto Style Wild Morel Mushrooms garlic, soy

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Line Caught Ishidai Usuzukuri spotted knife jaw, ponzu, green onion, spicy daikon

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Scottish Salmon Belly cilantro, ginger, hot sesame oil drizzle

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Hamachi viet mignonette, thai basil, shallot

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Bluefin Toro Tartare ginger kimchee jus

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Chilled Maine Lobster Salad avocado, creamy yuzu dressing, micro greens, cucumber gelee

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Tea Brined Fried Pork Ribs hot sesame oil, honey, scallions

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Grilled Chanterelle and Shiitake Mushroom Sashimi rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, soy

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Kushiyaki of Kobe roasted onion, yuzu kosho, maple soy sauce

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Foie Gras Miso Spoon tempura bits, preserved yuzu

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Chilled Daikon Dumpling miso nut “cheese,” homemade kimchee, wakame, spicy pine nut mayo

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Yuzu Curd almond, blackberry-jasmine, meringue and Aged Sake Gelato miso-hazelnut caramel, vanilla cremeaux, financier

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I am not a restaurant critic. You can find all sorts of amazing reviews of o ya here from critics all over the country.  Please check out o ya for yourself if you’re curious in learning more about them. If you’re in Boston, make a reservation.  It truly is a “don’t miss!” They pay attention to every detail you can imagine. When you are there, you will see beauty at every turn. I definitely had moments when I thought I could’t bear to lose the taste that I had just experienced. In his review of o ya in the New York Times in 2008, Frank Bruni said that he ordered a 2nd piece of one dish right after the first. There was no way he was leaving o ya with the memory of just one.

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Lesson: I have been in the process of stepping into a new way of living. To give you contrast, I spent many years often expecting the worse or not having much expectation because I was afraid of being disappointed. I am learning to trust that life is joyful and full of beautiful experiences. This dinner at o ya was indeed aesthetically beautiful. The presentation of the food was an exhibit of art. The smells and tastes of each plate were inviting and expansive. This dinner was an exhibition of how beautiful life can be. It served as a reminder that I am an artist to the depths of my soul. I have the ability and the power to create anything that I want in this life.

I am going to continue to practice this art of creating. It is bringing so much joy into my life. It’s not that fleeting kind of feeling that comes and goes. It is hanging around. It is flowing through me and into each encounter and experience that I create. It is hard to put into words what this is like. It is my wish that you can feel what I am saying.

What steps are you taking to make room for more joy in your life?

 

 

 

 

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Sunny Side Up

By May 8, 2014 attention to detail, breakfast, eggs, practice

Have you ever been asked the question, “If you were stranded on a deserted island with only “one _____ what would it be?” I do not have any intention of being stranded on an island anytime soon. However, I have often pondered this question, filling in the blank with “food.”

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If I could have only one food to eat for the rest of my life (I sincerely hope that I don’t have to make that choice), I would choose eggs.  Of course my favorite food is lumped into the “breakfast” category, which would be the answer to the question, “If you could have only one meal a day, what would it be?”  I can eat eggs every day. I do eat them most days – at least six days a week for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack.

I am incredibly spoiled by my friend Sam, who brings me farm-fresh eggs once a week. Of all of the choices that we have for eggs, hers are the best that I have had. I know that she has a variety of laying hens because the colors of the eggs are mixed. What I love most about the eggs is the incredibly bright – almost orange – yolk. Some people say that the orange color of the yolk comes from the nutrients that the birds get from roaming freely. Others say that the less stressed the chicken is, the darker the color of the yolk of their eggs. Either way, I enjoy the brighter, darker color of the yolk that enhances the flavor and richness of the eggs. If I were on an island, I would like for Sam and her family’s chickens to be there, too!

Eggs can be enjoyed a variety of ways. I learned to scramble eggs before I turned 10. Next I learned to cook them over easy, which was not all that “easy” at the time. Flipping the egg was the challenge. Okay – flipping the egg without breaking the yolk was the real challenge. As I got older (and more patient), I got better at cooking eggs. As with cooking in general, I have researched a variety of ways to prepare eggs over the years. I still try numerous new recipes where eggs are the star.

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Of all of the recipes for eggs in my repertoire, my favorite preparation is sunny side up. I like sunny side up eggs served on top of a potato hash or simply with toast to sop up the yolk. Either way, I like to have some kind of vehicle to help absorb the delicious yolk.

How do I prepare an egg sunny side up?

  1. I always use a non-stick skillet to assist with easily lifting the finished egg out of the pan once it’s done.
  2. I get my skillet slightly hot – I set the electric stove burner on 6.
  3. Depending on the day and my mood, I use a little olive oil, butter, or pork fat in the skillet. Use one half tablespoon of your preferred fat per egg.
  4. After your preferred fat has warmed up for a couple minutes, break the egg directly into the skillet. Some people like to break the egg into a small bowl and then pour it into the    skillet. It can be easier that way.
  5. If you are a perfectionist (which I am not), you can move the yolk on the egg with your fingers to sit perfectly centered in the middle of the egg. Just very carefully hold it there for about two minutes while the egg begins to set. A chef friend taught me this trick. It does look good for presentation purposes.
  6. The next step is variable, depending on how you like your eggs cooked. I don’t mind the whites a little runny. Other people do not want their egg white runny at all. Basically, you are going to let the egg sit in the skillet until it is cooked to your desired doneness.
  7. If you really like the yolk runny, but want to make sure all of the white is done after the egg is nicely set – cooked all around the edges of the white – turn the heat down to low and let the egg “hang out” until the white is as set as you like. You can even take the pan off of the burner. The pan is hot enough to continue to cook the egg white.
  8. Once the eggs are cooked to your preferred doneness, lift them out of the skillet with a rubber spatula and onto your serving plate.

There are numerous ways to serve a sunny side up egg – from very simple to very fancy. I will definitely post some more recipes soon. How about a crab and green tomato hash? That will have to wait until we get more into summer when the tomatoes are around. I am already dreaming of summer tomatoes to enjoy with my sunny eggs!

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Lesson: I realize in this post how picky I am about my eggs. I have spent years practicing cooking my eggs with precision and attention to detail. It is even a challenge sometimes to be satisfied when other people cook eggs for me. There is something to be said for practicing something we love over and over again – always improving our method or tweaking our practice in one way or another.

Eggs are my thang! What’s yours? What have you practiced over and over and continue to enjoy the practice? 

 

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