This quandary over what to call my restaurant has caused me to think a lot about booze.
Not in the sense that the Name Game has driven me to drink... well, maybe partially in that sense. The main reason liquor has been on my mind lately is that I've been thinking about the process of distillation.
I remember my first visit to St. George Spirits in Alameda over a dozen years ago, back before Hangar One existed. The distiller Jörg Rupf demonstrated how he makes his Poire William eau de vie, now sold under the name Aqua Perfecta. He starts with the most perfect unblemished Bartlett pears he can find, then mashes and ferments them at a low temperature. Finally, he slowly heats the mash in small batches in his antique copper alembic still to capture the fruit's volatile aromas (and the alcohol). Every 750 ml bottle contains the essence of 30 pounds of pears.
To me, that's basically what the name of my restaurant should represent. I'm trying to come up with one word or phrase that captures the essence of what my restaurant is all about.
I looked over my impossibly long list of criteria that I drew up before my week-and-a-half hiatus. It's just too much. Trying to incorporate all those disparate elements in one name is the equivalent of a distiller throwing apples, pears, quince, persimmons, grapes, melons, and figs all at once into a still in an attempt to capture the essence of autumn. The result would be a muddied mess.
So, I need to decide. What flavor eau de vie do I want to make? If I were to choose one element of my restaurant's concept, what would it be? Is it the Catalan/Spanish angle? Is it the California seasonal-organic-local mantra? What about the eco-friendly green design? The open kitchen? The garden? Or something more personal, like openness, transformation, and renewal?
My soul searching has led me to a different answer, one that was buried further down in my list of criteria. It's led me to ponder the nature of restaurants. What is their purpose? What role do they play in our lives? Specifically, what function do I want my little restaurant to play within the community? (I can't help it. It's the Sagittarius in me. I'm a philosopher at heart. I frequently chew on questions like these).
When I was married, I took for granted that I always had a dining companion. Now that I'm separated, I see life differently. I don't always have a dinner date. On those occasions when I do, I find myself relishing the conversation and companionship more than even the food. More than the ambience and the service. This is a completely new experience for me.
Then there are those times when my friends cannot join me in my dining adventures (I'm terrible at making plans; I tend to eat late; everyone I know works 60 hour weeks; and, let's face it, most of my friends are married or otherwise attached). I like being surrounded by people and I love eating out. When I dine solo, I seek out restaurants with single-diner friendly communal tables and bar stools that don't require reservations. Places like Nopa, Bar Bambino, Bar Tartine, and Laïola. Invariably, I end up in a fun conversation with at least one person at the table or counter, often many more. So, again, the highlight of the night becomes the companionship. The who, not the what or the where.
Perhaps this is obvious to most of you. To me, a chef who's spent many years on the other side of the kitchen counter, this newfound perspective is a revelation. It's embarrassing to admit, but I had always presumed that the main reason people went out to eat was to sample a particular chef's cooking.
The root word for restaurant, the French restaurer, means "to restore." We go to restaurants to unwind after a stressful day in the office, to reconnect with friends, to restore and repair our spirits. Unlike attending plays, concerts, or movies, going out to eat is not a passive experience. It's interactive. It's social. It's sensual. Eating out is about community, relationships, friendships, love. One word sums it up: connection.
Before my separation with N, my thoughts on the role of my future restaurant emphasized other kinds of connection. Colored by my years behind the stove, I focused on the "field to fork" connection, that chain that links the roast chicken and mashed potatoes on our dinner plates to the farmers and all the other people that raised and produced our food. Wearing the hat of restaurateur, I also focused on the connection between the restaurant's design and the environment. How could the choices I make lessen the impact upon the earth that inevitably accompany new construction and restaurant operations?
These connections are still important to me. They've just taken a back seat to my new understanding of the most important and basic function of the kind of "casual upscale" neighborhood restaurant I'm opening: a place to share a table with friends. The restaurant's food, service, and ambience exist to create a backdrop that sets the stage for the main event: you and your friends. Essentially, every night my team and I will play hosts of multiple dinner parties with you as our guests. This community role — a neighborhood gathering spot for friends — is the flavor of eau de vie I hope to capture in my restaurant's name.
I've recently found 2 names of existing places that succinctly capture what I'm trying to convey. Neither is a restaurant. Both are San Francisco shops. Their names represent the new North on my compass. One is Mingle. The other, a shop just around the corner from my future restaurant, is Wink. The first captures the social aspect of guests mingling with one another at a party. The second adds a dash of flirtiness that I like (and, based on the very unexpected popularity of "besos de sal," seems to appeal to many of you too). Connection and love.
These 2 names inspired a bout of multilingual brainstorming. Here's a look inside my brain (please excuse the mess, I wasn't expecting visitors). What follows is a nearly unabridged, mostly uncensored version of my stream of consciousness which led to 4 new name candidates:
mingle: link, linkup, hobnob, chat, gossip, joke, gather, together, togetherness, nabe, hood, community, web, Indra's net, interbeing, interconnect, intertwine, intersect, intersection, share, participate, mix, blend, emulsion, connect, nuts and bolts, staples, glue, social glue, celebrate, toast, cheers, wine and cheese, hors d'oeuvres, canapés, cocktails, cocktail dress, champagne, flute, amuse, socialize, network, team, the loop, meet, meet up, together, harmony, and, conjunction, with, plus, sum, addition, multiplication, we, us, first person plural, tertulia ("meeting and chatting with friends" in Spanish), junto (together in Spanish), catavinos ("glass for tasting wine" in Spanish), nosotros (we/us in Spanish), del barri (local, literally "of the area or neighborhood," in Catalan)
wink: nudge nudge say no more, smile, nod, gesture, body language, attract, attraction, magnet, magnetic, gravitate, electric, electricity, eyelash, eye shadow, blush, scent, perfume, cologne, lips, lipstick, lip gloss, kiss, smooch, pucker, pout, lick, tongue, pierce, piercing, tattoo, peacock, peacock feather, embrace, hug, caress, massage, touch, high heels, stiletto, stockings, garter belt, lingerie, low cut, flirt, crush, date, mating, courting, courtship, dance, romance, "careless rapture," moonlight, moonrise, starry night, starlight, flowers, blossoms, bloom, spring, rose, iris, dahlia, daisy, candy, jewelry, ring, necklace, earring, diamond, pearl, whisper, sweet nothings, coo, purr, ignite, sense of humor, twinkle (of eye), bubbly, sparkling, sparkle, play, playhouse, game, ludus (Latin for play), eros, charm, tease, tickle, amuse, whet, enchant, enchantress, temptress, Salomé, 7 veils, Carmen, entrance, entranced, beguile, seduce, seduction, mystery, intrigue, tempt, lure, woo, entice, beckon, (come) hither, bewitch, magic, rapture, intoxicate, enthrall, siren, hook, catch, ensnare, pounce, desire, yearn, hunger, thirst, crave, lust, pant, salivate, wild, untamed, crazy, passion, burn, fire, flame, fling, affair, intimate, dopamine, coqueteo (flirting in Spanish), beso (kiss in Spanish), bombolla (bubble in Catalan), chispa (spark in Spanish), pétillant (bubbly in French), frizzante (bubbly in Italian), mmmnn (universal sound of satisfaction, the human purr)
So, with that llooonnnngggg meandering tangent happily out of my system and behind us (thanks for indulging me!), you can find the latest crop of contenders after the jump. Besides the 4 names inspired by my brainstorming above, one of the new candidates is the crush I mentioned in my last post. Sadly, she's appearing to be more of a one-night stand (unless y'all persuade me that she's worth pursuing). Another on the list is the one that I'm currently wooing. There are also a few random uncategorized candidates that admittedly come more from my head than my heart. I also tossed in a couple of choices simply because I think they're funny. They represent my internal Trickster's attempt to keep the spirit of this game lighthearted, despite the looming deadline. I can't wait to to discover which, if any, of the names you'll be attracted to. Will you fall for the same one(s) I like? Will you be able to guess which ones are meant as jokes? Will you hate them all? Don't let my opinions distract you. Only choose the ones that honestly resonate with you. Vote. Leave comments. You know the drill. Also, if you haven't yet voted in Saturday's poll, please do so now.
One last favor. If the Muse whispers a poetic metaphor in your ear that captures the essence of "mingling" and "winking," community and love, please please please share it with me, either in the comments or via email. Also, if one of the words from my brainstorming session captures your imagination, let me know. Gracias.
I promise. In the next post we'll start the process of reviewing all the favorites, including Emerson, Olallie, and several others. I'll try to resist the temptation to add more new names. I think I'm pretty much tapped out.
Hang in there. Remember, I've made a commitment. This process will end in a few short days!
"Grilled ham and cheese sandwich" in Barcelona slang. No joking. Summer love, flirting, sexy. Sometimes spelled biquini. Whether or not I choose this as the restaurant's name, it will be on the menu in one form or another.
"With you" in Spanish. Says it all. Connection. Togetherness. A whisper of flirtiness and love. Also the title of a song by Federico Aubele (view video of live acoustic version here). One of my favorite words in Spanish, an unusual contraction of con (with) and the intimate tú form of "you." Sounds lyrical to me, but not sure how it sounds or looks to someone not familiar with Spanish.
A type of colorful sweet pepper that's popular with local farmers. Ranges in color from pale yellow to neon orange to crimson. Delicate, so only available at farmers markets. Similar connection to the earth and local farmers as the name Olallie, only Gypsy gives the name more connection to Spain. Gypsy: until recently, I considered myself an urban nomad. Pepper: an important ingredient in the Spanish kitchen.
B as in Brett. Or perhaps Barcelona. When things don't quite turn out the way you had expected them to (such as the naming my restaurant and other events in my life), go with Plan B!
1320 in Roman numerals. It's the restaurant's address on Castro Street.
In jazz and rock music, short melodic phrase. In comedy, short clever remarks on a subject. In cooking, a twist on a classic dish. Could also be riffs. Could also combine with related musical terms (riffs and licks or riffs and hooks or licks and hooks).
"Without name" in Spanish. El restaurante sin nombre. The no-name restaurant.
"Smile" in Spanish. Flirty like "wink." Warm, happy, and beautiful sounding in Spanish and, I believe, English. Another favorite word in Spanish. Reminiscent of word "sunrise" in English.
A spark ignites both our romantic passions and the logs in wood-burning ovens.
1320 in Spanish. See MCCCXX above.