Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011: May 15th

It's May 15th and that means it's time for another installment of As the Block Turns. Just Kidding. Another installment of my twice monthly series on what is happening at One Block West during the course of 2011. The previous installment is here.

Tuesday May 3rd is a day that we dread every year. Actually, it's not the 3rd so much as it is the first day back after being closed for our annual holiday. Sunday night after flying back into Dulles and all day Monday, I was busy placing orders for every manner of perishable item: produce, wild mushrooms, seafood, and meat.

On Monday, I did a little busy work in the kitchen while taking a break from driving my desk (dealing with the hundreds of emails that came in while we were away, the 10 pounds of mail that got delivered, etc.) just doing some basic set up so that we could hit the kitchen running on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday the 3rd, I was in the kitchen prepping by 7am and Travis joined me a bit after 8 and Tony got in around 11. In an all out blitz, we finally got lunch set up to go at 12:15. Fortunately, our first table did not arrive until 12:30. After lunch it was an all out marathon to get dinner prepped. Although we opened at 5pm, we were not set until 6pm. And our menu was pretty bare bones that night.

Our annual vacation behind us means that the month of April is now closed and we can look at the results. We got hammered by the weather and gas prices. April was one of the rainiest ever and with gas prices spiking to $4 per gallon, with the exception of a couple of nights, business came to a standstill for us and restaurants all over.

One of the exceptional nights was Saturday May 7th, a night that we look forward to every year. It's trifecta weekend: proms, graduation, and Mother's Day all rolled into one. We were solidly busy from open to close, just the way we like it.

The night went really well for us with the exception of one table. We took a reservation for a late 8-top which subsequently became a later 11-top. A table with 11 people at it represents 20% of my dining room capacity. I always feel very nervous about taking these tables because they take so much of my dining room and historically have such a high no-show rate. And to generalize a bit further, if such a table does show up, it will be with a lot fewer people than the number reserved.

And sure enough, at 6:45 this table called pushing their 8pm reservation back a half an hour to 8:30, at which point I predicted to our front of the house manager that they were going to no-show or cancel. Then they called back to push back another hour to 9:30pm, a half an hour after we usually close. Then they called back to move to Sunday; we're not open on Sundays, not even Mother's Day. Finally they called and cancelled and left us with 20% of the dining room sitting empty. We could have filled those tables with a lot more than 11 people; we turned so many people away that evening.

Thanks to these louts, nobody will be able to book a table here for more than six people without giving us a credit card number. If they cancel within 24 hours or no-show, we're going to charge them. Way to go you idiots, ruining it for everyone!

We opened the seating on our deck on May the 3rd, the first day back after our vacation. So far the weather has not cooperated and very few people have sat outside. Soon though, the deck will be in full swing. It's nice to sit out there in the shade of the umbrellas, surrounded by all our flowers and herbs, in the shade of the large tree in the corner of the deck, and watch the birds flit about everywhere.

Our roses are now in full bud, the native clematis that lines the deck fence is screaming skyward by leaps and bounds, and the mint has exploded: mojito anyone? We skipped the early season pansies in the window boxes and went straight for the hot weather plants that can withstand the brutal conditions of our south-facing window boxes: dracaena, lantana, and portulaca.

The blood sorrel and chervil that we grow in the shade of the deck have overwintered and are now up and we are using them for garnish each day. The chervil has been going into a fabulous carrot risotto. Our chives are in full bloom and they made a fantastic garnish for cream of ramp soup.

On Tuesday the 10th, I found myself at the farmers market and running out of green vegetables, especially for the farmers market slaw that accompanies our crab cakes. I bought the last two bunches of gai lan, Chinese broccoli: it's getting too hot for it. And I bought the last of the cabbages stored over the winter.

The arugula was done last week: again, it's getting too warm for it. We have plenty of asparagus and spinach right now, but other than that, it is slim pickings until the peas come on in a couple of weeks. Eating locally and seasonally forces us to scramble a few weeks of the year and we are at a scrambling point. Good thing that the mesclun is terrific now; I imagine a lot of dishes will be coming with mesclun.

And updating the ongoing saga of renovating the restaurant: the dining room walls and trim are all painted now, with the exception of the back wall that adjoins the bar. The thought there is to open up part of that wall between the dining room and the bar, but I'm still going back and forth in my mind about what exactly to do. It really is one of those things I would like to be comfortable with before I start demolition!

Now that asparagus is in full swing, I am looking forward to strawberries. In fact, I have promised them on the menu for our upcoming wine dinner with Glen Manor Vineyards on the 26th, so they better be ripe by then! Beth is currently estimating berries by the 20th, so I think we'll be in good shape.

Tomorrow afternoon I am off to Arlington to the portfolio tasting of one of our wine distributors. This is always a good opportunity to meet people who are passionate about the wines they make, catch up with friends rarely seen, and refresh my palate. How many opportunities do you get in a year to taste Arneis, Garganega, Vermentino, and Falanghina in one afternoon? After the tasting, we'll hole up somewhere during happy hour to avoid rush hour traffic. How bad can that be?

Until the first of June, thanks for reading along.

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