A&E

A farewell to forks

After 1,000 meals, longtime restaurant reviewer retires his professional utensils

As Virginia Woolf wrote, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."

It has been my good fortune to write restaurant reviews and related articles for the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice for the past 18 years. I've probably eaten over a thousand meals in the line of gastronomical duty. Now, my wife and I are at a point in our lives when it is time to move closer to family -- our son, daughter-in-law and young grandsons -- in Boston. We don't want to miss out. Time has become a precious commodity.

I have worked with several editors over the years but none finer than the Mountain View Voice's Andrea Gemmet and the Weekly's Peninsula Foodist, Elena Kadvany. To them I extend my deepest gratitude. I also want to thank the Weekly's former Arts and Entertainment editor, Rebecca Wallace, who gave me the freedom to do what I wanted and to publisher Bill Johnson, who stood unwaveringly behind my submissions.

The Midpeninsula might be on the cusp of a golden age of fine dining. Sleepy for too long, the recent infusion of chef-driven restaurants in the area is encouraging. Over the years, readers have written me asking for specific recommendations for birthdays, receptions, office gatherings, reunions and other assemblages. Alas, too often the suggestions I offered were limited to one or two restaurants. That is not the case any longer.

In my years of reviewing, my restaurant visits were never announced until after I had concluded the dining part of the assignment. I operated anonymously and never met a chef or an owner face-to-face. After concluding my visits, I telephoned for background information and secured permission for a staff photographer to take photos. As a courtesy, I let owners and managers know what criticisms I was going to mention in the review to give them a chance to comment. I never accepted a free meal.

I am a freelance writer, meaning, I am not a salaried employee of Embarcadero Media. I have another life, my day job, as they say. For some years, I have been a director and chairman of the board of Hog Island Oyster Company (five restaurants and two oyster farms), a position I will also relinquish in a few months. I have logged over four decades in the Bay Area wine and food industry and have been directly involved with restauranteurs, caterers, wineries, farmers and food producers.

Over the course of my career it was a rare privilege to share tables with Luciano Pavarotti, Julia Child, Charles Chevalier (legendary winemaker of Chateau Lafite Rothschild), White House chef Rene Verdon, famed Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak, legendary California winemakers Joe Swan, Dick Graff, Josh Jensen and other luminaries. It wasn't because of my importance, rather, my involvement with people and places who were important at the time.

Yet, my fondest dining memories were the simple dinners with friends and family, at restaurants, or at home where I might grill salmon on a cedar plank over mesquite and serve it with my version of Caesar salad with crispy romaine and garlicky croutons, or slow-roasted achiote pork wrapped in banana leaves and served over Spanish white beans and rice. Desserts, usually homemade ice cream (fig, peach, cinnamon or strawberry), or possibly a plum tart, poached fruit or some spur of the moment creation.

Yes, Virginia, I have dined well. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, and bon appétit.

Bentson reflects on his time exploring the Midpeninsula dining scene on an episode of "Behind the Headlines." Listen to the discussion by video or podcast.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by dollarbin
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 22, 2019 at 4:33 pm

dollarbin is a registered user.

Good luck Dale F. Bentson! I've always enjoyed reading your reviews even though I think kale is delicious (if prepared correctly). You can have all of my Brussels sprouts and I will eat all of the kale.


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