Monday, February 18, 2008

The restaurant as metaphor

About three days ago, a restaurant by the name of Taylor's Automatic Refresher opened in Napa. This is the third Taylor's in the world - the original is about 20 miles north in St. Helena (that's the original in the photo), and the second one is about 45 miles south in San Francisco.

The original Taylor's was a classic old roadside drive in burger joint. They probably had car hops back in the day. In 1999, these two brothers, Joel and Duncan Gott, bought the old place and restored it. (The Gott name is big these days. They have Palisades Market in Calistoga, and there's Joel Gott wine, too, which is a great value, and Joel is part of the Three Thieves label as well.)

When they took over Taylor's, the menu was reworked to reflect a contemporary Napa Valley food and beverage perspective. What that means is, you can get a chil cheese dog for $4.99, or you can get the Ahi Burger with ginger wasabi mayo for $13.99. You can get a $3.99 grilled cheese sandwich (American cheese on white bread, just like mom used to make) or a $8.99 Chinese chicken salad that mom would never have thought to make.

Now there are lots of places that have that kind of menu diversity. But the head spinner comes when you check the drink menu and discover you can have a Dr Pepper or a milkshake with your burger, or instead have a glass of 2005 Caymus Cabernet for $20. That's $20 a glass, not $20 a bottle. Or if you're really thirsty, how about a $295 bottle of 2003 Shafer Hillside Cab to wash down your onion rings? Or on the other hand, they have Pabst Blue Ribbon in cans.

For me this paints a vivid picture of Napa in the year 2008. There's the underlying Kaiser Steel-Mare Island Shipyard-Buttercream Bakery worldview and appetite, with several layers of "broader reality" on top - layers of Robert Mondavi and Alice Waters and Julia Child and, lately, a little Gavin Newsom - making a complex brew that makes the new Napa hard to define.

In the end, not everybody can enjoy $295 bottles of wine, but everybody likes a root beer float, right? There's a lesson in there somewhere.


Anonymous said...

We had to giggle last week when we were at Cole's Chop House. Sam, being seven years old, was presented with a children's menu and crayons.
The children's menu boasted chicken tenders ($8), a little burger ($8) or a petite filet mignon ($33). I'm sure we looked like hicks, passing that menu around the table so we could all snort a little of our $14 glass of wine out of our noses ... Elizabeth

mangaman said...

I remember stopping at Taylor's during my nigthly drive home to Napa from St. Helena during the summer of 1985, when I was an intern at the St. Helena Star. Those icy milkshakes made the hot drive home a bit more bearable.

Buttercream Bakery was also a favorite place for all-American food. They had a burger on the menu that was named after my grandmother. Oh, and those pink cookies with the chocolate swirls. Wow! Is that place still open?

Barry Martin said...

Oh yeah, Buttercream is going strong. There was a renovation a couple years ago - at least, renovation of the building, I think the menu remains the same...

DodgerScott said...

I might go just to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Even better if they could get Old Style like at the Cubs games. I miss the A&W. There was nothing better than ordering a momma or poppa burger. And the rootbeer was always amazing. You can have your Shafer Hillside Cab. Actually that sounds really good right now. Is it still Lent?