In a world where concert and theater tickets are quickly approaching $250 for an experience in which you watch something together with the rest of the attendees, there is a rising interest in taking part in a fully interactive social dining event.
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, CA is known as one of the best hotels in the country, having been designated the best California resort and hotel in 2022 by U.S. News & World Report. I know it well, and it is wonderful. They have begun a series of outdoor long table dinners in their olive grove. These dinners begin with a cocktail party enhanced by delightful hors d’oeuvres and live music. Then, approximately forty people are seated at a long rectangular table, where the wines and conversation flow.
On Thursday, September 14th, 2023, noted Chicago based chef Rick Bayless came to perform, along with chef Sheyla Alvarado and members of his team. Bayless’ presence was like when a traveling band stops in town. If you want to enjoy the show, buy a ticket. For this specific evening the ticket was $475, including all food, beverages, taxes, and gratuities. The difference is here rather than a theater, this performance took place in a garden party. And, instead of the participants being stimulated by sound, light and motion as at a concert, this event was curated to deliver elevated wine and food to those who came. The conductor, as it were, was Kate Woods from Rancho Valencia who made certain the evening was seamless for the guests, many of whom were regulars at the resort.
In either case, whether at a show or a dinner, the guests came in their own small groups, but over the course of the evening melded into one cohesive assemblage. Food and wine have been the basis of hospitality for all of time. Rancho Valencia has a particular expertise in elevating the presentation and enhancing the levels of service so as to remove all friction points from the evening.
When someone spends several hours in a small group, all of whom are sharing an experience, new friendships begin as the natural result of sharing time and the wonder of an exquisite event. Conversations begin with polite generalities, then the fun ensues as someone knocks over a glass of wine, or the uni fans receive a gift of more from the plates of those who prefer not.
Chef Bayless and his team delivered five beautifully plated courses, using locally sourced ingredients. Two of those courses were prepared by Chef Sheyla Alvarado from Lunario restaurant. The paired wines came from head winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez of Lomita and Finca La Carrodilla wineries. Lunario and both wineries are based in Valle De Guadalupe, Baja California.
The evening was further enhanced by performance during both the cocktail reception and the dinner by Gilbert Castellanos, a renowned trumpeter and local favorite, accompanied by drums and keyboard.
There is a certain satisfaction with having spent an evening well. When that evening turns out to have been a memorable experience, with all senses activated by the lighting, sound, flavors, and spirit all in harmony it falls into that small portion of the brain where significant memories reside. There are a lot of things which a world class hotel can inspire – none better than an involuntary smile etched permanently alongside the memory of a night spent with friends new and old in a perfect setting.