A Dining Experience at Casanova

Casanova Restaurant
Casanova Restaurant

I have seen and heard restaurant owners for years use the phrase “dining experience” to describe what it is like to have a meal at their establishment.  For a long time I considered the phrase to be poor marketing at best and false advertising at worst.  If I wanted an experience I would go see a good movie or play, not eat a plate of ravioli with a side Caesar salad.  However, my attitude changed several years ago when my wife and I took a trip to San Francisco, which also included a drive down the coast on Highway 1 to spend a night at Carmel-by-the-Sea.  We were only there for a short time, and we wanted to have a good meal before heading out the next day.  We began searching for restaurants online and decided on a place called Casanova in the little village of Carmel.  Nestled among the shops and galleries there, Casanova is a quaint, unassuming place with a simple façade that would be easy to walk past unnoticed.  And that would be a mistake.

Casanova is a family owned and operated restaurant that serves rustic and classic cuisine, obviously with an Italian flavor.  Ingredients come from local, small organic farms and fisheries.  The world-class wine cellar is managed by a certified wine educator.  The chef’s menu selections range from veal dishes to lamb, beef, and seafood.  They have inside and outside seating.  We were seated outside in a small courtyard area with plastic sheeting and heaters.  It wasn’t closed off enough to keep small birds from flitting in and out looking for crumbs on the ground left by diners, which we decided was charming instead of a deterrent or distraction.

Our meal was exquisite, from appetizers all the way through the courses to dessert.  We were there for almost two hours but never once felt like the evening was dragging.  We were not in a secluded, dimly-lit corner of a dining room, but the setting was still completely romantic.  We could easily forget that there were other diners around us, which was made possible by the most professional waiter I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  I don’t recall his name. I do remember that he was a middle-aged man who was extremely well-spoken, impressively knowledgeable about the restaurant’s offerings and specialties, and very skilled at his profession.  He was attentive without hovering, interesting but not intrusive.  The food and our waiter turned that dinner into a true dining experience that I will not forget.  I never had a meal in Rome, Italy, that was better than what we had at Casanova.

The restaurant’s website now announces that they have acquired the table at which Vincent Van Gogh enjoyed his meals at the Auberge Ravoux.  The arrival of the table marks the beginning of a cultural exchange between these two artistic communities: Carmel-by-the-Sea and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where Van Gogh spent the last days of his life.  Dining at Casanova involves much more than just enjoying a delicious meal.  It is about being transported from the malaise to the magnificent!  As they say in the book reviews: “highly recommended.”

Suggestions for the Wait Staff and Their Supervisors

I have a couple of gentle suggestions to restaurant waiters and their supervisors. To the waiter: it does not impress me when you try to memorize my order, thus not writing down what I am requesting for lunch or dinner. It actually irritates me when you attempt to memorize my order and then get it wrong. The irritation is magnified as the number of people at the table increases, and the potential number of mistakes goes up as well. I am perfectly happy for you to carefully write down my order, and even read it back to me to confirm. However, if you are memorizing my order because your supervisor demands that kind of service, then you are clearly not to blame. So, to the supervisors: encourage your waiters to write down their orders for the sake of getting it right the first time, which leads to better customer satisfaction, less incorrect orders going back to the kitchen, and more revenue for the restaurant.

Here is the second suggestion.  Please learn these two important phrases, which can never be overused and are appropriate in a multitude of situations during the course of a dining experience: “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”  I don’t expect you, as a server/waiter, to become ingratiating, and I’m not overly impressed with the exaggerated Chik-Fil-A-style response of “my pleasure” either.  However, when I hand you the menu back after placing my order, or if I hand the bread basket to you when it is empty, a simple “thank you” from you would be nice.  Likewise, I should say the same to you when you deliver items to the table and when you refill my glass.  It’s common courtesy. Obviously, you should thank everyone at the table at the end of the meal, especially when payment is being made and received.

Lastly, and this is most important, do not substitute “you’re welcome” with the phrase “no problem.”  The latter implies that you have gone out of your way to do a favor for the diner by providing service, which is not the case. The phrase implies that your action, under normal circumstances, would have caused undue stress or required a sacrifice, but you were willing to do so out of your generosity and graciousness without expecting any compensation.  That is not the arrangement you have with the diner at the table.  Unfortunately, I am hearing this phrase more and more often in restaurants, even very fine ones.  So, if you have a polite diner who is courteous enough to say “thank you” for your good service, please respond with “you’re welcome.”  Supervisors should make this simple dialogue central to training their wait staff.

Waiting tables may not seem like a career that one might typically aspire to seek, but it is certainly respectable.  In fact, I have had the pleasure of dining at some very fine restaurants where I was convinced the server was far better educated than I and had much better cultural awareness than I could hope to achieve.  On these occasions, dinner was far more than just a meal — it was a rich experience.  I have memories of such a dinner at a restaurant in Carmel by the Sea in California at a place called Casinova. Our waiter was a well-spoken gentleman, probably of Mediterranean heritage, in his mid to late fifties. He never smothered us, gave us just the right amount of information, and made us feel like we were his only customers, which was certainly not the case. He was as polished as any professional you would meet from a wide spectrum of fields.  He took his job seriously, and he was good at it.  He made the evening for my wife and me one to remember and cherish for the rest of our lives. And, he never once uttered the phrase “no problem.”