Prior to COVID, I started dating someone who I’ve become quite smitten with. I knew this guy was special the moment our eyes locked. We’ve been practically inseparable ever since. Amazingly, each of our dates has been better than the last. Largely because of the care he put into making them so darn fun, I found myself looking forward to the moment when I would open my front lobby doors and see his smiling face waiting for me outside. 

One of the big things that we share is our passion for food and the entire dining experience. I embraced the world of hospitality through my brand and marketing work with the Four Seasons, helping to launch five-star restaurants and a new island destination in Hawaii. While those were dream projects, the real stars for me were the people. The waitstaff, the chefs, the sous chefs, the sommeliers, and the general managers became my community. I would fall in love with whatever they shared with me, because I was seeing it through their eyes. My new guy (his name is John), on the other hand, came directly from that world, being a sommelier himself and having worked at some of the finest restaurants in Seattle. When the two of us would go out to eat, we were like kids in a candy shop.

Not long after COVID hit, we took our relationship to the next level, became exclusive, and started spending more time together. About a month in, John shared that it made him sad that he could no longer introduce me to new restaurants. He felt like he was no longer able to take care of me in the special way he wanted to. I could see that eating out wasn’t just another great night out for him. It was a way of expressing his love. 

“Steaks are resting up and my compound butter is set and ready. Flame hits the mushrooms. Service is ROCKING!” says John.

So we came up with the idea of creating our own restaurant nights. Not just making dinner, but a full on restaurant-style evening with all the bells and whistles. We would come up with the concept, branding, custom menus, the linens, and all of the courses—and act as the staff and the dates. Ambitious, but worth it! 

We decided I would go first that Friday, and John’s restaurant night would be the following week. Here, we each review our restaurant’s big debut.

Audrey’s Restaurant: Bāgā Bāgā

My restaurant was a high-end casual Japanese Burger and Bar establishment, featuring Asian spices and influences fused with American comfort food.

Bāgā Bāgā

Cocktail
Flower Moon Cocktail
Muddled Organic Lingonberries, Organic Honey, Lime juice, Miso, and Casamigos Tequila

Red Wine
Long Shadows 2015 Pedestal Merlot

Appetizer
Garlic Pepper Edamame
Sweet Yam with Seaweed Flakes and Wasabi Mayo

Dinner
Wagyu Beef Burger Seasoned with Katsu Sauce on a Pretzel Bun with Uncured Bacon, Farm Style Sharp Cheddar, Broccoli Leaves, and Kimchi Mayo Sauce

Dessert
Snoqualmie Smooooth Bourbon Ice Cream

I came up with the name Bāgā Bāgā because baga means burger in Japanese. Even though I was playing fast and loose with the actual delivery of “Japanese style food,” it seemed fun. 

On the evening of my restaurant, I was running behind so John stepped in as my sous chef, which was hilarious because he immediately went into his full-on work mode and kept saying, “Yes, Chef” every time I asked for something. 

The evening started off great. My Flower Moon cocktails, inspired by the full moon ritual we had done with Sara Eaglewoman earlier that week, were fantastic. And with John’s help, my appetizer of edamame smothered in garlic and sweet yams was prepared without a hitch. 

Wagyu Beef Burger Seasoned with Katsu Sauce on a Pretzel Bun with Uncured Bacon, Farm Style Sharp Cheddar, Broccoli Leaves, and Kimchi Mayo Sauce
Wagyu Beef Burger Seasoned with Katsu Sauce on a Pretzel Bun with Uncured Bacon, Farm Style Sharp Cheddar, Broccoli Leaves, and Kimchi Mayo Sauce

But after too many Flower Moons, my timing was off, and I put the Kaiser buns in the oven too early for my main course, the Wagyu Beef Burgers. (Luckily, I blamed it on my sous chef, and he happily took the heat. Ha!) But the burgers were cooked just right, and we wound up serving them open-faced. And the bourbon ice cream was the perfect finale. The verdict? My restaurant night was a bit hectic, but it was a hit! And John was excited for his challenge the following Friday.

John’s Restaurant: The Mystic Gateway

My goal was to blow Audrey’s socks off with some classic recipes I’ve collected over the years.

The Mystic Gateway
(I wanted to call this restaurant #Skinhunger, but I knew that was never gonna fly!)

First Course
U-10 Scallops
brown butter, salt-packed capers, lemon

Cocktail
The Hairless Manhattan
elijah craig small batch bourbon, carpano antica, regan’s orange bitters

Second Course
A Wedge
danish blue cheese, bacon, grape tomatoes, red onions, chives

The Calling Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, 2017

Third Course
Akaushi Rib Steak
compound butter, crimini mushrooms, marsala demi glace

Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2013

Dessert
Bananas Foster

Pyrat XO

My name is John Lennstrom. I am a sommelier. Working in restaurants was my livelihood and passion for 15 years. My journey into the formal study of wine was inspired by a gift, Kevin Zraly’s educational book Windows on the World. The scallop recipe above is a direct steal from that famous restaurant. Also, my local fishmonger would have my head if I didn’t call the scallops 10/20s. My plan was to bring the highest quality ingredients to our table—these puppies were immediately frozen at sea in Alaska and shipped to Seattle. Speaking of pups, the Hairless Manhattan was an homage to Audrey’s Xoloitzcuintles. The current COVID-19 situation is leaving me, like so many of us, far from hairless!

When I found out that Audrey loved blue cheese dressing I set my mind on a wedge salad. Try making some blue cheese dressing tomorrow. It crushes. I paired up some chardonnay (ALWAYS a cheese’s best friend). A lot of my sommelier friends knock me for being a chardonnay lover, but I am easily able to fire back. Chardonnay, and for me Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in particular, tells its own story in a loud and clear voice, and the best are operatic. 

This is a good opportunity to outline my restaurant’s ethos. I wanted to channel as much restaurant as I could. That meant a candle-lit table with a view, mise en place, polished glasses, service left-to-right. COVID-19 isolation has left me missing my favorite dining spots, and I came at this challenge with the hunger of a restaurant-starved, crazy professional. I charged Audrey with just one task—to relax and enjoy herself. So while she sipped wine, I was in the rhythm of cooking and plating. It was so refreshing to hear the kitchen bustle, “La Femme d’Argent” by Air playing in the background

My restaurant’s name, “The Mystic Gateway,” was last minute, but so fitting. We shared a beautiful sunset, a hidden doorway into a romantic realm that only existed for us, right there in our living room. The name is in honor of the secret world that Audrey shows only to me. I loved digging deep to share something “me” with her.

Dessert was fucked. I ran the Bananas Foster recipe twice, as I had broken the sauce the first time around. It ended up decent. But the Pryat helped. I learned that it’s not easy being both chef and guest! I have to say though, it was a pleasure being able to channel that vibrant restaurant spirit to my amazing partner.

What’s Next?

This week we are doing a Local Deli Challenge. The rules are:

  • You can’t spend more than $40.
  • You can use any spices, grains, condiments, etc. already in the pantry—no need to buy.
  • The budget includes alcohol.
  • This is “only” dinner and an app. No dessert.

To be continued…

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