Music and fine dining – a fabulous mix. That was a marvelous treat from a lovely couple, Linda and Dan, who invited me for outdoor dining at La Boheme in Palo Alto, California this week. I hadn’t gone out much in the evenings during the pandemic times, except for the August weekend in Monterey with my son and his family, and dinner with my sister and her family at a Filipino restaurant in Milpitas. So, that night was an exhilarating break for me. To boot were professional performers who sang opera, Neapolitan and Broadway numbers with vibrant accordion accompaniment. Strong tenor and soprano voices pierced the mildly cool night air – and jubilantly rang out for the benefit of neighboring outdoor diners for sure. I couldn’t resist mouthing some of the lyrics I knew, short of volunteering to go up front. Much to my delight, the lady at the table to my right was softly crooning as well.
Seated under a canopy with subdued lights beamed from nearby street lamps was like basking in the moonlight. The atmosphere and surroundings were exquisite.
Superb climax of the dinner – rich chocolate fondant and mousse (Photo by Linda L. Yasukawa)
My amazement was how California Avenue in Palo Alto was transformed. I hadn’t been there since the start of the pandemic. The transformation came as a toral surprise to me. The long stretch of the avenue was closed to traffic, allowing restaurants on both sides to add canopied extensions for outdoor eating. The total effect weaves a charming and lively mood, much like sidewalk eateries one normally sees in resort areas or tourist attractions. I actually loved it. The set-up, though instigated by pandemic restrictions, enhanced the dining experience that bordered on the relaxed or laid back ambience.
The quaint hometownish aura was still there, especially with the presence of small shops. I was particularly pleased to see one that I had frequented before the pandemic – Paul’s Cobblery, where I used to purchase my Dansko sandals. While waiting for the restaurant to open, my friends allowed me a brief stopover to check out the shoes, and ask about availability of my favored brand. We could have lingered longer to scrutinize the displays, but La Boheme across the street had just opened.
Most impressive was the welcoming friendliness of restaurant owner and staff. The comfortable familiarity developed from my hosts’ frequent visits at that restaurant. The place was like their “Cheers” hangout, quipped Dan and Linda. Several times, the lady owner paused at our table (as she did with other customers) to chat about her recent trip to France, how she got the entertainers that night, or about the restaurant’s delectable cuisine. It did feel like “Cheers”, the TV sitcom set in a Boston restaurant-bar where everybody knew everybody. With Dan chatting with the guy to his right, and Linda and I, striking a casual exchange with the customer to my right — it all seemed we were in that sitcom that most grew up with in younger years.
The French cuisine was quite satisfying. My friends chose the fresh and “moist” looking seabass perched beside a generous mound of mashed potatoes and vegetables. Mine was salmon coated with crushed hazelnuts and laid on a bed of soft spinach soaked in sharply delicious red sauce. Pieces of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots adorned the side of my plate. I swiped some of that red sauce with the vegetable pieces before the munch – zesty in the palate! Curious about the sauce, I quizzed the owner for its makeup. She mentioned a bit of how the sauce was concocted from red Cabernet wine and pureed blackberries. Of course, she could not divulge the entire formula, a culinary secret. The desserts were just as spectacular. The chocolate fondant and mousse melted in the mouth with a rich impression that tapped the urge for more. What I thought I couldn’t finish was quickly gone – scraped clean the thick chocolate dregs off my plate. Utterly scrumptious.
My hosts were most gracious. A lovable couple that obviously delight in gourmet dining and delightful music. The animated conversations revolved around – you guessed right – music and food. Linda and Dan are regular music afficionados who enjoy going to Broadway shows and fine restaurants (before the pandemic, that is). But even in these restrictive times, they manage to find places, like La Boheme, to indulge in culinary masterpieces, listen to music, and meet friendly folks.
Both retired – and definitely enjoying retirement – a charming couple. Precious friends. I am so grateful to them for that fabulous evening of lilting music and special dining – a perfect night-out under a canopy and in the soft glow of street lamps.