Is it ‘owing’ an apology, or ‘owning’ an apology? – Decoy – San Marcos, CA

It all started with a walk through the grounds at Bernardo Winery. We were supposed to meet at 4pm on this Saturday afternoon to enjoy some of the shops and other Christmas hoopla that goes into the holiday season.

bernardo1We arrived at 4pm awaiting my son, Daughter-in-Law and Granddaughter to walk her through to see Santa (HUGE . . . HUGE line). Well forget about that, lets go get some food. “From here Vintana looks pretty good”, my son says. So we’re off for some friendly cocktails and a bit of fine flavors Vintana is known for. We ask to be seated but are faced with a 2-hour wait. “Forget that, I just called Decoy and they can sit us in 3o minutes”, my Daughter-in-Law says. “I know you’re not to keen on going there since our last boondoggle”, she continues. I tell her it’s fine and I would like to see if they had changed any for the better. To my surprise, it was better . . . but not only the food.

I had mentioned to my son as we finished our supper this evening, and being asked by others at our table, what I thought of the meal tonight and how it compared to Vintana and the previous visit here at Decoy. My response was, “it is definitely much better and closer to my expectations” for a great customer experience, but I also mentioned that it wasn’t just the food or menu changes since its opening. I said they must have hired a new or fired the old General Manager, Chef or staff as our entire experience had vastly improved. This experience was mush closer to what I expect from a 4-star experience similar to Vintana.

img_5111Upon arrival and being seated at our table, my son ran into the owner of the property company that owns the properties of several 4 star restaurants with adjacent resort. I guess he and my son have known each other for years as my son, at one point had interests with the company and plays soccer with the owner on the weekends. Something like that. Now I don’t know if their shaking of hands and introductions may have spawned a fresh, and quite possibly their best, server; but everything seemed to go off without a hitch tonight. Even the timing was just about perfect. The ONLY thing I found off this evening was the temperature of the food coming out of the back. Seems like the timing and expedience out of the kitchen had produced only very warm food (heat lamp) vice sizzling hot temps expected for a Rack of Lamb, Braised Lamb Shank and Scallops. Seems that the only sizzling hot plate were the Penn Cove Muscles that were tastily smothered in tomato, wine and just the right amount of Spanish Chorizo. A lot of tomatoes . . . but good. The presentations were good and consistent. The wife and I got charged an extra $4 for a splitting from the kitchen, but they were identically delicious plates. Of course, we were first introduced to the menu from our server who was excitedly explaining that “It’s completely new”. I believe I remember, as were also pointed out from our server, a couple of items that had remained.

Part of the odd enjoyment of the evening was upon our first stop while at Bernardo Winery as I had previously mentioned. Well my Son’s small family was 2 hours late that afternoon. The wife and I had decided to see what food abounds at Bernardo Winery since we are remotely acquainted  with the owner of that joint, also through my son. The wife and I figured we would just sit, relax and enjoy a glass of wine and check out an appetizer or two while waiting for the fools . . . the kids that is, . . . and our Granddaughter. We sat, ate, and drank and also watched the amount of patrons there were at Bernardo to see Santa, shop and possibly visit another food event. But that  wasn’t the food we were looking for. We wanted to see what was at the every day eatery on board Bernardo.

cafemerlotCafé Merlot was an experience that was an overall, meh! With our menu disintegrating shortly after take-off, my Linguini and Clams, or something like that (their current menu is not available on line) had changed to Linguini and Shrimp. The sauce and flavors were fine, but the presentation was possibly as it should have been, with the sauce and shrimp all together in the same pan as the pasta; because all but one of the shrimp ended up underneath the 4oz portioned pasta. I wasn’t impressed upon arrival but the flavors were quite delicious especially with the bread that came with a very unattractive looking olive tapenade tray. The tapenade tasted fine but was, again nothing food porn was missing.

I guess I am now again curious to visit Decoy again, both up and downstairs at Dockside.  I am also interested to begin visiting some of the other resort restaurants owned by this company. My son has been to another; Heat, in Lake Havasu along the Colorado River.

So I don’t yet know that I owe anyone an apology for my previous scathing review of Decoy, but I may feel the need someday after their history proves to hold culinary values.





The guy had no accent.

This week I am being trained (a professional class I am attending) by one of the leading trainers of the environmental subject I am supposed to be a specialist in. I have learned more about an Environmental Management System (EMS) from he, and my long-time friend, than any other team or program provided by the Department of Defense (DOD). As your life progresses and this story unfolds, you might start seeing a lot more of these acronyms, and understand just a bit more about yourself.

The instructor for the course, for a very long time, has enamored me with his deliberate verse of the International Organization of Standards (ISO) 14001. The instructor has an enormous background supporting his keen British, English or what may have been described by himself (after a mocking of him during class), an Australian accent in the International Standard of an EMS. Listening to him deliver any message with his dialect is often interesting in itself.

First thing my readers need to understand is that an EMS (on the environmental front) is nothing more than a way of doing environmental “stuff”. Basically, how we do environmental ‘stuff’ where I work? What is our system? . . . in a written and documented format . . . requiring certain ‘elements’ to ensure it meets an ‘International Standard’. All Federal Government agencies are required to abide.

So throughout the four days of this class I was able to dump another couple jars of my signature Chimichurri (my friend calls it Chubascomoenvea, . . . or something like that). Hopefully my Chimichurri will soon become an “International Standard”. The class was being held in Point Loma at one of a popular hotel chain’s conference rooms that supported our government employee’s sloppy learning comforts for those four days (all the very icy water available, . . . that seemed to be all). The hotel location was adequate with some mysterious parking arrangement adjacent in the city owned lot next door that perplexed every classmate and the teaching staff the very first day. Turns out the lot next door is fair game for up to 72 hours (constant). So it was easy to park and access the training site, because anyone not staying at the hotel was only there for the day. But since the training site was at a distant location from my home, I was never able, or necessarily prepared for bringing my leftovers as lunches to the training location. There was no obvious hotel staff nearby or microwave that I noticed, yet I think some of us brought some non-perishables from home anyway for sustenance.brown-bag

As the first day broke for lunch I already had my plan to extinguish my sandwich fix from Brown Bag Deli ( a long time favorite of mine and 8ft sandwich caterer for my military retirement). I also had a fresh workmate (New Guy) with me and I was eager to show him ‘my place’ to have a sangwich. I enjoyed my lunch, as New Guy and I had begun to learn a bit about each other over a sandwich; however the sandwich wasn’t the same as I remember, New Guy thought there was just a bit too much of ‘the green stuff’, referring to the avocado/mix that is used. I said to him, “no, never get the avocado”. I had forgot to tell him about that. Maybe it is the bread that I remember, cause that simply rocks; and I believe they have had the same bread for many . . . many years. I don’t remember if they make it at the Point Loma location (they have only one other shop near 32nd Street Naval Station), or if they buy it from another bakery. Good stuff!

Anyway the second day takes us further on an ambiguous road trip through Point Loma searching via cell-phone mapping app, to find New Guy’s favorite place to eat a sangwich in that area. You see, I had not totally realized this “New Guy” had lived in, basically, Southern California his entire, guessing 34 year life; and I had found out that his father was a multi-restaurant/café owner in San Diego and previous Executive Chef of the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach. But with every conversation we began to reminisce about various Southern California (I’m So Cal born and raised as well) locations. I even brought up another restaurant (must have been before his time), The Velvet Turtle in Redondo Beach, where in front of that restaurant is where I rolled the first VW I had owned. We remembered and actually shared a lot of the same locations and experiences of living in Southern California together. We even recognized some of the same events with our 20 year difference.

So New Guy (this is still day 2) takes me to his favorite ‘deli’ that he says, “It’s in the back of a market, but it’s my favorite sandwich in Ocean Beach (OB)”. Again I was still learning that New Guy has lived in So Cal his whole life . . . literally! olive-treeAfter the hand-held navigation on New Guy’s phone damn near killed us 3 times, we end up at Olive Tree Market, an international foods market that has been in this location for some 40 years, owned and operated by a Greek family that New Guy was acquainted with. I guess he had lived just down the street from this market for some time. I am walking through and checking out the market and some of the foods available. I notice this place does not carry a Chimichurri. Stumped, I become curious as to the other ‘worldly’ things this guy carries at his market as New Guy is now conversing with the store owner. New Guy calls me over for an introduction to Chris, the store owner. I am somehow surprised this ‘international food’ market owner does not have an accent that I somehow anticipated being of Greek ancestry and being introduced by another Greek . . . the New Guy, and he doesn’t have an accent either.

So I missed an opportunity to talk Chimi with Chris, but had hoped for a reintroduction later that week to drop off two jars of my Chimi and talk shop . . . and restaurants, since I had learned that Chris now owns the entire building and the restaurant next door, Ulivo, where the family’s Mediterranean cuisine may be enjoyed. There’s still another Indian food restaurant, Sundara, that has been there for years occupying the end of that building. We didn’t try either restaurant, but we did order a fresh sandwich from the deli inside of the Market. As was with New Guy’s interpretation of ‘the best’ sandwich, my experience was just played as a reverse role. My Rueben sandwich was overpowered with their 1000 island dressing. It made for an awkward eating along some part of the boardwalk wall that he had navigated us to not far from the market. As we sat along the wall eating our sandwiches and talked more about living in the area, we would become increasingly interrupted by one of the various beach transient people staring, gawking and asking questions about where we scored the sandwiches. New Guy seemed at home telling them the Market was just up the street.

I learned a thing or two about New Guy, a couple restaurants I may elect to try in the future, and a bit more about an EMS and myself, now realizing that I am increasingly less of the “original” Californians living in Southern California, cause I keep running into long-time residents with roots that run deep . . . just without an accent.


It’s my birthday, and I’ll beat you with a Wooden Spoon if I want to.

The wife has been bothering me for a couple of days now about where I would like to go for dinner on my birthday. It wasn’t until hard-pressed for an answer the day before my birthday that I hadn’t recently thought about trying out The Wooden Spoon.

“It’s 8:30 at night and I’m not going to f’ with it now”.

Tuesday night while letting the dogs out I noticed the lights were not on at the front of the house. “Damn it”. That now means I need to investigate the possibility of my large freezer in the garage may not be on. It has been a problem for years where the driveway electrical circuit is part of the garage Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) circuit. It has repeatedly tripped over the years . . . and the front landscaping lighting has always been my indicator to go check the freezer. It was poorly designed as it should have been its own circuit.

So Tuesday night I just eliminate the freezer after a few swift trouble shooting moves, like disconnecting everything in the circuit I could quickly think about, and relocating the freezer to the garage door opener circuit. “I’m going to bed”. The next day was to be my 55th birthday and the wife and I had just begun our dinner plans, texting the kids, for me (family tradition that the birthday person gets to choose where they would like to eat). Yes, sometimes it gets expensive, but it’s usually just five of us, and now a Grandbaby.the-wooden-spoon-restaurant-logo

Wednesday was to be a great day because it was my birthday . . . and the Wednesday just before Thanksgiving this year. Off to work knowing that my government workplace will probably have some kind of early release. That turned out to be some well afforded time as I sprinted off home onto the already crowded freeways to get back to trouble shooting the electrical circuit, knowing that I really only have “today” to figure out what I need from Home Depot strategically nearby The Wooden Spoon in Escondido, Ca.

I had seen The Wooden Spoon before, usually in the morning hours while I would visit the Veterans Administration (VA) clinic just behind them a block away. They were always closed but I had previously looked them up on the internet to find them to only serve during the lunch and dinner hours.

Having now identified that the short in my electrical system was in fact along the driveway circuit, I had made the decision to isolate and repurpose a dedicated circuit for the cause. And I was tired of having my freezer in jeopardy. But this day was my birthday . . . the day before Thanksgiving . . . the day before the day before BLACK FRIDAY. Hell that means I have to hit Home Depot today . . . after my dinner, and before I go home. Quick figure out where to eat, that’s nearby a Home Depot, cause I already know The Home Depot has my specific parts because I’ve bought them there before. “Honey, I want to go to The Wooden Spoon”, now having to explain to her everything I know about it; blah blah “near the VA” . . . blah blah. We both had an opportunity to begin with their website and observe the menu (perfectly up-to-date and accurate). I also noticed that the Chef was a graduate from the Los Angeles campus of the same culinary school as I. So now I had a desire to see what he had learned along the way. This was to be the second Art Institute (AI) culinary graduate’s cuisine in public I have tried. The first was great cuisine, but had since failed as a business.

Well now you know why I was at The Wooden Spoon and how I spent my birthday, . . . and most of Thanksgiving day, . . . and Black Friday, after needing to return a part that didn’t work out. I still look back at my week and think about the great week of food, having enjoyed The Wooden Spoon’s creative seasonal menu and the following day eating belly busting quantities for Thanksgiving . . . that we didn’t have to cook.


Some kind of toast with Rapini, two homemade mustards and cheese on the side.

The Wooden Spoon started us off with immediate attention at the door since the inside was already full estimating about only 12 seats inside the very small diner. The remainder of the building is basically dedicated kitchen but the outside has a large patio area with plenty of heaters to keep the atmosphere along the very busy front of Valley Parkway. I just remembered now that my wife and I used to cruise Valley Parkway when we were dating 35 years ago. That is also something to say about The Wooden Spoon’s location being further off of Escondido’s culinary hot spot of Grand Avenue that has it’s own Cruising Grand that happens every Friday night throughout the summer. Wow, memories.


Now seated and warm from the staff redirecting heaters to every arriving party on this Wednesday night as I watched most of the patio area begin to swiftly fill up. Since the seasonal menu here is small, it was easy to taste a lot of the menu without missing much. We started off with Toast. Hey, take it easy Nacho Libre. I don’t know what was on the Toast of the night, because I wasn’t listening to my son order. All I was thinking about was the Flat Iron Steak, remembering back to my days in the AI kitchen, that he better not screw up the steak. spoon2

Guess what, he screwed up the steak. Either it wasn’t seasoned at all, or not enough; relying on the sauces of Blackberry Mustard and Pickled Mustard Seeds which seemed too rich for me and left me desiring just a fine piece of meat to enjoy.

There were plenty of other sauces  on the other artful and tasty plates and things to have kept my steak flavorfully enjoyable, but the menu is so diverse, that I couldn’t find anything else that seemed to compliment the steak like just some old fashioned salt and pepper. In my humble opinion, nothing leaves the kitchen without seasoning. As for the other dishes of Grilled Jidori Chicken with perfectly steamed rice, Roasted Chicken Gravy, deep fried brussel sprouts and a 63° Egg. This was a very good dish, The egg provided just the right amount of sauce for the pre-sliced airline breast, and gave you a chance to soak it in the rice. spoon5

. . . and the brussel sprouts were very different as explained by my son who absolutely hates brussel sprouts; calls them, “little balls of death” and had mistakenly ate them this evening and said they tasted like air . . . there was nothing there. I enjoyed them only after eating about 5 of them at a time. Think about that; how can you eat 5 brussel sprout halves in one bite? They were very light. Eating the first single had a burnt taste, but a whole mouthful was delectably wonderful. A solid dish.

A couple other things we ordered included the Spoon Burger with Arugula, house made Baconion Jam, house made Smoked Blue Cheese, house made Tomato Aioli and you guessed it, house-made House Fries. A lot of very complex flavors going on with this very good burger. spoon1

My wife can’t go without her beets, so here goes. As fully explained by the server, the Autumn Beets are slow roasted beets with House Preserved Madarin Oranges, Hazelnuts and some Balsamic Caviar (gastro-spherified balsamic vinegar).spoon4

As stuff was showing up, everyone at my table was quick to grab and I had only moments to take pictures as the Grandbaby already snagged a beet.


The Bowl of Roughage. I think that’ll work.












Ok, so the Wooden Spoon was hailed that night from one of our most discerning family members as having a menu that is worth returning for. The driveway lights are now working correctly and I didn’t loose any food from a defrosting freezer; so I give them a whole crap-load of wooden spoons. If you’re Italian, you’re gonna break a couple smacking the Grandkids, and you figure out the rest. They were pretty darn good.





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