It's been almost a year now since my brother Eric and I went to Los Angeles to check out a potential restaurant spot for the first-ever West Coast Blue Ribbon. Time was tight, I was leaving for Nepal just a few days later, and so the trip would be brief. However, not long after we landed and had began our tour of the sun-drenched city that we didn't know so well, our step mother, Lisa, called with the news that our dad had suffered a heart attack while walking through SFO, flying from a beach vacation back to his home a few hours north of San Francisco.
Eric's face went pale as he listened to Lisa's calming words and assurance that dad was stable -- but not doing well. She was scared. When Eric hung up, he relayed the message, and we immediately changed our plans, found a flight north for the next morning and made plans to get to dad where he was resting in the Santa Rosa Hospital.
While driving our rent-a-car out of San Francisco, we wound our way through the stunning hills and valleys that make up the dream-like landscape known as Marin County where we laughed and spoke of all the culinary travels and experiences that we have shared with dad. They are a lifetime of tales and tastes. Dad is as obsessed with food and the customs and cultures that nourish life as anyone I have ever known. In a word, he is our culinary beacon and the warm breath of wind that has filled our epicurean sails over the years of slight intrigue and moderate curiosity, followed by a complete obsession of our own and culminating in our eventual lifestyle and livelihood.
With the windows down and the tunes humming along Lisa called again and said that there was a change of plans. Dad was doing much better and his cardiologist said that he could leave the hospital and head to the comforts of his wine country home to rest and begin the healing process. The message was the same as always: Things needed to change and he had to start living a more tranquil and healthier life. We were to meet at the Santa Rosa Marriot and figure out what the next steps would be, either stay the night there or get in the car -- if dad was feeling up to it -- and drive to his home in Sea Ranch.
When we arrived at the hotel and headed to the lobby to meet dad and Lisa, our relief and excitement from the good news waned drastically when dad entered the lobby. He looked weak, tired and beat up, had trouble waking on his own and had clearly been through quite an ordeal. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and the conversation soon switched to the details of the next day or two.
I had to be back in New York City to catch a plane to Nepal and then on to Mt. Everest, and Eric had to be back to the city as well. Sea Ranch is about three hours north, so it didn't make much sense to head there only to have to return to San Francisco the next morning. Decisions were made and the plan to stay in Santa Rosa at the hotel made the most sense. We would all head our separate ways in the morning.
I figured we would get some room service or a light meal at the hotel restaurant, but I underestimated my dad's will. It just so happens that not only is Santa Rosa the home of a pretty descent hospital and a rather beautiful Marriott Courtyard Hotel but it also is just miles away from Healdsburg, the home of Cyrus, one of the top restaurants in the country. Amazingly dad perked up a bit, obviously discontent with our suggestions of room service and the like and quietly uttered the word: C-Y-R-U-S?
We all stopped and looked on in disbelief. Well, yes, he was serious, dead serious. As the plans and calls were made, incredibly just moments later we had a reservation for four at 7:30 p.m. at one of the top spots in the country, just 30 hours after dad nearly checked out for good.
There is a lot to say on this subject, but one thing I can say for sure is that it was one of the best nights and experiences that Eric and I have ever had with our dad. The night was magical, like the lobster dinner in Maine on our way to summer camp or the cheese fondue in Colorado during a spring ski trip; detours home from school that included stops at the Morristown deli for colossal pickles and over-stuffed bagels and lox; or one of the many menu degustations that dad treated us to when he dragged my brothers and me all over Europe in search of the perfect meal.
As the host greeted us and led us to our table lavished in exquisite cutlery, shimmering stemware and candles burning bright, I looked at the joy and delight on my father's face: There was no more evidence of a broken man but that of someone about to set out on an immaculate journey, one filled with succulent tastes and unabounding adventure, a meal worthy of a king. We talked and laughed the whole night long, sipped on champagne and nibbled on toasts topped with Russian caviar, reminisced of a culinary lifetime, our lifetime. Never before had we understood our dad's life so clearly and plainly and in turn our own as well.