How the other half lives

View from the courtyard of the St. Regis. Photo courtesy of Studio MK Photography

I spent last week living off $4.90/day as part of the CalFresh Challenge. Even did a fair amount of research to help people understand the scope of hunger in the U.S. This isn’t a pat myself on the back moment, it’s almost a pre-apology for our post-Challenge trip to Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Hotel. I say ‘almost’ because although this trip cost what seems like an excessive amount, we didn’t hurt anybody and no one should feel badly for enjoying the fruits of his or her labor. Isn’t that at least part of the reason we work? Okay, enough prologue…this place was pretty incredible.

My first class in law school was the Economic Analysis of Law by Richard Ippolito. It was a very interesting class about understanding the economic drivers of various aspects of the law (example), and my first real introduction to practical economics. And he started the day one lecture with Milton Friedman’s “pencil” explanation of the economy. I bring this up now because even though it was 10 years ago every time I spend alot of money on anything I hear the lecture in my head. I’ve heard some of my friends describe Jewish Guilt and have to wonder if my remembering that Friedman story comes from the same place. It’s as if I at least partially feel like l need to justify that type of enjoyment by thinking about all the people whose economic livelihoods our stay impacted. Nevertheless, so close to talking daily about living off $4.90/day, I was pretty aware of the contrast between $60 for the week and the field we were now playing in. Said field was brought home by the contents of this photo:

Monogramed sitting pillow, high-end lotion and a room key with the butler’s web address

We pulled up to the massive porte cochere, lined with expensive cars and college-aged kids running hither and yon, and I knew this was going to be a different kind of weekend. The photo above really lays out some of the differences between this reality and the one most people experience. You’ll note the butler–yes, BUTLER–service on the back of the room key had its own web address. This high-end lotion that is in abundance at every turn is just something you don’t see at a standard Marriott. And while I appreciate their commitment to ridding the world of ashy elbows, it sent a very strong signal about the scope of the experience.

As we floated about, without much concern for the larger problems of the world, I thought it worthwhile to make some small observations. First, though, as a philosophical matter I don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending alot of money for nice things. Lots of people work hard and don’t get ahead, but if through hard work, good fortune or dumb luck you have discretionary income, it should be your right to do with it what you choose. *climbing down off my soapbox now* We ended up having a couple drinks at the pool, relaxing before dinner and then adjourning to the Stonehill Tavern for what turned out to be an incredible 4-hour experience. The chef’s tasting menu wasn’t available…but they created one for us and it was outstanding. I could walk through each course, but the description is unlikely to do the flavors justice. From the Tavern Canapés to the roasted duck, butter-poached crab and sea salt and sesame crusted filet, the night was really special. I’ve added a few photos and descriptions below.

Tiny avocado wrapped around fresh crab, parma ham, wagyu beef tartar and crostini with homemade goat cheese and roasted tomatoes

This photo is the “Tavern Canapes“, which were delicious and I really wish I had a better camera.

A nice preparation of one of our meat courses

This is one of our meat courses with some sort of jus that really complemented the dish well. I couldn’t post all of the courses, but this is a nice snapshot of really well-prepared items that we fawned over for an extended period of time.

One thing I realized while we were eating is how important chance encounters are in life. We had the good fortune of meeting our dinner companions, who have become good friends, while “oohing” and “ahh-ing” over the old pit menu on a Sunday afternoon at The Linkery a couple years ago. It’s a testament to the power of good meals and open minds to develop friendships like this. It’s actually one of the greatest things about San Diego, that many of our restaurants seem designed to foster great encounters. The people are often so friendly you can find new friends and interesting connections in unexpected settings. Having a tremendous meal at a high-end restaurant meant a lot not just because we’d just come off a week with a very small amount of food and a tight budget, but because we experienced it with two fantastic people.

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