Now if you haven’t guessed it already, I love to cook, bake, and most of all entertain. What can I say? I think there’s a little 70-year-old Jewish grandmother trapped inside of me whose trying to host her way out. Anyways, one of the few things I like more than entertaining in my home is to do it on someone else’s dime and when I’m not stuck doing the dishes! Hence my love affair with planning the company holiday party.
Sure it takes a ton of time and there’s a lot of hair-pulling-pressure to find a venue and pick a menu that will satisfy talkers, the anti-social folks, meat eaters, vegans, and gluten-free fanatics without going over budget. But…if you can pull it off…you’ll be the most popular person at the water cooler.
This fall, like I’ve done for the past 5 years, I got my per-person budget from the executive team and I hit the streets of San Francisco in search of the perfect venue, which I’m now convinced is Le Charm in the SOMA district.
Now I’m not an expert per se, but I’ve been planning corporate events for a few years now, and let’s not forget I’ve attended my fair share of bar-mitzvahs, brisses and studied the fine art of in-homo entertainment. And I’m now certain there are two key elements to throwing a successful corporate event: an abundance of food and plenty of alcohol.
Le Charm serves full-portion authentic French cuisine and their wine list is succinct and reeks of purpose. There are a few more components that make this venue perfect for a party of 60 or less: the tented and heated private back patio, a reasonable restaurant buy-out price, a competitively priced three-course menu, a central location walking distance from a tons of public transportation, and perhaps most the most important thing, availability. Although, I’m not sure that will be the case for long.
We bought out the entire restaurant for the evening and planned on starting with drinks so people could mingle and get warmed up before moving into a sit down dinner.
During the cocktail hour guests had a choice of two white wines (a Sancere, which is like a Pinot Grigio or a Chablis, which is like a Chardonnay) and two reds (Four Graces Pinot Noir or Frog’s Leap Zinfandel…which is made with solar energy!). The attentive restaurant staff bobbed and weaved their way through the crowd with trays of crab cakes wrapped in crispy flaky wraps, parmesan puff pastry tarts with goat cheese and roasted red pepper puree, cheesy bite-sized gougeres to pop in our mouths, and canapés with crème fraiche and smoked salmon on nutty wheat bread squares.
*I’m sorry, but between my overflowing glasses of wine in one hand and these delectable bites in the other, I wasn’t able to photograph the Hors d’oeuvres. Next time, I promise.
Once everyone was properly buzzed and the conversation flowed like the river Nile, we moseyed on into the dining area. Which at Le Charm is the beautiful covered outdoor patio with heat lamps, tasteful white lights strung all around and ivy vines creeping up the walls.
We played that awkward don’t commit to a seat until you know who’s sitting where game and eventually everyone sat down and puzzled over their choices for the three-course pre fixe menu.
First course we had ravioli of Tiger prawns in a garlic white wine sauce with herbs. I don’t normally think of ravioli being French cuisine, but Jonathan and I had this dish at their sister restaurant L’ardoise Bistro in the Castro and I almost jizzed in my pants it was so amazing.
The traditional French onion soup gratinée with gruyere cheese was served in individual ceramic pots. It was full bodied and there was tons of flavor. The cheese was charred around the edges and bubbly across the top. “This is the best French onion soup I’ve ever had,” one colleague said.
The truly vegetarian dish (could have been made vegan if we needed) was the endive and radicchio salad with Roquefort cheese and candied walnuts and pears. It’s important to offer a light, crispy, and fresh tasting starter if you know the main courses are going to be heavy, and this certainly satisfied that need.
Choice of one of the following four:
The pan seared whole trout with mushroom and lemon butter sauce with pommes dauphines. The pommes dauphines were light and fluffy mashed potato balls that are flash fried and slightly crunchy on the outside.
The meat eaters all seemed to order the pan seared Black Angus filet mignon with pommes Landaise in a black peppercorn cream sauce. The pomme Landaise used to be served in duck fat and garlic, but since the foie gras ban passed in California, getting the right duck or goose fat is hard to come by. So now they make these potatoes with garlic and lardons.
For the poultry fans, we had the duck à l’orange over Camarque rice. The rice was a mix of wild long grain rice and white rice with a pith-free slice of an orange. The duck was perfectly cooked with a crispy fatty skin and a pink interior.
And for the vegetarians we had a risotto with mixed mushrooms with truffle oil and parmesan cheese. The rice was slightly undercooked and had a little bite left to it, which is actually the perfect way to serve a risotto, because it continues to cook slowly on the plate and if it’s over cooked it can taste mushy.
For dessert, we had caramelized apple tart tatins with a caramel sauce. The apples were soft and paste-like and warm. Yum!
Profiteroles with chocolate suace.
Crème brulee, which is my favorite. Le Charm did a wonderful job on their crème brulee, but it was a little more pudding-like than custardy like the crème brulee we had in Paris at Brasserie Bofinger. That was truly amazing.
And last but not least, we had the chocolate cake with crème anglaise. You have to have a chocolate lava cake equivalent for dessert no matter what event you’re putting together.
- It’s important to note that traditional French onion soup is actually “French vegetarian” meaning there’s not actual meat in the dish, but it is made with beef broth.
- You don’t want people stopping at a McDonalds on their way home from your company holiday party. When in doubt….”more food” is the answer.
- You may know your own staff, but you don’t know their guests. People love an open bar and cocktails can be expensive. Offer to host beers, a red wine, a white wine, and non-alcoholic beverages…all other orders are charge to the individual on consumption.
- Email your staff and ask if they or their guests have any allergies so you can make sure there are items on the menu that are suitable for them.
- There should always be a vegetarian option.