Feb 16, 2022

Dining In the Great Outdoors

Reflections on supping al fresco

By Ed Goldman
Dining al fresco is a California tradition—but not always a statewide nor year-round one.

For example, in Sacramento, where I’ve lived since 1976, eating lunch outside in August and early September can evoke memories of the Mosquito Coast, even if you’ve never visited there (or even watched the Harrison Ford movie of the same name). Think Bogart slapping leeches off his neck in the humid climes of the Belgian Congo in “The African Queen.”

Edgy Cartoon

Home, Home on the Radar-Range

And since we do experience a semi-Mediterranean winter here, an outdoor candlelight supper this month has the potential of turning into a layering contest, in which participants bravely don sweater after sweater but refuse to go inside, defiantly stating, “We’re in California. It isn’t cold, I’m not trembling and this isn’t rain.” (Actually, it’s been a bizarrely mild February so far. But stay tuned.) 

I discovered the wonders of outdoor-dining on my first trip to Europe, which didn’t happen until I was 32 years old. By then, a number of my high school friends had already been there, claiming upon their stateside return how the experience had “really changed” them.

This manifested itself in ways that, in retrospect, seem charming. 

The ones who fell in love with (or in) England came back home affecting British accents and a sudden passion for tea, scones, clotted cream, Carnaby Street, cricket, and skipping dental appointments. 

Those who’d traveled through France became wine experts and took up smoking Gitanes and Gauloises cigarettes—the latter activity conducted in the apparent belief that developing lung cancer at 19 is sooo French. Meanwhile, the kids who favored Italy and its foods became either Roman Catholics, amateur cooks or somewhat pudgy.

But one thing they all had in common, as did I many years later, was a new fascination with eating at restaurants with tables on the street. In fact, one of my fondest memories of my own first European trip is of visiting the neighborhoods surrounding and including the Via Veneto, a stylish street in Rome which, like the Champs-Elysées in Paris, features elegant and earthy outdoor dining at a succession of trattorias, ristorantes, cafes and bistros.

During COVID-19’s initial reign of terror, many of the previously unconverted morphed into outdoor-eating afficionados, as did many restaurant owners hoping to survive. This new appreciation for al fresco dining may be the only positive thing to come out of our international incarceration: a new interest in emulating the continental pastime of having a meal with a view—even if the view is of other people enjoying outdoor meals.

If you enjoy camping, perhaps you feel that food cooked outdoors simply tastes better than food cooked indoors. If you don’t enjoy camping, you perhaps feel that food eaten outdoors may taste better—especially if the food was cooked indoors, then served outside.  

A few years after my first taste of Europe I helped market Serrano El Dorado, a 3,500-acre golf course community in the Sierra Foothills. By then, outdoor dining (and prepping) had gained a serious foothold in California residential development. Builders started adding elaborate outdoor kitchens to their homes, inspiring real estate agents to quasi-qualify these hybrid spaces as extra rooms. Some of these kitchens were more elaborate than their indoor counterparts—and it struck me, when I was given my very own outdoor gas range, that the food I made on it tasted more like it had been broiled in a conventional oven than seared in the great outdoors.

But it took more than exposing a defenseless stove to the elements to make me feel like I was roughing it. So I smoked a few Gauloises and tried to peer over the fence to see if my neighbors were also dining al fresco.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw


I’m proud to be a promoter of arts and culture in our capital—and I encourage you to also become involved with the region’s professional and “amateur” companies for theatre, dance, music, the visual arts and more.

In ancient times, the Seven Lively Arts were considered to be Drama, Drawing, Movement, Music, Modeling, Painting, and Speech. We’ve come a long way, Baby: How about video and computer art?

The arts are very much on my mind as I step down after serving, from 2018 to 2022, as the president of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera (SP&O) Board of Directors.

Let me quote from the SP&O’s own website:

“Unique and inspiring, the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera has reclaimed its place as one of the region’s leading performing arts organizations.

“In the past seven years, the SP&O has made tremendous artistic, community, and fiscal strides through a business model that has solidly moved from one of instability to one of stability. Today, the SP&O serves as a vibrant cultural community asset—one that is shaped by Sacramento, whose offerings are uniquely of Sacramento, and whose vision for the future is designed for Sacramento.

“The SP&O continues its stellar concerts, operas, and community engagement programs that bring the passion of classical music to schools, hospitals, shelters, and more. We look forward to continually benefiting this region through our work and expanding our impact and how we’re able to serve this growing, thriving community.”

As my term ends as Board President, I wish to thank all those whom I worked with, and especially former SP&O Executive Director Alice Sauro. It was my pleasure to be of service, and to work with such a wonderful group of Directors and management who are so very dedicated to promotion of the arts in our Sacramento community. We now move forward under the leadership of John Shirey, as President, and Giuliano Kornberg, as the youngest Executive Director in the group’s history.

One more thing: When I mentioned at the top of this week’s blog all of the area’s professional and “amateur” arts groups, I put quotes around the word “amateur” because too often people associate that with a lack of rigor or excellence—whereas, in fact, the word’s root means someone who pursues something for the love of it. That includes people who get paid for their work and those who don’t.

I’m sure it even includes those of you who love the arts as a spectator and listener. I hope you’ll consider joining an arts board or just contributing to the Seven Lively (and counting) Arts.

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