San Diego Wedding Resources and Reviews
For a little while, the CA board had a spat of posts asking for help with wedding venues, catering, etc. Let's face it, the popular wedding resources rarely cater to anyone who cares about food (my rants about that are for another place and time). Mr. Geeky and I recently made it official and we did our best to make it about food. I'm hoping this thread might turn into a collective resource that people can look to and other San Diego CHers who'd like to review their own wedding food can throw in their $.02.
(Mods: this is about San Diego sources, but if the topic needs to be cross-posted, let me know)
Caterer: The French Gourmet
We didn't have a lot of choices, but TFG is on most of the caterer lists of any venue that has a preferred caterer list (we saw enough venues to know this). If anything, working with them taught us that caterers have strengths and those strengths are where you're going to have most bang for buck. Every other caterer answered the question, "What do YOU do well?" with "Whatever you want us to do... we can cook any cuisine." Frankly, I feel that answer is bullshit. Sure, anyone can attempt any cuisine, but they probably can't do all of them well. The French Gourmet is owned by a Frenchman who is also head chef... so we went with a French bistro menu served at 3 stations. And yes, contrary to everything I was told... I ate at my own wedding. In fact, I tried almost everything.
-Steak frites with a mushroom demiglace (for anyone who had to have a sauce). The frites were lightly flavored with truffle oil, garlic, and topped with sprinkle of parmesan and parsley. Side of mixed greens salad with pears and raspberry vinaigrette.
Execution: Flatiron steaks seared at the station, on a flat griddle, to any requested doneness. The fries were perfect and went fast enough that they never had time to become soggy. I didn't get a chance to peek at their kitchen, but I believe the fries were fried on site. Salad was fresh and a nice accompaniment to the steak.
Execution: Tomato/seafood broth spiked with saffron and white wine served on top of a toasted baguette slice and with fish, scallops, shrimp, and mussels. The broth was kept a little too cool, but the seafood was really fresh, good-sized (i.e. no wimpy bits of bay scallop), and more baguette slices with rouille (aka French aioli) on the side. Extremely flavorful and well-prepared.
-Risotto with roasted vegetables on the side (we'll call it a deconstructed ratatouille for the sake of the French theme ;))
Execution: Yes, we know risotto's not French, but we have a lot of vegetarian friends and picky kids... this dish was simple and filling enough to satisfy a wide range of palettes. The risotto was a little too dense and not creamy enough, but it was flavorful (choice of saffron or pesto) and rich. Veggies were good... not over-roasted. Presentation at this station was probably the prettiest, with blasts of color all over.
Dessert: Ice Cream Bar
Execution: We didn't go with them for the cake, but they did provide an ice cream bar. Beautiful setup... we had strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice creams. For about $2/person, they threw in a TON of toppings. The usual syrups, cherries, and sprinkles, plus crisp meringues, too. It was a smash. The kids nearly trampled the adults getting to it and it was a fantastic price. Well worth it and a smidge non-traditional, which made it an unexpected touch.
If anything, reviews on the web were a little spotty on the service, but I can honestly say that TFG went above and beyond any expectations we had. Their staff was warm and professional... casual enough to fit with the cozy ambiance that we were aiming for, attentive enough that everyone felt like they were taken care of. I'd say my only complaint was that they were a little too efficient at whisking away dishes... everyone was losing half-consumed dishes and drinks they meant to finish. They arrived on time, set up efficiently, cleaned up on time and even helped other vendors get out of there so we could meet our time limit (one hour for breakdown). They left us a TON of leftovers... more than we thought they would. Would I recommend them? Hell, yeah... with us, they balanced the need for good chow with the efficiency required to execute a good event.
I'll serial post on the rehearsal dinner, beer, and cake.
Rehearsal dinner: China Max
Not terrible, but not great. Unfortunately, by the time we started seeing negative reviews about them on CH and how they apparently started sliding downhill, we had already paid the deposit. Had I the opportunity to do this again, I'd pick another restaurant.
Being Chinese-American, I did want to nod to tradition and have the banquet with the endless spread of food. However, I just don't like them as weddings... the food's great, but I can't stand the deafening noise, the sterile (or not) restaurants, the meh service, and the ubiquitous need for deafening karaoke on top of the deafening noise.
The compromise was to do a smaller banquet and as our rehearsal dinner. I was not overly pleased with management... they didn't like that we ordered "cheap" items on our banquet menu (i.e. it wasn't nearly all seafood and we chose items that are friendly to those who didn't have a ton of experience with Chinese food) and they perpetually bitched about it. Not cool. If a restaurant needs to impose a dollar minimum, I can respect that, but stop hassling me about what to serve.
Quibble #2: they wanted us to pay $4/beer ordered. Their choices: Bud, Miller, Heineken, and Tsing Tao. I asked if we could pay a corkage and bring in our own beer (we were having beer and soda only, seeing that wine is hard to pair with so many dishes). They threw up another fight about that, saying that they want us to go with their beer and that no one brings in their own beer when the house already serves it. In the end, we were allowed to bring in our own beer and we picked up 3 cases of local brews (one was Karl Strauss' Amber Lager... I can't remember the other two). Corkage was $1 per bottle.
The food was served lukewarm and it was prepared too far ahead of time. To be fair, we did start late, but they literally brought most of the dishes one after the other and started rushing us (traditionally, they look to see whether one course is finished before bringing the next... overlap is normal, but we had 5 dishes coming out within 15 minutes). The servers themselves were very kind and attentive, so they did a great job other than trying to rush us. The other thing was management didn't work too hard with us to ascertain how much food we would need. They kept pushing 1 1/2 servings of each dish, claiming that it was necessary. Two reasons why that worked against us: we had a lot of dishes, so everyone could have had small portions and still have had a full meal and we had a lot of children in attendence (many refused to eat a lot of the dishes and many could not eat a lot to begin with). The amount of food left over was appalling. We got to take it with us, but with so many people traveling, guess who ended up with a lot of it: us.
The food itself was extremely meh. Nothing terrible... all edible. Too many dishes to go into, but let's just say that the unifying theme was that the food was bland. Crispy chow mein with beef came out completely limp and soggy. They were aghast that we refused to serve shark fin soup, even though I tried to explain that I was completely against it due to the fishing practices. The substituted seafood soup was delicious, one of the winners in the dinner. The Peking duck was a ripoff, with barely any crispy skin served. They suggested turning the meat into filling for lettuce cups, which wasn't bad, but very dry and I actually questioned whether the duck was used. One of the other big winners was also one of the simplest dishes... shrimp and broccoli. Simply sauteed, the shrimp were plump and garlicky, the broccoli perfectly prepared.
For the amount of food served, the overall price wasn't too bad. Having to deal with management's obsession with the bottom line and the poor execution of the food, I'd've been happier if we'd gone with another establishment. Not a place I'd recommend, especially if you need to go outside of the traditional box a little bit.
Eeww, nothing worse than a bad Chinese banquet! LOL at the clash of cultures--you being the eco-conscious Chinese about shark fin soup (which I wholeheartedly agree) and the 1st generation Chinese who don't get it and probably never will. I went around and around my dad when he insisted on shark fin soup for his anniversary dinner and it ended up in the shark getting killed. Oh well!
Every year, at my father's birthday dinner, my mother likes to loudly announce that *gasp*, I am against eating shark fin soup. I never liked the stuff to begin with, so I would just quietly opt out of the soup, but no. Not with a Chinese mother. My favorite time was this past year when she said, "You know, she cares about the environment and all that stuff. Like that Al Gore." Aieya.
Beer: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Wine: DIY- cases of Crane Lake Petite Sirah and Chardonnay... Henry's usually carries this label at ridiculously low prices.
For a town with fabulous microbrews, no caterer seems to consider them. Every caterer I spoke with told me that they only serve excellent, top-of-the-line beers... then proceed to run down a list of Miller, Bud, Heineken, Stella Artois (that was the favored import of a lot of caterers, it seemed). When I asked about local brews, I heard crickets.
The French Gourmet wasn't too different and they charged $10/person for the beer/wine package. I proposed bringing in our own, which was acceptable, but when I proposed bringing in a keg, TFG balked. They worried about the service (two words: jockey boxes) and the appearance (is this a frat party or a wedding?). They urged us to bring in bottles, but our best man researched both options. Thank goodness he did.
He is a huge beer aficionado and called every brewery he loved. Some of the bigger ones (Stone, Karl Strauss) told us to go to BevMo. We nixed Green Flash b/c we didn't particularly care for their beers and they were pricey. Alesmith was on the list, but I believe they said something about not being able to do single keg sales (my memory's a little spotty on this, so I could be wrong). Then, he received an email from Ballast Point. His contact was excited that we wanted to serve their beer at the wedding and offered us a price of... $65/keg.
Our jaws dropped. We double-checked the price over and over and over again, just to make sure we didn't suffer from some form of aphasia. Mike's contact even threw in the jockey box, once he heard that TFG was expecting us to acquire one. We went back to the TFG and told them that, at that price, they would just have to deal with the kegs. They did and their bartenders did a great job with presentation and service. They even provided chilled beer mugs (i.e. the stein-like ones... I wanted pint glasses, but they weren't an option). We ended up serving Yellowtail Pale Ale and Black Marlin Porter. The porter wasn't as popular as the pale ale, which we expected, but we also offered the option of making porter floats with our ice cream bar and that was fun. Picking up and returning the kegs was extremely smooth... Ballast Point is efficient, timely, and very nice to work with.
Crane Lake makes good dinner wines. Smooth, slightly sweet, and good on the palate. Definitely not swill, but nothing that will break the bank, either. Henry's was carrying them at $2.99/bottle at the cheapest. Mr. G's folks picked up bottles from a source they found in the Central Coast, but we supplemented from Henry's. We don't see a ton at the North Park Henry's anymore, but the Henry's on Governor Drive was carrying it right before our wedding on August 1.
I think you took the best advice (your own) and ATE at your wedding! We had a terrific venue w/ terrific food and service, equal to a 4-star restaurant for our wedding and unfortunately, the only food I tasted was what we had at the tasting. I was completely bummed that I didn't get to eat the lamb chops we ordered, which were excellent at the tasting and got raves from our guests.
Hooary for this thread! If you haven't aleady seen that I went through a similar dilemma and started asking for help on this board, you can see the results of that here:
At the beginning of our planning process, we had a terrible time coming up with a venue, because we wanted to find something where the food and the decor/atmosphere could be stars on their own, rather than shelling out a bunch of money simply to rent a room somewhere and then have to fill it will decorations, lighting, catering and the accompanying rentals. We thought it would be really easy, but it turned out to be challenge finding the right combo of available at the right time, good food, easy to work with, and within our price range.
We're having our reception at Bleu Boheme in two months. So far, they've been amazing to work with, and we love our menu. Some of our more conservative guests are a little startled that escargot will be served, but we couldn't imagine not having it! Their also working with us to select wines that aren't on their regular menu, because we can't exactly afford to have a hosted bar at $24 per bottle!
We're also having our rehearsal dinner in the private dining room at the Linkery. I'll have more play-by-plays of both dinners after they take place in November :) But if you can't wait, you can check out my blog, too: http://fightthefondant.blogspot.com.
Wish this thread had been going back when we started planning!
re: foodie bride
When I was getting married in SD about 3 years ago, I was on the discussion boards on bridalinsider.com a lot- it was a huge help!
FWIW, I used Simply Unforgettable catering for my wedding. Food was basic but really tasty and very reasonably priced. Rehearsal dinner was at a friend's clubhouse and we picked up JV's Mexican (my fav!)- everyone (especially the out of towners) loved it!
re: foodie bride
Bravo to the escargot! I would have totally gone for the restaurant reception... we talked about it, but our guest list was a bit too large for the restaurants we would have chosen. While I loved our rental company (Classic Party Rentals), I really didn't like having to pay for chairs and linens. Plus, having your reception at a restaurant increases your flexibility so much, as they can make whatever's in their menu and, if you already frequent the place, you know what the food will be like. Let us know how it goes!
I've been trying to finish my serial posting, only to get sidetracked several times. Dang, why does work have to get in the way of Chow posting? ;)
Of course, I saved the best for last... Cake: 5 cakes from CH'er and fellow food blogger Jennywenny and 1 cake from Big Joy Family cafe
Mr. G and I tend to be indecisive people, so when it came time to choose our cake flavors, we decided to choose them all. We knew early on that we didn't want a intricately decorated tiered monstrosity that tasted like cardboard. In fact, we didn't want any tiers at all. One of the big wedding cake trends right now is to do individual cakes on stands and we happily jumped on the bandwagon.
We thought about making our own cakes, since we wanted cakes that were simply decorated and lovely. We had a dry run by making Mr. G's sister's wedding cakes, but in the end, we realized that the time crunch would take a lot from us enjoying friends and family. I had posted about this on another forum and Jenny had mentioned that she could help if we needed it. So, with a month to go, I contacted her and asked her if she could bake our cakes. She was extremely responsive with great ideas and I had a great time discussing cakes with her.
The result? No one, and I mean no one, has stopped raving about the cakes. They were amazing... there were guests who had all 6 flavors of cake. Who eats 6 slices of cake at a wedding? :) One of our best pictures is of Mr. G's little cousin, who is gaping at the cake table like "CAAAAAKE..." Jenny made the following:
Red velvet with cream cheese frosting
Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake with lemon curd and blueberries
Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting
Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
I tried all of the cake flavors and they were perfect. She did a beautiful job decorating cakes and they tasted absolutely fantastic. Her red velvet (which was "my" cake... Mr. G's cake was the yellow cake with chocolate frosting) was spot-on with the mild cocoa flavor, with the perfect texture and slight tartness that only buttermilk can give a cake. By this point of the evening, I was running around talking to people, but I kept making loops back to my seat to grab another bite of cake (our photographers wanted pictures of the slices and when they were done, they arranged all six at my seat).
The sixth cake came from Big Joy Family cafe on Convoy St. (same strip mall as Shirahama and Phuong Trang). Strawberry bagatelle with whipped cream is a classic with Asian bakeries and I wanted it to be a part of the cake lineup. We sampled cakes from three bakeries:
Sage French Cake- It was the most expensive and the cake was a little too dry, with few strawberries
Sorrento European Bakery- It was the least expensive, very tasty, and we would have gone with it if Big Joy Family didn't keep it simple with strawberries, cake, and whipped cream. SEB's cake had touches like a thin layer of custard and strawberry jam, which Mr. G wasn't a fan of.
Big Joy Family had huge strawberries in their cake with spongy, moist layers. They decorated it with a smooth layer of whipped cream and a pile of glazed strawberries (unhulled, so the leaves were a pretty splash of green). The cake was ready at EXACTLY the time they told me, which was perfect.
Want a wedding cake? I hope Jenny doesn't mind my blatant plug of her work, but check out her blog (http://forayintofood.blogspot.com/) and contact her.