When I was a kid, (back when God was a child), eating out was only for very special occasions. Mom and Dad would go out together sometimes, just to have some elegant and quiet adult time, but we kids usually stayed home with the much-anticipated TV dinner. Funny to look back at the things we loved as kids - I probably would turn my nose up at one today, but in those days they had the dual appeal of novelty and lack of parental manners supervision.
Every now and then, however, we'd put on our restaurant manners and be taken to the "O Club" (officer's club) on whichever base we were living on or near, or out to a restaurant. If memory serves, we mostly went out to eat when we went to New York to see shows. My parents both loved musical theatre and they introduced us early and often to Broadway shows. I grew up listening to Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza singing "South Pacific" and one of my enduring memories is of seeing "My Fair Lady" on the stage with Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins.
Dad loved to take us to Sardi's when we were in New York; we had fun figuring out who each of the caricatures that lined the walls were, and I'd always ask Dad if I could have anything I wanted off the menu. He'd always say "yes," but it was important to ask.
And we usually visited Mom's Uncle Maynard at the New York Yacht Club, who lived there as a bachelor after his wife's death. Before dinner, we'd walk around the cases of ship and boat models, marveling at the intricate construction. After dinner in their dining room, which is shaped with curving walls as if one was dining in a galleon, we would all file up to admire the America's Cup in its purpose-built round room.
As we grew older and more civilized, we would often accompany them to the "O club" for a Sunday night dinner - I'm pretty sure this was so Mom could have a night off from cooking. Mom always dressed up for these events in her best dresses with serious jewelry and perfume. I don't remember the menus as much as I remember her perfume.
These days, eating out is an everyday affair, not so much for us before the remodeling began but more and more frequently as it drags on. We usually ankle down to our little town and choose one of the thirteen or fourteen restaurants there (proximity to the sprawling Chevron research center fuels all these eateries). Sometimes, we go further afield, over to Marin if we want standard fare, or to Berkeley or Oakland if we are feeling more adventurous.
Probably our favorite is Little Louie's 4 to 9 wine bar. It is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. They convert their space from a very casual breakfast-and-lunch place to a rather elegant evening space with just a few imaginative touches - votive candles, silk curtains, cloth napkins, and pretty china and flatware. The food is solidly good and the prices are reasonable. Because we see these same owners when we go in for coffee or breakfast in the morning, our welcome is always warm in the evening, too - we have gotten to be good friends.
The steak dinner above is a good example - fresh and seasonal veggies, a nice and well-cooked steak, and a little scoop of real spuds. It's comforting and familiar and very well made. When you eat out as often as we do now, that is sometimes exactly what we are looking for, a sense of home while our own home is all torn up.