I’m sure at least one great philosopher has said “marriage is a new beginning; a chance for two separate lives to come together and form a stronger, happier, and more interesting path.” Never mind the fact that I searched all over the internet for quotes regarding marriage. Not one had this particularly insightful quote listed, nor could I find the name of the doubtlessly brilliant individual who first thought it up. But don’t worry, I’m sure that in the midst of a long day of pondering, Socrates, or someone of that nature surely wrote this tidbit down. It probably just got lost in a fire or something.
Anyway, it is in the spirit of this totally original quote that I begin my food and travel blog. My husband and I recently got married at the Hotel Del Coronado in California, and as a foodcentric couple, serving good food was important to both of us. During my own wedding planning, I was surprised to learn that little attention is given to wedding food. There are a plethora of reviews and forums available with information on florists, photographers, wedding gowns and centerpieces, but concrete wedding food examples? They were hard for me to find. So I decided to kick off my blog with a description of my journey to plan a perfect reception menu.
Everyone knows wedding food sucks- but it doesn’t have to be that way
You know what I love about weddings- besides the opportunity to celebrate the love and happiness of a good friend or family member? The free meal that is promised to be provided. Somewhere in my younger years I missed the memo warning me that wedding food has a tradition of being terrible. So I naively look forward to the dinner. All through the ceremony, and the obligatory three hour gap until the reception, I fantasize about the menu possibilities. After hours of starvation, I finally make it to cocktail hour, only to be rewarded with a few meatballs and maybe some cheese. Dinner is finally served, and I dejectedly realize that the chicken in front of me is dry and kind of cold. Or that the buffet selection doesn’t look particularly appealing. At the end of the night I’ll head home, the tiniest bit bitter that I’m still hungry.
I got amazingly lucky with my own food. I planned our wedding in Coronado, California from Las Vegas, and didn’t have an opportunity to sample anything prior to the big day. However, the Hotel Del Coronado takes its food seriously, and it showed in the end result. Our guests raved about the food served at our event, and if I say so myself, it might have been the best wedding food I have ever had. So for anyone who has a fantasy of planning a wedding in San Diego, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Del Coronado for its excellence, provide a review of my wedding day food, and give a few helpful planning hints.
Keep yourself grounded during the wedding menu selection process
The hardest part about choosing a wedding day menu was wading through all of my options. The Hotel Del Coronado’s 2014 Wedding Menu Guide came in the form of a 19 page pdf. And the options were limitless; there were suggested menus for buffet style brunches, lunches, and dinners. There were cheeseboards, seafood stations, and carving stations available as well as serving stations in lieu of a traditional buffet line. It was all overwhelming, and incredibly tempting for a die hard foodie. I wanted to eat everything, so I quickly had to pull it together and get down to some basic truths.
One, certain options are better for certain party sizes. A variety of serving stations might be a great way to go for a party with 150 people. But I was planning a small, intimate gathering of 30 guests. For me, a three course plated dinner made sense based on my room size, my budget, and the vibe I wanted my reception to have. I approached my reception menu the way I would approach a dinner party- I wanted to make sure everyone got great food, and I wished to honor any dietary requirements. But at the same time, I didn’t want to make myself crazy by offering too many options.
The other thing that was important to me was to avoid being wasteful. In college I worked for on-campus catering, and it used to physically pain me to watch plates of uneaten food being thrown in the trash. When it comes to wedding planning, not only does going overboard result in uneaten food, but it is a huge waste of money. Physically, guests can only eat so much in a given amount of time. So while a candy table and a carving station sounded like great ideas, I nixed them in favor of making sure people weren’t too stuffed to dance. It’s the other reason why I chose a plated dinner- the fastest way to make sure you overpay for food that will get thrown out, is to select a buffet.
Wedding food pictures are worth a thousand words
You know what I found amazingly frustrating while I was planning my wedding? I couldn’t find real world photos of the food from my venue anywhere. Sure, Yelp.com had pictures of food from the hotel’s various restaurants, and I found a few photographer websites of wedding photos from the Hotel Del, but no food pictures. So for anyone who is considering the Hotel Del Coronado for their special wedding day, I present to you, photos of my wedding food. I hope they are helpful. (And thank you to the lovely Rebecca Peace Pritchett for taking so many photos).
This is a photo of our hors d’oeuvres table. On the far right Wild Mushroom Goat Cheese Tartlet’s are pictured next to Seared Beef Carpaccio bites with Violet Mustard and Micro Greens on Brioche. My personal favorites are the Vegetable Samosas with Mango Chutney pictured Center, and the Crab and Spinach Dip that went with the Flat Bread Display. Also available to go with the flat bread was the Panko Crusted Goat Cheese and Hummus. When making my selections, I kept a few things in mind. I knew that I had a few vegetarians coming to the wedding, and wanted to ensure that I had a selection of hors d’oeuvres everyone could enjoy. I also knew that with a three course dinner coming, I didn’t want anything that would be too filling. Finally, since the cocktail hour was outside, I wanted to pick food that wouldn’t get funky in the sun. Given that San Diego happened to be having a heatwave the day of our wedding, I made a good choice.
Accompanying our cocktail hour’s excellent food was an amazing service staff. My guest Lucy told me that this fine gentleman gave her a new go to drink- bourbon and ginger ale.
My husband and I had a long running joke leading up to the wedding, that I was only coming to the wedding for the crab cakes. Living in the middle of a desert, it isn’t easy to get good seafood. And nothing is worse than a crab cake that is all bread crumbs, flat, burnt, and made with fake crab. I’m happy to report, our first course was full of real crab, and everything a crab cake should be.
A quality salad is important to me. Not because I am a health nut, but because I know it is important to eat leafy greens, and limp looking lettuce is a huge turnoff. For me, there is nothing worse than a throwaway side salad with iceberg lettuce, a pale looking tomato that has seen better days, covered in a heavy dressing. Our second course had everything I wanted in a salad- crisp arugula, fresh strawberries and figs, and Point Reyes Bleu Cheese.
I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to serve as a third course main entree. Chicken seemed boring, as did salmon. Sea Bass or local halibut were options, but seemed too adventurous for my family’s conservative taste buds. I chose sherry braised short ribs with green beans, braised leeks and mushrooms for a few reasons. One, I thought it sounded elegant. Two, I thought it was a good compromise that would appeal to the guest with simple culinary tastes while still offering something that you don’t see on a restaurant menu every day. Three, short ribs are the kind of protein that are pretty hard to mess up. Since braising is a longer process, the meat is almost guaranteed to be that tender, fall of the fork texture that people love. Slow cooking meat in a liquid also prevents dried out, hard to choke down food, that you see so frequently in wedding food. If I had chosen something else off of the menu, would it have come out as equally tasty? Probably. But all the same, my guests seemed to love the food, and I was happy with the choice.
I wish I had a picture of my vegetarian option. For the non-meat eaters we had grilled cauliflower steak with white corn polenta, asparagus, and roasted tomatoes. My friend Tonya reported that the meal was awesome, and even my dad who is particularly finicky when it comes to food, loved it. I really appreciated that we were able to offer a creative and well-thought out vegetarian option. I think mass dinners can be frustrating for a vegetarian who is too often served a hastily thrown together pasta dish, or worse, just left to eat salad.
So there you have it. My (limited) insights on planning a wedding menu, along with my glowing review of the Hotel Del’s catering. When it comes to weddings, there are a million different directions a couple can go in, but I have to say, I couldn’t have been happier with my choices. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal to kick off married life.