Zephyr Grill & Bar29 September 2017 Written by By Randy Tei
Published in October 2017 Articles
My wife Lynn and I opened Brentwood’s Zephyr Grill & Bar 14 months ago.
However, we are restaurateurs with decades of experience in the industry.
Lynn, José Ferreira our operations director, Chef Jesus Martinez, and I have committed ourselves to doing whatever it takes to make each dining experience at Zephyr a culinary event to remember. We focus on maintaining the highest quality levels. We are constantly evaluating and criticizing ourselves. José likes to say that we’re our own worst critics, which means that if food, presentation, and service win our approval then things are probably running okay. We differentiate ourselves from other restaurants in small matters. For example, diners are greeted at the front door by a lovely young hostess extending a gracious welcome that is a promise of the good things to follow inside.
We make our dishes using ingredients that are fresh and local to the extent possible. For example, when in season we offer deep fried asparagus, beans, and fresh corn using products harvested from area fields only a short time earlier.
We only serve meat that is choice and prime. Our poultry comes from Mary’s Free Range Chickens. These are organic and pasture-raised according to a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards Program designed to benefit farmers and consumers as well as the animals. All of our seafood is wild. In order to get shrimp in the quality and quantities we need, we had to commit to purchasing 500 cases of wild shrimp a year. As a result, diners can enjoy these as ingredients in a number of dishes including tacos, pastas, and appetizers.
We continue to maintain quality standards by cutting up the fish in-house ourselves and using pieces as tasty ingredients in seafood dishes such as our delectable cioppino. We also cut our meat in-house and create our meatloaf by blending pieces of New York, ribeye, and filet.
An ever-increasing part of our business is returning patrons who have made Zephyr their go-to place for fine dining. Many of them return specifically for a favorite entrée. Favorites include our Potato Wrapped Halibut with lemon butter sauce and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Our Chicken Saltimbocca is made with thin slices of free-range chicken breast, rubbed with house made herb butter, topped with prosciutto, sautéed with a sherry wine cream sauce, and finished with melted Havarti cheese. Another favorite, our Parmesan Pork Chop, is double cut, bone-in, crusted with Italian spices, Parmesan cheese, and panko breading, then flash fried and oven roasted. Our Prosciutto Wrapped Sea Bass is stuffed with a Bay Shrimp and avocado mousse, then pan seared.
More than one diner has declared Chef Martinez’ PB & J Tiramisu to be the best anywhere. Raspberry preserves with a mixture of Mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, peanut butter, vanilla & confectioner’s sugar layered with lady fingers soaked in raspberry liqueur. Topped with shaved chocolate & fresh mint.
We change food choices on a regular basis with seasonal menus. A month or more preceding each menu change, Lynn, José, Chef Martinez, and I put our heads together and hammer out the new dishes and entrées. Before approving of anything, we experiment with flavor profiles and test items to see what dishes and ingredients go well together. This month we are rolling out our fall menu featuring dishes and entrées that take advantage of products from local farms. The Hawaiian Tuna Tartar and the New Crop Apple Salad, however, are popular with too many diners to drop off, so they remain.
Even though there are only four seasons, we actually publish five seasonal menus. The fifth is a Christmas menu. The menu is only one part of our Zephyr holiday celebration. We employ an Oakland business called Creations Andreas to provide over-the-top transformation of the restaurant into a virtual Santa’s Wonderland. We provide a brunch with Santa on the occasion when the “jolly old elf” brings holiday joy to young visitors.
Each year we sponsor a complimentary cookie-decorating event in which children are encouraged to display their creative energies. At first, we staged the affair with some misgivings, expecting frosting fights to break out, but the kids participated with intense and meticulous attention to the challenge of creating the most beautifully decorated Christmas cookie ever.
We believe in community service and have always made it a habit to donate gift cards to local school fundraisers and charitable organizations, and we contribute money and auction items to worthy programs like Brentwood PAL, Shepherd’s Gate, and the Boot Campaign.
For the past 13 years we have also participated in the Taylor Family Foundation’s annual Day in the Park fundraiser.
Our operations director, José, has participated in several fundraising tournaments this year himself, serving delicious bites to hungry golfers. Managing a privately owned restaurant gives us an advantage over chain restaurants because we’re able to make alterations in dishes, procedures, and aesthetics as soon as it becomes apparent that a change is called for. We don’t require lengthy consultation and consent cycles from headquarters in order to move forward. If we notice something not working right or have an idea for improving quality, we can have it fixed or changed the next day.
Lynn and I make a good team. She has a wonderful eye for design and a good sense for quality customer service. She provides a perspective that complements my experience in restaurant management. She’s right on top of such things as cleanliness and plate presentation. Lynn is also a possibility thinker. From my more conventional perspective I am prone initially to resist some of the creative ideas she has for accommodating people’s needs and desires. However, Lynn’s can-do attitude often prevails and before long I am forced to admit that it was a good idea after all.
Pushing for improvement is a happy passion for me because I genuinely love the guests I serve and the people with whom I work. It is satisfying to watch the progress of staff members as they grow in wisdom and experience. I promote leadership by example and am continually working on my own management skills. Our team members know that I’m available any time of day-or-night to answer questions and to provide whatever assistance I can.
I especially love our operations director, José Ferreira, who has been involved in the industry since he was young person washing dishes. His drive, intelligence, and experience subsequently moved him to a top position in his field. He and I had worked together for a decade, so I was delighted when his name popped up on a database when I was searching for a management resource to help with the Livermore Zephyr. I guess José felt the same way because his first day on the job he said, “I’m coming home.” After decades of working together, José sometimes comments on how much he learned from me. The fact is, I might have learned as much from him as I ever taught him.
Credit for a big part of our quality is due to our 5-star executive chef Jesus Martinez, who is the best in the business and a capable commander over the work being done in our open kitchen. He never stops; he’s tireless!
Unlike some executive chefs, Chef Martinez is not content to simply bark instructions to the assistants and helpers working for him. He leads by example as much as by command. He is always coaching others as he works and is on the line actually handling dishes and utensils, and often “touching” the plates before they leave the kitchen. Everyone is amazed by Chef Martinez’ prowess with utensils, such as his deft command of a knife when slicing a wholesale-size piece of meat to steaks. However, he also focuses on the small things that keep the kitchen in pristine shape. It seems that every time we look, he is wiping down some counter or cleaning a piece of equipment.
Lynn and I have been living in Discovery Bay since 1999, which means we arrived there before Safeway came on the scene. In fact, this was before most things came on the scene that residents now accept as normal. East County residents formerly complained that you had to “drive over the hill” to get a good meal. That has been changing dramatically over the past decade or two, and we are playing an important part of that progress.
Many of our patrons cheerfully admit that no “over the hill” dining establishment affords any better culinary experience than they can get at Zephyr Grill & Bar.