When you've got an amazing view like the one from Palm Terrace's dining room, life should be pretty mellow, right? Yet David Man became a tad nervous when I hit the record button. He had nothing to worry about, though. Once we started exchanging Bay Area stories about our favorite ramen in Burlingame, I knew he was legit. This Thrifty chocolate-chip ice cream fan is making hotel dining more enjoyable.
Your earliest food memory:
At a very young age, my family and I would go clam digging in the San Clemente area. We would come home, feed the clams corn meal (to clean out their digestive systems), and then simply steam the fresh, fresh clams and serve with melted butter.
Favorite meal growing up:
My mom's wonton soup or her menudo — it's a toss-up. They're both fantastic. I brought her menudo to work one day, and several of the guys in the kitchen were like, “Your MOM made this?!” [Editor's Note: His mom is Japanese.]. It's a cross between pozole and menudo.
Your best recent food find:
Fresh garbanzo beans that I first found in local Latin markets, and we now have them on our new lunch menu.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Salt. It is a key ingredient to liven up the taste buds.
From our understanding, you worked here previously. Is that correct?
That is correct. I was first hired on as a sous chef, but then I was promoted to chef de cuisine, and a few years later, I was offered the executive sous chef position.
Does the restaurant do something for any holidays?
We do something special for every major holiday. We have Mother's Day coming up, and I am so excited because, currently, we are taking the kitchen outside and will be serving around the pool. There will be various food stations — from sushi to breakfast quesadillas to omelets made-to-order. We will be pairing a different mini cocktail with each station.
This summer, we are considering every weekend to be a holiday, so we will be doing a Friday-night happy hour at our poolside Palapa Bar and throwing a barbecue every Sunday evening, with the menu changing monthly throughout the summer.
What's a typical day at work?
In by 7 a.m. and out by 10 p.m. I'm in meetings a lot, but I try to spend time on the line, expediting, or with the other cooks and sous chefs.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Del Taco has always been one of my favorites. The double burger is a tasty one. I think it's because they are good at what they do, have so many locations and are open 24 hours.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
I appreciate a good, cold beer. I used to always drink Fat Tire and everything made by them. But now I've moved on to Boont Amber Ale of Anderson Valley. I love Yard House because of its large selection.
We just read about your new seasonal menus. Are they available at both the restaurant and the lounge?
Yes, they are available both in Palm Terrace restaurant and the Lounge, even via room service.
Scallops with potato and caviar is unique for a “small plate.” How did this combination come about? Was it ever a larger dish?
When I worked at Pisces, a Michael Mina restaurant located at the Burlingame train station, we served a Maine diver scallop on a crispy potato cake with a caviar sauce. I just decided to rework this classic combination and simplify it. And that's how we came up with our version.
One food you can't live without and why:
Butter! Because it makes everything taste so good. We use it in moderation in many of our preparations — savory and sweet.
Where was your most recent meal?
At my house. My wife prepared leg of lamb with roasted root vegetables and fingerling potatoes. Salad was mixed greens with oranges, avocados and red onions.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep it simple, don't always trust a recipe, and do what you feel comfortable doing. The last tip: If it doesn't work the first time, try it again so that you can learn from your mistakes.
Your location is adjacent to both Fashion Island and a number of fine-dining establishments. What makes you stand out?
There are many excellent fine-dining establishments close by, and that's good for everyone's business and offers diners many options. An advantage for us is that our guests can also enjoy and appreciate the luxurious Island Hotel and its setting while dining on great food in the comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere of Palm Terrace.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
It's their prerogative as long as it doesn't affect other diners. I just accept the fact that with so many people being hooked to technological devices today, amateur food photography will take place in restaurants. I know that people like to share their food and other experiences with friends and followers throughout the day, and this is a way they like to do that.
Julian Serrano, who was the first chef I ever worked with. Julian was one of the first chefs to make it big in Las Vegas. I worked with him in San Francisco at Masa's. He was so gracious and appreciative of the hard work and dedication of his cooks and sous chefs that he let us know it after every dinner service every night with a handshake and a thank you. That meant a great deal to each of us, and I try to emulate him in my work.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten, and was it sweet or savory?
Savory. When it comes to weird things, I am not really adventurous. But when I visited Japan, I ate raw horse meat — like sashimi. It was really quite good.
Favorite places to eat besides your own.
With a young family, I really don't get out very much. When I do, I usually go for Mexican food or sushi. I did try Crow Bar and Great Maple recently.
How would you describe your cuisine?
Simple and straight-forward, but with surprising twists. I call it French California seasonal.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
I am having hot steamed Japanese rice with bacon or sausage, a few over-easy eggs and a touch of soy sauce. When it comes to a more American breakfast, I have a waffle with lots of butter and artisan maple syrup.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Someone asked for ranch chicken, and I did not know what it was. Later, I found out it was “shake and bake” chicken with ranch seasoning in the mix. We did, indeed, make it for this guest, but it was our version of it.