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“A major prize! A major prize! I won, I won, I won!”*

For the past two years, I’ve been involved in work to improve employee recognition at the City of Bellevue. The work started when the Employees’ Committee (hereafter referred to as the EC) received an anonymous comment complaining that some departments were better at recognizing employees than others, creating imparity within the organization. The EC decided that a subcommittee should be formed to look into the matter, and I volunteered to be a part of it. Two years later, I find myself at lunch with one of the other EC recognition subcommittee members, the Assistant Director of the Parks Department who had been part of a different subcommittee also focused on recognition, and our hostess, Ellen, who works for a  custom employee award and service award provider.

When Ellen had contacted me to set up the lunch meeting, she asked where she should make lunch reservations. Not knowing what type of restaurant she was looking for, I replied that the two closest restaurants to City Hall are El Gaucho and Wild Ginger, but that a myriad of restaurants were available within a 10 minute walk. To my delight, she picked El Gaucho for our meeting.

El Gaucho is a swanky, high-end steak and seafood joint. I’ve never been to the original store in Seattle, but I’ve been to happy hour at the Bellevue location a couple of times. The restaurant is beautiful with a bank of windows on the west side and lovely dark woodwork throughout. [Side note, Boyfriend’s friend Aven actually did some of the custom finish work in the restaurant!] The service was extremely attentive, even as the restaurant started to get crowded. Our server was both efficient and tactful; useful traits when you have a table of diners who are more intent on their conversation than perusing the menu.

I decided to pick an entree off of the special weekly menu and ended up ordering gnocchi with spinach and prawns. The food service was timed very well with our entrees arriving roughly 20 minutes after we finally ordered with soups and salads delivered prior to the entrees. The gnocchi was spectacular. The sauce was garlicky without being overtly rich or heavy. The spinach and pine nuts were tempered by the creamy sauce and were soft without being mushy. The gnocchi were perfectly al dente and the prawns had that lovely, bouncy bite to them.

Gnocchi with Spinach, Pine nuts, and Prawns.

After our meal, our server brought the bill promptly; the bill was delivered under a small silver plate containing four small, crispy, chocolate chip cookies. I loved that they gave us a little treat at the end of the meal. I was very impressed with the service, the quality of the food, and the little extras that they delivered at El Gaucho. I’m very surprised that many of the reviewers on Urban Spoon have been so disappointed with their experiences!

El Gaucho Bellevue on Urbanspoon

For dinner, Boyfriend and I went to Red Robin. “Wow, that’s a pretty indulgent day” you’re thinking. And you’re right. Normally, I wouldn’t have chosen to eat a burger after my decadent lunch (to my credit, I did box half of my lunch up to take home), but today is their annual Jim Day. For Jim Day, Red Robin brings back their fabulous Sweet Jim Beam Bacon Swiss Burger. Not only is the burger amazing, on Jim Day, it is free as follows:

“Offer is good for all guests named Jim and the derivative of it ~ James, Jamie, Jaime, Jaimie, Jami, Jamey, Jameson, Jimmy, Jimmi, Jimi, Jim and of course, Jimbo.”

Jim Day!

This year, Red Robin extended the offer to anyone who lives on James (or any variation of James) Street. Boyfriend was not about to pass up this freebie, so we went into the Red Robin here in Woodinville.  To soften the caloric blow, we decided to split the Jim Beam burger and a grilled chicken salad. When ordering a salad at a restaurant like Red Robin, I always ask for the cheese, croutons, and dressing on the side.   Otherwise, in moments, a salad can go from being a healthy component of a meal to a heavy meal. It amazes me how much of these tasty but high-fat and high-calorie items the chef will blithely toss on top of a perfectly nutritious plate of leafy greens.  For example, according to Red Robin’s website, the Crispy Chicken Tender salad weighs in at a whopping 1,348 calories while the Bleu Ribbon Burger, with bacon added to it, delivers 1,114 calories.

The dinner was lovely and was relatively light. Our server was fantastic and Boyfriend left her a tip that was larger than our entire bill to thank her for her attentiveness and positive attitude.

Sweet Jim Beam Bacon Swiss Burger with half of a grilled chicken salad.

Oh yeah!

When we got home, I found another lovely treat waiting for me. A couple of weeks ago, I entered a giveaway contest from Chelsea Green Publishing for a copy of Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell. I won! The book is beautiful and I can’t wait to dive into it. I haven’t tried making cheese yet, but its definitely been on my list. When I read the book, I’ll be sure to write a post about it for you. For me, this was definitely a major prize, and much, much better than a leg lamp.*

A major prize! Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking won from a Chelsea Green Publishing giveaway.

Looking at their website, I realized that I’ve been a fan of the books put out by Chelsea Green Publishing for a while now. The publisher has been putting out books on the politics and practice of sustainable living since 1984. I actually have a number of their titles on my shelves including Four-Season HarvestLiving at Nature’s Pace, The Contrary Farmer, and The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening. I’ve been eyeing Gaia’s Garden for a while now too. In fact, Christmas is coming, and if any of you would like to send me a copy of Gaia’s Garden, I’d be very appreciative!

*Those of you who were not instantly aware of this post’s title’s origin need to watch the 1983 Christmas classic movie ‘A Christmas Story‘ post-haste. You’re welcome. *smile*

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