The sound of things to come
Dinner at Comal in Berkeley tonight. We’ve been here before a number of times, and always enjoyed it. I don’t usually write about places more than once, but I’m making an exception to cover something different. We were there with friends Ted and Mary Bayer, who kept us laughing with their tale of biking in New Zealand in very bad weather.
Sound is a huge issue in the restaurant business. If the place is too loud, people can’t carry on a conversation. If it’s too quiet, people don’t like it–especially the all important younger crowd. Lots of issues are considered in the sound design of a new facility–tablecloths, silverware, crockery, wall coverings, floors, air conditioning and the sound system itself all are carefully balanced to give the room the desired sound level.
Comal has taken this a step further, installing a sound system designed by sound guru John Meyer that simultaneously dampens and sweetens the ambient noise in such a way that you can easily carry on a conversation, clearly hear the music, know that the place is busy and full yet not really hear the people at the next table.
Even the art on the wall, such as this photo by Deborah O’Grady, is designed and placed to aid the sound dampening.
One of the beauties of this system is that it is unobtrusive–we have eaten there 6 or 8 times and tonight was the first occasion where I noticed the perfection of the sound; ordinarily I just like the place and don’t know why. It is also infinitely adjustable–the owner, John Paluska, can walk around with his iPad and fine tune the room table by table.
The Meyer system is the new hot thing in the business–Olivetto in Oakland installed a system recently. There are places Gail and I won’t go because the noise level is too high, but that may become a thing of the past. A system like this costs between $10,000 and $100,000, but presumably that will come down in time. Anyone building out a new high-class eatery will have to strongly consider installing this state of the art equipment to remain competitive in the industry.
Besides the great sound and the excellent company, dinner tonight was the as good as we have come to expect from Comal, except that Gail’s chili relleno wasn’t cooked all the way through–I noticed that the boss wasn’t at his usual place checking every dish as it comes out of the kitchen, and when the cat’s away…………
I ended the meal, as always, with a dish of the arroz con leche, the best rice pudding in the country, topped with pistachios and mandarin orange slices.
I don’t think I’ve ever recommended you visit a restaurant to check out its sound system, but this is so different, so pleasant, so much a harbinger of the future of fine dining I think you should check it out. And have some rice pudding while you’re there.