March 01, 2008

An Emerald among Zirconia: The Branding Iron

When I was in high school, my mother had a bit of an infatuation with several of the 'personalities' on QVC. She'd watch "In the Kitchen with Bob Bowersox", and we'd come out of the deal with a new nonstick skillet or a counter top oven. Good investments... I still use my four-quart Nesco roaster today. And she adored Kathy Levine, who spent the majority of her QVC career hawking Diamonique, a fake gem that's still apparently quite popular. I'm not sure the half dozen small pieces of Diamonique in mom's jewelry box were the best investment, but she enjoyed them, and that counts for something. And among *my* most prized possessions is a pair of emerald earrings set in white gold that Pat James-Dementri convinced her I would love for my 18th birthday. (I don't know what's more frightening. That Pat was right? That several of the hosts are still with QVC twenty years later? Or that I remember their names?)

My point? Sometimes, often when we least expect it, we find a treasure that exceeds our expectations; an emerald among zirconia.

I confess I wasn't optimistic when I spied the menu in the motel lobby. Merced's not exactly renowned as a restaurant hot spot. But it beat the heck out of the alternatives: Bakers' Square, Denny's and McDonald's... so we gave it a shot. And The Branding Iron delivered, well beyond our wildest expectations.

Sure, the steak would probably be good. But I didn't hold out a lot of hope for "The World's Greatest Gazpacho!!!", especially in February.

The first surprise: Owner Greg Parle at the host stand. When we arrived at 5:15 without reservations (who needs a reservation in Merced at 5:15?!?), he wasn't sure he'd be able to seat our party of four. He turned several parties away while we waited to see. Thankfully he was able to find a space for us.

The second surprise: A tray of artisan cheese and crackers in the lobby: an appetizer for those waiting for a table.

The third surprise: The ladies' room. I'll spare you the details and leave you with one word: Opulent.

The fourth surprise: the wine list. Extensive. Without being overly expensive. And all of them available by the glass. We settled on a lovely Cosentino "Legends" Cabernet... packed with blue and black fruit flavors that would play well with roast beast.

The fifth surprise: the gazpacho. Perhaps not the world's BEST, but pretty darn spectacular. In February.

The sixth surprise: the service. Our waiter was phenomenal. Always present without hovering. Attentive but not pretentious. And when we ordered a single dessert with three forks, he brought it to the table on three plates. Home run!

Ditch the Diamonique, folks.

The Branding Iron is a gem.

We'll be back.

With reservations.

The Branding Iron
640 West 16th Street, Merced, CA | 209.722.1822

We agree with Anne and Dave, we've found a reason to return to Merced.

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Peabody said...

Wow, 5:15 and you had to must be good.

Cynthia said...

Wow does not even begin to describe that experience... what a find indeed.

Tai said...

I love Diamonique!!! And those QVC hosts are so orangy/tan they're practically walking cheetos. Although... excellent food is better than fake diamonds any day!

Tiffany said...

Love your recollection of your mom and QVC. Thanks for your comment, and definitely let me know when you need some Tupperware!! :-)