Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Willi's Wine Bar Santa Rosa/Kendall-Jackson

We found ourselves in the Santa Rosa area the other day, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to finally eat at Willi's Wine Bar. Willi's Wine Bar delivered everything promised. The food was outstanding, the wine flights intriguing-the pairing and the wineries. Willi's Wine Bar offers small international plates, and we started off with a Soda Rock Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad, with whipped ricotta cheese & verjus vinaigrette which was on the Local menu. Our next plates were from the Mediterranean menu: Seared Scallops, with roasted Corn Sauce & Tomato Escabeche and Moroccan Style Lamb Chops with preserved Lemon Couscous. Of course, we needed to have Willi's Truffled French Fries from the French menu. Each 'small' plate was ample for two, and although we were stuffed, we couldn't pass up the dessert plates. We had an incredible banana chocolate croissant bread pudding and a lovely creme brulee with raspberries. We did flights of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Each dish was perfectly prepared and presented.

So if you find yourself in the North Bay for lunch or dinner, be sure and stop by.
Planning a special event: Willi's Wine Bar has patio seating for parties of 25 and inside the restaurant for buy-outs.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center is just a bit north on Fulton Road, and it's always worth a visit. Not only can you taste fabulous wines, but there is a wonderful Food & Wine Pairing created by Kendall-Jackson's Executive Chef Justin Wangler. This is a seated tasting experience in which you sample from a plate of delectable food paired with the day's featured wines. No appointment necessary, and this pairing is offered throughout the year. Kendall-Jackson has a lovely culinary garden from which many of the ingredients are harvested.

Kendall-Jackson has accommodate large and small groups for weddings, meetings and special events. Murder on the Menu will be producing a mystery for the Wine Club on October 25. Open to the public. Reservations necessary.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mystery Fundraiser for the San Carlos Children's Theater

Here's another wonderful 'public' event that people in the Bay Area can attend.
October 17, 2008:


An event to benefit San Carlos Children’s Theater

in their goal of obtaining a long-term home

with class and rehearsal space and continuing to provide

outstanding children’s theater programs.

6:30-7:30 pm:Reception

7:30-9:30 pm:Plated Dinner/Dessert

9:30-10:30 pm:Prizes, raffle & more

Hotel Sofitel, Redwood Shores, CA

Arrive by 7:00 to be sure and get in on the Murder Mystery clues.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser 10/24/08

Here's an updated announcement for a Murder on the Menu® open to the public mystery event:

Habitat for Humanity of Santa Cruz County 20th Anniversary

To order tickets for the Chaminade event ($125 per seat) or sponsor a table (8 seats plus publicity), simply click on the appropriate Donate button to the left and follow the instructions. (You will need your credit card or Paypal account information handy.)

This (black-tie optional) event will be Habitat’s largest fundraiser of the year, and includes a reception, dinner, music, and dancing until midnight. At the reception charity donors will build a complete house by bidding on component parts.

Guests will also be treated to a murder investigation over the course of the evening with lots of “local” suspects, ending with the “arrest” of the “culprit.” Theatrical entertainment provided by:

To help raise funds for upcoming projects, Habitat for Humanity Santa Cruz county is seeking sponsors at the Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze levels.

In addition to enjoying a social evening of dining and entertainment, you and/or your organization will be recognized as one that gives back to our community at the event, and in all publicity following the event.

To inquire about sponsorships, please contact Cathy Wylie at (831) 469-4663 or by sending email to admin@habitatsc.org.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Smart Meetings

Just got the September issue of Smart Meetings, one of my favorite industry publications. Several great articles on teambuilding including one titled, "Team Building, Smart Meetings-Style" by Hunter Holcombe about Smart Meetings own team's teambuilding Scavenger Quest with our own Frank Price. Last lines: "what did we all learn from this experience? We certainly woke up the next morning feeling like we had the best team in publishing." That's what we like to hear. Our teambuilding events are about as much about team bonding as team building.

For great ideas on teambuilding and planning your next meeting, check out Smart Meetings magazine.

Venues: Waterbar San Francisco

Last night I was invited by the Long Beach CVB to a special evening at Pat Kuleto's new Waterbar. What a venue. What a view. What terrific food. Our event was in a lovely private room with its own balcony overlooking the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and the Bay. It would be perfect for a small party of 50 or less. I'd love to do a mystery event there, but any type of party would be great.

Downstairs, the Waterbar located on San Francisco's Embarcadero just south of the arrow has interior views just as spectacular as the exterior views. The two dining rooms hold up to 275. The menu is prepared under the direction of Chef Parke Ulrich who worked with Mark Franz at Farallon for the past 10 years. Great fresh sustainable seafood. Unpretentious but elegant.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let's play two!

Let’s Do Two!

The great Hall of Fame baseball player, Ernie Banks, loved baseball so much that he said, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!" Yesterday was a beautiful day, and I had two separate events at two different locations. It was a beautiful day.

The Promotional Event

The Hilton Hotel Family contacted Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited because they were hosting a special regional multi hotel HR department meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, and they needed creative, interactive entertainment. Their budget was on empty. We were willing to showcase our creativity in a shortened promotional format. They will see the possibilities.

We wanted to grab their attention, sustain the energy and end with something that would make them remember our strong points. Customized and creative pacing, energy, and interactive entertainment, are all about who we are and what we do. Suspense in different forms creates a dynamic tension among the participants.

Three activities were selected, The Arresting Cop, the Wacky Mini-Olympic Games and the Chocolate Tasting Seminar. Each activity requires different types of preparation, presentation, timing and interaction.

The Cop enters the room armed with information, ideas and relevant gifts for the suspects. It’s a surprise. Tension begins to build as he walks slowly around the room. The impenetrable wrap-around sunglasses give him a slightly tough look. He asks for a specific suspect. The hush in the room is broken by a gasp and pointing fingers spotlight the female suspect who is unaware she is about to be given a customized running shoe with her San Francisco Marathon time on the label. The laughter begins. The woman wonders how the cop would know that information. Nobody else in the room, including the contact, knows this bit of running history.

The pace quickens when next the participants are divided into teams to take part in the Wacky Mini-Olympic Hilton Family Games. From the first activity to the last all of the guests are engaged and determined to win. The Duffle Bag Relay brings out laughter and their competitive nature. The culmination is when each member of the winning team accepts his or her own customized first place bottle of champagne.

Saving the sweet for last, the high end Chocolate Tasting Seminar gets them in a quiet place. I always wonder which chocolate will they like the most. They enjoyed it all.

In only one hour, I’m able to fill them with energy, knowledge, and great chocolate. I leave ready to start again.

I quickly pack my bags and head off to the SUN Microsystems campus for a murder mystery dinner for 115 World-wide Finance Team participants.

The Mystery Dinner

Setting up the sound and light, putting out the clues, rehearsing with the actors, coordinating with the catering staff, the contact at SUN, distributing the programs to the guests are just part of my excitement. Because we integrate the language and jargon of this group at SUN, we get their attention. Our contact gives me some extra last minute jargon, the actors use it and the mystery takes off. Guests read clues into the microphone and ask questions of the actors and accuse some of their fellow workers. Our detective, fedora, badge and trenchcoat arrives and the real fun begins. He has “secret” information about some of the guests, and he shares it with dramatic flare. The roar of laughter, the self-deprecating corporate humor gets everybody involved. The entire show builds throughout the dinner and ends when all of the crimes are solved. Corporate suspects take the stand and are found innocent of all crimes even though their peers believe them to be guilty. Another mystery solved by our special detective, Frank T. Lawman. The winning team receives prizes and the evening winds down.

I pack up all of the materials and equipment, and I am on the road again. It was a beautiful day…Let’s play two.

Perfect Venues: Thomas Fogarty Winery

Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited always loves working at wineries. Since our home base is the San Francisco Bay Area, we're lucky because we are close to several different wine growing districts. Over the years, I think we've worked at more than 350 wineries. Wineries make perfect settings for all kinds of team building events and entertainment from Wacky Games to Scavenger Quests to Murder Mystery dinners.

One of my favorite winery venues is Thomas Fogarty Winery located in beautiful Woodside, south of San Francisco. On Sunday I had the opportunity to actually attend a wedding there rather than work the event. Very interesting to see the 'other' side of an event. Thomas Fogarty Winery, with stunning views from San Francisco to San Jose, is one of the Peninsula’s premiere wedding and special event locations. Known for its award winning wines, Thomas Fogarty Winery is a breathtaking redwood and stone facility with three separate levels that "flow" down the mountainside. This warm and inviting facility is a great place to escape for that company offsite or perfect wedding, anniversary or special event. There are several different event/meeting spaces, and at the wedding I attended, the dinner was held in the Pavillion, a huge covered deck area suspended over the vineyard, and later we went into Hill House for dancing. These spaces were perfect for the wedding, but there is a conference room and several other spaces for meetings, including the intimate Redwood Room with its stained glass windows and redwood walls.

Thomas Fogarty also has award winning wines, so if you find yourself out and about on a Sunday afternoon, you can always stop by for a tasting.

Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited has been working at Thomas Fogarty since the mid-80s. We've done mysteries, Scavenger Quests, Chocolate Tastings, Wacky Games and lots of other customized interactive teambuilding and entertainment there. The staff is great, the vendor list diverse, and the ambiance terrific.

Thinking about a holiday party on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula? You might want to consider Thomas Fogarty Winery.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rehearsal Dinner with Cool Eatz Catering

What a weekend wedding whirl! Saturday night I coordinated Judie Siddall's son's rehearsal dinner. She chose the Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto for her venue, and it's quite unique. We'd been sweltering through a heat wave, and this lovely Nature Preserve was a very cool/cool spot right on the Bay. Caterer was Cool Eatz, and although I had eaten at the Flea Street Cafe many times, I had never worked with the catering side of their business. Well 5 stars to Dee and Kasie for doing such a fabulous job! I came into the planning toward the end, but even so, I was amazed at how quickly every question was answered via email about room set up, linens, tables and chairs, buffet, hors d'oeuvres, drinks and timing. Originally the event was planned for family and out of town guests, but the rehearsal dinner guest list grew to 98 people from all over the world. Who knew that guests would come in from England, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, France and other places. The seating arrangement for dinner was tight, but Dee, the onsite coordinator, made it accessible to everyone. He was a joy to work with. Every detail was considered, adressed, and because of his talent and skill, it all ran very very smoothly.

And, the food! Did I forget to mention that the food was absolutely fantastic? From the hors d'oeuvres through the sumptious dinner buffet and the variety of desserts was incredible. CoolEatz uses food and wine raised, harvested, and produced sustainably and regionally. They support and use as many organic ingredients as possible--those produced without petrochemicals, artificial coloring, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides. As their website reads and I witnessed, they are all about Sustainability. They take responsiblility for creating a healthy, sustainable system, in both their cooking and waste management.

I can't wait to work with Cool Eatz again soon, maybe a mystery event? They take the mystery out of great catering.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wacky Mini-Olympic Games

California is sizzlin', and this may not be the last of the heat waves for the season. Now's the time to get out and go to the Beach! Energize your team with some Wacky Mini-Olympic Games or Sandcastle Building competition. Last week we did some Wacky Games in San Luis Obispo. Great Beach. Great teams. We integrated information on the group, their buzzwords, and company goals and objectives into the games. Frank Price who facilitated the games debriefed. Oh my, not all fun and games! Carefully disguised.

Too hot? Not near a beach? Wacky Mini-Olympics can be done inside an airconditioned meeting room or ballroom, depending on the size of the group. Last Spring we did a Wacky Games teambuilding event for a Japanese electronics company. Luckily we had a translator. 100 men and women in suits and dresses participated in the Games which were held on a tiny dancefloor. Guess that proves that our Wacky Mini-Olympic games can be done anywhere.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Public Mystery events

Murder on the Menu does mostly corporate and private mystery events, so it's always exciting when we have mystery parties that are open to the public. Usually our public mystery events are for fundraisers. In October we'll have two public events--October 24 for Habitat for Humanity and October 17 for San Carlos Children's Theater. Not sure all the notices are on their webpages yet, but I urge you to check with them and save the date. I'll also be putting pages on my website about each event. In the meantime, here are some particulars.

October 24, 6:30-11:30. Chaminade, Santa Cruz, CA. Dinner, Mystery, Dancing. Benefit: Habitat for Humanity.

October 17, 7-10. Hotel Sofitel, Redwood Shores, CA. Dinner and Mystery. Benefit: San Carlos Children's Theater.

And, here's a fun event open to wine club memers and the public! Join the wine club, get good wine and a discount on events!
October 25, 6:00-9:00. Kendall-Jackson, Fulton, CA

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Charity Challenge: Trikes for Tots

I wrote about our big Charity Challenge: Bikes for Kids event in at AT& T Park last week, but I thought I'd post a photo from one of our Charity Challenge: Trikes for Tots events. 25 meeting planners from CSUS met for a FAM organized by Toddy Isham, hosted by Krug Hotels and Conference Centers in beautiful Sonoma County. After being wined and dined and shown all the wonderful opportunities for meetings in Sonoma county, Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited were brought in to showcase our services. We did a series of short Wacky Games, Chocolate Tasting and Trikes for Tots. Rick Uribe from Catholic Charities took the trikes for the Family Support Center in Santa Rosa. Some trikes were given to children with birthdays and some will be used by all the children at the center. Before we even returned to our office that day, Rick had sent us a photo of some of the children riding the trikes. Very moving.

The Charity Challenge is a great event for companies who want to do teambuilding while at the same time want to give back to the community.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dying for Chocolate

Murder on the Menu/TeamBuilding Unlimited does an awesome chocolate tasting that I blogged about last week. We usually give our clients all the chocolate that's leftover after a tasting, and we bring bags to make it convenient. No sticky hands or gooey purses or pockets. Nevertheless, even though we do our best to give chocolate away, our office always seems to be filled with lots--from 40% to 90% cacao-- from many different chocolate companies and regions.

So yesterday I decided to make use of some of that left over dark chocolate. I found a very easy fantastic recipe for a flourless chocolate cake. Thought I'd share it. By the way, Murder on the Menu isn't a catering company or a restaurant. You have no idea how many people have asked that. Would you hire a caterer or go out to dinner at a place called Murder on the Menu. Who knows what you'd get. But that's another story.

Dying for Chocolate!

4 ounces (or more) fine-quality chocolate (not unsweetened, 70% cacoa or more)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Break chocolate into pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder or powdered sugar and serve with ice cream or whipped real cream.

I used vanilla ice-cream and scattered fresh strawberries on the plate.
Unbelievable and so easy.