With a background in the restaurant and wine industry, dining experiences have always been something I have known and loved. When I entered the cannabis business, it was interesting to start seeing the similarities between the companies. Pairings, high end packaging … all of these food and wine elements have translated to cannabis with a growing mainstream interest. I know that, personally, I didn’t want to participate in a tie–dye, patchouli–filled smoke fest. I wanted the benefits of smoking or consuming, but without the lazy, grungy “stoner” stigma. As I saw events like TSO Sonoma’s Elevated Dining experiences pop up with California’s new wave of legalization, I could feel the groundswell of this movement. It wasn’t just me. Other people were curious and craving experiences in high–end cannabis consumption. When I had the opportunity to attend TSO Sonoma’s “Herbal Romance” experience in San Francisco this February, I was excited, but I also had a lot of questions and a few reservations. Was I going to be in a room full of strangers and get way too high? Was everything going to taste like the pot brownies I ate in high school? I have a pretty average tolerance as a cannabis consumer and prefer microdosing and a high CBD ratio in everything I consume. I went to the event with “high” hopes and intense curiosity.
All Images Courtesy of Monica Lo for TSO Sonoma>
With the promise of the first 40 arrivals receiving a sensual goodie bag, we arrived promptly at 6 p.m. to a seemingly bare office space on the second floor off of Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. Guided by rose petals on the floor, we entered the main room with high ceilings and whitewashed brick and were welcomed to Herbal Romance: a room full of the finest in all things food, wine and cannabis.
The layout of the area centered around a table laden with elegant glassware, minimalist infographics on terpene descriptors and samples in high–end packaging for nearly 100 attendees. On the other side of the room was a cocktail lounge staged with CBD cocktails curated by a craft cannabis cocktail developer. I had watched this recipe come together on John’s (aka @ChronVivant) Instagram stories on the days leading up to the event. This gin–based cocktail was something anyone could enjoy, with neither the lingering taste of cannabis in your mouth nor the stigma of smoking. As it happens, the entire evening was smoke–free. Just 10 minutes in, it was clear that this event deepened your knowledge of everything you thought you knew about cannabis.
As the rest of the attendees filtered in, champagne coupe glasses were filled with Laurent–Perrier and people mingled as everyone settled into the space. The community here is best described as “introverts with social skills” as the shy, talented creatives in the bud business gathered for the perfect night in town. The ambiance was illuminated with gentle lighting, perfectly staged for the perfect Instagram picture. Phrases like, “I don’t even need a filter to make this look good!” were heard across the room. Our hosts knew their audience.
In the DJ booth, TROPO set the mood of the night with organic tempos. Low–key house music entwined with Tyson Leonard’s violin created a unique and classy combination. Behind him, a projector casted video clips of Mendocino–grown Flow Kana and its brand story on a screen. The ambiance was a gentle way to welcome in the party.
As the dinner bell rang, we gathering around the table to be greeted by our hosts.
“Who knows what terpenes are?” Someone jokingly played crickets from their phone, though surprisingly, more than half of the people in the room raised their hand. Beautifully designed handouts describing the terpenes we could expect from the fresh cannabis samples were generously laid in front of us with instructions on how to pair them to enhance our meal.
The evening was curated by Healdsburg–based growers and TSO Sonoma and co–hosted by The Herb Somm, a Bay Area expert in all things gourmet. Jamie, the founder, brings her food and wine knowledge to the cannabis business and put on an event in line with a high–end wine dinner in partnership with Ellipses wines. This was a wine dinner but elevated. Having worked in the wine business myself, I appreciated the similarities between the worlds as we sniffed and swirled the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir next to sample of Flow Kana’s Relax Indica on the table. This didn’t smell like your brother’s dorm room in college. The pine and forest notes of the Indica played perfectly with the earthy notes of the Pinot Noir.
“We are entering a new gourmet era of dining where dinner is no longer just about food and wine,” explained The Herb Somm as she introduced our courses. This was true. On the table was a tiny bottle of Pot d’Huile, an olive oil infused with a 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC. For some, that made perfect sense. To others at our table, there were uncertain looks. What exactly did that mean? We learned there was a teaspoon provided for you to dose your own meal as the courses were brought out. A teaspoon was equivalent to 5 milligrams of cannabis. The reminder that “You can always take more; you can’t take less,” was murmured around as a reminder to novices and expert alike to take it slow. Despite the decadence of the evening, by the end of our meal, the tiny bottle was not empty. This was an event for tastemakers, not gluttons.
As we settled into our courses, we got to know our fellow diners around the table. It was an interesting combination of cannabis industry professionals, social media lifestyle elites and the canna-curious. Founders of some of the most luxurious cannabis companies on the market were in attendance, and from high quality fresh flower to infused olive oil to microdosed tea, there was a representative of every avenue of consumption present. These are not the stoners you think you know. In fact, the majority of these business owners are more apt to microdose than to take on Puff the Magic Dragon in a bong rip challenge. They started their companies because they were looking for high quality, luxury products, and when they couldn’t find them, they made them.
The entire event took place over the course of three hours, and at the end, the room was still buzzing with good vibes. A couple glasses of wine and a few drizzles of infused olive oil were enough to leave me feeling lifted and inspired. We left with new friends, warm bellies and a luxe dulce de leche pot cookie (or two) in hand for dessert. For anyone considering High Dining, get ready to watch all your preconceived notions about cannabis go up in smoke. These events are perfect for cannabis newbies and pros alike, as everyone walked away with something new, valuable and delicious.