Three Dot Lounge visits Rancho Santa Fe: $20 ice cream pints, crying about the spilt Inn and foie gras lawsuits

Partial shot of my first Rancho Santa Fe home, which I am not allowed to discuss further due to a signed NDA./Escondido Grapevine

We are going to consider a few outstanding three-dot items stripped from below, well below, today’s sundry headlines. But first, a reminder and salute about he who pioneered the three-dot way…

Herb Caen at his office, Dec. 31, 1993/Nancy Wong

It’s been 25 years since famed San Francisco journalist Herb Caen (1916-1997) died. For journalists and San Franciscans, Caen was a superstar. Known as “Mr. San Francisco,” his columns were a vital piece in the mosaic of one of the world’s great cities.

Caen wrote a column six days a week from July 5, 1938 until 1991 when he cut back to five days a week, then three, before dying in 1997 at age 80. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for lifetime achievement. A special Herb Caen day in The City in 1996 drew 75,000 enthusiastic fans to honor him at City Hall.

Mr. San Francisco was a master of what came to be called “Three-Dot Journalism.” He threw everything from one-liners, gossip, anecdotes and information into this format that became a journalistic staple in the 1930s and 1940s.

There was a method to the madness of presenting San Francisco legend Herb Caen’s three-dot lounge history along with its various re-interpretations. That was to set up Escondido Grapevine’s own three-dot lounge approach to local news. For more about the concept, visit our story here. For more local three-dot news, keep on trucking below…


I will NOT pay $20 for a pint of strawberry ice cream, sorry.

That’s me/Waldo Nilo

Alrighty then, let’s get down to Rancho Santa Fe business. Full disclosure, I’ve lived at Rancho Santa Fe for almost three years. Before that, I lived 15 years at Del Dios, Lake Hodges, between Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido. I once edited The Rancho Santa Fe Record, which the greedy, now deceased, owner, sold to the San Diego Union Tribune and folded, just after I won the top California Newspaper Publishers (CNPA, the state press association) award for best local news coverage.

Despite taking a vow of poverty, which only now seems to be succeeding, I’ve spent a lot of time and space walking the “mean” streets of Rancho Santa Fe where, as Dwight Yoakum and Buck Owens once said, “Hey, you don’t know me, but you don’t like me, Say you care less how I feel, But how many of you have sit and judged me.”

That said, The Ranch, so-called, has lots of nice people, and people I like. It also contains a massive per capita share of complete assholes. However, I’m not in it for the social register. I just like the beautiful spaces, nearby hiking trails, upscale markets, weather, proximity to beaches and everywhere and everything nice. So, sue me, and believe me, people here love to sue each other.

Considering the mass quantities of Teslas and even much more costly and exotic luxury vehicles, super-sized estates, super-expensive restaurants, and bedazzled displays of great wealth — Rancho Santa Fe 92067 is the 10th wealthiest zip code in the nation, according to Forbes Magazine — it takes a lot to arouse my notice and ire.

Congratulations, then, and “kudos?” to Makoto Chino, the grandson of Chino Farm’s founders Junzo and Hatsuyo Chino. He and his blew my mind, and all for the grand sum of $20.

I’ve met the kid before and he’s a very nice guy, just like his dad Tom Chino, whom I’ve known, and loved, for over 20 years. Makoto Chino even has an UCLA law degree and admirable history as an advocacy law practitioner. Last year, he received a farm grant to utilize leftover produce to generate income, purchasing a top-of-the-line Carpigiani machine to churn out small batches of gourmet ice cream, according to Eater San Diego, whatever that is.

“Chino says he started the creamery simply because he wanted to make something he wanted to eat. He also wanted a venture of his own, separate from the legacy of his family’s business. ‘Ice cream is a way of having my own thing. Ownership is the most validating thing because I have to live with my own consequences,’” Chino told Eater.

Chino and his partner Elina Hood — more on her later — have used no artificial ingredients, using the best from Chino Farm and other specialty purveyors. Escondido-based Manzanita Roasting Company supplies the coffee beans for their CappaChino ice cream and the stone fruits come from Andy’s Orchard in the Santa Clara Valley for their Aisu Creamery products, according to Eater.

Which brings us to the fulmination d’jour.

I don’t know what the ice cream tastes like; if it’s good, bad or indifferent. That’s because they are charging $20 for a pint of ice cream.

Let that sink in: $20 for a damn pint of ice cream. A DAMN PINT OF ICE CREAM!!!

I don’t know how much you believe a pint of ice cream should cost. It’s less than $5 at the corporate supermarket. OK, maybe a pint of more gourmet-type ice cream is a bit more, but it ain’t no $20. That’s insane.

Get the good stuff to go at Rancho Santa Fe’s world famous Chino Farm/Dan Weisman

Driving by Chino Farm on Calzada Del Bosque practically every day — it’s en route to the post office where Rancho Santa Fe residents have to maintain a box since home mail delivery doesn’t exist — I rarely stop anymore. Not that the quality of the produce and fruits aren’t world class, just that they are world class expensive.

It was chill when I edited the newspaper and Tom Chino gave me stuff gratis, literally under the table there. However, those salad days are long gone. Nowadays, as Eater notes, “chefs stop by to select Chino Farm ingredients…to serve at their restaurants; local establishments like Mille Fleurs, The Fishery, and Ranch 45,” and even Bay Area restaurants like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisses, whose early Chino collaboration helped put the venerable farm stand on the international culinary map.

Long story short, the products are amazing, as are the prices. I simply can’t afford to drop hundreds of dollars a visit as many Ranch millionaires do without batting an eyelash.

However, I L-O-V-E ice cream. I would marry ice cream if that were allowed by law. Strawberry ice cream is my absolute favorite. I truly wanted to sample the craft strawberry ice cream made from Chino Farm’s signature Mara des Bois French strawberries.

I took the plunge first chance I got. I mean, how much can a pint of ice cream cost, right?

Apparently, $20 a pint at Chino Farm.

The youngish woman at the stand greeted my with a sly smile. I didn’t know who she was since I haven’t been to Chino Farm in a while. Eagerly, I asked about the ice cream. She assured me they had strawberry, which was probably their most popular flavor.

Great, as George Costanza would say on “Seinfeld,” let’s do business.

This stuff is $20 a pint. Looks good, but I’ll never know. Tell me if it’s worth it./Facebook

And then it happened. Cool, how much. Twenty dollars. Wait, what. For that? I pointed to the sample pint. That’s a pint, I said, believing this woman was joking. That’s a pint. That’s insane.

She started arguing with me. This is a start-up business, she said, and the owner has to charge $20 because they’re just starting. Lots of people had no problem paying $20 for a pint of ice cream.

OK, this is not my first time around a farm stand rodeo. While I don’t like to do so, and rarely do, even at Chino Farm, I sometimes have negotiated a more appropriate price and have reached mutual agreement.

I pointed out how most ice cream pints cost $5 or less, and began trying to negotiate. Against all financial sense I hold sacred, I finally offered $10 for a pint. She sneered at me saying I didn’t understand how start-ups worked and the owner would not let her budge on the price.

God damn it! I had spent days, while Chino Farm was closed due to winter scheduling, dreaming of trying this special, reputedly spectacular ice cream. No sale. I left the area dissatisfied, shaken and stirred.

Only later, when I got home and looked at the Eater article did I realize that the woman at the stand who refused to knock down the price for an initial taste test was none other than Chino ice cream partner Elina Hood, creamery co-owner supposedly.

Talk about adding insult to injury. If you pretend that you’re not the one who sets the prices while refusing to negotiate a bit, you can take that $20 pint of ice cream and shove it up your…

And now this…


Sour grapes at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

Inn at Rancho Santa Fe/Ben Sevier

Talk about sour, in this case, grapes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Consider the sham that is supply-side or trickle down economics.

American economist Arthur Laffer, a member of the Reagan administration, developed a bell-curve style analysis that plotted the relationship between changes in the official government tax rate and actual tax receipts, known as the Laffer Curve .

Laffer employed the theory that tax breaks and benefits for corporations and the wealthy will trickle down and eventually benefit everyone. Tools like reduced income tax and capital gains tax breaks are offered to large businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs to stimulate economic growth.

Critics, according to Investopedia, argue that the added benefits the wealthy receive can distort the economic structure as lower-income earners without an equal tax cut adds to income inequality. Many economists counter that cutting taxes for the poor and working families boosts the economy by increasing spending on goods and services whereas a tax cut for a corporation may go to stock buybacks or increased savings for the wealthy.

Be that as it may, Rachel Laffer, one of Arthur Laffer’s grandchildren, has lived at Rancho Santa Fe for a while. She has an economics background, although I shudder to think of what kind since she once worked for the now Murdoch “Succession” family’s Wall Street Journal — by the way, Lachlan Murdoch, along with myself, Bill Barr, Roy Cohn and self-allegedly George Santos attended the same Horace Mann School, but I digress.

However, Laffer wrote an op/ed published last week at the self-styled community-only “publication” Rancho Santa Fe Post, titled “RSF Inn: Unfortunate PR and a Romance Gone Wrong.”

As the title implies, Laffer, like Roseanne Roseannadanna, has a lot to say on the subject. I can’t say I disagree with her sentiments although I might be a bit more nuanced about it.

I’ve hung out a lot over the years at The Inn, 5951 Linea Del Cielo, mainly walking around, sometimes using the luxurious first floor bathrooms or even grabbing an adult beverage, which is more than I can say for nearby Rancho Valencia, where they won’t even let me through the guard shack gates, because, I suppose, they don’t like the 20-year-old Toyota Rav 4 I drive. Again, I digress.

Ownership at the Inn for years, from the Royce Family who bought the property in 1958, through John Moores and his JMI Properties who bought it in 2012 and beyond, have spoken of renovating the property. Steve Hermann, who owns and operates luxury boutique properties like L’Horizon Resort & Spa, the Colony Palms Hotel at Palm Springs bought the property for $43 million last May, 2022. He said he was planning a major renovation of the Inn, which boasts 80 guest rooms, including six suites and one 2-bedroom cottage, spread over 17 cottages.

I spoke with Hermann last summer about the renovation that had not begun. He said he was waiting to fulfill all the existing event contracts and would start this winter. True to his word, he has started, and how, with the place torn up for now like nobody’s business.

High class signage at Inn at Rancho Santa Fe front lawn, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023/Escondido Grapevine

Rachel Laffer is not amused.

“Since the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s new owner, Steve Hermann, has described the hotel as the community’s ‘living room,’ let’s call out the elephant sitting in it: Unfortunate PR,” Laffer wrote.

“A good friend and neighbor once imparted an invaluable piece of relationship advice: ‘It’s all the things you don’t say.’ But in the case of Mr. Hermann’s Ranch courtship, the problem is exactly that: It’s all the things he hasn’t said. As if overnight, it’s like Mr. Hermann got a bad case of cold feet and has been straight-up incommunicado ever since lip-servicing ‘I do’ last year with his 43 million-dollar sparkler of an acquisition. 

“Or maybe this is one of those creepy, Netflix-doc cat-fish deals, where we’ve been duped all along into believing our hotelier Casanova’s gushing overtures in The RSF Review about ‘falling in love’ with our ‘beautiful small town’ and ‘wonderful people,’ only to humiliatingly accept, like the title of that chick-flick film about the fatuity of modern-day romance, ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.'”

Let the renovations begin, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023 Inn at Rancho Santa Fe/Escondido Grapevine

You go, girl.

Laffer’s column goes over 2,100 words, so I can’t reprint it without violating copyrights. I tried to contact her to get permission to reprint it, but she never deigned to get back to me.

However, her conclusion:

“While love can be blind, in the Inn’s case, paying customers near and far aren’t willing to overlook the obvious imperfections of this Funny Valentine. Like Mr. Hermann, most want our beloved grande dame to be the baddest belle of the ball. We all have a vested interest in the Inn’s survival and lasting success. We’re partners. And I can’t wait to swan around on the front lawn, clutching a coupe like my grandparents did back in the day, and hopefully my daughter will do in the future. With this common goal, the relationship between the Inn’s new owner and Ranch neighbors could be quite the match, but not without candor and clear, continual communication and engagement. We want to be apprised and part of the process. It’s not just about saying — but showing — you give a damn.”

OK, here’s looking at you, INN…


No foie gras for you, maybe.

Mille Fleurs during better days/Facebook

And a final salute to another Rancho Santa Fe culinary institution I don’t go to because of super-high prices, plus the fact that they attach some of those prices to their use of Chino Farm produce, which as we know is a whole ‘nother story. I’m not a chef, but I also don’t need the ultra-generous mark-up charged for the same stuff I can get just down the road.

We’re talking Mille Fleurs.

The food looks and smells great to be sure. Maybe too good. San Diego-based non-profit Animal Protection & Rescue League (APRL) last year sued Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe and Mister A’s in Bankers Hill in Superior Court for selling foie gras from force-fed ducks despite California restaurants being banned from doing so.

According to APRL, foie gras is produced by placing metal pipes into the throats of ducks and force feeding them, causing their livers to swell up to 12 times their normal size.

Representatives from the restaurants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Also named as a defendant is Bertrand Hug, who owns both restaurants. Hug told the Rancho Santa Fe Review last year that he was selling Mister A’s, but would remain involved with Mille Fleurs’ daily operations.

Attorney Bryan Pease, representing APRL in the suit, told the so-called Times of San Diego that the group has held protests over the years outside both restaurants, which led to the eateries temporarily removing foie gras from their menus, only to “quietly re-add it back to the menu later when they thought no one was looking.”

The state’s ban was recently challenged by foie gras producers from outside California. A federal judge ruled in 2020 that the ban would remain in place for restaurants and retailers, but customers could purchase foie gras from out of state and have it delivered to them.

No word on where the lawsuit stands, but Mille Fleurs still sells duck although I’m not a foodie and savvy enough to know what’s what with it. I just know foie gras production sounds pretty horrible no matter how good it tastes.

If you got this far, kudos. I even beat Laffer by 400 words, so that’s something, too. See you along Paseo Delicias sometime. Or not…

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