To me, music is an important component of the dining experience. I like what I hear in the restaurant to match the mood that is being set for me. To be able to hear the boombox back in the kitchen puts a damper on that tone, or to have some random playlist going from one genre extreme to another doesn’t say that all the details have been thought through.

If you’ve noticed, the Coca-Cola thermometer above the door way back into our kitchen always reads 55 degrees. It serves as an icon of what we hope your experience will be; chilled, relaxed, and slowed down. I try to pick music that reflects this vibe, and below are ten of my all time favorite selections that help achieve this end.

My criteria in choosing? I look for an entire album that can go from start to finish without the need to skip over a song that disrupts the flow of the whole mix. Note that there are no “Best of” or compilations in this list. I have dozens of those that work very well. I like it when the musician develops a theme as opposed to an editor putting it together. Here are ten full albums I like to play start to finish that help bring the temperature down to 55 degrees.

  1. Gotan Project – La Revancha del Tango
    1. This most unique sound of tango is led by a skillful bandoneon and blended with modern electronic beats and samples.
  2. Charlie Haden – Nocturne
    1. True to the title, this disc sketches a night scene with broad strokes of moody piano and thick, dark lines of bass, filled in with the shadowy color of violin and saxophone.
  3. John Coltrane – Lush Life
    1. You have to be careful when choosing to play Coltrane, because he went through a period of extreme experimentation and exploration of the outer reaches of the jazz galaxies. This one is also aptly titled, as it is full of lush solos and textures that don’t draw undue attention or worse, make your head hurt.
  4. Karrin Allison – Ballads: A Tribute to John Coltrane
    1. She took Coltrane’s 1961 record, Ballads, an all instrumental piece with saxophone sussing out the lyric lines, and recreated a song for song interpretation, with the lyrics added back in. Sometimes I will play the original along with this remake in the same playlist and put it on shuffle for an added bonus.
  5. St Germain – Tourist
    1. Categorized as house music, and if I was forced to keep that label, I would insist on adding the word “intelligent” as a descriptor. Often house can be nothing but mind-numbing repetition of loops and tricks that go nowhere but in circles. This DJ takes the basics of electronic groove and layers in useful vocal loops with trumpet and sax lines that will have you executing Rock Concert Movement #1, yet never leaving you dizzy.
  6. Thievery Corporation – Richest Man in Babylon
    1. To incorporate such world musical styles as Jamaican reggae, American jazz, Brazilian dance and Indian meditation requires more than skill; you need a 6th sense. This disc transports you to places all over the world without the jet lag.
  7. Audio Lotion – The Finer Essence
    1. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for lounge-esque titles like this group, but this Latin inspired, downtempo CD has me reaching for my smoking jacket and brandy snifter.
  8. The Blue Nile – High
    1. Much like a David Gray album, the unapologetic use of beats that betray their mechanical source are made to work as a part of the effect of this band’s minimal sound. My only stipulation is that this is to be played on a rainy day.
  9. James Taylor – One Man Band
    1. Who else has a voice of distinction like this man, other than James Earl Jones.? Just him and a guitar, and all the songs I remember growing up.
  10. Andy McKee – Art of Motion
    1. God bless the Internet for allowing this otherwise obscure guitarist to be noticed. This YouTube sensation will leave you scratching your head wondering how he gets that much sound out of one guitar.

It Doesn’t Feel That Cold In Here…