The S.B. Questionnaire: Eric Maldonado
Style and Substance with Sommelier of Lucky's in Montecito
Going to Lucky’s in Montecito is about much more than just eating. It’s a theatrical experience.
When the steakhouse opened in 2000, it instantly became the place to be and be seen, still remaining today as one of those special places that perfectly embody the Santa Barbara lifestyle: stylish and cultivated yet oh-so down-to-earth.
A lot of Lucky’s success lies on the slim, movie star-esque shoulders of Eric Maldonado, the bigger-than-life maître d’ and ringmaster who welcomes you to the festivities. His attention to detail and efforts to assure that you have an unforgettable evening are Herculean. On any particular night, you may see Carol Burnett holding court or Oprah Winfrey hosting a circle of friends, but Eric will make sure you feel as special as those movie starts swirling your table.
What is your idea of perfect happiness in Santa Barbara?
Santa Barbara has perfect weather, which is most important to me in the wee hours of the evening when I get off work. Each time I head out the back door at the end of my shift, perfect happiness awaits me in another exquisite Santa Barbara evening to begin my way home through.
What is your greatest fear?
Failure. Not the failure to meet society’s standards. I fear the failure to individuate as only I can in the face of whatever life, destiny, and fate throws into my path.
Who do you most admire?
T.C. Boyle. He’s the greatest American novelist of not only the latter half of the 20th century but also, I’m certain, the first half of the 21st. His command of literature and intelligence is awe-inspiring. T.C. is also one of the purest and kindest human beings I’ve ever met.
What is your greates extravagance?
A double espresso and a filterless cigarette enjoyed indoors at night. The intoxicating combination of nicotine and caffeine enveloping me in an inner and outer cloud as moonlight emphasizes the exciting and swirling mystery of all that remains unmet is heaven to me.
What is your current state of mind?
My mind is now like a bird with a broken wing who found itself grounded upon the hot asphalt of a city street during rush hour and, by a miracle, escaped being run over. In that condition, my mind has found a secluded, forgotten fountain, beneath which it warily surveys the world from an unfamiliar angle, willing itself calm so as to wisely bide its time until it can fly again.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I take people as they are. The quality I like most is the one I can see that they know is there too, but others can’t see. It’s the quality about themselves they define themselves by. If we can see it together, in a fleeting moment of transcendence, we will share the importance of that quality between us for as long as we both live. I believe such moments of connection are important.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Ungrounded, presumptive arrogance. I have no problem with people being arrogant or a pain in the ass if they’ve got the raw goods of something extraordinary to back it up with.
What do you most value in friends?
The ability to keep a secret. To have someone you can trust to help you bear the burden of an unresolved shame is like having air to breath in the cold vacuum of space.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Acquiring any new skill — but preferably a mental one that allows me to comprehend myself and my fellow beings more clearly.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I don’t know. I can’t see myself that clearly, but I think it might be a 50/50 blend of ferocious curiosity mixed with a equally ferocious ambition to succeed as a human being on my own terms.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The phrase: “That’s right!” I’ve been blathering it relentlessly for years.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to be captured well in still photography no matter what. I’m rarely able to pose adequately for a snap shot.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I was born with an extra chromosome. I’m a 47xxy male. This was hidden from me as a child in an attempt to make me, uh, “normal”? I wish I could change all the damage and missed opportunities. If I had known, I would have lived my life differently.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I wrote a novel, The Onyx Spark Job, based on a screenplay I’d written with a collaborator. It’s actually an “initiation document” in the tradition of “The Book of Tobit” in the Bible or of Bulwer-Lytton’s “Zanoni.” To read it, and comprehend it, would be like sleeping with a book of Rosicrucian secrets under your pillow and waking up to understand them. Yep, it’s that good.
Where would you most like to live?
San Francisco. It’s the greatest American city and amongst the greatest of global cities. I believe it displays the broadest spectrum of balance between freedom and individuality in the world.
What is your most treasured possession?
The day I was born, my grandparents in Spain had made for me a chained medallion of my guardian angel in 18-carat gold. I wore it every day of my life until the time I got married and I think it actually works.
I once found myself unexpectedly deep within a subterranean heroin shooting gallery. This was in Madrid in the early ’90s. There must have been at least three dozen people wrecked and piled against the walls. Suddenly, I was staring down the muzzle of a cheap .380 automatic pistol aimed at my heart by the pusher’s bodyguard. He was sweating, jittery, and jumpy as he stood guard while his boss counted all that money. I had unexpectedly surprised them. The medallion warmed above my heart as though it would merge with my flesh as I flicked my cigarette away in a broad arc, looked the pusher and his guard directly in the eyes, and continued the walk back to my hotel.
Who makes you laugh the most?
That would be my wife, Linda. She’s scathingly quick-witted and capable of constructing an inescapable ring of irony and sparkle. All one can do is be trapped, amazed, and laugh.
What do you like about your job the most?
The people. The customers, my fellow employees, the vendors. I’ve met so many people and they’ve all meant so much to me. For better or worse — and the broad balance is in the better — I’m richer for meeting them all.
What is your motto?
“If you’re going to step up to the bell, ring it.” It’s the advice someone gave Mel Brooks during a moment of doubt prior to filming the scene in Blazing Saddles when the “old woman” was gonna get slugged in the face.
What’s your favorite movie, and why?
Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon(1937) starring Ronald Colman. Its theme of paradise found, lost, then regain magically haunts me. How does one recognize paradise when it’s found? What in us as humans compels us to walk away from such perfect bliss? What would you do, and how far would you go, to get it back?
Who’s your favorite actor?
Ronald Colman. He was the finest “film actor” that ever lived. Others can “act” better, as characters or on stage, but no one can act for the voice-recording, moving camera as well as Colman. He was technically perfect and had a magic all his own.
Who’s the guest at Lucky’s that made you shake in your knees when you first met him or her?
Bo Derek. I was holding the door for her and as she passed, she briefly looked me in the eyes. Inexplicably, my knees went weak. It’s never happened to me in my life before nor since. It wasn’t a “romantic” nor “erotic” thing. She just has super ninja girl charisma.
What’s the biggest success at Lucky’s under your watch?
At moments in its existence, Lucky’s has been a place of restoration and assurance to those who dine and work there. The experience of being there has, at times, made an enormous positive difference in people’s lives. I’m very proud of that.
What’s the biggest disaster in your opinion under your watch?
Lucky’s has always had the potential of becoming one of the best restaurants in the world. That it has not crossed that line to be what only it can be and be perfect for all of those who dine and work there truly breaks my heart.