(atLarrys.com, the restaurant recommendation web site, lost a unique and refreshing voice February 16 with the passing of Jim Tabilio. We suspended publication of new material at this magazine web site and atLarrys.com for four days in Jim’s honor. We resume publication today with the following tribute to Jim.)
By Larry Levine –
When I first got the idea for what would become atLarrys.com, the web site for restaurant recommendations, one of the first people I called and invited to join me as a co-host was my long-time friend and food compatriot Jim Tabilio.
I explained my concept of the site – a place where people can turn to find recommendations for fine dining establishments, upscale restaurants, romantic hideaways, great food.
One of the places that appeared in the first group of recommendations Jim sent to me was a taco truck parked regularly at the Buttonwillow off ramp of the I-5 in the heart of the central valley. I’m thinking Thomas Keller and Josiah Cirtin; Jim’s thinking taco truck.
After a few conversations he convinced me and it transformed the web site. It was the essence of Jim Tabilio – smart, funny, whimsical, eclectic.
If you go to www.atLarrys.com you’ll find Jim’s taco truck along with innumerable sandwich shops, burger joints and Michelin starred restaurants. You’ll also have an opportunity to read Jim’s biography.
People come into our lives. Most pass through quickly; some linger; a few remain.
Jim Tabilio was one who remained in my life from the moment I met him on an early spring day in 1974. He will remain with me as long as I draw breath and even his tragic passing February 16 at the age of 59 will not stop that.
We met in an election campaign. Jim was coordinating Northern California activities for a candidate in the Democratic Party Primary Election for Lt. Governor. I was hired to run the statewide press operation for the campaign. Within hours of meeting the then 22-year-old, intelligent, quick, witty individual with a pony tail, I knew we could be friends for many years to come.
Later that year I hired Jim to work in a Congressional campaign I was managing in a district on the central coast of California. We spent months together in the campaign headquarters. We had lunch and dinner together virtually every day. Our friendship was cemented over submarine sandwiches, plates of chili verde, burgers and servings of grilled abalone at restaurants in Ventura and Oxnard CA.
After the campaign Jim went back to his apartment over a bowling alley in San Francisco; I returned full time to my wife and two children in the San Fernando Valley.
We kept in loose contact in the years to come. Then Jim and his wife, Marty, and their daughter moved to Los Angeles and we were able to spend time together once again. First up was a “welcome to L.A.” dinner at our house, a reunion for some of us who met in that Congressional campaign. In honor of Jim’s ethnic heritage I prepared an Italian dinner, showcasing my own recipe for ciopino. That reunion became an annual event. Each year I would do a dinner honoring the ethnic background of one of our group. The last one was a Dutch meal for Marty. Any time I would mention a possible Dutch meal through the years, Jim would say, “All you do is put some potatoes, carrots, cabbage and water in a pot and cook it as long as you can.” I’m happy to say I did better than that.
One year Jim decided he wanted to host the dinner at their Hermosa Beach home. He put together a killer Cajun meal and proved his rightful claim to being the world’s greatest amateur gumbo chef.
After that, the event returned to our home because a) I wanted it there and b) it was more centrally located for everyone involved. Except for one year when Edward and Susan Lacey hosted a Polish dinner in their home in Ventura. The last gang dinner was held in 2007. The 2008 event was cancelled because I had quadruple coronary bypass surgery. In the meantime Jim and Marty moved to Sacramento.
I’m a political consultant. Our son, Lloyd, attended grad school at Sacramento State University, went to work in the legislature and served in the state Assembly for six years. All this added up to frequent visits to Sacramento and that meant frequent dinners with Jim and Marty. Biba, an outstanding Italian restaurant and one of my two favorite restaurants in the state, was our standby. Among the many indelible memories of Jim I will carry with me will be bottles of wine, plates of calamari fritti, steaming osso bucco, and bowls of gnocchi on elegant tables at Biba. Yes, he could enjoy that as well as the taco truck.
Jim Tabilio touched the lives of and was loved and respected by too many people to imagine. When I posted a “memoriam” to Jim on my Facebook page and sent it to the atLarrys.com promotional email list, I invited people to go to the site and read Jim’s biography – to either renew their knowledge of him or get to know him for the first time. For 48 hours the number of visitors to that biography page soared. I got grief-laced emails from many of his friends and colleagues. And from others I got notes expressing how much they wished they had known him.
Jim Tabilio could bring waves of laughter from every person seated at a dinner table and then do it again two minutes later. He was a man who cared deeply for the state of society. He was a fount of ideas – how to protect animals from cruelty, how to legalize online poker, how to expose political hypocrisy, how to help the poor. He wrote jokes for Jay Leno but wouldn’t hesitate to launch into an informed and funny rant about the insufficiencies of television. He was a husband, a father, a friend and a creative, dynamic, self-effacing, wonderful man.
That he should not have lived to see his 60th birthday is not fair. People are supposed to grow old before they die.
The notion of living every moment as if it might be our last is hackneyed. We say it; we advise it of others; but we don’t really live it. Then a dear friend dies too young, with too many unfulfilled promises, too many unrealized dreams and ambitions. And for a while at least we say “I love you” more often to those we love, there’s an extra hug when we say “I’ll see you later” as we leave the house in the morning.
Jim’s passing reminds me once again of something I learned and relearned too often: We will laugh again, but we will never be the same again. Good bye, dear friend. You are missed.
Thanks dad, that was very nice. I am still in a state of shock, and still haven’t fully processed Jim’s death. I hope people who read your essay will get a little bit of a flavor for how ecclectic and talented Jim was.
Jim Tabilio’s death is a reminder that this brave, new world of virtual offices has some profound shortcomings. Those of us who worked “with” Jim on atLarry’s could admire his taste, his gentle but insistent opinions, and his easy style. But many of us never met him. Yeah, I know that virtual offices don’t cost much to implement, and there’s no backbiting office politics, at least, not in person.
I would have liked to have had a meal with Jim, since the highest compliment I can give to a food writer I pay to him: reading Jim always made me hungry.
I know, Lloyd. I look at his photo and I shake my head in disbelief. As tough as this is for me, it must be just a tough for you having been with him only minutes before.
Beautiful thought, Larry. You would have appreciated him. And by the way, reading you always makes me want to reach for the phone and make a reservation. Last night it was Barbrix at your recommendation. WOW. Sensational. Thanks.
Very well written Larry, thank you for sharing those memories. I fortunately had the chance to get to know Jim while working for him, four days in Las Vegas at G2E with Lloyd this past November. Just in that brief four days and the two hours we spent waiting for our flights home, it was obvious how great of a guy he was. I told him I would love to work for him some day, and truly meant it. He will be missed by all who knew him.
Susan and I had the great good fortune to meet you and Jim during that central coast congressional campaign long ago. Jim was a genuinely funny guy, but also a human being of great compassion and decency. We will always cherish the annual dinners at your house when the group got together for good wine, great food, and lively conversation. Politics is about issues and policy, but , in the last analysis, it is about the people you meet along the way.