Inspiration…PAZAZ Style!

Once I worked in a restaurant and someone on the staff photo-shopped me serving Jesus at the Last Supper. That rat bastard wasn’t far off.

The first time I was in a quality restaurant was when I was hired while still attending High School. I was fortunate enough to work as a bus boy (with no prior experience) at the Caprice restaurant in Tiburon, California. I remember to this day the smells of that restaurant as I first walked in to apply for that job. The garlic, butter, and fresh bread mixed in with a myriad of other (at that time) indiscernible scents was truly magical.

From that first scent I was hooked. Even though I went to Stanford North (Chico State) and graduated with a communication’s degree emphasis in broadcasting (it was either that or quantum physics) I could not forget the delight on the customers faces when they experienced the view, food, wine, and service all working together to create the end game… the “dinning experience”.

Through-out the years Nancy and I have dined at some wonderful places. From Somm’s Kitchen in Paso Robles, 71 Above in LA, to Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago, the magic of dining where the cuisine is enriched by service is such a rare combination to find. But when you step into that rarified space where the flavors, ambience, service, and beverage work in concert you know a memory has been created that will last a lifetime.

Somm’s Kitchen was one of those “Wow” meals where you have no idea what to expect. Of course the reviews were fantastic which gave us the impetus to try this unique restaurant. I say unique because you have no idea what the meal for that night will be. Open Thursday through Sunday for only 10 guests sitting at one curved granite counter (all served at the same time) each course 8-10 is served with a wine specifically paired to enhance the cuisine. You have to wait for a call back from the owner to let you know your reservation has been accepted. Plus, the owner/chef leaves the bottle poured for that course in front of you in case you’d like to pass out face down in your plate.

Typically the rule of thumb is, the higher you go in a hotel or really any building that houses a restaurant… the worse the cuisine. That was not true in this case at restaurant 71 Above. Everything from the amazing view to the cuisine was fantastic. The meal began with a steak tar tar split for two, then an organic arugula salad with a peach vinaigrette as a middle course, finishing up with a veal chop topped fresh morel mushrooms in a marsala sauce. This was the perfect ensemble of flavors to compliment a wonderful Rhone varietal (not on the wine list) chosen by a sommelier that I knew from the Aria in Las Vegas. Proving once again its a small world (but I’d hate to paint it).

Finally there was Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago which affords you the opportunity to dine in the lap of luxury located on Chicago’s famous “Magnificent Mile”. The palatial doors open into a tiered dining room that features comfortable booths and tables along the window. The highlight for us was the chef coming to our table to shave white truffles onto the handcrafted pasta he had just prepared. They comped over three hundred dollars worth of food and wine simply because of my affiliation with chef Jean George. Going that far out of their way to create something special is a rare gift that we appreciated so much.

In these times of gloom and doom it is sometimes helpful to reach into the past to remember that a bright future lies just on the other side.

Fall is Here… PAZAZ™ Style!

Each season brings with it amazing possibilities that garner the embrace of new adventures based upon the best of what that season provides us. This season is known for the “fall colors” that dot landscapes from almost every seasonal enclave.

Of course the most spectacular swath of colors can be found along the eastern seaboard, especially from New York to Maine. In one of my past lives I was blessed to live in upstate New York and experience first hand the majesty of the vibrant reds and yellows upon the canvas of the landscape. For miles you could see the contrast of color dancing to a samba that swayed to the beat of an invisible force.

Natures conductor provides us with a myriad of players from different sections within the orchestra of sound and light. Sometimes there is the pounding of thunder as an exclamation point and at other times there is the soft droning of the wind section as it looks for the perfect note in the key of life.

Somewhere east of Syracuse New York there is a town called Casanova. Casanova boasts three enormous inns that reflect different Irish, Scottish, and British themes. Just as you enter the town there is a wonderful road that takes you deep into the hamlets (or small towns) that surround this northeast borough.

One such hamlet, (Chittenango) is where Frank Balm grew up… Mr. Balm wrote the Wizard of Oz. He got the idea for the “Yellow Brick Road” from the road he traveled that connected his small town with Casanova NY. In the fall the yellow leaves from the Birch would lay a canopy over the road and thus provide Mr. Balm with the visual needed to create his iconic metaphor.

I remember on several occasions being mesmerized by the beauty unfolding before me. I think that with everything that’s going on in the world it is important to see the grandeur of God’s creation that provides us with natural landscapes that literally take our breath away.

I always loved the iconic poet, Robert Frost. Here is a poem written by Frost entitled,

“Nothing Gold Can Stay”

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only for an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

We can write our own script that features the magical and whimsical travels that warm our soul and enrich our existence. There is nothing wrong with enjoying castles in the sand, swings and slides, or even still believing in Santa.

It is with these types of realizations that we can bring back the best part of whom we are… the child within us.

Feathers…From an Angel’s Wing

Throughout the course of our lives we are blessed to have people in our lives that make a difference in a wonderful, positive way. I submit to you that those people, those encounters, those memories are simply served from “life’s personal growth buffet”. Those experiences enhance our ability to love and nurture our understanding of human interaction under the broad topic of, “the grand scheme of life”.

I also submit to you that each person that improves our ability to love and be compassionate while teaching us successful interaction eventually helps us become who we are. Therefore, each person is a feather from an angel’s wing that provides an exchange of feelings and ideas that becomes the foundation we stand upon to see the world through our eyes and there’s.

Different people have access to us through a myriad of ways. Our parents provide (ideally) comfort and support, our friends laughter and social connection, our children provide us with the beauty of unconditional love and of course… patience.

Each feather from an angel’s wing is a gift handed to us by the law of circumstance that connects seemingly unconnected dots to form a puzzle that becomes our destiny. We form our own destiny as we choose a path that is secured by “learning the hard way”.

However, upon closer examination the path widens and stretches to infinity and beyond because we finally listen to the wisdom of others in a bend in the road where we wish to travel. If we have planned (as much as we can) the path will become easier and more defined leading us to a retirement filled with all the possibilities we deserve.

Here is a poem by Cralin Hardy entitled,

“On Angel’s Wings”

On Angel’s Wings you were taken away,

But in my heart you will always stay.

I will hear you whisper in the tallest trees,

Feel you love in the gentle breeze.

And when I find I miss you the most,

Inside our beautiful memories

I will hold you close.

You are an angle watching over me

with the comfort and blessings you bring,

You embrace my heart and hold it close,

Forever on Angel’s Wings.

The feathers from the angel’s wing have become… many, laying the foundation for the dreams that become our life acted out on a stage before the men and women that have formed our understanding of life.

Wine, Food, and Song… PAZAZ™ Style!

The connection many of us have with others comes in the form of social gatherings. In most cases this social interaction centers around the afore mentioned title. Each word can evoke a sentiment that provokes a sensory experience from a memory somewhere in the deepest recesses of our mind. The ever turning circuitous thoughts that produce a palpable physical response become an emotional tie between those people, that person, that event, that place that brings a smile to our face.

For me, wine food and song has become my mantra as many of you know… I am in the restaurant business, but also play the violin. On many occasions I’ve served wine, food, and played my violin as a dessert course for those celebrating a special event. The real satisfaction comes from those that appreciate customer service with the ultimate goal to create an experience by which all others are judged.

What I can tell you about wine is this… the more you learn the more you realize the less you know. I suppose that’s true for many subjects. One time I went to an interview at Julius Castle restaurant known for fine dining and a wonderful wine list. I was rather cocky about my wine knowledge and very subtly expressed my confidence with that knowledge. Until… the first question about a famous person owning a specific winery in the Napa Valley came and went with my only response being the noise of crickets. I knew right then my job possibilities at this restaurant were rather limited to say the least. Funny, never got a call back from them. Another lesson learned the hard way (be humble and always remember to be in the frame of mind to learn more than you know).

The beautiful part about wine is that if chosen properly it can make the meal better thus making the wine better. The proper balance, acid, fruit and terroir can accentuate the finer points of the wine while bringing out the finer points in the food.

Certain regions produce perfect pairings for specific foods that are indigenous to that region. Rhone varietals with lamb, Tuscany’s Chianti with pasta, Niagara on the Lake (in the southern Ontario province of eastern Canada) Ice wines with dessert… etc.

A wonderful representation of a meal you would not forget based upon some of the information from above, would be as follows:

First Course – Super Tuscan wine (Ornellaia, Tignanello, or Sassicaia) which is a blend of red wine grapes from Tuscany perfected by Marchesi Antinori paired with a hand crafted pasta immersed in a fresh tomato sauce.

Second Course – Croze-Hermitage a Rhone varietal that is 85% Syrah (red), and the remaining 15% either Marsanne or Roussane white wine grapes to blend, paired with a pan seared and then roasted French spring lamb with a fragrant rosemary butter sauce accompanied with a homemade mint jelly served with fresh vegetables and Yukon Gold potatoes.

Third Course – Inniskillin an ice wine is made from the Ugni blanc grape (famous for cognac) and the Seibel grape, paired with a Tarte Tatin dessert named after the French hotel serving its signature dish. This is a pastry in which the fruit (usually apples) is caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked.

As in any dining experience the sensory experience not only takes in the wine, food, decor, but also the music that helps bring the party to life. Everything that compliments but does not inhibit conversation can be considered for the songs you choose. John Klemmer (touch album), Gilberto, Jobim, and Stan Getz (Girl from Ipanema album), or even Gregory Porter (Take Me to the Alley album).

Any of these wines paired with these foods and albums highlights a complete sensory journey representing a small footprint of a culinary experience with the ultimate goal being a meal that becomes a memory.