Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pacific Grill Sizzles

Monday April 21st, Pacific Grill hosted the annual Bates Sizzles, for the 3rd time-- an auction to benefit students and programs at Bates Technical College through scholarships & grants.

Between our lunch closing at 2pm and guests arriving at 5--we have to totally clear-out our dining room of all furniture to make room for all the auction goodies--transforming our dining room into an auction paradise--of beautifully displayed donated items up for grabs.

Pacific Grill does our part by closing for dinner and donating our dining room every year to this worthy event.

As if you didn't already know--Bates is the oldest & largest technical college in the state of Washington, with more than 53 technical career-education programs.

As guests arrived , I spied server Jenny "C" popping corks in the back, pouring the bubbly.

There were silent as well as live auctions.

Live music was supplied by local favorite jazz guitarist Michael Powers.

Over 200 of Tacoma's finest showed up to bid on such items as exotic trips to Cancun (sold for $2700), ; Temperature-controlled wine cooler ($700); a Herman Miller Aeron Chair ($600); a butcher block island made by Bates students ($400); and a private dinner for 8 with wine at El Gaucho ($1000); Mendocino Coast Get-away ($2300);
Banff & Lake Louise Canada Vacation Package ($4000);
Handmade Chess Board sold for ($200);
Autographed photo of LPGA Golf Superstar Lorena Ochoa ($281).

Pacific Grill's Cheeseburger Sliders --in great demand--were flying out of the kitchen as fast as we could make them.
Some of the Tacoma VIP's in attendance included : Bill Gaines on behalf of title sponsor Tacoma Rail; Pat McCarthy, Spiro and Sandy Manthou, Jake Fey, Mike Hensch, Connie Ladenburg, Mark and Chelsea Lindquist, Mike Longergan, Bob Mitchell, Henry Schatz, and Alan Hardy.

As usual, Mike Combs, [whom I run into, it seems in every restaurant in Tacoma], was worried we wouldn't have enough sliders....

Exec Chef, Aaron, and our kitchen staff were busy making Ahi tuna Tartare on crostini. There were beautiful displays of artisanal salamis and charcuterie, with imported & domestic cheeses & marinated olives with fresh herbs & orange zest.

Trying to slow down the crowds' voracious consumption of the delicious shrimp, I tried sneaking some green Tabasco into the mix-- but it seemed to just make them eat even faster.

Johnny's Seafood smoked the good kippered salmon. We tray-passed crystal shot glasses of local oyster shooters with cilantro & citrus-infused vodka.

Crisp rosemary crackers were used to scoop up the baba ganoush & the hummus was garnished with crispy deep-fried chick peas & paprika.

the Grilled Vegetable Platter was piled high...

While Corey poured wine, guests perused the auction items in the Private Dining Room located in the vault beneath the 15th Street sidewalk.

....for dessert there were Blondies & Julia Child's gooey brownies.

We raised over $53,000 on the 21st to support Bates scholarships and program mini grants!
I want to thank my entire staff for their Herculean efforts at transforming the dining room and then putting it all back together after the party [to be ready for the next day's Lunch!]
See you next year!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Steve's Birthday / Harmon Hub

My brother, Steven the "Brohamster"recently celebrated his 52nd birthday at the new Harmon Hub. About 20 people gathered for pizza, wine and beer. Carol Holder one of the Harmon’s partners joined in the party and sent over several delicious pizzas.

Steve’s son Nick and his mom-- the famous pianist Elizabeth Naccarato, joined the party. My sister Gayle Luhtala and her husband “His Looseness” Gravel, stopped by with his newly released CD. My Dad, Tacoma legend, Stan Naccarato showed up with wife Jeanne.
Shirley & Lyle DeVerna, brought their friends Karen & Jeff White [also of Canterwood].

Our original bartender from Pacific Grill, Larry Blume stayed the course. Roxanne Murphy showed up and managed to wrestle my Dad’s 2 World Series rings off his fingers for a major photo-op: World Series Finger smack-down.

Carol was very proud that she had managed to have made some spicy chili infused oil for the pizzas, after my initial “blog review”. It is delicious, and available on all the tables now I noticed.

One thing I didn’t care for however, was when I attempted to get a cold beer. The beautiful bartender, when informed that the beer was warm told me:

that is how we serve the beer here”.

I told her: "the glass must have just come out of the dishwasher, the beer is so warm. "

She said no.

"Then something must be wrong with the thermostat on the keg coolers-- as they didn’t serve beer that warm in England during WWII when ice was being rationed"-- I said!

She persisted....

I asked for my money back but told her to keep her tip for her trouble. She returned my money [and my tip].

Later, I asked a server to get me a cold beer on tap but to leave some ice in the glass a while to chill the beer, and it was perfect. I tipped her an extra $2.

After the candles were blown out on the cake, a few of us went downstairs to Doyle’s to carry-on the party. We said hello to favorite Bruce Letourneau. Doyle’s was packed.

After Doyle’s, we said goodbye to Lyle & Shirley, and we decided to go check out Tempest. It was Karaoke night --my least favorite thing on earth [probably because I cannot carry a tune]. Unfortunately for us, no one else that night could either.

I grabbed some of the costumes and made everyone try them on.

It gradually became apparent to everyone at our table that somewhere between Doyle's and Tempest, aliens had abducted the Brohamster and replaced him with a strange Kid Rock hybrid.

Happy Birthday Brother!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Maxwell's *Mock* Dinner

Went to Maxwell’s mock dinner Tuesday night, with the brother, Steven, Roxanne Murphy, and Kevin. This is usually when a new restaurant gets their first chance to practice cooking the entire menu with the kitchen crew prior to opening, under conditions akin to actually being open. The difference being-- the restaurant invites their investors, purveyors, friends and family to “practice” on. Dinner is free, and the guests know that service might be a little ragged but you get a glimpse behind the curtain, and a first-look at the hot new ticket in town!

We arrived at 7pm and were promptly seated by Christina! Our beautiful & charming Hostess who performs the same function for us at Pacific Grill.

We were seated at a comfy booth right up front next to the action where we could watch Chef ‘Movie Star’ Matt Colony work his magic. ...But who is that tall 6’5” sous-Chef in front of us—why it’s Cody Reaves. Cody was my first sous-chef at Pacific Grill who now runs the kitchen at SIP restaurant up in Issaquah, near Lake Sammamish. He needed to be called in to lend a helping hand when Chef Sean’s wife went into labor. Way to go Cody.

Our Waiter Cory, late of Pacific Grill [nicknamed "Scory"] as he scored us a great red wine from Bergevin Lane in Walla Walla [actually a relative of my ex-wife]. And it was great!

The first plate to arrive was a nice selection of pristine briny oysters with a “pomegranate martini mignonette sauce” according to the menu (that was a tad too sweet for me). A mignonette sauce needs to have enough acid or vinegar to balance briny quality of the oyster. But the sweetness of this sauce to me wreaked havoc with the oysters—which in any case didn’t need anything more than a little squeeze of lemon. Someone needs to remind the "shucker" to clean the lip of the oysters so that no debris remains behind, as each oyster had debris clinging to the shell which we had to wipe from our tongues. Local Oysters 3/$6

The presentation was beautiful on a bed of polished rocks—which at first glance I thought was a bed of olives. I am glad I noticed before I tried eating one, as Matt’s food is so good I had skipped lunch and I was starving.

Next came a bowl of “Creamy Organic Carrot & Fennel Soup with curry, and tarragon infused oil" $7. The soup was delicious but I thought it maybe needed a pinch of sea salt to bring the flavors into sharper focus, and for my part, I am not a tarragon fan, and was glad I could not taste it--anyway-- with all the other flavors going on I didn’t miss it anyway.

A bowl of Steamed Manila Clams with spicy sausage & grilled bread $14 was wonderful. I wish the sausage had more char on it, but this is a minor quibble. It almost looked like the sausage had all the casing pulled off of it. The grilled bread soaked up all the wonderfully delicious steamer broth redolent of the briny clams, and lots of thickly sliced garlic cloves. Really good. I wanted to pick up the whole bowl and drink it.

Next a gorgeous fat slab of crusty chared Rib Steak arrived nice and rare in the center with some baby carrots to the side. I didn't notice any of the advertised fried sage leaves, but the 3 peppercorn butter melted over the charred flesh and mingled with the blood rare juices, and we all couldn't get enough. Cooked on the bone it was irresistible to Steve who had to pick it up and gnaw down to the last last bite.

A huge Apple wood Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich on grilled ciabatta with aged balsamic barbecue sauce, herb slaw, peppercorn tartar & crispy sunchoke chips $11, arrived next. This was a delicious sandwich, that made you wish you'd wormn overalls as it is a mess to eat [in a good way].

A large porcelain urn was set down before us. When the lid was taken away it revealed Maxwell’s Cioppino $15. Usually Cioppino signifies a tomato based broth, but this broth was clear & full of clams and mussels. It also had Dungeness crabmeat in it and I could also make out pieces of salmon, but beyond that, it was hard to tell-- as the fish had either sat too long in the steamed broth, or been overly stirred – rendering it to kibbles & bits. This was the only disappointing hot dish of the evening.

Later a couple of desserts arrived: a classic vanilla bean crème brûlée $6 was delicious with little scone -like biscuits served to the side and the raspberries tasted like summer.

The Hazelnut Cake with chocolate ganache, and morello cherry sauce $6
The hazelnut cake was seriously dry. It seemed like it wanted to be a pound cake as it seemed buttery, but the dryness prevented it from being good. I couldn’t tell if the dryness stemmed from being over-baked, or from being chilled in the refrigerator too long. Also the ganache layer was too thick. I think with some tweaking this could be a winner.

Apart from the Cioppino, and the one dessert the meal was FANTASTIC , the food came out super fast and all items were hot and tasty. I would say, given the first night jitters. I would give them an A+++

A superb first night performance Matt Colony!
Thanks Troy for the invite.
Great job, Cory.
Good to see you again Cody.

It was an honor and a privilege to be on hand.
454 St Helens Ave
Tacoma WA 98402
PH 253-683-4115
Information on Bergevin Lane wines

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"the restaurant VIP event of the year"

The swanky-looking invitation arrived on my desk from total restaurant-pro Troy Christian, to attend "the restaurant VIP event of the year” [quoting the invite]…a cocktail reception Friday at Maxwell's Speakeasy + Lounge in the Historic Walker Building, 6th Ave & St. Helen’s.

A few phone calls later we had put a group together and decided we would meet-up first for a drink at Pacific Grill: dear friend Trish Hosea, daughter of Tom Hosea, in town from Washington DC to attend her Grandfather’s funeral [Trish used to manage my restaurant the Beach House]; also Kathy Davis-Hayfield, who manages the iconic Tides Tavern; and the fabulous Karen-- arriving looking tan in a very short dress with handsome husband Jeff White in tow. Karen knew half the other gorgeous women seated in the Pacific Grill bar.

Jeff ordered a glass of white wine-- I suggested a Viognier [the 2006 Dusted Valley Viognier, a Walla Walla winery] “an ugly bottle but a beautiful wine as we like to say around here,” I told everyone.
mmmmm….delicious fruit”, said Trish.

According to the winemakers, it “tastes like a fabulous fruit salad in a glass”, we all agreed.

We headed off to the party and after dropping our cars with the valet, and walking down the red carpet, we all felt like celebs arriving at Tacoma’s version of the Oscars—but instead of dodging paparazzi we were dodging snowflakes as it began to snow!

Inside was a mob scene: lots of booze, tray-passed apps and cleavage.

The attractive high-ceiling room has an open kitchen to the far right as you enter. I could see Chef Matt Colony’s shaved head bobbing up & down as he was orchestrating the first-night madness. My stomach knotted up—sympathetic anxiety pains of the opening night jitters—I’ve been down this same path a million times before.

It is never easy opening night. No one knows what the hell they are doing. The servers don’t. You don’t-- the equipment is brand new—no one knows where anything is---you never have enough time to practice, at some point you just pull the trigger and dive in. It’s crazy, but you slug your way through it somehow believing it’ll get better each day. Or praying.

I’ll go over to say hello in a minute, I think, but first let’s get over to the bar and grab something to drink.

The bar is located behind the Host stand and to the back of the restaurant to the left. You kind of snake your way through the booths to get to it. In fact, most of the seating seems to be booths, but it was hard to tell given how many of Tacoma’s beautiful people were packed into the space: I see Mike Combs, Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, Peter Stanley, and Ron Swarner of the Weekly Volcano; a Lady in Red [falling out of her Dress]-- and Men Falling down trying to stand next to her; there’s Jim Higgins of Puget Sound Pizza; Roxanne Murphy & her fab red boots !!!
.....and lots of nodding, shaking hands and shouted greetings across the room. But it's hard to be heard over the din.

We finally make our way to the bar and got a glass of red wine.
I see Troy looking dapper in his suit and walk over to offer my congratulations. "Don't look too closely at anything," Troy apologizes, "we were working on everything up until the last second."

"...and we still have a lot of work to do".

"It's all fine", I reassure. It looks great. Thanks for inviting us."

The truth is I always hate when the pressures to open outweigh taking your time. That 24 hour around the clock push to get open. The only person I ever knew that could afford to do it right was Peter Morton of the Hard Rock Cafe Chain, and Morton's in LA, and the HARD ROCK HOTEL in VEGAS, who had the money to do practice dinners on his wealthy friends for a full month before opening to the public. God knows I've never had that luxury... it is just too expensive...you've got to get open and start making some money to get that cash flow going...

I grab Trish & drag her over to the kitchen and position her so that the next time Matt moves his head he is going to be looking right at us. Matt worked for me at The Beach House for 5 years. He was my opening Chef at Pacific Grill. Great Guy. Great Chef. He is like another brother to me, even though I am old enough to be his Dad. My nickname for him is “Movie-star Matt Colonybecause his name sounds like one of those made-up matinee movie star names they used give an actor in the early 60's.

Matt is all smiles when he finally sees us. He walks off the line and gives us both big hugs. We congratulate him on his Big Opening.
“We didn’t even have the booths installed until yesterday at 3pm” he says!
“The damn food didn’t even arrive until 3pm today”!

He is obviously stressed, but we tell him the truth: that the food is good-- and we also tell him that the waitress didn’t even know what she was serving us. [see below]

We all three laugh…and just shake our heads…it is always like this.


The waitress exchange went like this:

" What is this?" I asked the server, as she offered me a delicious looking hors d'oeuvres from the tray.

"Delicious" she responded.

"I know," I replied, "Matt is a great Chef. But really, What is it"?

"Try one," she smiled again.

Unrehearsed yet the show must go on. This is the equivalent of seeing the Broadway Play as the out of town try-out, while it's working on its third act--and getting the kinks out. It's how we open restaurants.

These details will be attended to. The men's bathroom still had drywall debris on the ledge and around the paper towel dispenser. I thought, this must have just been installed today also.
Just then a real “pro” appeared. You could tell by his demeanor. The way he carried his tray of appetizers, as he swooped & maneuvered his way through this crowd. His panache. His confidence.

He offered some beef shoulder on crostini. The beef looked to me a bit over-cooked maybe? —Not to worry it was fabulous, tender and tasty with garlic butter & sea salt. And had lots of peppercorns cracked on it. [Matt told me later it had been rolled in porcini powder & espresso]!

The Pro sensed how hungry I was, and didn’t hurry away, but waited.

“You seemed to really enjoy the beef shoulder sir, would you like another”?

From his tray I greedily took him up on his kind offer and devoured another, once again savoring the beefiness, and how good that extra-pepper played-off the beefy richness.

Later it was pointed out to me that this pro “server” was instead--Maxwell's General Manager Tewfik Boulenouar, who previously held the same position at restaurant Coupage in Seattle, and also once worked as a captain at Waterfront Grill.

The booze continued to flow like a river but the apps just trickled [given the crush of over 300 people], so everyone got drunk FAST. This is not a criticism of the brand new kitchen in any way just the reality of how it was.

.....And it was a great party.

I did manage to taste the cornmeal crusted crabcakes with pink peppercorn remoulade; beef tartare on a wonton crisp with kaffir lime ponzu and ginger lemongrass relish; a skewer of grilled salty-in-a-good-way shrimp basted with herb butter. Oh, and an out-of-this-world decadent savory Blue Cheesecake with polenta crust that had just a drop of aged Balsamic vinegar on it. All really delicious.
Thank God my GM Chip Venzone knew one of their Servers, and “bribed” her to get another tray of those yummy shrimp skewers under our hungry noses, as the last thing we needed was another drink!

In any case, we were still starving, so we decided to see if we could get into Asado and snag a table and see if Joel Mertens [Asado's new Chef recently from Shenanigans] has done anything new with the menu, but the wait was an hour…looking around I saw several people from the VIP party—who had beat us there… so we walked across the street to Il Fiasco for dinner [which was nearly empty].

Pacific Grill also got pummeled just after 9pm [after Maxwell's party ended]...and all these loud drunk/ happy/hungry people showed up and ordered dinner.

What a party! Wine, booze, champagne-- Delicious Apps!

I am also invited to the "mock" dinner Tuesday night...

Can't wait .

Way to go Movie Star.
Way to go Troy.

Tacoma has a great new restaurant!