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'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!


Anonymous said...

You party animal Chef G:)
I can't wait for them to open. I am sooo looking forward to trying Troy's delish food.
I told Steeno 253 that you would beat Ed Murrieta to the blog!!!! LOVE IT :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that Matt is back and doing well. Please tell him hello for me Dad!


Corey said...

OMG Gordon! The lights are getting fixed! Apparently, the dimmers never got installed...

Come back soon, without your sunglasses, hopefully.

much love,


P.S., chandeliers coming soon!!

ChefGordonNaccarato said...


I tell Matt you were asking about him. We will have to eat there the next time you are visitng from LA. You will love it!


ChefGordonNaccarato said...


Thanks for letting me know.

On my days off I would be happy to "man the dimmer switches" up there.

You know how I am about lighting! :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Chef Naccarato,

Tewfik Boulenouar formely of Maxwell's: I just wanted to say thank you for the kind words about me on your blog and how much I appreciated the discussion as well as the very wise counsel you were kind enough to dispense about our beloved industry. You are a class act!

Warmest Regards,