lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Remarkable wine from Martinelli, a pretty sauvignon blanc from Roth, a very good Shasta County olive oil, and a note to our Ukraine reader(s)

Rarely do we spend much time talking about wines that don't fit our "working man" parameters, one of the most important being a price ceiling in the $25 range, give or take a buck or two to account for market variations. We're making an exception to that rule today, however, because we have been taken completely off guard by a wine we had the pleasure of enjoying during the past week, a striking zin from Sonoma's Martinelli family winery which absolutely falls beyond the borders,.but we're looking at a really pretty sauvignon blanc from Alexander Valley's Roth Vineyards that lies well inside the fence, as well. First, though, I have to say that I come into this review more than a little guilty of prejudice: as many who read this or know me are aware, I love Martinelli's wines. I can't remember ever having been disappointed or unhappy with anything from them. As for Roth, this is an early encounter for me, and if this wine is representative of what they do then you'll hear more in the future.
First, the zin: Martinelli's 2012 edition of their Vellutini Ranch wine which, at least to my mind, is the one zin they produce that can show striking stylistic variations from vintage to vintage. Always very good, but sometimes very different from what you believe to be the norm. At any rate, the 2012 is a knockout at this particular point in time, being deeply-colored with a lush bouquet of ripe blackberries and violets after about an hour's air, but opening faster if decanted. On the palate it's slick fruit, expansive and ripe, finishing fairly quickly but with blueberries and a little wood. It probably won't improve much beyond the next year or so, but drinks beautifully now and is a great addition to any white cloth wine list, especially one that features venison or boar (Colorado folks, pay attention). The more you think about it, the better it gets, and I hope to buy some more before it's all gone.

Next up Roth's 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which may or may not be the current vintage in release, but is likely representative of what the winery is producing from the grape. We were very impressed, especially at the price, which was a more than reasonable $13 at my local corner specialty market, which is not noted for giving anything away. The wine is crisp and fresh in the nose, with some grapefruit, and shows a good deal of the same just-bottled crisply varietal grassiness on the palate, finishing with a distinct peachy note. All-in-all, for the price, excellent. For you wine-listers, this would be an excellent cocktail or aperitif wine, and the price is right.

We want to take this opportunity, too, to give you all a heads-up regarding a local olive oil producer we've been watching for the last year or so. We were so impressed with the oils when we first discovered them that we weren't sure that the consistency would be there, given that our initial conversation with the owner had us convinced that controls might not be absolute, and that quality might vary from batch to batch. We still don't know whether control is total, but after almost two years of demonstrated consistency of production quality, we're ready to give whole-hearted recommendation to the oils of our neighboring Happy Valley Olive Oil Company. The oils are delicious; clean, peppery, fat, and lush on the palate, and wonderful accompaniments to rustic breads and cheeses. I will learn more and get back to you shortly regarding varietals, locations of the groves, etc. For now, I simply say that they are very good, and you should make an effort to find them, particularly if you're a Norcal reader. Happy Valley is a small rural community just south of Redding, and is one of those little Norcal villages that locals get a funny look on their faces when you ask them what they know about it, but whatever else they're up to out there, these are very good table oils and deserve to be known.They can be reached at 530-246-4104; I don't think there's a website yet, although I was told one was being developed several months back.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that we are aware that we have at least one, and maybe several, readers in Ukraine. We want you to know that we try to understand how difficult your lives must be at present, and we wish you the best of luck and hope that you and yours will remain safe and sound throughout this very difficult time. We would like to hear from you from time to time, if possible, so that we know you're safe and well.

I'm out for now.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Our vanishing service culture (and how to turn that to your advantage), and an update on Mt. Shasta UFO activity

I know I can be a little annoying with my persistence in returning to the subject of restaurant staff competence (or the lack of same), but I can't help myself; a lifetime spent immersed in the day-to-day world of waiters, cooks, bussers, dishwashers, and all the other elements of chaos that come together to make up a functioning dining establishment entitles me to an opinion, in my opinion, and I'm compelled to express it on a more or less regular basis. Sometimes it's appreciated and heeded, other times not so much. Either way, I'm not likely to stop.

I should make it clear that there are a lot of things about the general state of affairs in the American restaurant/foodservice industry that bother me, but the one thing that rises to the top most days is the increasing lack of professionalism to be found in the front-of-house (wait staff, primarily) of many dining rooms, and I include eating establishments of all stripes in that statement. People just don't seem to be grounded in the fundamentals of the craft of providing fine table service; a great many of them try hard, but they aren't being adequately trained in most cases, or at least that is the perception of many of us who discuss this on a regular basis. Nor does there appear to be a commitment to excellence on the part of many of the folks charged with managing these people, which bothers me even more.

The argument is made by some managers that the problems are attributable to the quality of employee they are able to attract. They say that the demands placed on employees' time and the odd schedules they must work necessarily limit their ability to hire and retain the best and brightest, and to some degree that argument holds true in a lot of instances: for the most part, no one really wants to be working during the hours that employees of most other businesses are off. They are expected to be available many evenings, weekends, and holidays, and that is not much of an incentive for most folks with other options to find gainful employment.

Having said that, however, I think it's a pretty weak argument in general. There is a certain type of individual who thrives in the hospitality culture, whether hotels, white cloth restaurants, clubs of several stripes, chain-concept foodservice organizations, or straight-on fast-food operations. The successful operator is the one who is able to IDENTIFY, RECRUIT, TRAIN, and RETAIN those individuals, to show them how to carve out a rewarding (and lucrative) career, and then mentor them into their primes as contributors to the good of the company and the satisfaction of the customer. This can be done; I know it can because I have done it throughout my own career, and I am no genius, as many of you already know.

The owner/manager who can create an environment that attracts the best recruits, train them properly, then motivate them on an ongoing basis to perform at the highest level within their capability, will be a successful operator, and one who is admired and respected by his competitors and, maybe more importantly, by his staff. Maybe the best example I have ever seen of this was one of my own early mentors, W. R. "Red" Steger, the long-time general manager of Houston's River Oaks Country Club. For those of you who are not familiar with Houston, or with River Oaks, suffice it to say that the club is located in the heart of one of the city's wealthiest enclaves, and claims as members hundreds of well-educated, well-traveled, sophisticated individuals who uniformly have very high expectations about everything and from everybody. They don't see much humor in poor service, poor food, or poor conditioning of their golf course, or poor anything else, for that matter. Steger, like many club executives, spent a great deal of his time each and every day seeing to it that they were kept happy, and they were, ecstatically so, and demonstrated that fact by rewarding him with contact extension after contract extension, and by making him one of the best-compensated executives the industry has ever seen. All this success came not from the fact that Red was a brilliant agronomist or executive chef, because he wasn't, nor was he nimble and skilled in precision dining room management. What he was, without question, however, was one of the most inspirational leaders I've ever known: a quiet, thoughtful, straightforward gentleman who hired good people, trained them to be "Steger people", led by example, and inspired fierce loyalty in all who served under him. They gave him their best each and every day, with no excuses or stories, and would do anything Red asked of them, because they knew he was going to be there for them come hell or high water. The end result was that everyone benefited: employees, River Oaks' members, Red, the club industry, and in many ways, the city. Red understood the one central truth of the service industry: there is no more valuable asset than good people. Hire the best people you can find, train them well, support and inspire them, and you will separate yourself from the pack. Your people will make you a star.

In closing this rant, just a note to let you all know that you can rest easy: no UFO activity on Shasta since my last post, at least on our side of the mountain. We'll keep you informed.