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Welcome to Connoisseur Corner - Luxe Consulting and Executive Services

Marty Feldmann, The Connoisseur, is the highly sought after consultant who assists businesses and individual clients with the acquisition of the finer things life has to offer. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway to wine country, selecting audio equipment to outfit your home, planning your dream vacation or purchasing your ultimate transportation, Marty is your personal connection to the good life…

Marty can be contacted at: 916.952.9529 Marty@ConnoisseurCorner.com

2/28/08

The Jewel of Zihuatenejo



Zi-what..?

On Mexico’s pacific coast, a little over 200 km north of Acapulco, lies the picturesque bay and fishing village of Zihuatenejo.

A short 10 minute drive from the resort town of Ixtapa, Zihuatenejo has its own collection of lodging and restaurants. The jewel of this collection of hotels is the subject of today’s blog.


Built into the hill above La Ropa beach, La Casa Que Canta is one of the highest rated resorts, and one of our favorites, in all of Mexico. With only 25 suites and a pair of villas, this quality resort exudes a private, romantic feel. The friendly staff adds to this environment with a high standard of service and attention to detail.

The “Terrace” suites range in size from 690 to 870 sq ft, all with a slightly different layout – each having large marble bathrooms, inviting terraces and multiple ocean views. The hand crafted furniture and artwork lends a special ambiance as well.

The list of amenities includes an excellent restaurant, bar, two pools, fitness center and a luxurious spa. Off site activities include everything you’d expect, from golf to deep sea fishing and snorkeling.

All of this adds up to a high quality yet relaxed, mellow south of the border vibe, earning La Casa Que Canta a definitive Connoisseur Corner Recommended rating..! Unquestionably one of the finest resorts in Mexico.

Just remember to learn the name of the town before you go!

2/27/08

Connoisseur Favorites: Roasted Tomatoes, Glass Cleaner

The occasional Connoisseur Favorites blogs are for small, sometimes oddball items that we recommend for everyday use. Handy items, quality items, things that are just plain good and quite frankly, you need to know about.


Our first is a canned and organic fire roasted tomato product from Muir Glen. “Organic” is of course the hot buzzword in the grocery business these days, so you're covered there. As for the fire roasting, let's just say it adds amazing flavor to these tomatoes. They are available diced, crushed or whole, making them very versatile and easy to use in everyday foods. We recommend trying them in soups, sauces and salsa.

You can usually find Muir Glen products in the organic food section of your local grocery store.

The second favorite: Invisible Glass by Stoner. (How’s that for a company name?)

I ran across this product while researching car detailing. After trying it on car windshields, I will never use an ammonia based product again – it’s THAT good..!

Stoner claims it is “engineered with a multi-component formula that is more powerful than other glass cleaners” and that it “contains no soaps, foams, scents, or dyes”. Whatever it is, this stuff really works. Not only do I use it on the cars, but it gets used in the house as well on mirror or glass surfaces.

Keep an eye out for future blogs of Connoisseur Favorites.

2/26/08

X6 Marks the Spot



One of the great buzzwords in the automotive lexicon recently has been “crossover”, referring to vehicles sharing both car and SUV characteristics. Essentially a lower, sleeker and better handling sport utility vehicle. These crossovers seem to be proliferating like wildfire, and the sales numbers certainly confirm their popularity with the car-buying public.

Joining the crossover frenzy is BMW with its upcoming X6.

Lower and wider than BMW’s current X5 “Sports Activity Vehicle”, the X6 will be strictly a four-seater. In fact, the German company refers to it as a “Sports Activity Coupe”.

The all-wheel drive crossover will be available with two powerplants: the highly rated twin-turbo 3.5 liter inline 6 cylinder with 300 bhp, and a brand new twin-turbo V-8 putting out 400 horses. A hybrid version is also rumored to be in the works.

The interior follows the usual BMW design aesthetic, with quality materials, good fit and finish and an ergonomically excellent driving position. What we would refer to as a luxuriously sporting environment.

As for the exterior design, we predict that it will be rather polarizing. Some folks are going to love this crossover and others will hate it. However, we do recommend reserving judgment until you see it in person, as pictures don’t properly represent the presence of the vehicle.

And now for the $53,000 question (the approximate starting price for the X6 3.5): Is this vehicle necessary? The X5 has more room and utility. The 5-series wagon has as much sport, and probably even more utility as well. Give us your feedback and let us know what the public thinks. Despite this possible lack of a true raison d’être, we think the X6 will be a sales success for BMW in the years to come.

2/25/08

Mild Surprises at the Oscars

Well, another year in film has come and gone, and courtesy of the end of the writer’s strike, the televised Oscar ceremony aired as scheduled.

The list of winners yielded a few surprises, but nothing really in the shock category. Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem were both anticipated and deserving victors in their Actor and Supporting Actor categories. The women winners however, were a bit unexpected. As noted in an earlier blog, the Connoisseur had penned in Julie Christie for her work in Away From Her to bring home the Best Actress Oscar. French Actess Marion Cotillard proved me wrong, and was a very gracious and seemingly shocked winner.

As for the other main categories, the Coen brothers getting the Director nod was as expected, but their film No Country For Old Men winning the Best Motion Picture category caught me a bit off guard. With the buzz surrounding Atonement the past few weeks, I thought for sure it was the proverbial lock to take home the statue.

While the ceremony itself wasn’t spectacular, we feel John Stewart was a bright spot. His dry and sarcastic humor is the perfect counterpoint for this occasionally ponderous event and we hope to see him return next year.

OK, enough of the red carpet stuff. Now it’s time to eat another year’s worth of popcorn and see what films will be worthy for the Oscar in 2009!

2/22/08

…Gewürztraminer Five Times Fast!

ga-VERTZ-tra-mee-ner

It’s not a tool you keep in the garage, and it’s not an engine part on that Alfa Romeo.

The Gewürztraminer is a white wine grape, grown primarily in Germany, France, New Zealand and America with it's origins in the Italian Alps. This vine performs best in cooler climates, and can also be a bit temperamental to grow.

As for the wine it produces, Gewürztraminers are generally very aromatic, with floral notes, lychee, passion fruit and some spice on the nose and palate. Naturally high in sugar content, the wine is generally off-dry, although much of the product from Germany leans a bit more toward a dry style.

Food pairing: The aromatic quality of “gevurtz” (insert your wacky spelling here) lets it pair nicely with spicier foods such as some Asian dishes or chicken wings, or give it a try with smoked salmon. It even pairs well with a Thanksgiving dinner.

As for the “five times fast” reference…

There is a nice family owned winery in Sonoma, California called Gundlach Bundschu. Of course, they happen to make a very fine Gewurztraminer. The folks there claim that the local sobriety test is having to say “Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer” five times fast. I give up..!

Certainly the name looks daunting, but don’t let it prevent you from trying this wonderful white wine varietal.

2/20/08

Cookbooks: The Goofy Italian

Years ago, while the wife and I were visiting some friends of ours in Mountain View, we had a discussion over dinner (and drinks, of course) about who they referred to as the “Goofy Italian” chef with the show on PBS. I recall being told of an Italian accent that would come and go, and silly hand gestures for the camera.

In the weeks that followed, I did a bit of research to learn more about that crazy Italian chef: Nick Stellino.

Born in Palermo, Sicily in 1958, Nick came to America in 1975. In 1991 he began his cooking career, apprenticing for several accomplished Italian chefs. The PBS cooking show career began with the 1995 debut of Cucina Amore and more recently with Nick Stellino’s Family Kitchen.

Several cookbooks were published along the way of course, a few of which the Connoisseur has in the collection. A good starting point would be his Glorious Italian Cooking. This contains my favorite versions of some staples including Pasta Alla Vodka and Pasta Carbonara, along with other excellent recipes.

Yeah, he may be goofy, but he can definitely cook. Connoisseur Corner Recommended!

2/19/08

This is Sixx..?


Being involved in the rock/metal music business in the 80s and early 90s, I was by default very familiar with all the bands of the day.

One of those bands that managed to achieve great commercial success was Motley Crue.

While I respected them for their songwriting (it is ridiculously difficult to consistently write good pop-metal songs) and marketing savvy, I was never really enamored with their musicianship.

Jump forward to the present day. While I still occasionally have some nostalgia-laden listening sessions to music from those days, the fact remains that the great majority of those bands are now relegated to the “where are they now” file of musical irrelevance. Along comes a good friend of mine with a recommendation to listen to an album. He told me it was a project called Sixx AM with Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, so I had a bit of skepticism going in.

Well, let’s just say I was very pleasantly surprised, as the music was something unexpected and fresh. Sixx, along with new bandmates James Michael on vocals and guitar and DJ Ashba on drums and guitar, came up with an album based on Nikki’s book The Heroin Diaries.

Owing to the subject matter, the music is intense, dark and occasionally complex, but with the right amount of melody and hook sprinkled throughout. If you’re looking for Motley Crue part 2, you will be disappointed. It’s more of a heavy ballad crunch circus swimming in syringes and survival with possibly a dash of Pink Floyd and Operation Mindcrime and… well, you get the idea.

After listening to the disc from start to finish, it left me wondering where it came from, and made me ask the question…

“This is Sixx..?”

2/18/08

Wal-Mart Ends the DVD Format War

Firing what industry experts believe is the fatal shot in the DVD format war, Wal-Mart, the largest DVD retailer in the nation, has announced that it will stop selling HD DVD discs and players in June of this year when supplies are depleted.

In a recent blog, we mentioned that Blu-ray seemed to be gaining the upper hand in this battle and now Wal-Mart’s decision has cemented Blu-ray’s position as the victor.

While no official announcement has been made, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Toshiba, the company behind HD DVD, is likely to pull out of the high-definition DVD business this week. Should this occur as expected, the movie studios that were aligned with Toshiba in this format war – including Paramount, Universal and Viacom - would likely be released from their contracts and free to go to the Blu-ray camp.

While admitting to being a bit surprised by the sudden turn of events, we are glad that the end is in sight. Now a clear path exists for consumers that have been waiting to make the jump to the high-definition format. As this outcome unfolds, we expect sales for Blu-ray hardware and software to skyrocket over the coming year.

What does this mean if you already have an HD DVD library and player? The Connoisseur would recommend looking into one of the new universal players from either LG or Samsung. These will play your current HD DVD discs as well as handle the future of Blu-ray.

2/16/08

Jewel of Russia Ultra: This is Vodka


“Up, with a twist. Thank you…”

In our recommendations for premium liquor, we are often asked about vodka. What does the Connoisseur like? What does the Connoisseur recommend?

I have to admit to a historical leaning here. Vodka originated in the area now known as western Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. It is this history that draws me away from French or American vodka.

Years ago, the Connoisseur was introduced to Jewel of Russia Ultra and I haven’t found anything to take its place at the top of my list. (Thanks Lee!) Using old world recipes and natural ingredients, they are able to retain that Russian vodka character yet maintain a high degree of smoothness. Even the bottles are a cut above, as they are hand painted and individually signed. The downside is that Jewel of Russia Ultra can be a bit hard to find as they import a limited amount per month.

I think their web site says it best:

“By combining authentic Russian character with exceptional silky smoothness, this vodka ascends well above existing Premium vodka brands to the levels of a true work of art, beyond the Super-Premium classification.”

So for our recommendation of a premium vodka to round out your liquor cabinet – something to share with special friends and family – seek out a bottle of Jewel of Russia Ultra and experience a taste of Russia.

This is Vodka.

2/14/08

A Slice of Prosciutto

I suppose there are folks out there that don’t enjoy prosciutto. As all of our mothers used to say, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”

Me? I definitely enjoy prosciutto. Especially the really good stuff, but more on that in a moment.

So prosciutto is a type of ham, right? In simple terms, yes…

Actually, what we refer to as prosciutto in America is called prosciutto crudo, or just crudo in Italy. Crudo is the raw ham that is cured up to 3 years, giving it the look, taste and texture that we know well.

The process is fairly simple, but the final product depends greatly on the location of where it is prepared due to the effect of climate on the prosciutto. The ham is salt cured and pressed for approximately two months. The salt is then removed and the ham is hung in a dark and cool place until it is completely dry. At that point it is relocated to a more controlled environment for up to another 18 months.

Due to the reliance on environment for the quality of the final product, two locations in Italy are generally recognized as the best producers of crudo – what I like to call the “really good stuff”: Parma and San Daniele del Friuli. The Prosciutto di Parma variety will have a bit of nuttiness to the flavor and the Prosciutto di San Daniele will be a touch sweeter.

The next step is to find a good deli and try some for yourself, or better yet, share with family and friends.

2/11/08

Godzilla on Four Wheels


I have three letters for all you car enthusiasts and monster fans out there: GT-R

In 1969, the first generation of Nissan’s Skyline GT-R (Gran Turismo Racer) appeared. It was essentially a sport tuned version of the Skyline sedan, to help show Nissans racing heritage. Over the years the car achieved cult status as it evolved into a two-door 4 wheel drive model used in racing as well as sold for the street. The GT-R drew raves from the international automotive press as it held its own against the Porsches and Ferraris of the day, earning the nickname “Godzilla”. Yet in all this time Nissan never brought this monster to the States…

Until now!

The Nissan GT-R – the Skyline name is no longer associated with it – will hit our shores this spring. Powered by a twin turbo V6 generating 473 horsepower and sporting Nissan’s latest ultra high tech four -wheel drive, the car is reported to scoot to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. Timed laps at Germany’s famous Nurburgring road course have it eclipsing the pace of cars such as Porsche’s 997 Turbo.

And now for the really amazing part: You get supercar performance and technology in what should be a reliable package for a comparative steal at $66,675. Remember, this car will apparently out-perform the $128,000 Porsche Turbo, not to mention several far more expensive automobiles from Ferrari et al. That’s what the Connoisseur calls excellent bang for the buck!

Undoubtedly for the first several months of availability, you won’t be able to acquire a GT-R for anywhere near list price, but be patient, all you thrifty speed demons out there. The initial insanity will fade and the price will come down to normal. Then you can drive your own Godzilla!

The Grammy Surprise

An enjoyable Grammy Awards show indeed..! Excellent performances throughout – better than we recall from the last few years – and even some good humor from Cher with her “singing when Lincoln was president” remark.

As for the actual awards, they went mostly as the Connoisseur had expected and discussed earlier. Amy Winehouse stole the show with her performance from England (she was not able to acquire a travel visa in time) as well as her 5 award wins, including Record of the Year.

Kanye West also did well with 4 wins, including best rap solo performance for “Stronger”.

The big surprise of the evening didn’t come until the very end of the show. When the Album of the Year winner was read, a shocked Herbie Hancock heard his name called for his CD River: The Joni Letters. I think the rest of the audience was stunned as well.

The album is a collection of elegantly done covers of Joni Mitchell tunes. Saxophone great Wayne Shorter appears with Hancock throughout, as well as guest vocal appearances by Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae and others. The Connoisseur applauds this choice, as it shows that the Grammy voting is not always swayed by commercial success.

2/8/08

VOD Kills the DVD..!

Sounds rather like one of those old black and white Japanese monster movies with the overdubbed English voices. Ha! Well, let me move on…

Today’s lesson: VOD = Video On Demand. (Also referred to as “pay-per-view”)

You should probably remember this term, as you will be hearing a lot more of it in the coming months and years.

The scenario is this: While relaxing at home you turn on your TV, scroll through a menu and select the Hi-def movie or TV show of your choice. You can rent or buy, for either temporary or permanent storage on your VOD device – something similar to a Tivo box – and will be charged accordingly to your account. No more trips to the video store..!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, there are a few bears in the room, the largest of which is the almighty dollar. It just so happens that the principal revenue generator for the movie studios is the rental and sales of home video. This gives them a great deal of pause when they investigate the effects of a paradigm shift such as disc to VOD. I would say they are being overly cautious, but that’s just me.

Fortunately for us forward thinking consumers, Warner and Comcast ran a test this past year that seems to show the switch can be made without any loss of revenue on their part. In fact, it appears to indicate increases in the purchase of movies as opposed to renting.

How the industry will react to this study is playing out right now, but from my perspective, the VOD camp seems to be gaining momentum. Several industry goliaths are throwing their hats in the ring, including Blockbuster, Netflix, Apple, Microsoft, Comcast and more. There are even some intriguing “Davids” showing up, the most promising of which we think is Vudu – more on them in a future blog.

For now, sit tight and hold on to those couch armrests as this could be a bumpy ride. The good news is that I believe by the end of the year, the future for Hi-definition video viewing will be much more… in focus.

2/7/08

A Fan of Fandango

(If you are expecting a blog on Andalusian courtship dancing, you may want to look elsewhere.)

I love movies.

But I have to admit, I don’t go out to the movies very often these days. I would just rather wait those several months and then watch the film in the comfort of my own home. Well, for the most part…

Occasionally a big blockbuster film will debut, and I absolutely, positively have to see it on the big screen! This usually means within the first week or two of release, which in turn means long lines. Like most of you I am not a fan of being in queue for an hour and 23 minutes just to get to the ticket booth only to be told the time you want is SOLD OUT..!

This brings us to that Spanish courtship dance. Uh… no. This brings us to the Fandango website.

A nice, convenient way to order your movie tickets in advance by computer or telephone, Fandango allows you to avoid the lines at the theater and get the showtime that fits your schedule. They do charge a fee for using their service, but that is the price of convenience. You can search by theater location or movie and you’re off and running.

The Fandango website also has movie descriptions and reviews, as well as previews of coming attractions.

On the business front, Comcast purchased Fandango early in 2007 and there will no doubt be changes ahead. We know of plans to integrate it into their Fancast website, which is due mid-2008.

So for now, do the Fandango, buy your popcorn and candy and enjoy the show..!

2/6/08

Champagne Speakers on a Beer Budget


Being a confessed audiophile geek, I have certain expectations when listening to music or movies on a home audio system.

With these expectations in place, I would love to spend gazillions on equipment and remove all but the necessary furniture (one chair for me to sit in) and have the room treatments to make the equipment sound its best. Yeah, I know that room would look funny.

And in the real world…

Most people don’t have a room to spare for dedicated audio, nor the gazillions to lavish on such aural splendor.

Well, I’m here to save the sonic day! A high-end sound, elegant design and diminutive size so as to be acceptable with the room décor, and that beer budget price… Let me introduce Era Speakers.

The heart of Era’s speaker line is the D4 and D5 minimonitors. Small enough to be stand mounted, wall mounted or put on a bookshelf, they can blend seamlessly into any room and produce a sound satisfying to the casual listener as well as the discerning audiophile. The design team at Era, along with engineering assistance from Michael Kelly of Aerial Acoustics did fantastic work. Even the real wood veneers in rosewood, cherry, sycamore and piano gloss black would induce the wow factor on a speaker costing several times as much.

Don’t just take the Connoisseur’s word for it. Check out more reviews from The Perfect Vision, Stereophile, The Absolute Sound and others.

If you like the looks and the price is right, give them a listen. I’m sure you will be impressed!

2/4/08

Where’s the Oil..?

No international intrigue here folks! Let’s concentrate on the kitchen.

More specifically the oils in your kitchen.

This will be the Connoisseur’s quick guide to the various oils that should be stocked, ready for use in that gourmet kitchen of yours.

Let’s start with the basic frying oil – the all purpose Swiss army knife oil for your kitchen. This should be either a canola, corn or vegetable oil.

A couple of notes on these “basic” oils: The canola has the lowest level of bad or saturated fat. The drawback with canola is that it has the lowest smoke point of the three, meaning it burns at a lower temperature. Both corn and vegetable oil have higher smoke points, with vegetable having the milder flavor of the two.

The second oil to stock the pantry with is olive oil. Of all the oils this is highest in the monounsaturated or good fat. The connoisseur actually recommends keeping two separate olive oils on hand. A low cost bulk oil for sautéing, and a higher quality brand for dressings and dish finishing where you will take advantage of the quality flavors.

The next two recommended oils are a bit more in the optional category. First is a light or dark toasted sesame oil for flavoring or marinades. The dark oil having the stronger flavor. The final oil recommendation is a nut oil such as walnut or almond. These make wonderfully rich salad dressings and are also great for pastas or fish.

Now you are an oil baron! A high stakes roller in the world of liquid gold.

Oh, I almost forgot. STORAGE..!

Store these oils in a dark cool pantry and not on the counter by the stove. They can turn a bit rancid over a period of time. Also the nut oils should be stored in the refrigerator and then brought to room temperature before use.

The Cult of the Oak


The Silver Oak…

Several years ago, in my formative wine appreciation years, I was invited by some good friends to go to a wine release party at Silver Oak vineyards in the Napa Valley. While I had greatly enjoyed several bottles of this cabernet sauvignon by then, I had not experienced the fever for this wine that inhabited so many oenophiles. The crowd of people and the accompanying buzz in the air was more reminiscent of a rock concert rather than a simple wine tasting and release party.

Consider the Connoisseur impressed..!

The next step, once my interest was piqued, was to gather a few nuggets of information about this winery.

The origin: Landowner Ray Duncan began working with co-founder and winemaker Justin Meyer in the early 70s and the Silver Oak – Alexander Valley cabernet was born. The first vintage of Silver Oak Napa Valley was from 1979.

The wine philosophy was geared towards creating a Cabernet that had excellent structure and quality, yet was approachable at its release, unlike many of France’s Bordeaux counterparts, and would still hold up well over time. It is this “approachability” that I believe made Silver Oak what it is today, giving it the chance to appeal to a wider variety of tastes.

Is Silver Oak cabernet still a true cult wine? Most purists would answer that question with a no, due to the ever larger production and widespread knowledge of this wine. However, after attending a release party for the 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet at my favorite wine shop located well outside of the Napa Valley, I say the Cult of the Oak is still in full swing.

And just to let you know, the Silver Oak 2003 Napa Valley gets a recommended rating from the Connoisseur. A touch more structure and complexity are present than was in the 2002, giving it a bit more life on the taste buds. As its creators intended, you can drink this wine now or cellar it for consumption in the years to come.

2/3/08

Tickled by the Ivories

Not sure why it is, but there is something about piano music that I love on my stereo.

Played loud…!

My well thought-out excuse for the excessive volume is what I refer to as “realistic performance levels”. Somehow I don’t think anybody really buys in to that one. Hmmm…

It’s a combination of three things that really can make this music special, make it an event:

The first is the music itself, or the composer. Regardless of whether it’s classical music, jazz, new age. If the music is crap, then it just won’t fit the bill. Certainly this can be a bit subjective, as everyone has differing tastes.

The second ingredient is the musician – the human sitting on the bench doing the actual playing. Do they have the skill level and interpretive qualities to really bring out the best of what the composer penned to paper? No hacks allowed!

Factor number three is the sound. How good is the recording, in what type of venue was it recorded, and what is the quality of the instrument? Does it give you that “you are there” feeling?

Now I am going to point you to a few starter CDs so you can treat your ears to what I am describing. If you enjoy what you hear, you can expand from there.

For jazz, let’s go with a couple of the piano masters:

For classical music, I will keep things mainstream to start:
For new age music: