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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

5/30/08

Is Plasma HDTV dying..?

One of the great constants of technology is change…

Change that certainly applies in the consumer electronics industry as well.

Let’s examine televisions, and more specifically the plasma HDTV. In the late 90s when flat screen televisions became all the rage, it was all about the plasma. It was the buzz word of the day. I even recall a conversation years ago with an individual that inquired if it was similar to blood plasma in the screens – but that’s another story!

OK, back on topic – let me cover a few particulars that are quietly slipping beneath the public consciousness. LCD televisions, the “other” flat screen, have increased in screen size and quality recently, as well as dropping in price. In fact, the industry predicts an almost 8 to 1 sales advantage this year for LCD vs. Plasma televisions, with LCD sales expected near the 100 million mark.

Coinciding with this sales differential, several companies are announcing departures from plasma technology. Philips is the most recent company to make such an announcement, ending plasma production after this year. Even Pioneer will begin outsourcing their panel production elsewhere.

The final nail in the plasma coffin may be an emerging technology called OLED. Think of it as a leaner, meaner flat panel screen (more on these later).

Fear not if you already own a plasma television. It is not going to suddenly cease function. Just remember to look on the bright side that, as these technologies continue to change, the products that we the consumer use generally become better and better. You might even call it the golden age for couch potatoes..!

5/29/08

Porsche 911 Update For 2009

Shall we freshen up a bit?

Porsche is doing just that with its stalwart 911 sports car model range.

The exterior gets the usual minor updates, with curvier tail lights and front bumper treatments. The interior also is reportedly being revised, with changes to the center console. The sum total of these tweaks are only subtle improvements that only the most diehard Porschephile will notice.

And now a note from the good stuff department…

Two items regarding this mid-cycle update have us smiling. The first regards the engine. Both the 3.6 and 3.8 liter flat 6 boxer engines will receive direct fuel injection. The results: more power, more torque, better fuel economy and cleaner emissions. Add 20 horsepower to the 3.6 for a 345 total and the 3.8 goes to 385, all with a 10 – 15% fuel savings.

Part two of the smiles brings us to the “fun with acronyms” zone…

PDK

Porsche Doppel Kupplungen

This would be their long awaited version of an F1 style dual-clutch gearbox, which many manufacturers are coming out with these days. We expect lightning quick shifts and better overall performance with this transmission. Old school purists, however, may miss the foot-operated clutch pedal.

The Connoisseur looks forward to sampling these updates – very welcome changes indeed..!

Connoisseur Favorites: Easy Poached Eggs



Why did the chicken cross the road..?

I have no idea whatsoever, but I sure enjoy poached eggs!

In the latest of our series of Favorites – items/gadgets that we really like – let me introduce you to this little gem: the Lamson EggShell silicone egg poacher.

If you are a fan of eggs benedict, or poached eggs in general, this is a must have for the kitchen. It just plain works! No more messing with dropping the eggs in simmering water and vinegar, trying to keep things neat and tidy.

I know what you’re thinking – sounds like the Connoisseur is straying from his purist ways. Well, sometimes “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”!

Simply break the egg into the silicon container, float the container in the water for the desired amount of time and there you have it – your perfect poached egg.

A great addition to your kitchen and your eggs will be happy..!

5/27/08

Ferrari California GT Breaks Cover..!


The newest Ferrari – factory designation F149 – has now seen the light of day with official photos and an official name: the California GT.

The California will in several ways be a landmark for Ferrari, marking several firsts for the company. A folding aluminum hardtop, a twin-clutch transmission and direct fuel injection for its V8 engine are some of the notable technologies set to debut.

Following in Ferrari’s standard practice of putting their cars on a diet, the Cali will use aluminum throughout. Alcoa will in fact assemble the aluminum chassis in Modena for Ferrari. Many body panels, suspension bits and the like will also use the lightweight metal, all in the name of superb driving dynamics.

Now let’s talk aesthetics. There are a few nits I have to pick with this car. Let’s start with the slatted vents on the front fenders. While an obvious design homage to the original 250 California, They just seem incongruous here – too “tacked-on”. The other main gripe, the stacked exhaust tailpipes…what were they thinking?

OK, the griping is over. Bottom line with this GT is that the Ferrari faithful, and automotive enthusiasts everywhere, will be pleased. With an available 460 horsepower, a zero-to-sixty time of less than four seconds, and handling dialed in by Michael Schumacher among others, it will no doubt be an adrenalin-filled drive.

Now if they can just debut a car in something other than that same old Ferrari Red…

5/22/08

American Idol – The Right David

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way right up front – the Connoisseur watches American Idol.

There, I said it…

And it was the big-time in Idol-land this week, with the long awaited finals on tap and probably garnering the highest Nielsen ratings for the week.

Like most of you out there, once they get to the top 10, I pick out who I think should win, or at least be in the top two. My opinion is tempered from a musician’s background, which oftentimes differs from the common perspective. Fortunately America agreed with my assessment that it should come down to the two Davids.

DA and DC…

…and did the right David win? Absolutely!

Was I surprised that David Cook won? Absolutely!

I thought for sure that the teenie-bopper vote would pull the youngster over the top, but it was not to be. America got this one right…

Now mind you, young David can truly, as Randy Jackson phrased it, “sing the phonebook” and make it sound good. The bottom line however, is that he needs another year or so to season – to get that maturity level onstage that he will need. The voice is already there at 16, which is truly an amazing thing.

DC by contrast is a viable artist right now. Judging from what we’ve seen to date he possesses the talent, style, maturity and creativity to set a career in motion as we speak. (Yeah I know, just consider this blog a conversation.)

An interesting storyline to watch now is how David’s career will compare to that of one Chris Daughtry. Very similar musical genres, similar voices… Daughtry has also displayed a keen songwriting talent, as shown on his debut album. This will be the major hurdle for David Cook – will he have what it takes..?

All-in-all it was another entertaining year from the Idol media machine. Good luck to both of the Davids and we will be back again next year…

5/21/08

Airline Survey – Southwest Wins Again!

Do you love to fly? Do you hate to fly?

Is it just a necessary evil?

The last few years it sure seems to me that the customer service from the airline industry has been suffering. According to the following, I am not alone...

The University of Michigan has been conduction an annual customer service survey regarding airline travel. For the third straight year, the results have taken the proverbial nose-dive. This year’s results being high on the grim scale.

The worst offender honor this year is awarded to US Airways, with a score of 54. United was only slightly better, earning a 56.

As has been the case recently, and as I gave away in the title, Southwest reigns supreme with an overall score of 79. The fact that Southwest does not operate on a hub system, as do the other major carriers, seems to work in their favor, cutting down on congestion and maintaining a decent on-time record.

Now we can tack on the higher ticket prices – courtesy of fuel costs – and all the little extra charges for luggage, food and beverages, etc, and airline travel looks rather gloomy for the immediate future.

If I can just invent that teleportation device..!

5/16/08

Let’s Talk Terroir

Not those little dogs. Those are called Terriers

And I’m not talking about a scary move. That would be terror…

This is more of a wine and dirt conversation.

Did I really say “dirt”..?

Terroir (roughly pronounced “ter-WAH”)

If you tend to drink the occasional glass or four of wine, at some point you have run across this word. It may have even made you cross-eyed or induced a headache.

Terroir is one of those words that doesn’t have an exact translation, but I can get you pretty close to the meaning. It would almost be like going up to a grapevine and telling it “wherever you are, there it is”.

Or how ‘bout this one – you know the famous real estate saying “location, location, location”? It just so happens that this phrase applies to wine as well. All the environmental factors of a particular location, even down to sections of single vineyards, can impart certain nuances to a wine. Are the vines growing in rocky soil? Are they on a hillside? What is the microclimate at this location? How is the drainage?

All this and more is a part of terroir. And it all affects the final product, what you taste in the wine. It’s sense of place.

Have you noticed how a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley has different characteristics than one from Chili or France (Bordeaux)? This is a very broad angle view, but certainly a basic example of how terroir works.

Now that you have been terroir-ized, open a bottle and enjoy…

5/15/08

Internet in your BMW..?

Yes…

Beginning in Germany, and the rest of the world shortly thereafter, BMW will be offering a new package available for their cars called ConnectedDrive. The main ingredient of this package being full internet capability via BMW’s notorious iDrive navigation system and controller.

The link to the outside world will be via an EDGE mobile connection, and the system should integrate nicely with the navigation system, with the ability to copy in relevant information.

Why have car-web? (Or should we call it auto-web, wheel-web, mobile-web…the list goes on…)

Well, let’s face it. People seem to feel the need to be connected at all times, regardless of where you are. At home, at work, on the cell phone, and now even in the car. You’re not safe anywhere..!

Fortunately for other innocent drivers out there, you won’t be crashing your Bimmer while surfing for American Idol results, as it will only operate at speeds up to 3 mph. However, any rear seat DVD systems will be able to access the web at all speeds.

All the usual competitors – Audi, Mercedes-Benz, etc. – are so far claiming nothing similar is in the works. Give it time though, as the Connoisseur would expect to see a similar capability in all the high end marques within two years.

5/14/08

Beef – Making the Grade

So you’re at the grocery store and looking to buy some nice steaks for that Saturday night barbeque. (I love me some grilled New Yorks!) Only problem is, you spend 15 minutes reading labels, wondering which “grade” or which cut is better, and what it all means.

Let me try to make your stay at the butcher counter a bit less painful…

Grades in school were easy to decipher. A’s were good, F’s…not so good. Here is the story on grades of beef…

All beef is required to be inspected, but grading by the USDA has to essentially be purchased by the producer. There are eight grades of beef, but only three are sold commercially: Prime, Choice and Select. To satisfy your curiosity itch, the other grades are Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. These lesser grades are usually ground or used in processed products.

The grading itself is based on the fat marbling in the beef as well as the age of the animal. Higher quantities of marbling will make the beef more flavorful, tender and juicy. The best age is from 18 to 24 months, which yields the best flavor and texture.

Prime is the pinnacle for grading (less than 3% of all graded beef) and is the most expensive, sold mainly to fine restaurants and some markets. Choice follows Prime with slightly less marbling, but is still of excellent quality. It also is the most common, with over half of all graded beef coming in at this level. Select has even less marbling making it leaner, but at the expense of juiciness and flavor.

A quick note - It is important to remember that the ungraded beef can be higher or lower in quality compared to the graded product. It only means that the manufacturer didn’t go through the grading process.

Now that you are nearly qualified for butcher status, get to the grill and work on those 64 lbs of beef per year that you consume..! (According to USDA average yearly beef consumption statistics.)

5/13/08

2008 Summer Blockbuster Season…Mediocre?

Is it me, or does this summer’s upcoming movie season lack some buzz?

Hmmm… (Moment of deep thought.)

After all, isn’t this the time of year that the awesome teaser trailers are supposed to show up on the Internet or television? I have seen a few of these trailers and…eh.

We’ve had the first two official entries already released in the unofficial blockbuster category and I believe we are only 1 for 2 at this point. Or maybe more like ½ for 2. Ironman (do we need to see another comic book superhero movie?) seems to be universally getting the “better than I thought it would be” commentary. That doesn’t say much. Speed Racer on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it ran into the wall exiting turn 2 and burst into flames. This one seems to be a widespread disappointment and will be relegated to the “wait till it comes out on DVD” file for most folks.

So, what’s left to pull us out of the muck and mire? What can extract us from the movie doldrums?

Hmmm… (That deep thought thing again.)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – I don’t see this one breaking any records. It will probably have a good start courtesy of fans from the previous movie and then fizzle at the box office. The first movie was strictly in the OK to Good range.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Could we have shortened the title a bit to something like Indy’s Glass Noggin’..? All humor aside, this stands a chance to be the biggest draw by the end of the year. There is a lot of horsepower behind Kingdom and the franchise has been very good for the most part. We shall see if it lives up to expectations. Only two problems here – it has been a long time between films, and it has after all, been done before.

Kung Fu Panda – This thing seems to have a pretty large advertising budget, but again, a rehash of current formulas.

The Happening – Can M. Night Shyamalan get back into his groove with this one?

The Incredible Hulk – It’s been done before, and the only thing moderately interesting is the fact that Edward Norton is involved. He does run the risk of killing his acting credibility here though.

Get Smart – Again, another movie version of a television show. At least this one stands an excellent chance of generating a few chuckles and guffaws.

Wanted – Nah…

Hancock – Nah…

The Dark Knight – Oh look, another Batman movie! At least the previous Batman Begins was good, so let’s hope this one holds up.

The X-Files 2 – The Connoisseur must admit to being an ardent X-phile in regards to my thoughts on this one. But there is one glaring issue – why did Chris Carter wait so long to do this?

After last year’s success at the theaters, I just don’t see 2008’s crop matching up when looking at this list of films. Maybe a hidden gem will come out of the woodwork and surprise us all…

5/9/08

Herbs: Handle with Care

First of all, let me just say this…

Herbs rule..!

Not like they hang out at Congress or something, but in the kitchen, they rule.

Today I am just going to cover a few basics for dealing with herbs. Maybe some things you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

The Connoisseur recommends growing your own herbs when possible. Whether it is an outdoor garden or an indoor pot, you can’t beat cutting your own just before you use them.

Once you have cut your herbs, or are returning from the grocery, most folks simply toss the little plastic bag into the fridge. We recommend something a bit different. If you are using them the same day, treat them as you would fresh cut flowers and stand them in a glass of water. If you are going to use them in the next day or so, wrap them in a paper towel (slightly damp is preferable), put them in a plastic bag and then into the fridge crisper drawer.

Can you freeze herbs for future use? Certain herbs will freeze fine, but we don’t see the point and do not recommend attempting to do so.

However, you can dry herbs. The best results are normally obtained by simply tying a bunch together and hanging them upside down to air dry.

Now for the cooking part. Of course you always want to clean the herbs before use. Rinse in cool water or submerge them in a bowl of water and shake them a bit, just to release any sand or soil that may be hanging on for the ride. As for the actual cooking, we highly recommend adding the herbs toward the end of the process. If they are cooked too long, some herbs can lose flavor or become a bit bitter. Also, when any chopping of herbs is involved, try to do so directly before you are adding them to the food. This takes the best advantage of the release of the oils when the herb is cut.

This will end today’s herbal notes…

5/7/08

Caipirinha – New Drink of Spring

As springtime is upon us, the warm and humid days begin to have an effect on the drink cravings. I find that some of those winter recipes just don’t cut it anymore.

Well, this spring, let’s change it up a little bit. Veer away from the Mint Juleps and the Long Island Iced Teas of years past and try a cocktail just a bit different…

The Caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-yuh)

We can thank the Brazilians for this one, folks. It is essentially their national drink. The last few years it has become very popular in Europe as well, and is now showing up across America.

The basis for the Caipirinha is a spirit that has been made for some 500 years called cachaça.

Ca-what..? (That would be ka-shaa-suh)

Think of it as being very similar to rum, in that it is also distilled from unrefined sugar. The flavor has similarities as well, but is a bit more tart or sharp.

And now for the vital statistics, otherwise known as a recipe…

Ingredients

· 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
· 8 lime wedges (1 lime)
· 2 oz. cachaça

Sprinkle sugar over the lime wedges in an old fashioned glass and muddle. Fill with ice, top with cachaça and stir. Enjoy..!

Of course I need to toss out a few variations on this delicious and stealthily powerful beverage.

1. First, in regards to the mixing process – some folks prefer to do the muddling in a shaker and then shake with the cachaça and strain into the old fashioned glass over ice. This is not traditional, but certainly fine.
2. Key limes may also be used – just increase the qty a bit as they are smaller.
3. Occasionally a splash of club soda is added.
4. You can also change up the fruit and go with kiwis, passion fruit, mango or even pineapple. Let your imagination run wild..! (not THAT wild!)

There you have it..! On that next sultry evening, mix a few and enjoy…

5/6/08

The Stradivarius Violins


$3,544,000

This is the highest publicized price paid for a Stradivarius violin, during a public auction in 2006. Reports indicate that some private sales have eclipsed this value.

Why such a high price for a single violin?

The sound. The tone. The nuance. Musicians and audiences familiar with violins have felt throughout the years that the Stradivarius, along with the lesser-known Guarneri violins, have something special in the tone.

Born in 1644, Antonio Stradivari set up his own luthier shop in Cremona, Italy in 1660 after an apprenticeship under Nicolo Amati. His best work or “golden age” is considered to have been from 1698 through 1720 – these are the instruments valued in the millions. Fewer than 600 violins were made, along with smaller quantities of violas, cellos, guitars and mandolins. Each instrument was even given a sobriquet or nickname, usually having to do with whom the instrument was made for.

So what exactly made these instruments so impressive…so unique?

Over the years dozens of musicians, luthiers, physicists and the like have spent hours researching and trying to duplicate the sound. Possibly the most successful attempt was performed in 2003 by a biochemist whose research showed that the wood may have been soaked in brine, or seawater. Of course, the bottom line is that several factors come in to play here – the high density of the wood (from the cold climates of the time), the glues and varnishes used, the design and construction… Or is there some lost secret?

Whatever the case may be, if Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma (cello) come to town, grab a ticket and there’s a good chance you will get to hear for yourself the sound of a “Strad”.