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Audiophile Sound Systems, Home Theater, Computer Audio - Purchasing and Upgrades.

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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

12/31/09

Faith, Hope, Love…

(And today a break from my norm…)

Here we are, standing at the cusp of another decade gone by.

It can be a wondrous thing how the passage of time can change one’s life and one’s perspective of life. It is a certainty that we all have to deal with this in our own, sometimes deeply personal way.

In the end you have to realize that the point here is to find some happiness or “inner peace”. Be happy…

Be sure to have faith, whether through your religion or your own personal spirit…

Know that even in the darkest of days there is always hope, pain will pass and the sun will indeed shine again…

And most importantly, always remember to give love and to let yourself receive love… As it has been said by many people far more profound than I, this truly is the most important single aspect of life.

Have a great New Year and all the best in 2010…

(And now, back to our regularly scheduled program…)

12/30/09

Rotel Audiophile Starter Kit

Being an audiophile is really a fun and somewhat universal hobby. After all, doesn’t virtually everybody on this little blue marble enjoy music in some form?

What I tend to see happen in the audiophile newbie world, is that people will at some point hear music on a quality sound system and realize what they have been missing and how nice it would be to listen to music at that high level of reproduction in their own abode.

For those not wanting to jump right in with both feet spending piles of cash, I have a recommendation for a reasonably priced entrée…

Rotel is a family-owned electronics company based in England that has been in business nearly 50 years. They have built a reputation for making good performing, well-built equipment at reasonable prices. Rotel has a new line of gear out that makes a great backbone for an entry-level audiophile system.

Let’s start with their RA-1520 integrated amplifier. The job of this unit is to control where the audio signal is coming from and going to, as well as powering the signal to your speakers. Rotel happens to have a splendid matching CD player to mate with this integrated amplifier, the RCD-1520. You can even connect a turntable to the RA-1520 should you have any old records lying around, or your mp3 player via a jack in the front panel.

Excellent sound quality, excellent build quality, excellent aesthetics…all at a reasonable price as each unit sells in the $900.00 range. Just add a quality pair of speakers and you are good for hours of aural enjoyment for years to come. Highly recommended!

12/29/09

Champagne Fast Facts

It’s Champagne time again, otherwise known as New Year’s Eve.

Actually, for a certain percentage of the populace, it’s Champagne time all year round…

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that..!)

Now that I have your bubbly attention, why don’t we go over a few fun tidbits of information regarding this splendid beverage?

Let’s start with the most important and possibly most overlooked fact. All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. In other words, it must be produced in the Champagne region of France to in fact be Champagne. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a reflection of quality, as there are some excellent sparkling wines made elsewhere, a few American varieties that I mention in this article.

Now that you have purchased that bottle of bubbly, how should you store it? The simplest way to approach this would be to treat it similar to wine. Wine experts prefer a temperature in the 55° to 59° range which would work fine. Some champagne houses do prefer the lower end of that range stating an ideal of 54° to 57°.

With that bottle tucked away safely in the proper cellar, how long can it be stored? This brings up yet another question…is it a vintage or non-vintage Champagne? A vintage Champagne is made from grapes grown in a single harvest and can display that year on the label, while non-vintage Champagnes contain grapes from multiple years. Non-vintage bubbly is made to be consumed immediately, but will last 2 to 3 years without issue. Vintage Champagnes are built more for aging and can go anywhere from 10 to 25 years depending on the style of that particular vintage.

When it’s time to drink the Champagne, at what temperature should it be poured? The rule of thumb here is that if it is a vintage bottle, pour it at the temperature at which it has been stored – that 54° to 57° range. For non-vintage bottles, a bit more chill on the bottle works nicely, around 45° give or take a bit.

That is all for today’s crash course, but there will be more to come… Now, go and open that bottle and enjoy! Cheers and Happy New Year..!

12/23/09

Around the World in 80 Days with LG

Don’t you just love creative advertising..?

What we have here is a contest from electronics giant LG. The contest, aptly named “Around the World in 80 Days” is a chance to do just that…

Here’s how it works…simply submit what your 80 day itinerary would be and the winner will receive that Itinerary in the form of a $100,000 travel package. But what does all this have to do with LG Electronics?

The theme presented here is “Live Borderless”. While for the contest it is referring to borders between countries, the actual advertising reference is about a new line of television sets.

Those sets in question, the SL80 and SL90 models from LG are new LCD sets with LED backlighting and some new screen technology that allows the elimination of the majority of the plastic border around the screen. It all makes for one sleek television. Now as to whether this innovation is a feature you can’t live without, you will have to see these sets in person to decide.

Back to the contest, it is currently under way and runs until February 13th. You may submit as many entries as you’d like, so get to work and send in those itineraries now..!

12/22/09

A Caviar Holiday Feast


If you have a caviar lover that is in need of a holiday gift, look no further…

Gourmet purveyor Petrossian, a caviar specialist, has put together a package that is sure to please. The American Caviar Holiday Experience is choc-full of goodies!

Let’s start with four 50g tins of American caviar including Hackleback, Chataluga Prestige, Alverta and Royal Transmontanus along with the requisite blini and crème fraiche. Add in a desert course of 18 hand-made French chocolate truffles including orange-scented soft caramel, dark chocolate ganache and zinfandel-balsamic. Of course you will need something to wash down these fine eats, so let’s go with a bottle of Château Olivier White 2005 Pessac Léognan, an inviting blend of Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle.

Top it all off with free overnight shipping and the delivery date of your choice and you had better get the taste buds ready for a party! What better way to say Happy Holidays…

Casa Dragones – Tequila to Savor


Savor…

Merriam-Webster tells us “to have experience of; to taste or smell with pleasure; to delight in”…

When many people think of tequila, images of margaritas and shots with lime and salt tend to flood the brain. Can you say “hangover”?

Well, sometimes a slower pace is called for – time to actually savor the tequila.

The brainchild of mogul Bob Pittman (MTV and AOL) and ex-Jose Cuervo executive Bertha Gonzalez Nieves, Casa Dragones was conceived strictly as“sipping” tequila. Of course it is 100% Blue Agave, but it is not classified as a blanco, reposado or anéjo. In reality the Casa Dragones is largely blanco tequila, but the Master Tequilero adds a touch of extra Anéjo to each bottle for that extra depth of flavor.

The nose shows floral and citrus notes and the taste hints of vanilla, pear and spice. All-in-all a very rich and silky tequila.

This is one of my favorites and I think you will enjoy it as well. If you are in the mood to sip and savor, Casa Dragones is highly recommended..!

12/12/09

Korg’s Pitchjack for Guitar and Bass


Here’s a gadget I recently ran across that I need to tell you about. Especially for those guitarists and bassists out there.

For quick, reliable and accurate tuning, the Korg Pitchjack is hard to beat. Simply plug it in, turn it on and you are ready to tune… anytime, anywhere.

Do you have a five or six-string bass? No problem, the Pitchjack has you covered. How about a 7-string guitar? Again, you are good to go.

This little gem of a tuner has an adjustable display to compensate for different instrument shapes or jack locations. There is also a small LED light for use on a dark stage. The unit folds for easy carrying in a pocket and can attach to any keychain, instrument case or wherever you desire.

At $30 per, this tuner is a no-brainer. Highly recommended for the musicians among you..!

12/11/09

2011 Audi A8 Arrives

The battle in the full-size, high-zoot luxury sedan segment has been kicked up another notch. Let me introduce you to Audi’s new flagship, the 2011 A8.

A complete redesign over the current A8, Audi clearly made a decision for very restrained and evolutionary changes as opposed to a radical redux. Both the interior and exterior of the car won’t strike you as a significant departure from that earlier model. It’s what you don’t see where the major changes lie, as an entirely new architecture is used, with copious amounts of aluminum and magnesium in place to keep the overall weight to a minimum.

The 4.2 liter V8 motor has been carried over from the previous model but has been revised for a horsepower bump to 372 as well as a 15% gain in fuel efficiency. The Quattro all-wheel drive system is Audi’s latest, featuring torque vectoring as well as other goodies. More tech bits include an updated MMI navigation and control interface as well as full LED headlights – a first in this class.

Audi claims their new flagship will be the sportiest drive in the segment, but competition from BMW’s newly redone 7-series and the revised Mercedes S-class is sure to be fierce. Upcoming comparisons will reveal the true nature of this battle.

For now, Audi appears to have maintained the understated elegance and presence that previous A8s were known for, as well as their best in class interiors. Should the A8 drive as well as advertised, Audi will have a winner on their hands. The car should be in showrooms Q3 of this coming year.

12/10/09

Ospina – The Ultimate Coffee Gift


Do you drink coffee? If not, you certainly know somebody that does. If that person is a true coffee aficionado and you happen to need to get them a gift, read on…

The longest extant purveyor of coffee in the world would happen to be Ospina. Not only have they been around for a year or seven, they also produce what is widely regarded by connoisseurs the world over as the world’s finest Premier Grand Cru coffee beans.

To commemorate 170 years in business (that’s not a typo…) the Ospina Coffee Company is releasing its Ospina Presidential Coffee™, Private Reserve. The release is limited to 5,000 deluxe gift boxes, each containing a pound of the highest graded Arabica Typica beans from the anniversary harvest which have been hand-picked and sorted, carefully fermented, sun-dried and roasted to perfection. As for tasting notes, here is what the folks at Ospina have to say…

“Premier Grand Cru™ Elevation: Grown between 6,800 and 7,500 feet. Aroma: Concentrated, fragrant, jasmine blossom like. Body: Delicate, full bodied and perfectly balanced. Flavor: Complex, rich, intense, nutty and velvety. Notes: Almond, caramel, chocolate and blackberry. Roast: Italian classic roast. Aftertaste: Delicious, refreshing and wine-like.”

Is your mouth watering yet..? Good! Each gift box arrives numbered and certified. Get one before they are gone. Highly recommended!

12/7/09

Aria – Las Vegas’ New Showstopper


· 4,004 guest rooms, 568 of which are suites.
· 16 restaurants including properties from celebrity chefs Julian Serrano, Michael Mina and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
· 10 bars and lounges including the cutting edge HAZE nightclub.
· 150,000 square feet of gaming – after all, it is Vegas!
· An 80,000 square foot, two-level spa and salon with 62 individual treatment rooms.
· 300,000 square feet of meeting and pre-function space.

I could go on with these facts, figures and various trivia, but I think you get the idea. With a Grand Opening on December 16th, Aria is taking its place as the newest crown jewel of the Las Vegas strip.

The cornerstone of the City Center project, Aria was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli and it is one stunning facility. It has even received LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, so you can party Vegas-style and be good to the environment at the same time.

If you are headed to Las Vegas, put this on your short-list of places to see, or better yet just stay there and soak it all in.

11/30/09

JOCHEN70 – Luggage for your Classic Car

If you happen to own a vintage sports car, or even some of the modern ones for that matter, you surely will notice that trunk space can be somewhat abbreviated. Never fear, as JOCHEN70 has you covered!

The company’s founders, Andreas Braunbock and Heinz Swoboda, both classic car fanatics realized a need for the owners of these vehicles and moved to fill the niche. Pairing with the Lucy D design firm in Vienna, they have created products that will “optimize the little space available in the classic car boot or trunk, while simultaneously offering its owners suitably sophisticated luggage“.

High quality design, materials and craftsmanship are definitely a hallmark of these products. The color of the stripe is completely customizable per your request. Maybe to match the color of your Jaguar E-type..?

Have luggage, will travel..! Fire up that engine and hit the road…

Tequila Reserva de los Gonzalez Anejo




I am going to put this one in the “hard to find but worth the effort” category. Especially for those anéjo tequila lovers out there.

I have talked at length on tequila in the past. If you need a quick tequila primer, click here.

As for the Gonzalez Anejo, it just so happens that the sons of Don Julio Gonzalez are responsible. If you are even a moderate tequila fan you have surely heard of Don Julio tequila. The family has been crafting fine tequilas for a long time. Eduardo and Francisco Gonzalez (the sons) craft Tequila Reserva de los Gonzalez as a sort of family history or tribute. In their words…

“Only with time, knowledge, and recognition, we transform the nectars of the Blue Agave into the most exclusive Tequila to share with you. In this bottle is our history, Reserva de los Gonzalez…”

Unfortunately that “hard to find…” label comes in to play. Your best bet may be to locate a good tequila vendor on your next trip south of the border. If you just want a sample, track down a top shelf tequila bar such as Tommy’s in San Francisco. Your efforts will be well rewarded – this is one fine tequila!

Flexjet Goes to the Olympics

Fractional jet ownership company Flexjet has a deal for the well-healed and oft-travelling sports enthusiast.

What exactly does this card do for you? Let me start with the Flexjet basics – 25 hours of flight time on their fleet of Learjet, Challenger and Bombardier aircraft. As for the “Olympic Gold Edition” perk…

· Three nights’ accommodation at the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver.
· Dining at Vancouver’s best restaurants.
· Onsite personal concierge including Olympic-certified ground transportation.
· Entry for two to the Closing Ceremony as well as the Figure Skating Gala Exhibition, Men’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal game and three Short-track Speed Skating Gold Medal races.
· Access to a medal-winning athlete including a behind the scenes look at the Winter Games.

The Olympic portion of the purchase runs from February 26th through March 1st of 2010. Price for the Gold Edition 25 Jet Card..? $122,900

Availability is extremely limited so move fast.

11/29/09

Browne Trading Co – The Seafood Source

If you enjoy cooking and/or eating seafood, continue reading. If not, go watch some Simpson’s reruns on DVD…

Let’s get right to it today… after all, it is the holiday season and everyone is busy. Time is of the essence!

The answer to the question of where to get reliably fresh and high quality seafood is Browne Trading Company. Located in Portland, Maine, the family owned business happens to supply several high end chefs/restaurants across the country including Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud. Think of it as your own personal recommendation as these guys know their seafood.

Simply give Browne Trading Company a call toll free at 800-944-7848 for the latest availability and market pricing. Then have it shipped overnight to your door. You can browse their website for examples of fresh American seafood, international seafood and a great selection of shellfish. Other items available from their website include smoked products, caviar and various specialty items.

Great products, great customer service… you simply cannot go wrong. Highly recommended!

11/28/09

LED Television... Not Exactly

Today I want to take the time to discuss a bit of a pet peeve of mine…

Have you noticed the rash of television commercials and print ads lately touting “LED TVs”..? Rather makes it sound like these televisions tout some brand new crazy view-screen technology. I am here to tell you that this is simply not quite the case.

These televisions are LCDs.

Liquid Crystal Display… The same screen technology you may have been looking at for lord knows how long. It’s all about the marketing with these guys.

Now for the good part…

There are actually LEDs present in these sets. You see, an LCD screen needs a source of light, and that is precisely what the LEDs have been adopted to do. The advantages here depend on how the set is being engineered. The simplest implementation of using LED lighting is that manufacturers can make the LCD TVs very thin by using the lights around the edge of the screen. Not a big deal if you ask me.

The other and more impressive utilization places a panel of lights directly behind the LCD screen. This allows manufactures to employ a local area dimming technology which has the benefits of improving contrast as well as black level (dark scene detail) compared to other LCD televisions. Both of these improvements help LCD TVs compare more favorably with plasma televisions, as contrast and black level have been weaknesses for quite some time.

There you have it folks – the real meaning behind “LED TV”. Now you can watch TV in peace… Happy viewing!

11/25/09

T-Vine Cellars 2006 Frediani Vineyard Syrah


Sexy, voluptuous, seductive…

Maybe not adjectives you would normally pair with a Syrah, but in this case they apply.

This wine’s story begins with T-Vine Cellars proprietor and winemaker Greg Brown. His previous existence as a corporate banker came to an abrupt end upon attending a grape crush at Cain Cellars. You might say the light bulb came on and Greg left the banking world for the call of the vine.

After a time working in the industry Greg decided to try his hand at making his own wine and T-Vine was born. He started with Grenache and has since expanded to the above mentioned Syrah, Petit Sirah, Cabernet and the occasional Merlot, all in small production quantities.

Syrah, Syrah…

The 2006 Syrah is absolutely luscious. This inky-purple wine has loads of dark stone fruit balanced deftly with oak, spice and vanilla notes and a velvety texture. This would pair well with a hearty stew, peppery steak, spicy pizza or other meat dishes that have a touch of heat. On the other hand it is so approachable that you could pair it with darn near anything. Just be sure to savor what you are eating and drinking…

Highly recommended..!

11/24/09

Project Orca Megayacht


Yes, a megayacht would be one big boat..!

But what is an Orca..?

Does the term Killer Whale ring a bell? Fast and sleek with characteristic black and white markings, these impressive animals were no doubt the inspiration for the UK-based Michael Leach Design firm in putting this creation together.

Measuring in at 96 meters – that would be 315 feet – the Project Orca is currently under construction at the famed Blohm + Voss shipyards in Germany with an expected delivery of late spring 2010.

The megayacht will come complete with bespoke handmade furniture from Silverlining as well as two custom built limousine tenders from Cougar Marine to get the owner to shore for the occasional night on the town. This is what I would call traveling the seven seas in style..!

11/23/09

2011 BMW 5-Series Revealed


BMW’s next generation 5-series, the sixth in its history, has been unwrapped.

The F10, as it is known inside factory walls, looks to use more conventional styling cues than the current car – an apparent attempt at reducing any design controversy. Family resemblances to the recently updated 3-series as well as the top dog 7-series can be detected and overall the car looks properly sporting, as a BMW sedan should. Slight increases in length and width accompany a longer wheelbase which will surely equate to a roomier cabin.

The top-of-the-heap 550i will pack a turbocharged V8 producing 407 horsepower, but also look for the turbocharged inline 6 cylinder in the 535 as well as a diesel option. An all-new eight-speed transmission will get the power from those engines to the rear wheels or possibly all four, as BMW’s X-drive all-wheel drive will be available.

The 5er’s public debut will be at the LA Auto Show next month and the car will go on sale after the first of the year.

11/17/09

Hindenburg Beer Breaks Record


Let’s just call it the most expensive bottle of beer in the world.

Nearly $17,000..!

Not like the beer is that good. In fact, beer this old is essentially undrinkable. The money was paid strictly for the historic value.

Six bottles were salvaged from the wreckage of the German airship Hindenburg after it crashed on May 6th, 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey. One bottle was given to the Lowenbrau factory where it currently resides. The second was sold at this Henry Aldridge and Sons auction in England. You can view the online auction catalog here, showing many other items of memorabilia from the disaster.

The whereabouts of the other four bottles remain a mystery.

Tsar Nicoulai – Cali Caviar Goes Green


Can you say “sturgeon farm”?

With a four acre hydroponics pond and an aqua-farming system to raise their fish, the folks at Tsar Nicoulai Caviar are known for their sustainable practices, not to mention their world class caviar and roe products.

Founded in 1978 by Mats and Dafne Engstrom, the company developed their proprietary tank farming techniques with the help of the good folks at the University of California Davis. The impetus behind this creation was that the world was quite frankly running out of sturgeon due to over-fishing.

"What’s a sturgeon..?"

No, not the guy at the hospital that operates on you. It’s a rather large species of fish with prehistoric origins that has been the main source of caviar for decades. Salmon roe is also commonly used.

Now let’s talk quality… Just how good are the various products from Tsar Nicoulai? Suffice it to say that superstar chefs Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina all use Tsar Nicoulai caviar at their restaurants. If that doesn’t convince you, then I guess you will just have to try some yourself. You won’t be disappointed..!

10/31/09

MacPhail – A Rising Star in Pinot Noir


After working several years for small wineries in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley appellations, winemaker James MacPhail set out on his own in 2002. From the start, his hand-crafted Pinot Noirs were world-class.

Originally produced in a custom crush facility along with other small wine producers, James completed his own small winery in Healdsburg in 2008. “This little winery allows me to fine tune my winemaking, crafting small lots with traditional techniques, minimal intervention and hands-on attention,” says James. With a self-imposed production limit of 5000 cases, he feels he can best maintain his personal style in the wines.

The current 2007 release of Macphail wines has seven vineyard designated Pinot Noirs, as well as the Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, of which 738 cases were produced. All of these wines are consistently delicious, but a couple of my favorites are the 2007 Sonoma Coast Sangiacomo Vineyard of which 170 cases were produced and the 2007 Anderson Valley Toulouse Vineyard with just under 500 cases made.

Hard to find..? Yes. Worth the effort..? You bet.

And remember, if you need help tracking down some of these luscious Pinots, give the Connoisseur a call…

10/30/09

Porsche’s Plans


Porsche AG, the venerable automaker from Zufffenhausen, Germany, has big plans!

Despite the global economic downturn, the little car company that could continues to churn out new models and new engineering. Here is a quick rundown of what the next few years will bring…

Panamera - Hitting showrooms now is the Panamera sedan with optional V8 and turbocharged V8 engines as well as 2 and 4-wheel drive. In 2010 the Panamera will receive gas and diesel V6 engine choices as the entry-level offering. In 2011, look for the Panamera Hybrid to debut.

Cayenne – Porsche’s SUV will appear in all-new from the ground up form in 2010. Expect better performance than the current model and power from V6, V8 and turbocharged V8 engines. The hybrid version will debut in 2011.

911 – The summer of 2012 will bring us the next all-new 911. With the factory designation 998 (the current model is the 997), the iconic Porsche two-door will grow slightly in both width and length but retain its styling and improve on the current model’s performance capabilities.

Beyond the new 911 release, I look for both a smaller SUV model below the Cayenne which will be based on the Audi Q5 but with more of a sporting character per the Porsche heritage. I also expect a coupe and convertible version of the Panamera sedan, possible reviving the 928 moniker and using the Panamera’s underpinnings.

Porsche… that little car company that could keeps on rolling!

The Best for Blu-Ray: Oppo BDP-83


So you have a DVD player at home and a nice Hi-def television…a little surround sound for that full movie experience. Of course the next step up from DVD technology is Blu-Ray with its full High-definition movies and lossless audio. Is it worth purchasing the equipment to move up in technology?

Yes..!

I talked about Blu-ray and Hi-def audio a bit here, and also discussed some of the Blu-Ray players that I would recommend in the lower price range, say around $250, give or take… While buying a Blu-ray player in this price range will get the job done to a certain degree, they all have a weakness in some area. Whether it is speed of operation, build quality, limited capability… none of them are immune. Except for one…

Let me get right to the crux of the matter here… If you value quality, this is THE player to purchase…PERIOD!

“Why Marty, why? Shouldn’t I just get one of those Sony or Panasonic players? Those name brands that everybody knows?”

Here’s the deal… Oppo Digital is based in Mountain View, California. Pretty much all they do is engineer and build disc players and they do it well. With the BDP-83 you get excellent build quality and top- notch audio and video performance, equaling or besting players costing several times more. And it is a “universal player”, meaning it essentially will play anything you can throw at it. Nice..! The company even has excellent customer service – the cherry on top!

Enough said... If you are looking to buy a Blu-Ray player, buy this one and you will not regret it. The Oppo is available online directly from Oppo digital or from vendors such as Amazon. The price is $499.00 and well worth every penny. Highly recommended..!

10/27/09

Chicken Bacon Pasta with Gruyere Sauce

So there I was, with about half an unused rotisserie chicken from the night before, and a half pound of bacon in the freezer. What’s the Connoisseur to do..?

Well, let’s see…

I love pasta. I love cheese… that was easy.

I rarely do a cheese sauce, but when I do I try to lighten the load a bit. Instead of a bunch of heavy cream, I will go with a bit of milk and some chicken broth. Don’t they say that every little bit helps? Besides, that will leave more room for dessert..!

So here we go. If you are hungry for a good fall or winter pasta, give this a try and let me know your results…

Gruyere sauce

· 2 Tsp butter
· 2 Tsp flour
· 1 cup milk
· 2 cups chicken broth
· 1 cup grated Gruyere
· ¼ cup grated parmesan
· Salt and white pepper
· Pinch of nutmeg

Warm the milk. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm milk. Cook to thicken. Slowly add broth and whisk, cook to desired consistency. Add cheeses and whisk to incorporate. Add a pinch of nutmeg and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Reduce heat and keep warm, whisking occasionally.

Pasta

· ½ pound bacon – chopped
· ½ rotisserie chicken – chopped (use more if you are hungry!)
· ½ cup sundried tomatoes in oil – drained and diced
· 2 Tsp olive oil
· 1 ½ cup chopped leeks – white part only
· Fettuccine

Heat and salt the pasta water in a large pot. In large frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon. Remove from pan and set aside - pour off grease. Add olive oil and leeks – season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6 – 8 minutes. Add the pasta to the water and cook until done. Add sundrieds and chicken to the frying pan and cook to warm. Return bacon to the pan. Drain the cooked pasta and add to the pan. Add the cheese sauce and stir to combine all ingredients. Plate the pasta and enjoy..!

Note: If you want to kick up the cheese sauce a bit, add a half-cup of white wine just before the milk. Then after the broth is added toss in a sprig of sage and a couple sprigs of thyme to scent the sauce. Remove before adding the sauce to the pasta. After plating, top with some chopped parsley.

10/22/09

Blavod – The Vodka for Halloween





Tricks and Treats and… well, some pretty crazy drinks.


Following that line of brain-think, I have come up with what may well be the ultimate in libations for All Hallows’ Eve. Indeed, a vodka that ghouls, ghosts, goblins and various other dwellers of darkness would surely consume…


Blavod Vodka


The eyes are not fooling you, folks. This is a black colored vodka. And no, it does not taste of licorice. It falls in the category of a crisp, clean premium vodka with a bit of a spicy bite on the aftertaste. Close your eyes and you would never know the difference.

Halloween = scary black drinks!


OK, now that your wheels are starting to turn, you can get creative here. All manner of vodka based cocktails can be made for that spooky Halloween party. Start with a black martini and go from there. One of my favorites from the Blavod website: the Black Widow. In a rocks glass with ice, fill half-way with cranberry juice then layer the top with Blavod vodka.


Boo..!

10/21/09

LF-A: Lexus Does Exotic


Lexus, the premium division of the Toyota Motor Corporation, has long been known for their cosseting and reliable luxury automobiles. They have never been considered vehicles to give substantial rise to the adrenalin levels.

Until now…

Long in development, the Lexus LF-A is finally being officially unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show. Designed as a high-performance halo car for the brand, this beast of an automobile looks to meet or exceed expectations of even the most jaded of automotive enthusiasts.

To reach the targeted performance goals, Lexus engineers used thoroughly modern technologies to attack weight as well as power. Approximately two-thirds of the body is made of carbon fiber, helping hold total weight down to a tick over 3,200 pounds. The 4.8 liter V10 engine is a marvel, producing 560 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque with a stratospheric redline of 9,000 rpm.

So, is this car fast..?

The manufacturer claims a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 3.7 seconds! Other cars that will keep pace are few and far between. Top speed will be over 200 mph.

Production will be limited to 500 units. It’s time to get in line if you want a copy of this ultimate Lexus. And be sure to have a cool $375,000 handy..!

10/15/09

Chocolate Chip Heaven


It’s sweet tooth time here at the Connoisseur Corner..!

I must confess to having a definite love of the chocolate chip cookie – along with pretty much the rest of humanity. In that vein, I feel it is time for me to share with you some of my favorite cookies. Take a look and see what you think. Then place an order and let your taste buds (and sweet tooth) smile!

· Rosie’s Bakery – Located in the Boston area, these cookies are average in size and have a moist center with some crunch on the outside.

· Stony Brook Cookie Co. – Quality ingredients make a quality chocolate chip cookie.

· Tate’s Bake Shop – Thin and crispy is the theme here. If that is your style, these cookies will send you through the roof.

· Levain’s Bakery – This is jumbo cookie land. Located in Manhattan, Levain’s chocolate chip cookies weigh in at 6 ounces each and are gooey, rich and sinfully delicious.

· Tom’s Mom’s Cookies – For that down home cookie style, these cookies are irresistible. Available in a standard 3 ounce size as well as 1 ounce minis.

Neiman Marcus Christmas Book


A sure sign that the holidays draw ever closer, the folks at Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus have unveiled the 83rd edition of their Christmas Book catalog.

Known as “The Book” by the shopping cognoscenti, the Christmas catalog made its first appearance in 1926 as a small booklet. It has since gained cult status as a source for exclusive and occasionally over the top gifts.

While it may be slightly more restrained this year than normal due to the global economy, there are still some goodies to be found….

Jaguar is producing 50 of their new XJL Supercharged sedans in Neiman Marcus Edition trim. This exclusive purchase nets you custom exterior and interior treatments including navy and ivory leather along with Zebrano matte wood trim and the obligatory matching 5-piece luggage set.

Do you like good food and conversation? How about a dinner at New York’s famed Algonquin Hotel along with your friends John Lithgow, Nora Ephron and George Stephanopoulos among others… All yours for $200,000 – the proceeds go to the Christmas Book Charity.

Of course we can always reminisce about extravagant gifts from years past such as 1964’s his and hers hot air balloons, or 1970’s Noah’s Ark.

Pick up your book today and happy shopping..!

10/8/09

Trick or Tweet – Caesar’s Palace Does Halloween


Ghouls, ghosts, goblins… and Twitter!

Let’s call it an au courant take on the Halloween party courtesy of the folks at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. After all, Twitter and Facebook pretty much dominate the social landscape these days. This is a clever marketing move by the folks at Caesar’s in my opinion.

Here are the Trick or Tweet party details from the press release…

“Join us the weekend of October 30-31, 2009 and enjoy a specially priced package exclusively for our friends and followers. Here's how it works: Get ready to head to Las Vegas and grab your cell. All weekend long, Caesars Palace will Tweet locations throughout the property for you to experience. Once you find your destination, the treats await...free food and free drinks, including drink specials from our friends at Bacardi USA, plus special drawings and giveaways. And, don’t forget this is your chance to meet fellow followers.

The package includes 2 nights classic accommodations, 2 Roman Ritual passes to enjoy at Qua Baths & Spa, complimentary in-room Internet access, a complimentary in-room movie* (might we suggest The Hangover?), VIP admission to PURE Nightclub for their big Friday or Saturday night star-studded party, a $50 resort credit and much more.

We’ve got a weekend full of Tricks and Tweets planned. Starting on Friday, we’ll post exclusive offers on our Twitter feed and Facebook page like special upgrade offers and drawings for complimentary rooms. One lucky guest will win an unforgettable prize: a free upgrade in our VIP suite.

Costumes encouraged, but not necessary.”

Could be the makings of a lost weekend! Guaranteed Vegas fun and priced right at $175 a night, this represents a $100 savings according to the hotel. Get that costume ready and prime the thumbs to tweet.

10/6/09

Monster Turbine PRO Audiophile Headphones


Let me make a quick correction here in regards to the title… Monster, the company famous for various cables and power accessories for your stereo and home theater, refers to these little gems as “in-ear speakers” as opposed to the more pedestrian “headphones”.

Uh…

Point being that the folks at Monster are trying to differentiate these in-ear headphones from the plethora of ear-buds out there that everyone is connecting to their iPod. These are serious headphones designed for “serious audiophiles and audio professionals”.

While there are a substantial amount of audiophile headphones available, the greater majority are of the full-size over-the-ear variety. This is fine for sitting at home in your living room, but not conducive to mobility and convenience. Monster seems to be filling a niche here, and rather successfully so. These in-ear speakers do sound nice..!

Available in November, a set of the Turbine PROs will net you five pairs of eartips to ensure a proper fit, along with two carry cases and an unbeatable lifetime warranty, offering a one-time replacement even if you break them!

Give ‘em a listen and see if they make your ears smile…

10/5/09

Chipotle-Glazed Bacon Love

You love bacon…

I love bacon…

We all love bacon..!

But as much as we have love for this fine piece of pork, don’t you ever get the urge to kick it up just a bit? To take it a step above the norm? The urge just so happened to strike me this past weekend…

I had decided to make some nice breakfast sandwiches for my wife and I this past weekend and one of the components of said sandwich happened to be bacon. In the interest of adding a little extra flavor to the sandwich, the chipotle-glazed bacon came into play…

Cook the bacon approximately 4/5ths of the way and then remove from the pan. Also remove the excess bacon grease. Add to the pan 2 Tbsp of brown sugar, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar and 1 diced chipotle in adobo. Whisk over medium heat for approximately 1 minute. Return the bacon to the pan for one more minute, coating the bacon with the glaze on both sides. Remove from pan and eat..!

This can certainly be used in any recipe requiring bacon, at your own discretion. Anything from a spiced up BLT to glazing the Canadian bacon for Eggs Benedict. Let your taste buds be your guide!

9/19/09

Aston Martin Rapide 4-door


At the bustling Frankfurt Motor Show this week, Aston Martin finally unveiled the production version of the Rapide sedan that had been previewed three years prior in concept form.

An entry into what is now a hotly contested luxury sports sedan market, the Rapide will be up against Porsche’s new Panamara and the redesigned Jaguar XJ among others. With looks from Aston Martin’s gene pool, the Rapide is sure to garner fans for visuals alone. They do know how to make their cars sexy.

As far as mechanicals, the big Aston comes to battle armed with a 6.0-liter V12 producing 470 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. This engine is sure to move the Rapide along rather…rapidly! A six speed Touchtronic 2 transmission will handle the gear changing duties.

All the other expected bells and whistles will be present, including a first class, luxurious and tastefully designed interior. Aston Martin has really done their homework – this looks to be one fine automobile. The Rapide will be available in early 2010. Pricing has not been announced, but expect it to push the $200,000 mark.

The question now is…which luxury sports sedan will find a place in your garage..?

9/18/09

Swiss Army’s 125th Anniversary

Hard to believe, but true..! The origins of the famous Victorinox Swiss Army knife go back 125 years. That’s quite a milestone…

In 1884 a gentleman by the name of Karl Elsener opened a cutlery shop in Ibach-Schwyz, Switzerland. In 1891, Karl and his staff made the first deliveries of what would become known as the Swiss Army Knife to soldiers in the Swiss Army. At the end of World War II in 1945, the knives began world-wide distribution and their fame and reputation grew from there.

So, what does one do to commemorate 125 years in the cutlery business? How does a road tour across North America sound? A Swiss Army branded Airstream trailer is making stops at various festivals, events and retail outlets as they go.

Should you so desire, there just so happens to be a nice anniversary collection of products available for purchase, including but not limited to those multi-talented blades. Watches, travel clocks, clothing, cologne and a leather travel bag are yours for the taking.

The Swiss Army Knife… “Your Companion for Life.”

9/15/09

Bugatti Galibier 4-Door Coupe


Makers of the Veyron, the most extreme automobile on the planet, Bugatti has decided to try something a little different. They moved the engine in front of the driver and added two doors. The result..?

Galibier

Following a private event for customers in Germany, details and pictures of this concept vehicle have appeared on the Internet. A striking two-tone outer skin comprised of polished aluminum and carbon fiber is suitably eye-catching for a car of this…shall I say…stature? All something that one expects from the folks at Bugatti these days, as they are not a company prone to understated design. I really like the center spine running down the length of the car – a nod to Bugattis of yore.

Underneath that gleaming surface resides a monster – a version of the same 8-liter W16 engine from the Veyron. Word has it that a top speed of 217 mph is available for the well-healed and brave of heart.

There is no “official” word of imminent production of the Galibier, but I believe it is going to happen soon. Expect pricing to be in the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” category.

9/10/09

Checkmate! Geoffrey Parker’s Silver Jubilee Chess


If you like chess… no, if you love chess, I’ve got the set for you..!

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s 25th anniversary in 1977 – the Silver JubileeGeoffrey Parker developed a special chess set. No ordinary chess set was this, mind you. The set was fully approved by the United States Chess Federation and won the prestigious Design Council Award in London.

The Silver Jubilee chess set is now being re-introduced in all its glory, available in Sterling silver, Sterling silver-gilt and even solid gold, all with twin leather inlays in your choice of several colors. The board itself comes in the matching metal selection and is also trimmed with the hand inlaid leather. Two suede-lined leather book boxes house the individual pieces when not in use or on display. Additional customization is also available upon request.

Available through luxury gaming purveyor Zontik Games, a set can be yours starting at $53,795.00.

9/8/09

Tumi – Carry Your Laptop in Style

For those of you content with presenting that eraser-head image as you carry around a generic bulky laptop case, read no further. Go back to your We-Be-Geeks-Weekly and program some Java. The rest of you that prefer to present a more pulled together and stylized persona, please continue…

Let’s address those times when you have to haul the laptop – an occasional necessity. Not like it fits in a pocket or something.

New Jersey based Tumi offers a top shelf solution with a laptop case that is at once functional and aesthetically pleasing. From their Villa collection, the case is constructed from Italian texture coated canvas with vachetta leather trim and polished nickel hardware. Features include a padded laptop compartment, interior organizer pockets, leather carry handles and a removable shoulder strap.

Truly the laptop case for the sophisticated professional…

9/4/09

Costa Careyes – The Hidden Mexican Gem


Shhh…. It’s a secret..!

This is one of those un-advertised word-of-mouth getaways. A laid-back alternative to the high-powered party spots that many vacationers flock to.

Shhh…

Costa Careyes was founded in the late 1960’s by Italian financier and artist Gian Franco Brignone. Mr. Brignone’s vision was to meld the Mexican style, landscape and hospitality with a pinch of Mediterranean vibe. We’d say the goal has been accomplished… A-listers and International jet-setters frequent the community to enjoy what has been called a “leisure class utopia”.

Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico in Jalisco, Costa Careyes is approximately midway between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. The community consists of 42 available villas, 40 casitas and the El Careyes Beach Resort. All accommodations are first rate, but the villas which start at $2,000 per night are the star of the show. Of course they come fully staffed with a butler, chef and maid to pamper you while recharging from the stress of everyday life.

Book your vacation now, just don’t tell anyone where you’re going..! Highly recommended!

9/3/09

Roasted Tomato Sauce


I’ve talked in the past about the bounty of the garden and making use of said bounty…!

That almost sounds…dirty! (an intended pun)

Well, suffice it to say there is a plethora of end-of-summer Solanum lycopersicum at the Connoisseur’s home and by-golly they need to be used up. I decided there was no time like the present for a little roasted tomato sauce. The recipe that follows has been tinkered with a bit over time and I am certain your buds of taste will appreciate the final result…

Roasted Tomato Sauce

· 1 whole garlic bulb
· 1 Tbsp olive oil
· 3 lbs tomatoes
· 1 lg white onion - sliced
· 1 Tbsp herbs de Provence
· 2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
· 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
· 1 cup dry white wine
· ¼ tsp red pepper flakes - optional
· Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Trim top of garlic bulb, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap in foil and place in oven. Cut the tomatoes in half – add to the roasting pan or cookie sheet cut side up along with the sliced onion. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs de Provence. Roast in oven for 45-55 minutes. Remove garlic and roasting pan from oven – transfer tomatoes and onion to a blender along with the roasted garlic, oregano and basil and blend to desired consistency. Add water if sauce is too thick. In a large sauce pan over medium heat, add the white wine and reduce by half. Transfer contents of the blender to the sauce pan and simmer for 20 minutes – salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: If you want to use the red pepper flakes, I recommend adding them along with a Tbsp of olive oil to the sauce pan just before the wine – simmer for a few seconds on their own to make them happy and then add the wine. Also, if the tomato skin bits are not your thing, simply add only the tomatoes to the blender, blend and then pour through your favorite strainer to remove. Add strained tomato sauce back to blender, add remaining ingredients and blend again.

Chién Vivant Couture Dog Beds



This one is for all the dog lovers out there… those of you that think of your dog as a part of the family… those of you that like to really pamper your dog… those of you that may be prone to going a tad overboard with the whole idea…

If you want your dog to sleep in true luxury, look no further than Chién Vivant Couture.

Las Vegas based designer Neely Neu came up with the idea courtesy of her own personal pet and has expanded to offer a full line of couture dog beds. Currently eleven collections are available including the Paris, La Rochelle and Marsille lines.

All of the beds are available in custom sizes and offer a number of options. You can kick the bed legs up a notch with Swarovski or Austrian Crystal. How about a little monogramming to suit you and your pet?

If you believe nothing is too good for your dog, these beds are highly recommended. Sweet dreams, Fido…

9/2/09

Jose Cuervo 250 - Ultra Premium


Does the name Jose Cuervo go with the term “ultra-premium”..?

It would be safe to say that this association is not normally made in the world of the tequila connoisseur. The Cuervo family has made a name, and a bit of a fortune, with lower priced mixing tequilas usually of the Gold variety – something used at parties to add to margarita mix for quantity consumption as opposed to quality.

Truth be told, the folks at Jose Cuervo do make some fine tequilas including the Tradicional, which is a nice reposado and their Platino, a highly rated silver tequila.

And did you also happen to know that the Cuervo family has been in the business for 10 generations? They go all the way back to November 2nd, 1758 when King Carlos of Spain granted a plot of land to Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo on which to cultivate agave.

And the reason for all this background..?

Let’s call it a 250th Anniversary..! When you have an epic date to celebrate, you mark it with a very special, limited-edition ultra-premium tequila.

Jose Cuervo 250 Anniversario.

The Cuervo family has been making Extra Anéjo premium tequila from blue agave planted on the very same land from that original 1758 land grant. These tequilas are blended from Cuervo’s best of the best in their reserve and aged for a minimum of three years in new American Oak barrels. For this occasion the master distiller selected the best of these Extra Anéjo tequilas, blended them together and further aged the final product in Sherry casks from Spain for 10 months. The end result is one fine tequila..!

The packaging befits the product, as each decanter comes in an elegant oak gift box and the bottle itself is etched sequentially to certify authenticity.

Price… $2,250

9/1/09

Bentley’s New Big... The Mulsanne


Bentley Motors, the venerable automobile company from Crewe, England, has unveiled their latest flagship grand-tourer…the Mulsanne.

Named after a portion of the Circuit de la Sarthe racetrack in France (better known as “Le Mans”), the new Bentley manages to be an elegant design, despite its sheer size. A tasteful mix of modern Bentley design and family heritage retro, the Mulsanne is guaranteed to have a ne plus ultra road presence.

Mechanical details are few and far between at the moment, with the Bentley folks promising full disclosure at the official public reveal during the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show. What can be gathered at the moment points to a revised version of the company’s 6.75 liter V-8 providing the power.

Pricing is likely to be in the $300,000 range for a Mulsanne to call your own. We look forward to the arrival of this stately four door due in showrooms mid-2010.

By the way, the teaser reveal was at the fabled Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Monterey, California. It was here that the first production Mulsanne was sold at auction to an unknown bidder for $550,000. Proceeds went to charity…

8/26/09

Sony’s Wireless 3G E-Readers


Following the lead of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader – you know those little computer screen book thingies? – Sony has jumped into the fray with 3 models of their own.

The baby of the group is the Reader Pocket Edition. Sporting a 5-inch screen and available in multiple colors, the Pocket Edition retails for $199 and is available now.

Next up in the family is their mid-level Reader Touch Edition. This aptly named model comes with a 6-inch touch screen, allowing you to turn pages or highlight text with the swipe of a finger. It does include a stylus pen should your finger be broken. Available in silver, black or red, the Touch sells for $299 green ones. Currently available.

The grand-daddy of the bunch is the Reader Daily Edition with its 7-inch screen and 3G wireless capability courtesy of AT&T’s broadband network. This gives you access to books, newspapers and magazines no matter your location – almost… (Just like a cell phone, people) All with no monthly fees for the connectivity. It also has USB connection as well as memory card expansion slots. Retail price is set at $399, but the Daily won’t be in stores until December of this year.

Overall we feel the Sony models will give the Kindle a run for the money with their competitive feature sets and price points. Don’t you just love a good competition..?

8/25/09

Maserati GranCabrio


The folks at Maserati just couldn’t wait. They couldn’t keep the wraps on it any longer…

Primed for an unveiling on September 15th at the upcoming Frankfurt Motorshow, Maserati jumped the gun and revealed their stunning new topless four-seater a bit in advance with a press release and official photographs.

The GranCabrio is the first convertible with room for four in the company’s history, and is said to complete their vehicle line-up. The convertible will be offered alongside the GranTurismo coupe and the Quattroporte sedan.

Power for the GranCabrio will come from a 4.7 liter V8 engine mated to a six-speed ZF automatic transmission and will provide the enthusiast with plenty of get-up-and-go, not to mention produce a lovely Italian soundtrack.

Pricing has not been set, but we expect it to start in the $140,000 range. The GranCabrio looks to be available in the spring of 2010 and the waiting list is sure to be long. Get your deposit in now for this Italian open-air beauty..!

Store Bought Chicken Broth


As summer winds down and autumn approaches, the mind begins turning to soup.

uh...Let me rephrase that...the mind begins thinking of soup. And soup recipes generally require a nice broth or stock for the base. Here are my recommendations for a reasonable quality store-bought broth, taking into account flavor quality, low sodium and no MSG.

Wait just one darned minute..! Did the Connoisseur say “store-bought”? Isn’t it best to make the broth yourself?

Yes…

However, let’s face it folks, time is occasionally in short supply. When that is the case, these store-bought products are the solution. Here are my recommendations…

· In the category of easy to find and high quality, we like Kitchen Basics Natural Chicken Stock. Good flavor, no MSG and low sodium levels along with ready availability in most grocery stores make it a winner!

· Two other brands that we really like, but are harder to find are Pacific Organic Chicken Broth and the Wolfgang Puck Free Range Roasted Chicken Stock.

· Today’s final category – the best, but most difficult to come by (online only) belongs to Fond de Poulet Gold from More Than Gourmet. This is an all-natural highly concentrated reduction with no chemicals, preservatives, sugar or MSG. Intensely flavored, no salty aftertaste and highly recommended..!

8/24/09

Il Pelicano – Europe’s Best Hotel


At least according to more than 32,000 readers of Condé Nast Traveler…

For the 15th annual Gold List, hotels were judged in five categories on a 100 point scale. Il Pelicano located on the Tuscan coast in Italy scored an overall rating of 97.1, the best in Europe. With service rated at 95.2 and rooms at 90.5, food, location and design all garnered perfect 100s.

Originally opened in 1965, the hotel currently has 35 rooms, 5 junior suites and 10 deluxe suites nestled among the cypress and olive trees above the ocean. Along with the brand new Pelliclub spa, other amenities include two restaurants (one of which is Michelin starred) and bars, the La Cantina wine cellar, a pool and private beach.

This is one stunning property…breathtaking views, a tranquil setting, top shelf service and gourmet food are all waiting for you. And should you happen to feel the need to get away from this most idyllic of hotels, you can always take a day trip to Rome or Florence.

If you are looking for quality hotels in Italy, Il Pelicano receives my highest recommendation..!

8/21/09

Rock and Roll and Absolut Vodka


If you have been living under a rock these past few weeks, you may not have noticed that the 40th anniversary of Woodstock is spawning all manner of memorabilia. I have no problem with this remembrance at all, being that this was certainly a seminal moment in American music and culture.

Well, for those of you that have at one time or another enjoyed a little rock and roll and its accompanying lifestyle, you realize that alcohol is a piece of the puzzle.

Say hello to the Absolute Vodka Rock Edition…

In doing their part to celebrate Woodstock, the Swedish vodka maker enlisted the services of designer Natallia Brilli who just so happens to have a penchant for wrapping things in leather. After all, leather is another piece of the rock and roll puzzle.

Quite frankly, this leather and stud clad bottle is more Scorpions and Judas Priest than it is reminiscent of artists from the Woodstock era, but I guess it is the thought that counts…right? Regardless, this is sure to become a collector’s item. Look for it to arrive stateside in October…

8/12/09

2010 Porsche 911 Turbo – Better Than Ever


Those engineers at Porsche just can’t sit still. They love to tinker, and that is a big reason why I love Porsches.

Like the normally aspirated 911s as mentioned in an earlier article, the turbo is benefitting from what is known as a mid-cycle update. While it is not “all new”, as many web pundits are stating, the good news is that the updates are substantial. I’ll touch on a few that might get your attention…

Let’s start with the heart of the matter, that Porsche flat-six turbocharged engine. Displacement has been increased from 3.6 to 3.8 liters and direct fuel injection has been added along with other little tricks that boost both performance and fuel economy. The turbo is now a member of the 500 horsepower club and sips less fuel..!

Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK 7-speed transmission is an available option as well, along with new paddle shifters on the steering wheel. We recommend this transmission with the launch control feature, giving you a 0 – 60 mph time of 3.2 seconds according to the factory. This will out-quick pretty much everything out there.

Aesthetically the boosted 997 (factory designation number) inherits the same taillight LED treatment bestowed upon its lesser siblings as well as new wheel designs. Take note of the optional RS style in the picture above with a center-lock racing style wheel…HOT!

Does the Connoisseur like this car? In a word…YES! Due in showrooms early next year, the coupe will start at $132,800 and $143,800 for the convertible. Get your order in now…

8/10/09

Craft Spirits at Distiller’s Festival

You’ve no doubt heard the term “micro brewery”. This is a reference to a rather diminutive beer making company – many times family run or having strictly local sales and distributions.

Now let’s bump up the alcohol content a bit and talk about spirits…gin, vodka, rum etc. Just as there are micro breweries scattered across the landscape, so are there micro distilleries. Each year these artisans gather at the Great American Distiller’s Festival in Portland, Oregon.

Kind of makes one thirsty..!

This is the fifth year for the event, and over 70 producers from across the country will be on hand. The list of events includes seminars, food pairings, tastings and a mixology contest. The keynote address will be delivered by Bill Owens, President of the American Distilling Institute.

The festival runs October 24th and 25th at the Bossanova Ballroom in Portland, with several events beginning the week before. Tickets are $16.00 for two day passes.

Cheers!

8/7/09

Movie Buzz… District 9


Do you like prawns in your pasta? Well, this movie might change your mind…or at least make you think differently when you hear the term “prawns”. Sorry…

What we have here is an under-the-radar movie release that is suddenly generating some buzz, helped along by the excellent reviews generated at Comic-Con a couple weeks ago.

Yes, District 9 is a science fiction film. Yes, it was done with a small budget by today’s standards (about 30 million). And yes, there are no big name actors on board. The only A-list member you will note in the credits is the producer, one Peter Jackson from Lord of the Rings fame. Peter has found a winner in director Neil Blomkamp, a young up-and-comer that will surely see more open doors after this fine effort.

The story takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, which also happens to be director Blomkamp’s home town. I love this choice…why do aliens have to always come to America or Paris first? The location adds a certain atmosphere to the film, and there is a distinct metaphor for apartheid present. What we have is an alien ship that has essentially run out of gas. They have been marooned on earth for some 20 years and are being kept in District 9.

As for where the story goes from there? Well, let’s just say that I will not be a spoiler today.

While not a perfect film, District 9 is one that you will surely enjoy. The movie is of high quality and sort of an unexpected treat in a summer of over-hyped blockbusters. It opens August 8th. Give it a look and let us know what you think…

8/6/09

The Newest Ferrari – 458 Italia


Spy shots and speculation aside, the latest Ferrari has broken cover..!

As a replacement for the current F430, the 458 Italia will debut in the flesh at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

As is the norm, the folks at Maranello look to have another winner on their hands. They have made leaps in technology and performance and yet managed to improve fuel consumption and emissions levels. A bit of a green hue for the company famous for fast red cars... (Of course the amount of green is relative here).

And now for the nuts and bolts of this latest prancing horse. Power is supplied by an all-new mid-mounted 4.5 liter V8 with 562 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox driving the rear axle, the engine’s redline is a mind-blowing 9000 rpm! Like the F430 before it, the Italia has an aluminum structure for weight savings and the car tips the scales at a lithe 3,042 pounds unloaded.

Hmmm… Lots of power and not much weight... This baby must be quick..!

How does 0 – 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3.4 seconds sound? And I would be remiss not to mention that this beast will have a top speed of over 200 mph, topping out at 202.

Pricing has not been released yet, but if you have some money burning a hole in your wallet, you may want to get an order in now. A long wait list is guaranteed..!

8/5/09

479° Popcorn for the Connoisseur


I know what you are thinking. Popcorn and the Connoisseur…Noooo!

Well…yesssss!

Is there anybody out there that has not sat and watched a movie and had some popcorn? I think not..! And what does the Connoisseur do in regards to popcorn? Just like everything else, locate something that has been raised to the top shelf…find that truly gourmet version of the crunchy puffed kernel.

What exactly does 479° have to do with all of this? Two things… the first being that it is supposedly the optimum temperature for popping corn (that’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius). It also happens to be the name of a company that makes high quality organic popcorn.

The brainchild of one Jean Arnold, 479° Popcorn produces a variety of popped kernels, one of which is sure to catch your eye. You can start with a little Black Truffle with White Cheddar and move to a Chipotle Caramel with Almonds. How about a bite of Ginger Sesame Caramel or maybe some Madras Curry Coconut..? Some exotic mixes of ingredients sure to delight the taste buds. Give them a try and let us know what you think.

Anyone up for a movie..?

8/4/09

White Linen – Handcrafted Cocktail for Summer


Hello everyone..! The Connoisseur is back again and I hear you are thirsty…which seems to happen quite a bit in the summer heat…or the winter chill…or..?

I have touched in the past on a few excellent summertime libations: The Caipirinha, Pimm’s Cup, Mint Julep, various Margaritas and more. Today I have yet another cocktail for you, this one in the “handcrafted” category. Handcrafted is rather a bar buzzword at the moment, generally referring to a cocktail that employs ingredients not from a bottle. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and the like can all be part of the mixology, infused, muddled or otherwise.

As far as I can tell, the White Linen cocktail originated at Ella Dining Room and Bar in Sacramento, California. A very kind bartender was gracious enough to supply the particulars. Give it a try and let me know what you think, and if you are ever in central California, be sure to stop by Ella and sample chef Randall Selland’s work – highly recommended!

White Linen

· 1 ½ oz gin – the bartender recommended Broker’s Dry Gin.
· ½ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liquor
· ½ oz Simple Syrup
· 1 oz Lemon Juice
· 5-6 thin slices English cucumber

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake well. Strain into a highball glass with ice, top with soda water and garnish with a cucumber.

8/1/09

JD Says Four Seasons Best Luxury Hotel


JD who..?

That would be JD Power and Associates, the global marketing and information services firm known for their customer satisfaction surveys.

The current economy has certainly hit the hotel industry hard. Declines in staffing, amenity reductions and postponed renovations are in evidence throughout. Despite these obstacles, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has managed to knock the Ritz-Carlton off the top rung.

This study began in 1997 and this was the first victory for the Four Seasons chain. Over 66,000 people that have used hotels over the past year took part in the study. For an informative graph of the report click here.

The Four Seasons chain was founded in 1960 and is based in Toronto, Canada. With 80 properties located on every continent except for Antarctica, you have no excuse but to sample one for yourself and see if you agree with JD.

7/29/09

Vinaigrette – Good Ingredients Rule!

(vihn-uh-GREHT)

Merriam-Webster says: “a sauce made typically of oil, vinegar, and seasonings and used especially on salads, cold meats, or fish —called also vinaigrette dressing”

Vinaigrettes are truly amazing! They are generally simple to make, flexible in their use and there is a seemingly endless variety of recipes to tinker with. The right vinaigrette pairs flawlessly with salads, vegetables, fish, chicken, pork, steak… you name it!

Now I want to let you in on a little secret that applies to all cooking, but certainly vinaigrettes…

Good ingredients rule..!

Due to their inherent simplicity and flavor impact, a vinaigrette really amplifies the quality (or lack thereof) of the ingredients used in its creation. I cannot stress enough the difference that quality ingredients make. Your taste buds will love you for it..! Let me explain, using a basic vinaigrette recipe that is oft-used around the Connoisseur home…

· 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
· 1 part white wine vinegar
· 1 large (or 2 small) garlic clove
· 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
· Salt and pepper to taste

Your typical and simple recipe with few ingredients. For the olive oil, spend a little extra and get something good. I recommend going to one of the many gourmet kitchen shops or groceries that have olive oil tastings. That way you can truly find what appeals to your palette. Same with the white wine vinegar – stay away from those generic brands. You definitely get what you pay for! Dijon mustard..? Do NOT use Fred-the-Grocer’s brand – stick with quality! And for the salt and pepper be sure to use fresh ground pepper and we recommend a nice sea salt or grey salt – stay away from that Morton’s table salt mess.

Now that I am done pontificating on good ingredients, a couple of notes on this recipe: The ratio of 3 to 1 regarding the olive oil to the vinegar is a standard rule of thumb for vinaigrettes. I usually like a splash more of vinegar to give it just a little extra bite. You can also adjust the garlic down to a single small clove, should you be the shy type. And if you happen to have some fresh herbs around the house, feel free to add them.

Enjoy..!