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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


The ‘Ring

What am I doing talking about rings..?

This is not a marriage blog, so don’t panic.

What I am talking about is a racetrack in Germany called the Nurburgring. This race course was completed in the late 1920s and used for the German Grand Prix several years both before and after World War II. The track, with over 120 turns during its most difficult configuration, was so complex and dangerous that it was actually boycotted at one time by Formula 1 drivers and nicknamed “the Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart.

So why is the Connoisseur talking about a race track in Germany?

Have you ever driven a BMW, Porsche, Audi, Nissan (GT-R), Mercedes-Benz or even a recent Cadillac CTS and appreciated the way the car handled a challenging section of road? You can thank the ‘ring, as these manufacturers have taken to developing and tuning various models on what’s known as the Nordschleife (northern loop) of the track. There is a quantifiable benefit to this, in the Connoisseur’s opinion, and it’s nice to see more manufacturers utilizing the facility.

One rather curious tidbit of information – on days when the track is not closed for racing, testing or repairs, it is actually open to the public as a one-way toll road. Any street legal car, bus or even motor home can be driven on this historic track at your discretion. Simply purchase the amount of laps you desire and off you go..! Just remember that this is no place to try doing your “I think I am a real race driver” impression.

If you are ever in Germany and are a car aficionado, we highly recommend adding the Nurburgring to your itinerary.


LA Restaurants – Some Fine Food Faves!

While I am sitting here rather hungry, I started thinking of restaurants and thought it was time to share our thoughts on the Los Angeles dining scene.

Like all of the great dining cities, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc, the culinary landscape in the Los Angeles region is fluid and ever-changing. Every week there are new restaurants opening and unsuccessful ones closing. It can certainly be difficult to keep track of.

Our list does have some establishments that have been around for quite a while. Foodie purists may claim they are past their prime and that the buzz is gone. However, we believe that if the quality of food, service and ambience is maintained, that they deserve the same recognition as when the first buzz began.

Here now is the Connoisseur Corner Recommended list for what we consider the best of the best for dining in Los Angeles. If you haven’t already, make a reservation and enjoy the work of some wonderful chefs…

· Mélisse
· Valentino
· Urasawa
· Patina
· Sona
· Spago
· Matsuhisa
· Saddle Peak Lodge
· Providence
· Nobu Malibu


“That Which We Call a Rose…”

I have been reminded by media and retail these last few days, or maybe “bombarded” is the proper term, that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.

Of course for us gents, that means sending flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals and anything else that the marketing machine can dream up. I have already covered the gourmet chocolate part in a previous blog, so check there for our recommendations regarding the sweet tooth.

Being the occasional romantic-sappy type, I always send some nice long-stemmed red roses to the wife. Unfortunately, sometimes the results from the vendor aren’t always favorable. Maybe the roses don’t look of quality or last very long. Occasionally a shipping issue may arise. And of course, especially this time of year, the product can be priced at a substantial premium.

Fortunately for me, and now for you, I seem to have remedied all of the above listed issues…

Great customer service, excellent shipping reliability, reasonable pricing, and my wife assures me that the flowers are of excellent quality! I now use them for my all-occasion flower shopping.

There you have it! Give them a try. I think you will approve.

And for the Shakespeare quote from Romeo and Juliet

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”


Dancing with the Sun in Utah

This time of year, amid the glitz and glam of the Hollywood awards shows, you always hear about the Sundance Film Festival. But what exactly is this festival, and why does it exist?

Do folks dance around in their swimwear under the sun amidst the snow covered terrain while watching repeats of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films…?

Do the organizers play Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid over and over and let the audience drink heavily and throw beads…?

Uh… no.

Simply put, it is a yearly event for independent American and international filmmakers to showcase their films. These are individuals outside of the giant Hollywood film machine that are being given a chance for more public and industry exposure.

The inaugural year for the event was in 1978 as the US Film Festival. In 1985 the Sundance Institute took over management of the festivities and it has since flourished.

Has this venue for “indy” films had any effect on the industry?

Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh might think so, just to name a few. Not to mention audiences that have seen Reservoir Dogs, The Blair Witch Project, El Mariachi, Napoleon Dynamite and Clerks.


The Voice of Chris Cornell

My wife put a CD on the stereo the other day while we were doing some work around the hizzy… uh, house. Being immersed in my task I paid little notice to the music until something caught me off guard…

It was a Michael Jackson song, but with a soulful, booming rock and roll vocal.

Upon further investigation, the disc that was playing was Chris Cornell’s latest solo effort, Carry On. The MJ song was “Billie Jean”. Listening to this reminded me what a great rock and roll voice that Cornell possesses.

Now, I’m not talking technical greatness, ala a Geoff Tate from Queensryche, but rather that raw and “gravely” voice with the requisite power and emotion. One of those rare voices that, the minute you hear it, you know who it is.

Cornell has had a long and successful career, beginning with Soundgarden in 1984 and the more recent Audioslave. There was also an excellent side project called Temple of the Dog in 1990, as well as his first and highly acclaimed solo album, Euphoria Morning, released in 1999.

Rumors abound on the web of a Soundgarden reunion, which the Connoisseur for one, would love to see. However, no official announcement has been made.

For now, let’s listen to the back catalog of Chris Cornell’s excellent work and enjoy what we believe is currently one of the best voices in rock.


Sign Your Name

And now for the category of “things you don’t normally think about”.

Something you do nearly every day, and the tool you use to get it done: Writing and the Pen.

Let’s forget about keyboards and pencils for the moment and focus on pens. They have been around since days long, long ago. Reed pens, quill pens, and more.

You’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Discovered in 1947 they date back to approximately 100 BC and were written with bird feathers or quills.

Now to more recent history, or more precisely 1906…

This was when two German fellows by the name of Alfred Nehemias and August Eberstein got together and created the Simplo Filler Pen company producing high quality pens in Hamburg. In 1934 the company changed its name to a variation of what is now known today as…


Quality, design, craftsmanship, artistry – all hallmarks of the pens from Montblanc. In our opinion, truly the best of the best.

If you want to treat yourself to a little piece of luxury, look no further, and sign your name…

The Newest Cat

While there are always many new models on the horizon from the world’s auto manufacturers, a few are arriving this year that we are going to keep a close eye on…

Let’s talk today about one across the pond.

…from one of Her Majesty’s companies. Jaguar, struggling the last few years and currently for sale by owner Ford (who also is struggling) is due to replace their mainstream sedan, the aging S-Type. The replacement is the XF, designed under the watchful eye of one Ian Callum, formerly of Ford and working with Aston Martin as well. Representing a new design direction, the XF is a definite looker and we feel a step in the right direction for the future of the company.

It will initially come in three trim levels, the Luxury ($49K) and the Premium Luxury ($55K), both with a 300 hp V-8. The third is the SC ($62K) which gets a supercharged V-8 kicking out420 hp as well as nearly all offered options.

Early drives indicate this is one slick cat. With a high quality interior, solid body structure and first rate driving dynamics, the XF should rate well. It’s main rivals will be the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS.

The Connoisseur approves, but can this car save Jaguar..?


Viva la Vinaigrette!

Stop it with that “salads are healthy” stuff. We know that! That’s not what the C-Corner blog is about.

When it comes to food, we are about the taste buds, people!

OK, I enjoy a nice salad on occasion. I just have one thing to say: whether you are eating a salad as a side or a main course, you really need to think about making your own dressing. Better flavors, better for you – just plain better.

With that in mind, here are a couple of our favorite, simple to make vinaigrettes:

Roasted Walnut Oil Vinaigrette

· 4 Tbs. roasted walnut oil
· 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
· 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
· Salt to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and enjoy.

Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

· ¼ cup fire roasted tomatoes –canned
· 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
· 3 Tbs. olive oil
· 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
· 1Tbs. honey
· Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and pulse until smooth.

Notes: The roasted walnut oil can be found in most grocery or food specialty stores. Same goes for the canned fire roasted tomatoes. Mix these dressings with the greens and toppings of your choice and dig in! Keep an eye on this blog for future vinaigrette recipes.


Consumer Electronics Show Notes

A few notes on products to wrap-up the 2008 CES show in Vegas. Like I could really summarize this behemoth in a “few notes”.

The most prevailing thought for me is that this was an incremental year for technology. No single product jumped out and made a big splash.

I’ll start with phones, for which the show was well, quiet. The Motorola ROKR E8 was cool, but not ground-breaking. The trick feature was the “ModeShift” changing control set between either phone buttons or music controls. Sony-Ericsson had several new models on hand, the slickest of which was the W350 with its trick little flip cover. Of course there were the expected iClone phones, including the LG Voyager.

Next up, televisions… Samsung and Sony showed off their OLED (organic light-emitting diode) televisions. Thinner and lighter, these TVs have better color and brightness than current plasmas and LCDs and even use substantially less power. They will be extremely expensive at first, but expect the prices to drop rapidly as production increases. Another technology on display was the laser television shown by Mitsubishi. It has amazing colors and again, the power savings over current technologies. Pioneer continued their Project Kuro, displaying the newest technology alongside the current critically acclaimed Kuro Plasma television, a set we blogged about previously. At only 9mm thick and with what Pioneer calls an “absolute” black level, it is one impressive plasma TV.

As for speakers, the main trend was the single box solution to accompany flat panel televisions. Polk Audio had their SurroundBar on display, priced just under $1000. Definitive Technology also displayed their take on this idea, the SSA50.

Let’s see, what else I can tell you about… There was a wireless SD media 2GB memory card from Eye Fi. Hi Definition video downloading services were on display as well (more blogs on this to come). Cameras, video cameras, gaming gear, automotive technology and even Guitar Hero game controllers… the list goes on and on.

The advances in technology make this an exciting time to be alive. Try to keep up if you can..!


Gourmet Chocolate

I love me some good chocolate..!

And with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I think we should discuss…

Have you ever met anyone that does not like chocolate in some way, shape or form? I do know some people that won’t eat it by choice or for health reasons, but no living human has ever told me they just don’t like it while keeping a straight face.

Certainly everybody knows of the Hershey’s and See’s of the world. These are fine in their own way, but certainly not the best of what is available.

Following the “life’s too short to eat bad chocolate” mantra, we have found some chocolate makers that may redefine your chocolate cravings. They are all Connoisseur Corner Recommended!

· La Maison du Chocolat - Robert Linxe opened the first legendary shop in 1977.

· Marie Belle - Works of art from this New York based boutique chocolatier.

· Jacques Torres Chocolate - Chocolates from the world famous pastry chef.

· Richart - Paris - Two generations of French chocolate artistry.

· Christopher Norman - More artistic chocolates from New York.

Indulge the taste buds and have a great Valentine’s Day..!


Cadillac Coupe Wows at Detroit Show!

We’ve blogged in the past about the new Cadillac CTS - A car that we really like. At the Detroit Auto Show this week, GM unveiled the two door descendant of the CTS sedan to rave reviews.

The CTS Coupe Concept project grew as the logical next step for the design team that created the 4-door CTS. The car continues Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design theme and takes it in a more aggressive but still stylish direction, which to our eye gets a definite thumbs up. Even the interior of the car, something that has not been a strongpoint of GM cars in the recent past, meets with our approval. Despite our admitted European car bias, this CTS Coupe looks like a winning product.

And now for the really important comments, part1: Bob Lutz and the GM folks made no official comment on whether this car was destined for production. The Connoisseur believes that they have already decided to do so. This indicates that they have part 1 correct.

Really important comments, part2: Hey GM, DO NOT make wholesale changes to the concept vehicle we see here for production purposes. Sure, there will be the possible mellowing of the bodywork, front fascia and such, but don’t remove the character of the concept car. Maybe tone it down a bit for the V-6 version and then dial it back to 10 for the CTS-V vette-powered monster that we hope is in the pipeline.

Really important comments, part3: Keys, please…


Oscar Race Comes Into Focus

…and the Golden Globes were entirely too… uh… sober!

The Connoisseur did a quick Oscar “best movie” preview several weeks ago, listing a group of films which looked to be probable nominees. Now with a few more weeks of Hollywood buzz from the hype engines and last night’s Globe results, we feel as though some final predictions in the top three categories can safely be made.

Best Movie – The movie industry buzz machine has been working overtime recently for Atonement. This is the British-made grand love story with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, adapted from the best-selling novel. The Golden Globe win should push it to the top for an Oscar victory.

Best Actor – This is probably the safest call with Daniel Day-Lewis and his work in There Will Be Blood. I really think this performance is a lock for the statue.

Best Actress – Julie Christie’s work in Away From Her had been gaining serious momentum in the PR world the last few weeks, and yesterday’s win of the Golden Globe has probably cemented her for the Oscar in my mind. However, of these three picks, this is possibly the most tenuous.

Now, can somebody please resolve this writer’s strike issue? We have to miss what is probably the most entertaining awards show of the year (courtesy of large amounts of served alcohol) and watch a “news conference”? They need to sit their stubborn selves down at a table and get ‘er done..! (Just a mini-rant)

Thank you, and goodnight…


Don’t be a Blockhead – Use a Boos Block

Cutting boards…

You see dozens of types in the stores these days. They seem to come in every conceivable shape and size. And how many products are they made out of? Woods, granites, 73 different types of plastic. The choices are almost bewildering…

That’s where the Connoisseur comes in. Believe it or not, with this myriad of options there is one company that stands out to us. John Boos and the Boos Block.

The John Boos Company makes almost every imaginable type of wood cutting surface. Do you want a cutting board, a stand-alone butcher block, an entire counter top? You name it, they can do it. After all, the company has been around since 1887, so they have had a few years to practice!

These are the best cutting surfaces out there. Add one to your kitchen, as we consider it an essential. The Connoisseur loves the end-grain boards, as they are extremely durable and highly resistant to any warping.
John Boos and the Boos Block are officially Connoisseur Corner Recommended..!

These Girls Sing With Style

Here are a couple of recent releases by female vocalists that I want to speak with you about – that stand out with their own unique style...

First up is the drunken beehive, otherwise known as Amy Winehouse...

Probably as famous for her exploits with the bottle as her music, Amy really made a splash on the music scene this year. Her second CD recently released in the states, Frank, is actually her first studio effort. Compared to the more recently recorded Back to Black, you will find a more sparse musical approach here, but that same irresistible humor and style, if a bit less pop. Both CDs are highly recommended recordings – always interesting and entertaining.

Our next girl that sings with style is Alicia Keys…

Alicia has an interesting mix of soul, jazz and urban hip to her voice that really makes her stand out. Her latest recording, As I Am shows definite maturity in this talented R&B artist. We have liked Alicia since her first album and she continues to hold our attention with her heartfelt and soulful vocal work. Her talent should give her the ability to have a prolific and enduring career.


Bang! Bang! The DVD Format Wars

DVD movies and the home theater - Consumer technologies that we all know and love. Of course with the advent of Hi Definition televisions, the next logical step for the DVD was a Hi-def format for movies released on disc.

Well, as the consumer electronics industry likes to do, instead of coming out with a single Hi Definition format that everyone could agree on, there had to be two competing groups: Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. (Remember Beta versus VHS?)

This format battle has been going on for quite some time now with various tech companies and movie studios choosing sides and the bewildered consumer sitting in the wings wondering which way to go.

Fortunately there is a solution to the problem! Some electronics companies, LG being the first and now followed by Samsung, are releasing what is called a universal Hi Definition DVD player. In other words, these players will play both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. The Connoisseur recommends purchasing one of these universal players, instead of gambling on one format or the other.

At the moment the players are a bit expensive (around $800) and may be a bit slow or buggy, but in the coming months look for updates that will improve them, not to mention players from other companies that will drive down the prices. Check back in a few days for our recommendation on which player to buy now, if you just can’t wait.

As a further note – at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the prevailing thought is that Blu-Ray may now have the momentum over HD-DVD due to some movie studios switching sides. Of course this will take several months or even years to play out in full…


What is the Cloverfield Monster?

If you are a fan of the television series LOST, then this movie should have your attention. J.J. Abrams, creator of the aforementioned TV drama has come up with what looks to be an intense version of Godzilla meets the Blair Witch project…

Well, not exactly…

The movie trailers for Cloverfield seem to show only explosions and mayhem in New York City caused by something unseen. Knowing Abrams style from LOST, are we really talking monsters, or maybe aliens, or..?

As for the Blair Witch reference, the film is shot from the point of view of a video camera a la the Blair film, beginning with the requisite group of friends and a going away party. From there, things seem to go a bit, uh… downhill. Talk about a bad hangover! For now, the rest of the story is being left up to our fertile imaginations.

The release is set for 1-18-08, so get your advanced tickets now and get in line. Let’s see if we can become LOST in the destruction of New York.


"Can’t Miss" Appetizer Recipe – Hot Baked Cheese and Sausage Dip

Another in our series of Connoisseur recommended appetizer recipes; this was tracked down and tested by good friend and cook extraordinaire Lesleigh Root. One bite and I knew it was destined for the “Can’t Miss” list.

The recipe comes from the Aidells sausage web site, and was apparently a competition winner!

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 links Aidells Artichoke and Garlic sausage, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 round unsliced loaf rye or sourdough bread

Preheat oven to 350°

In medium skillet, over medium high heat add the oil and sauté sausage, onion and garlic until lightly browned.

Beat together sour cream, cream cheese and Cheddar until smooth. Stir in the sausage mixture and artichokes.

Cut a slice off the top of the bread and scoop out insides, leaving about a one-half inch shell. Pour cheese mixture into bread, place top back on and wrap in foil. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, until dip is heated through. While dip is baking, cut scooped out bread into cubes and toast. Unwrap bread loaf and serve surrounded by bread cubes and additional crackers.

· Notes from the Connoisseur – It may take longer for the dip to heat through, up to an hour. Also, before toasting the bread cubes we like to brush them with some olive oil. Another dip transport device that we sampled this with was Frito Scoops.

Give this one a try, your taste buds will love you for it..!


The Barn is on Fire..!

Now that I have your rapt attention, let’s talk wine…

During the final weekend of 2007 I had the pleasure of attending a wine tasting spotlighting Tom and Lauren Scott and their Barn Burner Cabernet Sauvignon. They were very gracious and generous hosts and quite entertaining! You can read more about them here.

And now for that wine…

At the Tom Scott Vineyard, located in the Yountville District in Napa Valley, they produce the Barn Burner Cabernet as a single vineyard field blend. The vineyard is planted in 80% Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot rounding out the rest. The final blend percentages vary each year depending on the output of each variety, as shown on their web site. This would make for an interesting vertical collection, as you will be able to taste how the vineyard progresses over time.

We were lucky to taste both the 2003 and the 2004 vintages, with interesting results. The ’03 was our favorite, as it exhibits excellent balance and structure and should age nicely in the coming years. The ’04 showed its youth a bit, but with more time in the bottle should figure to be a knockout with hints of licorice, herbs and smoke and that big stone fruit, to go along with a creamy finish.

As for the Barn Burner name? Well, you may want to ask Tom and Lauren..!


Dial 911 for Extreme!!!

No, no, no..! Put the phone down. We’re talking cars here.

Cars built in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen

One car specifically: The Porsche 911 GT2 – the baddest, meanest 911 of them all..!

Take one part 911 Turbo, but add 50 more horsepower. Now sprinkle in one part 911 GT3, with its lightweight boy-racer philosophy. Shake well, and you have the GT2 monster. Combine that extra power along with 230 pounds less weight than the turbo and you begin to get the picture.

Sure, this car can be driven on the street at sane speeds, but it was built for the track with a user adjustable suspension and electronically controlled struts wired directly into the active suspension management (PASM) system.

If you are a true Porschephile and have a deep wallet, we suggest that you place an order. This is a truly amazing automobile and the ultimate 911. We also highly recommend that you pay for a few high performance driving school sessions before the car arrives to better reign in this beast from Germany!