My name is Heather Kanter-Kowal and I am the Certified Sommelier and Assistant Manager of the Mason Street Grill in the Historic Pfister Hotel. This is the first post in a series about wine that I will be sharing with the Pfister community. We will discuss different wine regions of the world, patient how to taste & evaluate wine, wine & food pairings, how to open a bottle of Champagne (safely!), and many other fun wine related topics.
A little bit of background about me… I started my career in hospitality twelve years ago here at the Pfister Hotel. While working in Blu as a bartender when it first opened, nurse I realized that I would really need to learn a thing or two about wine if I was going to succeed in dazzling my guests on a nightly basis. I ran out to pick up a few basic books about wine (and quite a few bottles!), doctor and spent my free hours teaching myself how to understand the wide world of wine. My career took me to restaurants such as Osteria del Mondo, where Italian vino ruled the list, and Trocadero, which had an entirely French collection. Along the way, I realized how much I truly enjoyed sharing the information that I had learned with my friends, colleagues, and most of all- my guests.
I studied for the Court of Master Sommeliers tests, which were an intense set of written, practical wine service and the most daunting of them all, the blind tasting tests. I passed the introductory exam in Traverse City, MI and passed the Certified Exam four months later in Orlando, FL. Becoming a Certified Sommelier opened the doors for me to work at the Immigrant Restaurant in the American Club of Kohler, WI, where I spent several years managing a vast international collection of lovely wines.
This past February, I was quite delighted to return “home” to the Pfister Hotel, and join the team at the Mason Street Grill. I am excited to talk to our guests about wineries that they have been to, what wines would taste great with their meals, and to recommend where they can find their new favorite wines. We are also hosting seasonal wine events, such as the Blackbird Vineyards Launch Party this September 26th and the Joseph Phelps Vineyards dinner on October 20th.
I look forward to sharing some unpretentious and useful wine advice with you!
A foursome of guests was querying Roc, the concierge, about what to check out nearby the Pfister today. He shared with them a few restaurants and then suggested they check out a little festival in its third year, called “Made in Milwaukee.” Featuring local bands, local food and libations, as well as local arts and local businesses, Made in Milwaukee was taking place all day today in Cathedral Square Park, just a few blocks from the Pfister.
Meanwhile, in the lobby, I met someone from New York who was visiting Milwaukee for his first time and wanted to know what he and his wife should check out before they attend a wedding tomorrow afternoon. They’d already gone to the zoo earlier in the day and had the rehearsal dinner yet this evening, so they only had the morning. The suggestion that seemed to click for him was simply walking down Wisconsin Avenue to the lakefront and meandering northwards along the shore to Alterra at the Lake for coffee and baked treats or a fresh wrap.
Of course, if it’s a stormy day and you’re stuck inside the hotel because you forgot your umbrella, or you miss out on any one of the city’s numerous outdoor shindigs that go on all summer long that feature local wares, you don’t need to look much further than the halls, bars and cafe of the Pfister, for a sample of the city.
Beyond the history that is contained within the walls themselves, the employees are a bastion of Milwaukee knowledge, trivia and historical anecdote. Concierges Peter and Roc will be thrilled if you ask them to tell you about actress Sarah Bernhardt’s involvement on the Milwaukee stage or about The Basilica of St. Josaphat. They will happily take you on a story-fueled tour of the city, if you have a few minutes (or an hour) to engage their encyclopedic minds on the topic. Of course, there’s the work by local artists as displayed in, or on the walls outside, of the artist-in-residence’s studio.
As far as having a taste of Milwaukee, start in Mason Street Grill, where you can sample the Mason Street Amber, brewed specifically for the restaurant by Lakefront Brewery (home of the country’s best brewery tour). The lobby bar also features Lakefront’s most popular beer, Riverwest Stein, on tap. Both of these watering holes, plus Blu, offer Rehorst vodka and gin, made by the Great Lakes Distillery. Their vodka won a silver medal in the 2007 San Francisco World Spirits competition, so you know it must be good!
Want a little more? Step into the cafe and check out the items on display, just inside the entrance. In addition to small bottles of Rehorst spirits, you can pick up a six-pack of Lakefront Brewery’s Riverwest Stein, or their Organic E.S.B (Extra Special Bitter) – a refreshing ale styled after the British pours. Stock up on Sprecher: known for their Root Beer, Sprecher also makes the kid-friendly Cream Soda and Orange Dream, plus adults-only Special Amber and Black Bavarian (my favorite). Need a snack to go with all your beverages? Pick up chocolates from Indulgence Chocolatiers, or organic Vanilla caramels with dark chocolate and sea salt made by Becky’s Blissful Bakery.
Of course, you can always just stay in your room. First, tune your radio to local music stations WMSE (91.7) or 88Nine (88.9) for some great sounds (some by local bands, of course); then pick up the phone and dial room service to have a meal made by Milwaukee chefs, in Milwaukee’s historic hotel, delivered to your door by a Milwaukee employee.* It doesn’t get any more local than that.
Prepare yourself for an extraordinary evening at Mason Street Grill with wines from one of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley, cialisBlackbird Vineyards. Mason Street Grill welcomes the vineyard for its first Wisconsin visit, and invites you to an exclusive wine tasting on Monday, September 26, 2011.
Guest of Honor Paul Leary, Blackbird Vineyard President, will amaze you with his expertise in wine as you dine on exquisite hors d’oeuvres and passed appetizers created by our talented chefs. Guests will be treated to generous pours of specialty wines including Blackbird Rose ‘Arriviste’ 2010 and Blackbird ‘Illustration’ 2008. Individual wine bottles will also be available to purchase at retail pricing.
More about Blackbird Vineyard.
Founded in 2003, Blackbird Vineyards is an artisanal producer of Pomerol-inspired wines from the Napa Valley. Planted in 1997, the estate vineyard is located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District–a region appreciated for its moderate climate and deep, gravelly soils. Limited quantities are available through an allocated mailing list direct from the winery and in the finer restaurants and hotels around the world.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Reception: 6:00 p.m.
Presentation: 6:30 p.m.
$40.00 per person (tax and gratuity not included)
Please RSVP on Facebook and by calling 414.298.3131 or email email@example.com before September 19, 2011
I recently got to get acquainted with a freelance marketer, seeksports journalist and travel blogger from Texas named Jayme Lamm, who I met at the Pfister because Jayme was connected with the Astros and had heard about how wonderful it was from both the tour and booking managers for the team. Referred to me by the marketing director at Travaasa Hana in Maui, where she’d recently stayed, prescription Jayme was described as “a fun, bubbly blonde who looks stereotypically Texan, but then she opens her mouth and what comes out doesn’t match, at all.” I’d nosed around on her website, read a few of her blog posts and began following her on Twitter, and was quickly convinced we could have some fun and I could probably learn a lot from her.
When she arrives, there’s an instant affinity: petite like me, she has sunny blonde hair, big brown eyes, is highly energetic, and reminds me of my younger sister. We start chatting right away about what brings her to Milwaukee (a family reunion up North), and how she’s looking forward to spending a night out and about. I warn her that on Wednesdays not much is going on, but I had an idea that would allow for a quick survey of Milwaukee: something old, something new, and something unique.
Starting at the Pfister (“something old”), we toured the hotel. A fan of old hotels because of their character, Jayme has stayed at a lot of beautiful places, but is impressed by what she sees here. Ending inside Mason Street Grill, we settle onto a pair of leather stools at the end of the bar, and our bartender, Micah, approaches with the menus. As we decide on our drinks (champagne for Jayme, a glass of Kung Fu Girl Riesling for me), Micah guides us through the appetizers. I know we’ll be definitely ordering my favorite (Tuna Tartar Tacos), but we aren’t sure what else to get. Thanks to Micah’s guidance, we add Mason Street’s signature Rockefeller Dip and Fried Surf Clams.
Conversation turns from the week’s Brewers games (“It got so hot and muggy with the roof closed for the rain!”) to her blogging work. Jayme relates how she always keeps an eye out for stories, though because she has bad luck, the story often ends up being about her. Our appetizers arrive and are demolished before we even knew they were there. Jayme, with her story-finder’s observant eye, notices Micah’s pin – a small square, featuring a butcher knife and the words “certified foodie.” We both instantly jump on this new thing and inquire after its meaning. We’re informed that it’s related to something at Mason Street Grill called “Counter Culture, “ which consists of a 7-course meal served with a chef as guide, at a special counter facing the kitchen, a la a chef’s table.
Jayme and I then head to our next destination (“something new”). SPiN Milwaukee is located in the Third Ward, a short jaunt from the Pfister, which gives me a chance to point out other fine destinations for food and drink. A combination table tennis club and bar, SPiN features ping pong tables for rent by the half hour or the hour and a full-service bar with food. It’s quiet when we arrive, but gives us a chance to talk to the bartender, after he serves us a couple pints of Milwaukee-made Sprecher beer. He and Jayme hit it off when he mentions being a musician and she mentions she’s looking to hire someone to write a little jingle with her for her charity work.
By the time we’re finished with our pints, having met one of the for-hire table tennis coaches and practiced giving perfect high fives (secret: keep your eye on the other person’s elbow), it’s quite late. Instead of going on to our “something unique” which was going to be At Random: Bay View’s swanky, orange-lighted, rat pack-music playing, liquorrific milkshake fountain shoppe – we decide to call it a night. SPiN managed to be both new and unique; as did Jayme.
For Jayme, the Pfister was old, new and unique and she looks forward to returning to Milwaukee to stay there, in order to best explore more of what the city has to offer, like the Safe House and Bryant’s Lounge, which were both recommended by Micah (and endorsed by me). Plus, At Random is waiting, as is a whole array of new places that have cropped up in the city over the last five years. It’s a terrific thing to be in a city that has so many wonderful things to offer, but I also like knowing where my favorites can be found: like Tuna Tartar Tacos and Kung Fu Girl Riesling.
I’m standing with one of the bellmen at the main entrance when a hotel events coordinator approaches to let the young man know about an important arrival: 30 boxes of cookies that will need to go immediately into a refrigerator, so she needs to be notified as soon as they are here. The thought of 30 boxes of cookies arriving by mini-van on a Friday in the middle of the afternoon might be noteworthy if we were someplace else, but we’re at the Pfister, where anything can (and does) happen, so neither of us flinches except to wonder aloud what kind of cookies they might be.
A short while later, I spot a group of folks standing around a cluster of framed photos, set out on one of the marble tables in the lobby, and ask if there’s a family reunion or something else going on this weekend? The woman who is putting the photos away in her bag tells me they’re for the cookie table. The “cookie table?” Yes, they’re here from Pennsylvania for a wedding and in Western Pennsylvania there is a wedding tradition where everyone makes cookies for the reception. Nearly 100 guests have made 30 cookies each, for a grand total of 3,000 cookies of all kinds! The ones that aren’t eaten will go home with the guests in cute little gift bags.
Of course, you don’t have to bake cookies and have them delivered in order to enjoy something sweet at the Pfister. The wonderful thing about the kitchen here is the presence of highly trained pastry chefs who are always turning out delicious treats. A devoted fan of their mathematically-perfect Fresh Fruit Tart, I also enjoy the Pain au Chocolat. They follow the true Parisian style of flaky croissant, with dried chocolate directly in the center (not too much, not creamy) and dusted with powdered sugar.
Then there are the seasonal pastries – those decadent items that can be here for days, weeks, or months, but need to be tasted before they disappear:
At present, the seasonal cupcake is a beautiful, white frosted thing sporting what appears to be a carnation-pink sugar-crystal coated cornflake. It turns out to be, not a cornflake, some color-enhanced frosted flake, but a candied rose petal. The sugar crystals are also sprinkled over the top. When I unwrap the cupcake, it actually topples over on its side from all the frosting. Yet, when I taste it, it is remarkably light in density, like a vanilla-flavored air puff. The candied rose petal, however, is the real treat. The first bite tastes how a rose smells. The experience is reminiscent of the Rose Drop Martini in Blu that tastes, truly, exactly – like a rose.
The current seasonal tart is Lemon Meringue and is the gastronomical complement to a summer’s day. A bright, sunny yellow filling is nestled in a sandy crust, bordered on one side with sails of whipped cream that are burnished bronze along their trimming. The taste is just as refreshing as a dip in a lake after an hour laid out on a towel at the water’s edge, trying to catch a tan.
Meanwhile, a Sendik’s delivery boy pops through the lobby, adorned with signature apron, and delivers two gift baskets to the Concierge desk – for passage on to guests. Each one is several meals in and of their plastic wrapped basket selves: various cheeses, crackers, fruits, spreads and even sparkling pink lemonade.
A See’s Candies bag dangles from a brass luggage cart, alone and unguarded. I can’t help but wonder if there are Scotch Kisses inside it, perhaps alongside the See’s signature chocolate and toffee pops. A gooey, gritty caramel temptation with marshmallow at its center, Scotch Kisses were an in-store-only childhood favorite of mine. My mind (and tastebuds) wander off to the land of foodie nostalgia and I consider stalking the See’s bag, perhaps charming its owner into sharing the contents. Alas, the next time I look up – the bag is gone.
Please join us for the Nickel & Nickel Wine Dinner at The Pfister on Wednesday, purchase July 20, 2011, in The Rouge Ballroom. $125.00 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity).
Marcus Restaurants’ talented chefs – Robert Ash, buy viagra Mark Weber, David Zakroczymski and Brian Frakes – invite you to an exclusive wine dinner featuring celebrity vintner Beth Nickel. Together, the chefs will prepare a 7-course meal, paired with specially selected wines from the Nickel & Nickel winery in Napa Valley.
The reception begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m
It’s summer in Milwaukee. Finally. We know the calendar has said it’s summer for some time now, but the weather simply hasn’t cooperated, as evidenced by the city’s wavering between the wet, cold of March and the hottest, most humid dog days of August. Not only has the mercury risen and the sun come out to tan the hides of hundreds of folks cavorting on Bradford Beach, but the clearest sign of the season has begun: the fireworks have been shot off, PrideFest has passed, the festivals are here!
Boasting large cultural fests like the Lakefront Festival of the Arts, Festa Italiana and Irish Fest, street festivals like Locust Street Days or Summer Soulstice, and numerous church festivals across the city and its suburbs, Milwaukee’s self-appointed (and well-earned) nickname is the “City of Festivals.” And, currently in full swing right now, is the biggest festival of them all: Summerfest.
Centrally located to the Summerfest grounds means the Pfister is packed to the Jason-Mraz-fedora-brim with fest-goers. They group together with friends, and the children tag along behind their moms. Coolers are being dragged or carried, backpacks are stuffed with sunscreen. The ladies are (mostly) tanned and adorned in skirts and heels, summer dresses and wedge sandals, capris and flip-flops with glittery sequins or earthy embroidery. The men in tees and plaid board shorts, jeans and tanks, sunglasses (some still wearing them inside), but especially: hats. Besides the numerous summer straw fedoras made popular by the aforementioned visiting musician, there are black glittery cowboy hats, jaunty leather types, paddlesport visors, and fitted baseball caps. The variety in fedoras, however, is particularly astounding, and those wanting in on this fashion can find some splendid samples at the Brass Rooster, newly opened in Bay View.
The abundance of exposed skin also results in a revelation of tattoos: colorful flowers on a lady’s back, a line of stars down the back arm of a man, a girl in a yellow dress with a variety of black & white/gray landscapes and portraits – one on her shoulder is a particularly stunning Marilyn Monroe.
There is a strong juxtaposition of summer attire with Roc’s tails and vest or Peter’s grand mustache and wide tie. This only makes the traditional, formal dress of the concierges stand out even more, creating an air of elegance that is nearly theatrical, were it not for their easy-going laughter or kind directions on how to take the trolley loop around downtown.
Of course, it’s also the Fourth of July weekend and guests have arrived from all over to spend their holiday here. There’s one guy who managed to bring all the summer fashions together. He stands at the check-in desk wearing all of the above: the t-shirt, plaid shorts, flip-flops, straw fedora, backpack AND has a cooler! I meet a fabulously flamboyant male ballet dancer from San Francisco who is here on a mini family reunion of sorts, a beautiful redhead from Tucson celebrating a hometown birthday with her longtime friend (and artist-in-residence) Shelby Keefe, and a couple from Illinois who has fled domestic festivities in favor of a holiday weekend away with their sweet, adorable 2.5yr old Basset Hound named Gertrude.
Gertrude is a charmer: her giant paws with exercise wristbands of wrinkled skin bunching around her ankles, pumpkin-fed soft fur, long and unbelievably silky ears, gorgeous tri-color markings, and those soulful eyes make a deadly combination. Her “parents” are thrilled to be able to bring her with them on their getaway. They even took her up to the seventh floor where, vacant of any conferences or group bookings, they found a veritable playground where they could play fetch with Gertie*, who normally would take off (as hounds are wont to do) and not come back as she followed a scent outdoors someplace. They loved that employees would walk by and smile, nod, say hello, maybe give Gertie a belly rub and go on their way. “It’s so wonderful to stay in a place where we can walk around with her inside, or play a little in a big, empty space and it’s okay!” Gertie shows her gratitude by licking my bare toes.
I think how it’s too bad that Gertie won’t be allowed in the one place everyone else is sure to be tonight between 11pm and 3am: in the Café at the Pfister, enjoying their inaugural ‘Summerfest Late Night Buffet’ for only $19.95. Who am I kidding? Gertie will be so tired from galloping around her new playground, she’ll be fast asleep on a big, fluffy bed next to a bigger, fluffier bed while the rest of Milwaukee listens to music, drinks, dances, and eats long into the holiday night.
*Gertrude has no idea how lucky she is, as she shares her nick-moniker with Milwaukee’s most famous animal: a duck, also named Gertie, whose bronze statue stands by the river, a symbol of hope.
This dish is a stunning appetizer that can be served at every occasion. The plump, buy delicious dates are wrapped in thick, smokey bacon then gently sauteed in a savory sauce. Creamy goat cheese is delicately placed in the center of the sweet, chewy date helping to enhance its rich flavor. This is an elegant and satisfying dish that your guests will request at every gathering.
20 pieces pitted medjool dates
20 pieces of smoked bacon strips
Stuff each date with the almond cheese and wrap with one slice of bacon and secure with a plain toothpick.
Bake in a 375F oven for 10- 15 minutes until bacon is crispy.
Place on top of a plate lined with roasted piquillo rouille.
Almond Cheese Ingredients
1 log of fresh goats cheese (room temp)
½ cup toasted slivered almonds
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
Fresh ground black pepper
In a mixer with a paddle attachment combine the cheese, almonds, extract and parsley mix until just combined and season with fresh ground black pepper.
Roasted Piquillo Rouille Ingredients
4-5 pcs roasted piquillo pepper
½ cup sherry wine vinegar
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 ½ cup olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Place all ingredients except the olive oil into a bar blender and puree then slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream.
While the lobby bar hosts an array of Monday night businessmen having a casual beer and some mixed nuts with colleagues, buoyed by a soundtrack of classical and jazz piano tunes, just down the hall and through a set of doors is the entrance to the Mason Street Grill. It’s an entirely different world, and easy to forget it’s a part of the hotel at all, were it not for the high-class service and ability to charge your meal back to your room.
Camel leather and stools and high-backed bar chairs with milk chocolate wood legs, dotted with brass rivets, ring several tall tables and line the bar. There are red leather couches and an easy chair in a half-circle by a fireplace, next to walls with built-in bookshelves lined with jacket-less tomes. Interspersed among the tiles are vases, decorative boxes, glass votives that vary in shape/height/color, and even a worn leather lunchbox. Dark wood walls and ceilings are adorned with rectangular light fixtures to provide an ambient lighting that is warm and glowing. All this evokes an executive dining room or perhaps the Chicago office of a corporate attorney. But the crowd is clearly there for varying reasons.
Two guys in shorts and golf shirts keenly pay attention to the Yankees vs. Reds game on the TV above the bar (4 to 1, Yanks, top of the 3rd), while Nicholas the bartender, smoothly pours them wine refills using that classic one-handed style of thumb placed neatly in the groove at the bottom of the bottle that indicates someone who knows how to pour wine. A woman practices the art of maneuvering through a crowd, avoiding a stray barstool, while tapping urgently on her Blackberry and never once looking up. A father-daughter duo plays catch-up over martinis. Another woman sets down on the bar a giant binder, stuffed to 4″ thick, while post-its and labeled tabs stick out in a way that appears haphazard but is methodical and deliberate, indicating serious business.
Meanwhile, near the apex of sitting area and wall of windows, there stands a black grand piano. Placed on top of the piano’s closed lid is an enormous martini glass – the kind I used to see a guy holding as he wandered around East Town’s Jazz in the Park, the glass filled to the brim with some sort of aqualescent cocktail. The tips in this particular glass show appreciation for each evening’s featured musicians. Currently a lone guitarist stands, strumming out a finger-style tune that sounds like a popular jazz tune, but is clearly styled in the classical Spanish way.
Soon, a singer joins him. The sound shifts to something more Bossa Nova, a la João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim. Her voice is pure jazz: rounded and full, with her words clearly enunciated as she rolls around the tones of a soft horn of bass, spiked with occasional flute-like sopranic rises. Her shoulders shrug in time with the beats of the soft mallets she wields on a set of bongo-type drums, eliciting a quiet “conk,” reminiscent of tapping two hollow coconuts together and reinforcing the musical ambiance of a Caribbean seaside patio or Latin beach cabana bar.
The duo turns out to be Pam Duronio and Tim Stemper. A married couple who originally met at a rehearsal while Pam was in town from Buffalo doing some contract voice work, they have often performed as “Pam and the Players” with various other Milwaukee jazz musicians, such as smooth jazz master Warren Wiegratz. Pam particularly enjoys putting the Latin flair to the classic jazz tunes she was trained to sing classically years ago, working with Mark Murphy out of San Francisco. Doing this to Norah Jones’ “I Don’t Know Why” creates a toe-tapping, upbeat, and catchy rendition of a song that is generally a little more melancholic and wistful. It’s at home with “Besame Mucho” but then creates a near-unrecognizable, yet wonderfully unique, ” ‘Deed I do.”
As Tim takes up the guitar again, solo, the patrons’ murmuring dissipates to a background purr, or soft rumbling, that could be the surf crashing over pebbles if you closed your eyes. I enjoy my glass of white wine – a 2009 Fred Loimer Grüner Veltliner out of Austria, titled “Lois.” The peachy, citrusy aromas are not too fruity, dry or crisp, simply airy and light. It perfectly complements my Tuna Tartar Tacos (only $5 at Happy Hour, an incredible bargain!!) with their fat chunks of tuna, boasting a sliver of avocado, artfully lain atop each tiny taco, over mixed greens and a spicy mayo.
Pam steps up to the mic, says “This one’s for Maureen and Chris,” and like breathy, whistling reeds, she softly launches into a Patsy Cline tune instantly recognizable to all: “I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so lonely…”
In 1987, the Klisch brothers rolled out their first barrel of beer and in the process Lakefront Brewery was born. Lakefront currently brews a specialty amber for Mason Street Grill and who better to lead us on a tour of the Milwaukee beer making institution than the Pfister’s Chef Concierge Peter Mortensen!
What’s your favorite Lakefront Brewery beer?
To find out more about Lakefront Brewery and get your advanced tour tickets, visit their website at www.lakefrontbrewery.com.