Strangers become friends over food, paint and travel stories

[next_message styles=”2″ title=”Gathering of the Senses II”]We’re thrilled to bring our second iteration of Gathering Of the Senses on Saturday, March 15th at 5pm. Tickets are $95++ per person. RSVP by calling 414-935-5950 or emailing m1res@marcuscorp.com.

Find more information, including the full menu, visit here.[/next_message]

Last week, artist-in-residence Stephanie Barenz, executive chef Brian Frakes and I hosted an evening of painting, eating and travel story telling. Nine people attended the event, called “Gathering Of The Senses,” which took place in Stephanie’s studio.

Each participant submitted a photo from a recent vacation to trace onto a canvas and then paint after a brief instruction session by Stephanie. Sue’s photo was taken in Ireland; Grace’s in Istanbul; Erin’s in New Orleans; Cathy’s in Amsterdam; Randy’s in Gettsyburg; Hannah’s in Germany and Karen and Lori’s photos were from a trip they took together to Prague.

photo-11

Jenni’s photo was from Chicago, but then went on to say she actually had never been to the Windy City. For a moment I was perplexed, but then she explained she came to the event at the last minute with Erin, whose original date was ill and could not attend. (#goodsport!)

During the painting time, the participants told me the stories behind their travel photos / paintings. I felt moved by and connected to much of what they said, especially considering I have been to every place they were painting with the exception of Ireland and Istanbul.

However, both Istanbul and Ireland are high on my lists of places I want to travel.

Just last month, I met a friend in the Pfister’s Lobby Bar after her trip to Instanbul. It was the first trip she took without her husband who had passed away unexpectedly the year before. I was so enamored with her photos and travels I bought a book, “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk, and my partner and I vowed to go some day.

I have also always wanted to go to Ireland. I told Sue that even though my name is Molly and my beer of choice is Guinness, I am not Irish (even though people always ask) but I love all things Irish – including my partner who is 5/8th Irish.

Sue’s Ireland story was very touching because even though her mother passed away when she was 12, she felt her presence while visiting the same places she had been as a young girl.

Erin’s story of traveling in New Orleans with her sister was wonderful, too. She said it was during that trip that she and her sister evolved from siblings to true friends. This choked me up a bit as I am somewhat estranged form my sister for reasons that are unclear to me and I also have had some of my best life moments in the city of New Orleans.

The warm and adventuresome stories went on and on. Hannah reunited with family in Germany; Lori and Karen had the time of their lives in Prague despite the rain.

Cathy told us of boating atop the canals in Amsterdam and her husband, Randy, who is a history buff, had a fantastic time in Gettysburg.

photo-11

Chef’s dinner was truly a first for me – since I am not much of a foodie – but everything was absolutely delicious, from the firesalt kiln baked beef marrow (served in a bone) to the firecracker tempura mini flounder to milk chocolate malted mousse. The fact that all of the menu items were inspired by chef’s travels made the cuisine even more meaningful.

chef

The four glasses of wine that accompanied the meal got everyone even chattier and sharing more of themselves as the evening went on. This was my favorite part of the event, having the chance to connect with random, fun, interesting people whom I never would have met or gotten to know without the Pfister connection.

“When people come into my studio or to one of my gallery events I usually only get to talk to them for a few minutes,” Stephanie later said to me. “It was wonderful to spend an entire evening with a small group of people and really get to know them. I loved teaching them my painting process, learning about their personal travel stories and sharing a special meal prepared by our Executive Chef.”

A couple days after the event, I looked at photos of all of the finished paintings from the evening and wrote a haiku about each one. I then mailed the haiku on a postcard to each participant. When I dropped the postcards in the mailbox I felt a little wistful as it marked the end of a magical evening.

Chef Brian Selects: New Items in the Café at the Pfister

Winter is knocking, and the temperature is dropping. What better way to keep the pulse going at the Pfister than introducing a new menu in the Café. With over a dozen new delicious options, we’re hoping we can please any palette that stops for lunch at the Café this winter. Check out Chef Brian as he introduces two of his favorites in the videos !

 

The Café at The Pfister’s NEW Fire Sugar Pork Finger Wraps (Tacos)

Featuring braised pork, delicious fennel & blue cheese slaw and some of our house-made Pfister pickles – these finger wraps are a fantastic treat!

The Café at The Pfister’s NEW Fried Chicken and Waffles

This spectacular buttermilk fried chicken comes with rosemary waffle, red-eye gravy and fresh green beans!

Get them While You Can: Summer Menu Items at Cafe Pfister

Sure, summer is coming to an end, but while they’re available, you can still enjoy the delicious tastes of summer that Chef Brian has put together for the Cafe Pfister’s menu. Including two of Chef Brian’s favorites, the WELLspa Caprese Salad and the incredible Floribbean Panini.

WELLspa Caprese Salad

featuring: fresh burrata, heirloom tomatoes, torn basil, cracked pepper, Skyhawk cold pressed olive oil & herb grilled bread

Floribbean Panini

featuring: Sofrito roasted pork, sliced ham, melted swiss, sliced pickle, mango mustard

A Knock at the Door

Knocking once, Blake calmly sings out, “Rooooom ser-vice.”

Silence.  Through the door, we can hear the sound of a television.  Blake raises his hand slightly, the one that isn’t balancing a tray, considers knocking again when a voice comes from within, “Just a minute.”

The door opens.  “Evening Ms. ——, how are you?”

One hand on the door handle, the other removing an earring, she replies, “tired, and very hungry.  I’m so happy to see you,” moving aside to allow entrance.

A moment later, he reappears, backing up and closing the door behind him as he grants the guest a good stay.  We step back onto the service elevator, the colorful halls and warm lighting giving way to the humming machines, humid corridors, back halls and fluorescent lights that make up the halls below ground.

We make our way past the tables draped in white cloth, hiding warmers underneath while prepped on top with small bud vases and tiny salt and pepper shakers.  Blake removes his jacket, hanging it on a doorknob in order to keep it clean, and turns in his tip.  Tips are split among all the servers working a particular shift.  Deanna, parked on a stool in front of the phone and computer where orders come in, waves a slip of paper in the air, indicating another order has just come through.  Blake immediately begins setting up a tray for the delivery, snatching miniature jars of ketchup and mustard from the small shelves where they reside next to other, equally miniature, jellies, jams and A-1 Sauce.

“I started out waiting tables at the Radisson,” he tells me as he arranges silverware, “I like this better than waiting tables, it streamlines the service work.”  He picks up a dish from Freddy, the chef currently on duty.  “I like to cook, so watching the chefs down here has been great.  If you observe and study, you can catch on and learn.  I’ve learned a lot about reduction sauces, how to use butter and wine for fish – stuff like that.”

You can’t pass through the halls of the Pfister’s lower levels without coming across Freddy.  Born in Belize, he lived in Louisiana for two years at age 11, before his family moved on to Chicago.  Through helping his family of nine siblings, and on to five years in the Navy, he always loved cooking for people. After signing up to work for the U.S. Post Office, a chance encounter in the halls of a community college made him drop everything and go to culinary school.  “I followed a pretty girl in a culinary uniform who said to me, ‘What do you got to lose?’ and so I signed up right away.”  He proudly shows off his red pepper coulis, chorizo and gives me a sample of creme brulee.  “I have fun doing this,” he says, gesturing over his entire work area, his domain for the last 15 years.

We walk up a ramp and into a different elevator to make a stop on the historic side, delivering a meal to a businessman on his first visit from Charlotte, NC.  As we walk, Blake explains the basic order of operations: first, a call comes in to the order taker.  A time quote is offered, based on the order, though the average time is 30 minutes.

Next, the order goes to one of six chefs who work in the department.  In addition to Freddy, there’s also Darin, a quiet chef who is doing mostly prep work during these third shift hours.  And Zachary, a line cook for the last year and a half, who came over from Fratello’s.  Originally he was hoping to learn pastry work, but the only opening was in room service dining.  “My mom was a stay-at-home, I cooked for friends in college, eventually going to work at a friend’s restaurant.  I worked at Bartolotta’s for awhile and loved learning how to make gnocchi pasta.” I ask for a hint.  “If you mash the potatoes too much, it makes it glue-y.”

In between orders, the servers chat while cleaning and organizing supplies, pre-setting trays and carts.  I meet Miguel who transferred from Lake Geneva, where he did “a little bit of everything – bakery, banquets, coffee service, everything.”  Originally from Guanajuato, he loves Wisconsin, especially its seasons.  Fall is his favorite, but he’s partial to the beauty of the snowy days and nights, and enjoyed helping decorate the resort every year for Christmas.  Now in Milwaukee for two years, he’s found he likes doing room service for its consistent schedule and personal, face-to-face interactions with guests.  He smiles big, his eyes crinkly a little around the edges, when he says, “I really love serving people.”  I believe him.

So, what happens when they receive a strange or unexpected request?  The information is noted by the order taker, who politely responds with something along the lines of, “XYZ department usually takes care of that, but I’ll be sure to pass it on for you.”  This achieves a two-fold purpose — the guest now knows who to contact the next time that particular request needs to be made and service is also provided right away.  It’s very rare for even the most unusual requests to go unfulfilled, as proven by Chef Concierge Peter Mortenson when he once had to track down a sugar maple sapling for a Russian ambassador.

Deanna, who has worked in restaurants since she was 16, spending 7 years at one family restaurant where she still works part-time, said her strangest request so far was the call she got where the guest said, frantically, “I don’t have a microwave in my room!”  Deanna calmly replied, “I’m not sure why that is, but I’ll take care of it for you,” and within ten minutes, the guest had a microwave.  And you thought all room service did was bring you food.

YOUR TURN:  Do you order food to your room when you travel?  What’s your favorite thing to have arrive at your door?

Meet n’ Greet with Pfister Staff. Do you know your Cafe Barista’s?

It’s time for Meet n’ Greets with the Pfister Staff again. We took a little break but we are back with a great crew this time.  Do you know your Café at the Pfister Baristas? Please meet Natalie,Roy, and Sam, this great group gets in extra early to make sure that you get your morning fix of java.

How long have you worked at the Pfister?  Natalie-4 months, Roy-6 months, Sam-6 months

Why do you like best about working at the Pfister Hotel?

 Natalie: The people I work with are a lot of fun and all of the interesting guests.
Roy
: Everyone who works here is really nice.  I get to meet a lot of people and its great working downtown.
Sam: I love that everyone is so friendly and helpful with everything.

What is your favorite Pfister memory or experience?

Natalie: Working downtown during all the festivals.        
Roy: Working during the big dance competition.                   
Sam: New memories are created all the time, I can’t just pick one.

Tell us something we may not know about you?

Natalie: I actually worked as a barista at the Grand Geneva Resort before coming here.
Roy: I won a limbo contest this summer in Las Vegasat the Palms, I won a great prize and felt special.
Sam: I used to have a pet pig named Duke, he once ate a pair of my glasses.

 What is the oddest/weirdest request that you have ever received from a guest?

All together: Extra Dry-Decaf-Half Soy-Half Ski-Four Shot Cappuccino

Thank you so much Natalie, Roy, and Sam for participating in our Meet n’ Greet sessions.  Look forward to hearing from more Pfister Staff on the Pfister Blog.

Natalie, Roy, and Sam

Joseph Phelps Wine Dinner in Mason Street Grill

Join Chris St. Marie, National Sales Manager for Joseph Phelps Vineyards, as he guides you through an exquisitely prepared six-course dinner. The meal will be carefully paired with six elegant wines, including Insignia, from the vineyard. Throughout each course, guests are educated about these delectable, complementary pairings that bring out the distinct, delicious flavors in each culinary creation.

Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, Joseph Phelps bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards in 1973. The winery was completed in 1974 and that same year the first Syrah was made, the first grapes were crushed at the new facility and the first Insignia was produced. Nearly four decades later, the flagship wine, Insignia, is recognized as one of the world’s great wines.

MENU

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Reception: 6:00 p.m.
Dinner: 6:30 p.m.

$95.00 per person (tax and gratuity not included)

Please RSVP by calling 414.298.3131 or email host@masonstreetgrill.com before october 13. And let us know you’re coming on Facebook.

Blackbird Vineyards: Wisconsin Launch Wine Tasting

Prepare yourself for an extraordinary evening at Mason Street Grill with wines from one of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley, cialis Blackbird 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 host@masonstreetgrill.com before September 19, 2011

History in the Air (Pt. 2)

<continued from Part 1>

“Every Sunday – it was a must – they’d take walks together, down to the lake.  There wasn’t a house or building there, it was all grass.  Just imagine how beautiful that was.  One time they were walking through an alley together, as a group, joking and having fun – and my mother said, ‘Oh, look at the red light there, isn’t that pretty?’  It was kind of high up on the building and one of the guys laughed and laughed and said, ‘Don’t you know what’s that for?’ and my mother said ‘No, no, it’s so pretty up there.’ Of course, they were talking about the red light district.  I’ve often gone down there, walking around, looking at the buildings and wondering which one it was.

“One day Teddy Roosevelt was in town, having lunch there, and he asked the waitress, ‘who made this beautiful, this wonderful salad?’  He said ‘I’m a salad person and this is the best salad I ever had, I have to meet whoever made it.’  So my mom came out of the kitchen to meet him.  They shook hands; he gave her a kiss and congratulated her on her salad.”

The photo, with Blanche's handkerchief and gold bracelet stamped with her initials

“She went on to be a nanny for a Doctor’s family before getting married and starting her family.  She was always a good cook – her food was delicious, very delicate – she would bake cookies for us to take to school.  Then people in the neighborhood started getting laid off – during the Depression.  I remember so many sad people. My folks’ nature was: ‘We have to feed these people.’ And so my mother was cooking day and night, making meals for so and so and so and so, and my sister and I would deliver on the coaster just like the snowstorms. But, that’s how we were brought up and it’s still that way in the family. You got to take care of people.”

I stayed for two more hours while El told me more stories about her life in Bay View – working for Bucyrus during WWII and waiting for the bus in the snow when her shift ended after Midnight; about marrying her childhood sweetheart (Dan, the butcher’s son with whom she attended elementary school and “did everything together – played together, fought together); all the garden clubs she worked with; going on a fishing trip to Canada for her 25th wedding anniversary; her kids and grand-kids and five great grand-kids (“One is going to be a writer!”).

We wandered around her yard, as she gathered dirt and a spare pot to send me home with wild onion bulbs to grow in my apartment.  She showed me the banners hanging in her yard, which lie in the flight path of the airport, honoring the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the 440th Airlift Wing – her husband, Dan, served in the war with the signal corps – and every time the signature sound of those military planes is heard, El rushes out to her backyard to salute them.

So this weekend, as jets and bombers buzz the shores of Lake Michigan for the Milwaukee Air Show, I’ll be thinking about Eleanore Hinich and her husband Dan’s service during WWII, as well as her mother’s kindness and generosity and how El so warmly embodies that nature and spirit.

I’m certain Teddy Roosevelt would have been pleased to find out that years later, Blanche was still making delicious food, only this time to feed the hungry mouths of families in Bay View who were forging through the Great Depression.

As for that onion bulb in the little ceramic pot?  It’s already sprouted up, getting ready to be chopped up and added to a delicious meal which I’ll be sure to make for a friend.

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

 

Things That Make You Go “Mmmm!”

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.

Cooking with Chef Ash: Bacon Wrapped Medjool Dates

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.

Ingredients

  • 20 pieces pitted medjool dates
  • 20 pieces of smoked bacon strips
  • Toothpicks

Directions

  • 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

Directions

  • 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

Directions

  • Place all ingredients except the olive oil into a bar blender and puree then slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream.
  • Mix until thoroughly incorporated.