Tales from the Social Scene: A Lavish Evening with Mario Batali

By: 
Ernie Pino

I’ve been covering Seattle magazine’s society page, Flash+Talk, for over twelve years and clearly this distinction offers me some sweet perks.

Still, when publisher, John Kueber, and editorial director, Rachel Hart, recently asked if I was available to attend An Intimate Evening with Mario Batali, organized by the Seattle Art Museum Supporters (SAMS), they had my absolute attention.

I wasn’t just being tossed a bone, this was a $1000 a-person, Fred Flintstone-sized stegosaurus rib.

So, my partner Rich Gray and I pulled calendars, made the necessary rearrangements and cleared the evening of November 4. Then, the fun began.

At about 3 p.m., I’m at my Alderwood office (besides Seattle Mag, I work a legit 9-to-5 as the owner of a Spanish language ad agency, Producciones Pino) when I’m pinged with an email from the Batali organizing team, asking if I’d like a 4:30 behind the scenes tour of the kitchen and interviews with the chefs. Hmm, I’ve still got to clear my desk, get gussied up, hop in the car and deal with southbound I-5 traffic from Lynnwood to metro Seattle. Sure, why not. Rich and I crank it into warped speed and we’re on the road shortly after 4:00 p.m.

We pull up to the SAM’s valets an hour later (God bless Mayor McGinn and our bottlenecked highways), check in as Connoisseur (read: hubba-hubba) Guests and soon I’m in the bowels of TASTE Restaurant, visiting with executive chef and GM, Craig Hetherington (above, right), who introduced me to his team and gave me a sampling of the hors d’oeuvres and entrée that would be served that evening.

Small in size and packed with flavor, the Rolled Pork Loin Flamenquines (shown right) and Involtini di Coppa (Pumpkin Wrapped in Salumi’s Cured Copa) hit a culinary homerun, and the chilled Ajo Blanco garlic and almond soup (the original, pre-Columbian Spanish gazpacho) had just the right touch of tang and would have made my Spanish ancestors proud.

Clearly, Mario’s recent Iberian travels with his pal, Gweneth Paltrow, still hit a happy culinary nerve which was present in this evening’s menu.

Oh, and for those of you that haven’t made the connection, Mario Batali is the local-boy-made-good son of Armandino Batali, who established the very popular Salumi upon retiring as a Boeing engineer; like pop like son.

Here’s a photo [courtesy Ernie Pino] of the Arista alla Porchetta—a robustly seasoned roast pork loin that was wrapped in a thin layer of pig skin and served crackling crisp.

Though the menu items were listed as Batali-inspired, each dish had the delectable flavor and finishing touch we’ve come to expect from Craig Hetherington; well done, Chef.

At 5:30 sharp, the first wave of guests were welcomed  into SAM’s south hall by an alert staff, offering the  previously mentioned nibbles along with assorted Crostini—eggplant, wild mushroom and melted leeks—and Cipolle Fritte (pearl onions crisped in a cheese enhanced batter).

Italian wines, courtesy of David LeClaire and Wine World, sparkling water and a full bar flowed freely, but the beverage of choice, hands down, was Kathy Casey’s Rosemary Mandarin Sparkle, an herbaceous/citrusy vodka cocktail topped with a float of Chateau Ste. Michelle Brut sparkling wine; not overly-sweet nor sour; dangerously refreshing and too easy to sip.

Ready to make a good party great, John and Kathy Casey (Ms. Casey having just flown in from a California gig to serve as the evening’s celeb mixologist) were front and center early on, mingling with the patrons and lining up with the rest of us to be photographed with Signore Batali and guests, Dale Chihuly and The Chef in the Hat, Thierry Rautureau.

Thanks to Duell Fisher—the man who graciously sees the world through a camera’s lens—the evening was documented by his Team Photogenic. Some of us were even able to offer up our two cents on his video journal/entertainment program, Seen by Team Photogenic (watch the video below).

Once sufficiently lubricated, we were ushered into SAM’s Arnold Boardroom, where Seattle’s cognoscenti were gathered for a family style dinner.

For the steep price of admission, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would be surrounded by greatness. What privileged secrets does $1,000 get you? Perhaps Elvis would be there or maybe the truth about our fate on December 2012 would be revealed.

To my relief, I immediately started recognizing some of Seattle’s folk-of-lore, like Marilyn and Armandino Batali (Mario’s proud parents), Leslie Jackson and Dale Chihuly (of glass art fame), Barney and Pamela Ebsworth (mondo art collectors), Kathy and Thierry Rautureau (Rover’s and LUC restaurants), plus a bevy of cultural and arts patrons, including Virginia Wright, Kate Janeway and Howard Wright, Cathi and Ken Hatch and, as my seat-mate and new BFF, Julie Mustelin (spouse of Dr. Tomas Mustelin, renowned biotech PhD at Amgen), who shared my passion for the 2010 Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Vermentino which was generously poured.

These were all delightful folks with whom I shared the common intention of simply breaking bread while enjoying a unique experience.

Soon, our table was gushing about the tropical fruitiness of that luscious Antinori white wine and David LeClaire mentioned that he carries it for about $23 at his shop; time to high-tail it to Wine World.

It was paired with our first course, Fenecchiedde, a lightly pickled medley of veggies accompanied by an array of Armandino’s Salumi charcuterie, my hands-down favorite being the mole salami.

Chef Batali introduced the next course, light-as-a-feather potato gnoccihi pillows given the Italian name Strangolapreti alla Sorrentina, meaning “priest stranglers” in the style of Sorrento, which references the claim that the dish is served as an effect tool for keeping the parish priest quiet at dinner.

This course was accompanied by a lush 2006 Antinori Marchese Chianti Classico (Sangiovese). Our entrée, which I was highly anticipating after eying it earlier while touring the kitchen, was the Arista alla Porchetta pork loin roast, served with Brussels sprouts and a sausage, pecorino and thyme stuffing; delectable.

A stalwart 50% Cab, 30% Merlot, 20% Syrah 2008 Antinori Il Bruciato held its own, turning the entire course into a testament to elevated senses and relative gluttony; bring it.

Lastly, our savory palate was cleansed by braised Fenecchiedde fennel salad with cavolo nero (black leaf kale) and crostini di gorgonzola.

After we collectively patted our bellies, air kisses were exchanged ‘round the table and we dashed downstairs to the Plestcheeff Auditorium for a whimsical and informative presentation by Mario Batali and Thierry Rautureau, moderated by KOMO 4 chief weathercaster, Steve Pool.

Digs were gently exchanged between chefs about the virtues and pitfalls of French and Italian cuisine, the state of local and global farming and restaurateuring. Even a dash of heady political philosophizing found its way to the table, with Mr. Pool keeping the banter light and entertaining by interjecting weather-related zingers throughout the 40-minute chat around the table.

We wrapped up the event at SAM’s Brotman Forum to graze on desserts and Prosecco while enjoying the tunes of Mark Soltys and the Soul Siren band.

Then, just when we thought that our culinary Christmas was ending, it was time for the goody-bag.

I’ve been to the Oscar’s once in my life, long before you left the ceremony with Mont Blanc pens, a year’s supply of MAC makeup and a timeshare in a casita on Puerto Vallarta’s Punta Mita; I’m not bitter.

And even though this was not the Academy Awards, Rich and I were certain we’d be taking home some sweet treats this evening.

We were not disappointed.

Each fabric bag alone was worth the wait in line: A substantial lime green canvas tote lined with zippered compartments and exterior pockets galore. Heavy-duty yet chic and subtly monogrammed with the logo of the generous supplier, Northern Trust.

Inside was an autographed copy of Mario’s book, Molto BataliSimple Family Meals From my Home to Yours, plus a keepsake copy of the photo we’d had taken with the evening’s star trio, Mario, Thierry and Dale, a gift card to one (1) SAM Patron Level Membership, a regulation size container of Tom Douglas’s Rub with Love Salmon Rub, a jar of Homemade Tomato Sauce from La Spiga, and a container of Chef Thierry’s Chef in the Hat Moroccan Spiced Salt Rub.

This close to Halloween, I felt like one of the luckiest trick-or-treaters on the block.

Just as we’re ready to scoot with our loot, Kathy and Thierry Rautureau cozy up to us in the goody-bag line and ask that we join them at their oh-so sweet Madison Valley brasserie, LUC, for a post-party celebration with Mario, his folks and team.

So, before I knew it, we were seated at one of our favorite late-night spots enjoying the company of a great peeps, including Michelle (Mrs. Steve) Pool who, like the rest of us, could not believe we were consuming yet more delectable food and drink while waiting for her hubby to arrive.

In true form, the always generous Rautureau duo pulled out all the stops and served a family-style banquet which included pretty much everything on LUC’s menu.

Yes, a mere two hours after having consumed appetizers, cocktails, wine and a four-course Mario Batali Bacchanal, we were about to dig into dinner number two , hosted by one of Seattle’s premier chefs. Would you have said no? I didn’t think so.

Folks sometimes ask me how I do it and where I put it. Sure, I work out on a steady basis and all that, but truth be told, this kind of evening does not happen very often and, when it does, I simply buck up, take off the tie and count my lucky stars for such a life.

The entire night was equal parts feeding marathon and love fest; a perfect balance. Missed you there!

¡Salud!

 

Seen @ An Intimate Evening with Mario Batali from Seen LIVE with Team Photogenic on Vimeo.

 

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