Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ciao, Cafe Allegro!

A brief interlude from the "who is this guy?" epic...

Saturday night saw my very last dinner at Cafe Allegro. It was a bittersweet celebration with close friends who I have worked alongside, or been dining partners of, in the past. All of whom had to get one last taste of the AMAZING grilled calamari, and other Allegro signature dishes.

The news about Allegro's closing came a mere two weeks ago, and the last night of service is scheduled for Nov. 1st. I grabbed the people I wanted so badly to share that last meal with; my wife; Heather, friends Colpo, Lexi, Nico, Joe Stile, Joanne & Lexi's boyfriend Lee . I wanted to share the moment with my favorite ex-Allegro sous chef Monique, but scheduling could not permit.

I made my bones at Cafe Allegro, started as a busser, moved to waiter - bartender - bar manager to General Manager over the course of seven years. It was a magical place for those of us who worked there. We were a tight knit family, who looked out for each other, played hard and shared in many sorrows. We were pirates at sea in the murky waters of the South Side of Pittsburgh. Like family, we often fought claws bared, and fangs exposed, but there isn't a single f**ker in that place that I didn't love with all my heart.

In my time there, I raised my son, started yawp magazine, helped open the Club Cafe, and started to learn everything I could about wine. It was with a very heavy heart that I ever left there, but always thought they'd weather the storms of a failing economy without me. 3 years later and the news broke.

So we made a reservation for 8 and after a quick martini at the bar - Grey Goose martini up, dry, dirty - were shown to table #51. The same table where years earlier I had waited on Norah Jones (before she was famous... and yes, she tipped horribly). For appetizers, of course, grilled calamari. The calamari is seasoned with a spice similar, yet completely different, than Old Bay, tossed in a salmoriglio (sp?) sauce (which basically consists of orange juice, olive oil, and fish stock) thrown on the grill whole brushing beautiful grill marks all over the squid body. After grilling they take the body off the grill and cut it into the nice calamari rings so familiar to the average calamari diner. They then toss the rings again in the sauce and then throw the whole plate under a salamander (sorta like a kitchen broiler). Garnished with a lemon and lime for squeezing over the nummy bites before digging in. There is no better calamari (and I may venture to say "food") in the world. I had two plates!

I had brought a bottle of Albert Bichot Chablis Grand Cru Moutonne from Burgundy, 1999!!! It was a great start, with a crisp apple acidity, and a mellowed caramel flavor that really shone through. I was worried it might have been spoilt, as it had only recently come into my possession, but it was perfect.

The discussion turned from Will Ferrell quotes to the set list for our upcoming performance, lounge band "Rich Mahogany and the Leather Bound Books"... Soon we were talking old Allegro experiences. Most of them related to some experience with a celebrity. Richard Gere's criticism of Johnny Cash's American Recording Cd's saying "It seems a little forced." the server responded "Like a gerbil, or like 'Runaway Bride?". The night Sinnead O'Conor poured another customer's scotch over Peter Gabriel's head as the couple broke up mid-tour in our restaurant. Matthew Broderick's down to earth kind, quality, and good humor.

And of course we mentioned the highlight of my serving career when the hostess, Allana, called me at home and told me to come down to the restaurant because 100 people from the local filming of '10th and Wolf' had just invaded the restaurant, and we had 3 servers on. I rushed down, on my day off, in jeans and a white button down shirt to try to maintain some form of control. We pulled it off, the actors were very forgiving, as we had been a dry spot out of the brewing storm that lashed at their trailers parked outside. But the highlight for me was the Chef, passing me a pork chop, and asking me to serve it to the first table on the "patio". I obligingly ran the food out to the table, placed it down, and who's looking up at me thanking me with a gigantic cigar hanging off his lower lip??? Dennis (fuckin') Hopper... and I, in a dirty white shirt, jeans and sneakers... the night ended with Giovanni Ribisi and Piper Parabou (sp?) just hanging out with me at the host stand trying all our different wines, scotches and ports.

Uproarious laughter ensued as all the stories unfolded

We followed the Bichot with a Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet 2006 (also a chardonnay, also from Burgundy, France) which was certainly younger, but still had many similar flavor profiles, enough to carry us through our second course... I chose a favorite... the shrimp and lobster bisque.

Dinner progressed through a bottle of Clos Apalta 2003 from Chile (funnily enough from the same company that makes Grand Marnier... Casa Lapostelle... for anyone who loves the orange flavored liqueur as much as I do). The Clos Apalta showed great full fruit. It was aged perfectly, the tannins were wonderfully balanced, we drank this as a quaffing wine... needed no food. It was the perfect wine to drink here, as I had discovered the carmenere grape within these sacred culinary walls. I purchased the Clos Apalta originally, years before for the restaurant. About three months later Wine Spectator named it one of the top 3 wines of it's annual top 100 report. It was a crowning achievement for me. I love carmenere for the history. It was originally one of the Bordeaux blending grapes alongside cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petite verdot and malbec, but the phyloxera louse of the late 19th century completely wiped it out of Bordeaux. The grape was thought lost to the sands of time until a century later when DNA testing on a Chilean varietal, that was thought to be merlot, proved to be the missing carmenere grape. Apparently it was transplanted in Chile long before the phyloxera struck, and thrived in the phyloxera free wine growing regions of Chile. So cool!

For my entree I had a veal cutlets in a fig and red wine reduction that was out of this world. The reduction was gooey and rich. Very rustic dish, a reminder of where Cafe Allegro always shined, in hearty, rich provincial style flavors. With this dish I finally opened a bottle of 2000 Chateau Reignac which I had been saving for 2010, but, still having one bottle left, I decided to try it out tonight and see how this wine was aging. It was beautiful. Wet terroir murky flavors of Bordeaux were mingling beautifully... however a little more aging won't hurt that last bottle which I'll be holding onto for a precursor to my 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages that I'll be drinking on my 40th in 2010.

The night ended with a glass of Fonseca port, an espresso, and Cafe Allegro's famous "Berry White"; a blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry tart covered with melted white chocolate. We got four and everyone shared.

Dinner was over, and sadly so were the memories. We paid our bill, said goodnight to all the staff... our friends... but couldn't linger on long goodbyes, as they still had customers to serve, and another week of strong business to contend with.

So I say it here, now... goodbye Cafe Allegro. I raise a glass to all the friends and family I have had the distinct pleasure of serving alongside over the years... the friendships which continue today, and continue tomorrow. There will never be a place that holds such a huge part of my heart and soul as that little spot on the Southside that shone like a beacon of culinary light.

To Marco, Paula, Joe, Antoinette, Gloria, Monique, Stevo, Colpo, Jim K, Vogt, Jay, Paco, Ziad, Dale, Will, DC, Chmill, Sam, Jamie, Chris, Aaron, DD, Freddie, Kevin, Scott Brady, Johnny Star, Josh Nicholas, Stiles, Dave, Lou & Mary Jean, Cedric, Marko, Dustin, DJ, Phyllis, Don Bistarkey, Lexi, DJR, Laurend, Mullet & Nik, The Hardy Boys, Allana, Shon Kelley, Eric, Rudi, A.C. and all the other Cafe Allegro all-stars... cheers! ...and God bless!

Article by Post-Gazette:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who is this guy?

"Who the fuck is Sean D. Enright, and why the fuck should I give a shit about his stupid wine picks?"
Okay... that's a reasonable question to ask (though I'm not sure all of the explicit language was completely necessary).
Who and why?
Who am I, tied into why should you care, but also why am I writing a wine blog?
Let's start with "who is Sean D. Enright".
Well, I was born and raised in Norwell, Massachusetts. A short drive from Boston. I spent my youth along the colonial sea coast of the South Shore. I was schooled in the hills of Vermont and the rolling plains of Ohio. I've hiked the Himalayas, squatted in London, settled in (for) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I've toiled as a yacht club maintenance worker, late night gas station attendant, clothing store manager, Indian & Nepalese clothing importer, dive bar bouncer, beer & pizza delivery driver, cook, dishwasher, usher, newspaper photographer, small poetry 'zine editor, graphic designer and concert promoter... all leading up to my first Front Of House (FOH) restaurant position as a busboy at one of Pittsburgh's premiere French Riviera restaurant, Cafe Allegro at the ripe young age of 27. When I started at Cafe Allegro, I was the head bouncer at Dee's Cafe just down the street, and, also, working for three (count 'em 3) local newspapers as staff photographer; The Carnegie Signal Item, The Bridgeville Area News and The Cranberry Journal.
My son, Colwyn, had just been born, and a year later my girlfriend at the time actually agreed to marry her bouncer/busboy/photographer boyfriend. So I left Dee's and the newspapers (though the photography job, I'd be a liar to say the decision to leave there was purely my own to and started waiting tables at Cafe Allegro, while also bartending across the street at the Club Cafe.
At Cafe Allegro it was quickly realized by our then wine director, that while I was lacking wine knowledge, I had one of the most impressive palates he had encountered. I was also very adept at translating my interpretation of flavor profiles to guests who were themselves just discovering the wonders of wine. Jim Kwiecinski (sp?) was mentor in those early days, and he relished in my enthusiasms for wine. He trained me to have a deep appreciation for old world style, at a time when big, fruit forward, high alcohol wines were the current wine craze. Jim trained my palate to find the pleasures in the murky sea blown grapes of Bordeaux, like Coin Cache, crisp earthy sancerres from Loire Valley, and off-the-wall unique reds like the peppery carmenere of Chile and the unique Austrian originated Lemberger - best realized (in my humblest of opinions - but that is why you are still reading this blog - for my admitted humble opinion) in Jed Steele's Washington State Shooting Star Blue Franc.
During this period I also learned the subtle craft of martini and cocktail making from my drink mentor Don Bistarkey, and grew to have an advanced appreciation for bars and bartenders, wine stewards, beer & booze - and I hope to pass that appreciation along to you.
We'll discuss in this blog, not only wine related issues (though wine will be the basis of most discussions), but we'll also touch on other alcohol related subjects as well as foodie stuff I've picked up along the way, working for the top restaurants in Pittsburgh.
(to be continued)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

And so it begins...

Rick Tyler
September 23 at 9:37am
Have you ever considered starting a wine blog. I am getting into wine and consider myself a rung above novice, but have so much to learn. To provide some context, I graduated beyond looking at the Cabs and am exploring/enjoying Malbecs and Zinfandels. I have moved beyond pinot grigio and onto rieslings, sauvignon blancs and white burgundies. However, I still consider myself a novice in these wines. The burgundies, bordeaux, pinot noirs baffle me. I have enjoyed many bottles of each, but I'm still trying to get my dense head around them.If I may suggest, you should consider writing a blog that you can publish here on Facebook as to wines you would suggest one explores. I especially like finding the gem that is under $20. Anyone can buy a great bottle of wine for $50... right? Only a pro can find a gem for under $20. Any way, I know I could benefit from your experience and I am sure others in your network could too.So when is the first blog coming???? :)Take Care,Rick

Sean Dwyer Enright
September 24 at 12:50pm
You have picqued my interest. I get asked this all the time, but just haven't found the right forum from which spread the word. The cogs are turning. I'll keep you posted.

Rick Tyler
September 24 at 9:45pm
The right Forum is Facebook. This is the coolest social network site available. You can create your own group... WineAtopia... An Educated Enthusiast's Guide to Wine. We can do virtual wine tastings 2X a month. Think of it as Enright's take on Oprah's Book Club... except you are focused on something much more fun... wine. I'd join the group. Hell - I'll set it up. Just need your expertise for content. I can manage the content.

Sean Dwyer Enright
September 25 at 11:19pm
Omigod! Allright already, you win! Gonna make you my agent. Okay, I love it! I'm putting some ideas together in my head. Where do we go from here? Start a group or is there some kinda durn blog app that i need to get my hands on.