Just when you think the art of fine dining has reached its zenith, a Seal Beach restauranteur has taken it to the next level.
Nick Quiroz is giving patrons an opportunity to learn the finer art of dining while also obtaining a better understanding of what the chef staff is thinking as they prepare the menu.
In an interview, Quiroz said when his group purchased Patty’s Place in 2019, the restaurant had a good reputation, a great staff, and enough goodwill to keep it going. Three years in, however, Quiroz has begun to put his own stamp on the restaurant by taking fine dining a step further.
Quiroz is the owner/manager of Patty’s Place, and he has embarked on an effort to educate and enlighten customers with a series of special “Wine&Dine” events.
These special events combine culinary knowledge with the wit of a master sommelier to allow the restaurants to understand wine and how it plays a role in planning the menu.
“The upside for us,” said Quiroz, “is to be able to have fun creating a menu that is designed specifically to pair with particular wines.”
Moreover, with more than 40 years in the business, Quiroz employs a table-hopping management style. “I love going table to table,” said Quiroz, “saying hi to everyone who comes in. Even when they are complaining. I don’t hesitate, I go there and face the music.”
Truth is, however, there’s not much complaining over at Patty’s Place. Quiroz says business is better than ever. So much so that he has embarked on an effort to occasionally invite interested customers to attend the special “Wine & Dine” events, featuring Master Sommelier Michael Jordan.
In the most recent Wine&Dine event, Quiroz introduced Jordan to a room packed with customers who had been lucky enough to get one of the thirty-six seats to the private event held in the back private dining area.
“We’re so honored to have him (Jordan) here,” Quiroz explained to the excited guests. Each of thirty-six guests attending the event was seated around a fine dining setup, complete with eight glasses of wine, four red and four white.
“We get to do a blind tasting with a certified wine educator,” said Quiroz.
In addition, he said Jordan is a “Master Sommelier,” a rare breed of wine specialists that must endure a near impossible set of challenges to be inducted into the rank of “Master.” They must proceed through four levels of testing, then they must be able to identify everything about a wine, including what grape variety they were made from before they are certified, said Jordan.
According to the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, there are less than 200 “Master Sommeliers” in the USA, of which Jordan, of Costa Mesa, is indeed recognized on the institution’s website.
According to Jordan, Master Sommeliers must in an instant be able to identify, with only a swirl, sip, and a smell of wine (which is called a “blind testing” in wine speak), pretty much everything about a wine.
They must be able to identify the wine’s history, know from which country/region it is from, what grape may have been used, in what village they were grown and the wine’s vintage year, among many other characteristics.
Master Sommeliers even understand the soils in various regions around the world and how those soils are traceable by the certain tastes and smells they produce.
He provided the audience with many tips about wine most never knew. Jordan says you determine the acid level in a wine simply by judging how much your mouth juices up when you drink it.
While wine connoisseurs hang onto every drop of information, even the average wine drinkers attending the event got more than a bottleful of facts and ideas about wine from Jordan.
Participants got a printed checklist from Jordan with more than fifty characteristics of wine that would be soon become a part of Jordan’s wine lessons.
For example, Jordan held a glass of white wine up to the light, and said, “look at that light,” pointing to the wine. “It is bright,” he said, “in fact, it’s kind of starbright, and the deep lights shining through it, are pale straw with a watery rim.”
“In fact, in the light, you can see a light green hue,” said Jordan, drawing his audience closer.
“That’s a very important clue,” he says to the group, “because a green hue in a white wine,” says Jordan, “means it’s either a young wine or from a cool climate.”
He called the exercise a “deductive tasting.”
First, he said, when you “swirl” the wine around the glass, you are supposed to look to see how much of the residue sticks to the glass. The “viscosity” determines the fullness and texture. More sticking to the glass reveals many of the ingredients therein and its residue is a huge clue.
“We don’t swirl the wine around the glass to look cool at a cocktail party,” said Jordan, “we spin it around for two reasons. One, we want to see how thick the drips are on the side and two, we want to coat more surface area of the glass, so as the alcohol evaporates from a bigger surface area, it’s easier to get some aromas out of it.”
Then another little secret from the Master Sommelier, the greatest aromas are not in the bowl of the wine glass but hovering on top of it.
“Right at the rim of glass,” he said, simmering above the wine, are delicate smells, perhaps herbs, floral and spice, that are very helpful in identifying the wine. “If I just stick my big old nose into the glass, I miss all that stuff at the top,” said Jordan.
“So I approach the wine very carefully,” he said because the “deeper, heavier, fruitier flavors sit in the bowl of the glass” and I don’t want to miss the subtle hints of smell.
After explaining the various regions around the world where grapes are grown, Jordan also explained how a keen nose can smell the wine and know exactly from where the grapes likely come by the grass and floral smells, the smell of oak barrels, or not.
When it comes to wines, Jordan said there are simply the “old world” and the “new world,” he said. “Europe is the old world, and the new world is everything else.”
It was soon time for the participants to use the knowledge they had hopefully gained.
Jordan methodically went through each of four white wines, then red, allowing each of the thirty-six participants to register their own thoughts. Occasionally, he quizzed the diners to make sure they were taking it all in.
“I think I can smell the oak [barrels] in this one,” said Maureen Pabbruwee, of Seal Beach, who attended the event with her husband Jerry.
As they marked their choices on the paper he provided, Jordan told the Wine&Dine participants not to worry if they had not yet mastered the many skills of wine identification.
“It’s the hardest thing in the world to do,” said Jordan, as patrons went on with the test, trying to impart their newfound wine knowledge as they guessed wildly about the four reds and four whites until they had all been properly identified.
Following Jordan is a tough act, said Quiroz, but working with Chef Jose Navarro, they put together a memorable service where each of the wines were selected specifically for the accompanying dish.
“The dishes we serve for Wine&Dine are not on our regular menu,” said Quiroz, “so it gives Jose and I time to do a little research and be creative in putting the menu together.”
Quiroz said for the five-course Wine&Dine dinner, he and Chef Jose worked tirelessly to match the wines with the dish, especially given the patron’s newfound knowledge of both.
The arugula salad was served with Capture Sauvignon Blanc, the poached fresh coast scallop with orzo in lobster sauce was served with Diatorn Chardonnay, the pan-seared white Peking duck breast was served with Brewer Custom Pinot, the prime short rib came with Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon and the sorbet and gelato came with coffee.
“This was an amazing event,” said Jim Osborn, the former owner of the Tustin Grill and a longtime friend of Quiroz, He is still an Orange County restauranteur and complimented the presentation of Jordan, a man he said he’s known for many years.
With more than four decades in the business, Quiroz has worked his way up from bartending to owner/manager. He takes pride in the fact that his employees are well paid and many have spent their careers in the same restaurant.
For instance, Chuck Armstrong, a popular local bartender, recently retired with twenty-five years of service, said Quiroz. The Wine&Dine events, of which there have thus far been only two, are an experiment to provide diners with culinary insights while also giving them a chance to have some fun, he added.
“The end goal, really,” said Quiroz, “is to bring in anyone interested in fine wine or fine dining, break some bread together, maybe learn something, and have a really nice evening.”