There was no way that my wife and I were going to miss the Fifth Annual Stages Wine Dinner to benefit Waterbury’s Palace Theater, which was held on June 2nd. Those folks at the Palace sure know how to throw a party!
For me, of course, it was a working meal, and my lovely wife was very patient as I took all of the photographs I needed, beginning with the Palace’s glamorous marquee.
We went inside and joined the queue of supporters of the arts.
Then we hailed a passing server,
my wife taking a glass of white wine
and I a glass of red.
My wife and I checked in with my boss, Bob DeZinno, emcee and an organizer of the event, owner of this website, owner of DT Media Group, and a former restaurateur, restaurant critic and president of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Then I abandoned my classy date for a substantial stretch while I roamed around and took dozens of photographs.
If you are reading this article simply out of curiosity about the great food that was served, by all means skip ahead. If you attended the event, you’re likely to find yourself in one or more of the many photographs. If you’re familiar with any of the organizers, chefs, or guests, you’re apt to spot people you know. Or if you were there, however briefly, and need an alibi for that night, the images I shot are date-and-time stamped. So let the pictures tell the story!
The Palace Theater is a stunning venue. Even the LaMoy Grand Foyer,
essentially the lobby, is just gorgeous.
I stole upstairs
to overlook the room in which the dinner would be held and observe the preparations.
Wines were being sourced from the bar below.
I found the lighting in this room quite magical.
I returned to the Grand Foyer intent on capturing the mood of the crowd.
I started closing in on smaller knots of people.
As a man eternally grateful for his marital good fortune, I couldn’t resist spying on my lovely wife from afar. Here she is on the prowl for vittles,
and here she is closing in for the kill.
This photo of Ann keeping an eye on my camera bag suggested it was high time I get back to her side.
Good thing, because I think she was about to be romanced by another photographer.
Once I felt like I had gotten the architectural and human interest shots I needed, I began to pursue the food. There were salmon tartare cones topped with herb sour cream,
heirloom tomato gazpacho shooters,
grilled vegetable and goat cheese crostini,
Pacific rim crab cakes with ginger scallion aïoli,
lobster salads with bacon on brioche toasts,
and a mushroom stuffed with chorizo, chicken and spices (which I would completely have missed had not my thoughtful wife saved one for me).
Here is a photo of the gentlemen responsible for these wonderful hors d’oeuvre.
The Foyer was lined with tables sporting silent auction items to benefit the Palace Theater.
While guests were enjoying themselves in the Foyer, I headed into the theater itself to observe the food being prepped. Forgive me if my flashes were hopelessly underpowered for the vast, dimly lit spaces whose depths I would ask them to plumb.
When you dine at a properly run event, it seems effortless because it’s beautifully orchestrated. But those who go behind the scenes can see all of the hard work. The staging area for the food, appropriately, was the stage.
Billy Grant waved to me in greeting,
and Prasad Chirnomula gave me a shout-out.
While the participating chefs were some of Connecticut’s very best, an event like this still takes real coordination, a role that fell to my multitalented boss, DeZinno.
Stars in their own right, these chefs worked hard and worked extraordinarily well together.
Soon it was time for guests to move to the dining area. This photo of DeZinno with Palace Theater development director Natalie Lawlor shows how calm and relaxed they were about the upcoming meal service and presentations.
People began to find their tables,
which were represented by wine varietals. DeZinno had seated Ann and me with his wife (shown left) at the Albariño table.
We were also joined by Keith Mahler, president of Premier Concerts and owner of exciting Backstage Restaurant in Torrington.
Theoretically, DeZinno was seated at our table, but I never saw this dedicated individual sit down or eat anything during the entire evening. I’m not sure Lawlor ever sat down, either.
But before the food would arrive, there would naturally have to be a little speechifying. Speakers included Carolyn Cicchetti, Palace board member and Stages Dinner committee member,
Sandra Vigliotti Senich, Palace board chair,
Palace executive director Frank Tavara,
and finally, witty emcee DeZinno, who would never really relinquish the microphone until the affair was winding down.
The first order of business was to thank the caterers whose hors d’oeuvre had so delighted everyone. They included Bob Bourassa and Bob Lavorgna of Bourassa Catering in Wallingford and Steve Scarzella of Chippanee Golf Club in Bristol.
About half way through our meal, I headed back to the stage to check out the food service.
Well-coordinated lines of servers efficiently brought the food to guests, most of whom probably never dreamed the long and strenuous journey the food had to make.
The moment any true foodies have been waiting for (or skipping ahead to), let’s look now at each wonderful course and the chef responsible for it. The first course was jumbo lump crab tempered in black mustard seeds, purple onion and Hawaiian ginger, with hints of coconut and curry leaves.
The charismatic chef behind this wonderful treat was Prasad Chirnomula of the various Thali restaurants and Oaxaca Kitchen.
Our second course was beautifully pan-seared escolar with verjus, caramelized grapes, red pearl onion and a fava bean parsnip purée.
Jerry Reveron, formerly of Woodward House and currently of the Taft School, was the man behind this delightful creation.
Our third course was a frisée salad generously appointed with double-smoked bacon, green apple-glazed duck breast and crispy sweetbreads and finished in a French vinaigrette.
The salad was conceived by Rick Kerzner of Emily’s Catering Group.
Our fourth course featured delectable, hand-turned, russet potato gnocchi with morel mushrooms, spring peas, ramps, truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano,
courtesy of one of Connecticut’s most beloved chefs, Billy Grant of Bricco, Grants and Bricco Trattoria.
Our fifth course showcased braised veal breast with an early harvest onion and potato purée, glazed baby carrots and veal jus.
Chef Nicola Mancini of La Tavola in Waterbury was responsible for this impressive main course.
Now before I introduce you the dessert course, I’m going to show you star chef Noel Jones of PolytechnicON20 preparing it.
Jones’ stunning chocolate tasting had 13 components to it, including the edible gold leaf you see catching the light.
As great as every course was, you could tell by the thunderous applause what guests thought of this unbelievable dessert.
Now I’d like to widen my lens from the food and chefs who prepared it to guests’ enjoyment of the dining experience,
including Ann’s and my table.
Everyone seemed to be having a grand time.
A few items were auctioned by Dr. Peter Jacoby, a Stages committee member,
and then a little more speechifying was in order, by Nelson Veiga of The Good Life wines,
and by Lawlor,
culminating in the introduction of the chefs who had so generously donated their time, talents and energies in support of the Palace Theater.
Even when the event had ended, people were in no hurry to leave, pockets of conversation starting up,
as they had throughout the evening.
Finally, I wanted to recognize, as much as I can, all of the selfless staff and servers, many of whom donated their time in order to make this strenuous event run as smooth as silk, beginning with Palace administrator Laurie Viltrakis
and Marwan Idris of Polytechnic ON20, who organized and directed table service for the event.
But so many other hard-working individuals deserve recognition. My apologies if I missed anyone in these or earlier shots.