Category Archives: Press

New take on classic Irish fare

BY DAVID HAMMOND for The Chicago Sun-Times

Messing with the traditional food of Ireland always seemed to me to be asking for trouble.

In the right hands, however, even the meat-and-potato basics of time-honored Irish food can be transformed into new dishes that continue to reflect heritage.

Chief O’Neill’s (3471 N. Elston) has been a popular Irish pub for years. Recently, they hired a new chef, Alan Lake, who told me his goal was to “elevate the food,” turning quintessentially humble ingredients into dishes I call Haute Hibernian.

And Lake knows from haute, having been a chef at Dublin’s distinguished Shelbourne Hotel, where guests who spend over a $1,000 dollars for a room expect the best Ireland has to offer.

At the Shelbourne, Lake earned the somewhat naughty-sounding kitchen nickname Underpants O’Malley. Though he’s enhancing traditional Irish cooking, Underpants is no Fancypants, and he sticks to the basics and tries to bring out what’s best in them.

Fish ’n chips, for instance, are made with fresh — never frozen — cod, fried in beef tallow, the fat once considered the essential ingredient in all things fried since it renders food a beautiful brown. Perhaps it’s higher in fat, but it’s also higher in taste. Lake finds tallow-fried food to be “creamier,” and he serves his fried fish with mushy peas, a classic accompaniment.

Irish peat is used to smoke whitefish and shrimp, conjuring the scent and taste of Irish whiskey.

Lake sources lamb from Mint Creek Farm, whose hormone-free, cleanly raised meat is found at local farmers markets. His lamb stew gains dimension with Guinness-roasted barley. “Roasting the barley in Guinness seemed natural,” says Lake, because the brew itself is made with barley, and in Ireland, both beverage and grain are “consumed in large quantities, though usually not together.”

For Lake, Irish food is a lot more than meat or fish with boiled vegetables, and he stands firmly within “the tradition of sourcing good ingredients and preparing them simply and cleanly, not over manipulating them. When produce is this good,” said Lake, “I leave it alone. Part of being a chef is just knowing when to let it be.”

One Bite: Alan Lake’s Donegal peat-smoked shrimp

By Mike Sula for Chicago Reader

Friend of the Food Chain chef Alan Lake took over the kitchen at Chief O’Neill’s back in December and has been gradually spiffing up what was previously decent but standard Irish pub grub. He’s been curing his own corned beef, frying chips in beef tallow, and serving dishes like Mint Creek lamb stew with Guinness-roasted barley and savory Irish Cashel blue cheesecake. It’s gone over pretty well for the most part, though one Yelper whinged, “This is a neighborhood Irish Pub, not NoMi or some swanky, danky restaurant serving mache or creme fraiche.” That makes Lake laugh.

One of the more unusual tricks up his sleeve was inspired by a wistful LTHer, who perhaps jokingly suggested he bake bread in a peat-burning oven. Peat, of course, is that matted half-rotted vegetation harvested for millennia from bogs and mires as a fuel source, which lends its distinctive vegetal smokiness to everything around it, most notably to the miracle of scotch.

A few months ago Lake got on the horn with a representative from the Irish Energy Bureau, who then hooked him up with a peat purveyor named, naturally, Sneaky Peat. Within two days he had a box full of various peat products, including chunks, pellets, and a liquid extract called “Instant Ireland.” I gave myself a squirt of the last, which prompted a certain photographer to observe, “You smell like a log.”

Lake’s been experimenting successfully with powdered peat on whitefish, potatoes, and moulard duck breast, but so far the only permanent smoked dish on the menu are his Donegal peat-smoked shrimp. He tosses a handful of the green stuff in a holding pan over high heat, and as the smoke billows up he places a rack of fat Pacific Mexican decapods in it, covers them seven minutes on the heat, then five more off. He plates with them with a carrot-fennel-orange salad, carrot-ginger emulsion, and basil oil. The result is a surprisingly summery dish, the peat lending an unmistakable but hardly Islay-strength smokiness to the shrimp, which maintain their snappy sweetness, unlike the sometimes mushy smoked shrimp at the otherwise great Calumet Fisheries (which gave him the idea). I promised I’d be writing about something green and Irish. This looks like the Irish flag.

The shrimp will be on the menu all week and beyond, but a particularly good time to give them a try will be Thursday, when the Chief hosts a fund-raiser for the Albany Park-based Asian Youth Services, an after-school mentoring program for underprivileged immigrant children, where Lake teaches percussion lessons (and which he’s written about here). The chef, who will be performing with his Brazilian trio Casa Del Soul, says the organization is in dire straights, so 25 percent of the night’s sales will go to the kids, who’ll also be performing ballet and percussion demos. They’re auctioning off a pair of tickets to the Bull-Knicks game too. Call for reservations:

Chief O’Neill’s, 3471 N. Elston, 773-583-3066

… and new twists on an old Evanston Italian favorite

By Heather Kenny for Chicago Reader

This summer chef-consultant Alan Lake took over Evanston’s much-loved Va Pensiero and transformed it into Pensiero Ristorante ―upgrading and refining the original concept rather than upending it, as the name suggests. Housed in the stately Margarita European Inn on a quiet side street, it still has that “special night out” feeling―I’m sure it’ll be packed on Northwestern’s parents’ weekend. But now it’s got something more.

Italian cuisine hews strongly to tradition, and any variation can cause consternation in the homeland. When I ordered sliced beef with carrot puree once in Italy, an Italian dining companion declared that no countryman of his would ever dream of ordering such a thing. This strict mindset allows traditional recipes to flourish, but doesn’t leave much room for experimentation. But here Lake is free to add Asiago cheese to fish―heresy! Specifically he adds it to linguine diavolo, a spicy pasta dish of shrimp and oysters (mostly shrimp) with lobster essence, where it melts to impart a subtle, slippery texture to the perfectly al dente linguine without being gooey.

Likewise I’ve never had pork belly that was so unabashedly fatty and meltingly tender as Lake’s in an Italian restaurant; it’s served with exotic mushrooms and a crispy risotto cake. He also deconstructs crostini alla Toscana (a Tuscan appetizer of hot chicken liver paste on bread), serving soft whole grilled chicken livers speared on sprigs of rosemary. A condiment of jam made with onions and sweet marsala wine from Sicily―practically a foreign country to northern Italians―showed a deft ability to cross regional borders in a single recipe. Seemingly weightless ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, accompanied by cubes of sauteed tart apples and sprinkled with pistachios, played up the savory nature of a familiar dish.

A special of veal saltimbocca was perhaps a little heavy for a hot August night―I actually enjoyed it more as leftovers the next day, when the earthy flavors had settled down a little bit. The accompanying crispy fried polenta, perfectly creamy on the inside, made me wish I knew the secret to replicating it at home. Diver scallops with sweet-sour caponata and a prosecco-orange beurre blanc was a more weather-appropriate choice. The menu will continue to change seasonally under permanent chef Christian Fantoni, who was brought on just this week.

A list of historic cocktails seemed a little jarring in this context, and held little appeal before a large meal. Better to stick to the wine list, which offers reasonably priced bottles from all over Italy and a good selection by the glass.

Localicious – a Local Food Extravaganza — Friday Night! The Midwest’s Premier Good Food Event

By David Hammond, Thursday, March 17th, 2011 for

Localicious, an incredible local food event, is happening at the UIC Forum, University of Illinois, this Friday, March 18, starting at 7:00 PM. Localicious is a marvelous opportunity to try some knock-out local food creations, prepared by some of the city’s most innovative chefs, including folks from City Provisions, Old Town Social, Big Bowl, Province and our own Marion Street Cheese Market. Drinks are courtesy of some of the best local spirit and beer makers, including Hum Botanical Spirits, Koval Distillery, Templeton Rye, and Two Brothers Brewery. Liquid soul will provide the background music. Localicious is organized by master chef and musician Alan Lake, along with co-chairs Ann Duffy and Portia Belloc Lowndes, and it’s part of the Family Farmed Expo, which is the brainchild of Oak Parker Jim Slama. Tickets are $75, of which $40 counts as a charitable contribution. For this incredible range of food and drink, offered buffet style until you’ve consumed your fill, with a tax benefit no less, this is an excellent dining value. Find out more about this event here .

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die

By Mike Sula on Tue, Feb 10, 2009 for Chicago Reader‘s blog

trufsanIn this paranoid, panicky time of economic collapse, every time I taste something delicious and extravagant I wonder if it’ll be my last bite. That’s why it pays to have generous pals who would rather share than hoard. Chef Alan Lake, who blogs over on Drive-Thru and makes his living skipping the globe opening restaurants, was recently gifted with a golf-ball-size Perigord truffle. It had been infusing a container of basmati rice it was shipped in for about a month until Saturday, when he decided it was time to put this lovely orb to use in a version of multi-Michelin star chef Michel Rostang’s truffle sandwich.

Alan secured a ciabbatta from Red Hen (they denied him the proper pain au levain, claiming they needed it for their own sandwiches). He sliced, and smeared it with French butter, layered it with the truffle slices, and swaddled it in plastic wrap for 24 hours so the aroma permeated the bread and butter. Next day, as a small group hovered around him, he pressed and griddled the sandwich and sliced it.

Not letting a single bit go to waste, he’d also whisked a vinaigrette with some truffle shavings for salad and grilled some vegetables to saute with the truffly rice. The aroma rising from these pretty plates was enough to silence the room (pics attached).

Thanks Alan, for what may be one of our last utterly hedonistic meals before the world descends into grass eating and cannibalism.

Ah, I Remember April . . .

By Penny Pollack & Graham Meyer of Chicago Magazine, June 2010

A mere three months after closing, the restaurant formerly known as Va Pensiero will morph into Pensiero Ristorante (1566 Oak Ave., Evanston; 847-475-7779). Michael Pure, who owns the Margarita European Inn, which houses the restaurant, took over the space after the April shutdown and hopes to reopen July 9th, with Alan Lake as the chef. Lake was a sous-chef at the East Bank Club in the early 1980s, and then he did stints as a percussionist in Los Angeles and again as a chef in south Florida before returning to Chicago in 2005. “The [Pensiero] menu is a little more regional and more approachable. Still solid Italian, but not completely based on Northern Italian cuisine,” Lake says. “We are trying to make it a place where you would dine six times a year instead of twice.” Ironic that we barely had time to get nostalgic about the closing of a restaurant named after a nostalgic opera chorus.

Va Pensiero to Reopen in Evanston as Pensiero Ristorante

By Nick Kindelsperger, 6/28/10

After a sad farewell, Va Pensiero is getting a second life. The high end Italian restaurant in Evanston will reopen under the name Pensiero Ristorante on July 9. Though head chef Jeff Muldow is gone, the new owner Michael Pure kept all of the kitchen staff. Talking to The Stew, Pure said, “The front-of-the-house needed new culture, so we wanted to bring in some new people. We’re repainting the room to freshen it up, make it more inviting.” Alan Lake will be the new head chef. He’s a musician, photographer, restaurant consultant, and chef known for his improvisational style, which he refers to as “jazzfood.”

Sixteen-screen theater with gourmet restaurant and bar coming to Wesley Chapel

By Lisa Buie, Times staff writer
In print: Thursday, September 4, 2008

WESLEY CHAPEL — The movie posters are up, with titles that include Ghost Town and How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.

But executives for the Grove 16 theater and its much touted Cinebistro restaurant and bar doubt those movie titles will be omens when central Pasco’s first movie house has its grand opening mid-September.

“On a good day this is adult Disneyland,” said Alan Lake, a veteran executive chef overseeing the startup of the Pasco theater at the Grove shopping center at County Road 54 and Interstate 75. Lake’s Web site lists such A-list celebrities as Bono and the Edge, George Harrison, Julian Lennon, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen as among those who have eaten his cuisine.

Lake and Cobb executives gave media tours of the 86,000 square foot theater, which boasts 16 screens of varying sizes, including four that are about 60 feet wide by 30 feet high.

“About three stories tall,” said Jeremy Welman, chief operating officer for Cobb Theatres.

The theaters also feature Dolby 7.1 sound, which is a step higher than what most cinemas now offer, he said. It also offers seats four inches wider than the industry standard.

But the big draw is expected to be the Cinebistro, a restaurant that features a full gourmet menu and bar. The restaurant, which also offers a kids’ menu, is accessible to all moviegoers as well as the public.

Patrons ages 21 and older who want to combine a meal with the movie can pay about $5 more for a plush leather seat in the theater’s upper level, called the loge. Loge seating allows them to buy food and drinks, including beer, wine and cocktails, all served to them before the film begins.

“There won’t be any nachos and squeeze cheese up here,” joked Welman.

cb1The Alabama-based company originally planned to open the Pasco location as a traditional theater but the success of the original Cinebistro in Miami, which opened last year, has prompted them to open more. Similar concepts are set to open in Daytona Beach, Atlanta, Colorado and Maryland.

Executives could have been forced to scuttle those plans for Wesley Chapel after members of a nearby church opposed the company’s efforts to seek a waiver from county rules banning alcohol sales at establishments less than 1,000 feet from a church, school or public park. After listening to representatives from both sides, county commissioners sided with the company, which is providing 150 jobs. Most of those have been filled after job fairs that drew about 1,200 people.

Welman stresses that it’s not all about the booze but about providing a convenient venue for time-pressed customers.

“People are busy,” he said. “It’s really an integrated experience.”

It’s also a way to compete with home theater systems, theme parks, sports, and everything else vying for people’s entertainment dollars as well as to extend its marketing reach past the traditional 12 to 25 age group.

Yet executives say they still want to be family friendly. The theater also offers traditional concessions such as popcorn, candy, and yes, nachos and squeeze cheese. But instead of standing in line while workers fetch items, patrons help themselves cafeteria-style and pay at a register.

A birthday party room is also available for booking, and the theater also provides family rest rooms in addition to those segregated by gender.

Executives postponed the opening from summer to fall, but said that will allow them to tweak the operation.

CEO Robert Cobb, a low-key Alabamian who introduces himself as “Bobby,” said its imperative for the theater industry to offer more than it used to in today’s competitive climate.

Executives say they aren’t worried about opening in a tough economy.

“We go to the movies to escape from life, and that’s one of the things that helps us,” Welman said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at or (813) 909-4604.

Reptrinted from The Palm Beach Post

Photo by Gary Wiviott
Photo by Gary Wiviott

July 31, 2002
Photo by Gary Wiviott

Alan Lake, 48

Chef, percussionist and photographer

Alan Lake is a chef and a musician, but not in that order.

“It just depends on when you meet me,” said Lake, 48. “I’m either a musician who cooks, or a chef who plays.”

I guess you could say the music was first, that it led him to the world of cooking as a means of supporting himself.

Yet the love of food was always there, too, as a part of the Chicago culture he was born and raised in.

“It was such a rich place to grow up in, with a great mix of cultures – Japanese, Puerto Rican, Italian, German, everything,” he said. “The smells of all the different types of food would pour from the windows. I was so down for that. I would make the rounds from house to house, get a taste of it all.”

The lifestyle of his parents also helped to educate his palate.

“My dad was in the clothing business, so we were always traveling to New York,” he said. “While my dad was working, my mom and I would eat at places like 21 and The Rainbow Room – the best places in the city.”

But before he even thought of a career in the culinary arts, he packed all his belongings and drove to San Francisco with a dream of playing music.

“I graduated early from high school and left the next day. I had planned on going to, and graduating from Berkeley, but it didn’t work out that way,” said the percussionist. “The school was set in such a free-thinking atmosphere, perfect for a musician like me. I got a gig with the Berkeley Film Archives, was doing sound tracks for student films, performing in restaurants and clubs and playing jazz dates.”

After seven years in California, Lake spent a year playing in various clubs, bars and restaurants in London, then went back to Chicago where his need for a supplemental income led to his first cooking job.

“I needed to make more money in order to continue playing my music, so I talked my way into a job as a chef,” he said. “I had always tried to re-create the food I grew up around, anyway. I ended up getting great reviews, and that started my future in cooking.”

He ended his Chicago cooking career as a head chef for the East Bank Club, a popular health club that featured three restaurants, and headed to Los Angeles.

“I went out there to work with a friend who I had played with years earlier, had now made it big and had started his own studio,” Lake said. “Through him I got to work with such artists as Madonna.”

His friend soon left L.A. and Lake took a job as a chef at the Sunset Marquis.

“They also let me play drums on certain nights. It was an incredible experience. It was an infamous, notorious, rock and roll hotel,” he said. “On any night you could walk out on the patio and see people like Tina Turner or Bono and the Edge of U2.”

After being shaken up by an earthquake, Lake left California and made his move to Delray Beach. Since then he’s opened the Sundy House as head chef as well as Etre, a club formerly in West Palm Beach. But all the while he’s continued to play with different bands and solo.
“You get burnt out at one and can do the other, it’s the great thing about being a chef and being a musician,” he said. “I’ve written many songs and recorded a CD with a band we had for a while called Simple Truth. Mostly, you just play different gigs with people you’re familiar with and admire. I do my projects and help others with theirs.”

He’s also found time to travel to Japan and Europe getting firsthand experience at cooking the cuisines.

His latest accomplishments include being named Garlic Chef at last year’s Garlic Fest in Delray Beach, a title that has opened the door for future projects such as a Garlic Chef cookbook.

He’s also recently taken up the art of photography.

“After helping a friend to open a nightclub in Zurich, I traveled throughout Europe and ended up in Venice during Carnivale,” he said. “It was like being in a freaky movie – all the costumes, the buildings, it was amazing. I’m not by any means a professional photographer, but I knew I had to document it all.”

His friends encouraged him to exhibit his work and taking their advice, he’s recently been featured in three exhibits.

“I had no idea the images would be so successful,” Lake said. “People just love them. I’m putting together a coffee table book of about 120 different photos.”

That’s after he gets back from California where he will be participating in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the event which inspired Garlic Fest.

Byline: Katie Mee, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Palm Beach Post

Visit the Delray Beach Garlic Festival official website.

Reptrinted from The Palm Beach Post: Être Restaurant

July 31, 2002

Everything on menu superb

[…] Food’s great. I mean great […] everything that followed was superb.

Case in point: Our melange salad ($13), crabmeat, mango, asparagus and avocado, hearts of palm tossed in a pine nut vinaigrette. Lots of flavors, none overwhelmed by another. Toasted pine nuts pack a lot of flavor too. All arranged with an artistic hand.

My oysters grilled on the half-shell ($8) with a lemon infused white wine reduction manifested a subtle beauty. Not all gussied up with too many condiments. Just big, fat oysters warmed and served. Simple yet elegant. Ditto the orecchiette (baby-ear) pasta with Gorgonzola cream, mushrooms and asparagus. Overall, a woodsy savory taste. Creamy. The alluring aroma of truffle oil was present and accounted for. Comforting yet sophisticated. One of the best pasta presentations we’ve enjoyed. Ever.

My rib-eye steak ($25) was an honest, marbled, just fatty enough cut of beef. Blackened, smothered in green peppercorns, Boursin cheese, a thick reduction all around. On the side: a pile of garlicky mashed potatoes and a nice bunch of string vegetables. Our shellfish noodles ($21) found four large shrimp and five plump oysters and a dusting of chives in a light sauce infused with essence of lobster. Served over al dente linguine. A grilled, smoky flavor. Sort of Asia-meets-Tuscany. Very nice.

Complex sushi rolls

The sushi. Too much info to impart, not enough room. So just go and enjoy: The Super Etre roll ($12), inside out, eel, tempura shrimp, cucumber, avocado and asparagus with seared tuna on top, tempura flakes, masago eggs and scallion, eel sauce and kimchee (a delightful, hot Korean condiment made from fermented vegetables). Very tasty, but almost too complex.
Blake Clevenger, Dillon Kao and Alan Lake

Our PGA roll ($12), a sensuous delight: inside-out, crab salad, shrimp tempura. cream cheese, eel, asparagus and avocado on top, wrapped in nori, covered with rice, sliced. Wow.

And the spicy crab roll ($7.50) must be eaten with eyes closed, so as to fully appreciate the delicate confluence of tastes.

The dessert sampler ($10) was uninspired – lime cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate nut torte.

But we didn’t go to Etre for dessert. We went seeking the culinary artistry we’d heard about. And found it.

Byline: Paul Reid, Palm Beach Post Restaurant Critic
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Palm Beach Post

Cobb Theatres Premieres CINEBISTRO in South Florida at Dolphin Mall
05.29.08, 9:47 AM ET

Cobb Theatres, one of the most respected names in entertainment, is celebrating the launch of the definitive movie going experience with the opening of its first CINEBISTRO at Dolphin Mall. CINEBISTRO, which debuts May 30th, will offer movie-goers the finest cinema experience combined with innovative cuisine. Cinebistro also features an exceptional assortment of wines and premium cocktails enhanced by cutting edge ambiance.

CINEBISTRO is designed for anyone 21 and over who has a passion for movies and a palate for great food, in an environment unlike anything they have ever experienced. Each CINEBISTRO features an upscale, yet inviting and comfortable atmosphere in which to dine while watching a major motion picture.

These unique venues are built specifically with the discriminating movie-going and gourmet-dining customer in mind; each of the unique screening rooms is appointed with the latest digital cinema technology and sound quality the industry has to offer, as well as being outfitted with ultra-luxurious high-back leather rocking chairs and handmade cocktail tables. Seating is individually chosen and reserved online by a concierge and guests will “walk the red carpet” from the time they are valet-parked to the time they leave.

A true “night out experience,” Cobb’s CineBistro offers movie aficionados an upscale, stylish setting that allows for interaction before and after each showing.

“The Dolphin Mall entertains 1.6 million guests per month, making it the ideal choice to launch this innovative concept,” said Cobb Theatres COO, Jeremy Welman. “The sophisticated, contemporary, adults-only atmosphere presented by CINEBISTRO is perfect for South Florida’s chic set looking for a place to mingle, enjoy great food and drink, and watch a great film.”

Located within Dolphin Mall at 11401 Northwest 12th Street in Miami, Cobb Theatre’s CINEBISTRO has been designed by renowned Zyscovich Architects and will feature five designated theatres that accommodate between 60 to 100 people. CINEBISTRO will also feature a dining room seating 60 and an additional 24 on its private patio. The dining room features a sleek “black box” concept – a highly flexible performance space named for its black, box-like appearance with primary focus on the stage — highlighted by custom murals, and enchanting gold Philippe Starck designed chairs and bar stools.

Cobb has partnered with 4 diamond award-winning chef Alan Lake to develop a menu to delight movie-goers. Originally from Chicago, Lake has recently worked in Japan, Dublin and Zurich and was a force behind Chicago’s East Bank Club and the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles. Chef Lake also was the opening chef at Delray Beach’s renowned Sundy House and was the 3 time winner of the Professional Chef’s Competition at the Delray Beach Garlic Festival.

The menu features items such as Crab Salad with Mango, Avocado, Grilled Asparagus and Hearts of Palm or Yellowtail Snapper a la Margarita sauteed with Tequila and Lime. A variety of Latin themed Tapas are also available.

CINEBISTRO’s Miami location is the first in a national roll-out. A Tampa location is scheduled to open later this summer, followed by the Town Brookhaven project in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, and Daytona Live! located at the Daytona International Speedway.

Guests can reserve seats through CINEBISTRO’s Web site at Admission includes complimentary valet parking.

About Cobb Theatres

Cobb Theatres is an innovative movie exhibition company based in Birmingham, Alabama and currently operates 11 locations with 166 screens in Alabama and Florida. Cobb has an 85 year history developing and operating entertainment venues throughout the Southeastern United States. Projects have recently been announced in Daytona Beach, Atlanta, Baltimore/DC area and Tampa. Cinebistro was conceived in 2006 to provide a new level of service to moviegoers.


Fast facts

About the theater

• In all, the cinema will have about 3,000 seats, and the restaurant will have about 120 seats.

• Reserved loge seats will cost $14.50 on weekends and $12.50 on week days. Regular adult admission is $9.50, with lower rates for children and matinee rates. Executives are looking into the possibility of hosting special screenings of films shot locally, such as Edward Scissorhands, filmed in Land O’Lakes and Dade City.

• The grand opening is tentatively set for Sept. 19, with invitation-only events a few days before that.

• Executive chef Alan Lake often creates gourmet desserts based on what’s playing. For The Dark Knight, he designed one resembling the Joker’s face that included doughnuts, strawberries and a cookie shaped like the bat signal.

• For information about the Grove 16 and Cinebistro, visit For information about executive chef Alan Lake, visit

Vancouver’s Cinetopia, with its fine food, wine and cushy seats, may be the nation’s most luxurious, high-tech theater

Thursday, August 18, 2005
The Oregonian

You’re reclining in a leather chair, eating slices of grilled Kobe-Wagyu beef, and watching ” Star Wars: Episode III” in stunning high-definition digital projection with one of the most advanced sound systems in the world.

You’re sipping a sublime glass of vintage wine in an even more comfortable leather chair and watching the quirky English film “Ladies in Lavender.”

No, you have not won the lottery and turned your home into a paradise of fine food, wine and cinema.

Rather, you have discovered movie heaven.

And it’s in Vancouver , USA .

Cinetopia , a combination film multiplex, gourmet restaurant, wine bar and art gallery, opened just off Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard and Interstate 205 in late July, and it is instantly the most luxurious, technologically advanced and, frankly, astounding theater in the area, the region, maybe even the country.

The complex consists of eight theaters and a restaurant, Vinotopia. In one place, you can see some of the best films playing in the market, eat some ambitious and accomplished food, sample more than 100 bottles of wine — including the rarest of vintages — by the glass, peruse (and perhaps buy) original works of art that hang where other theaters slap movie posters, and generally walk around slack-jawed and pinching yourself to remember that you’re at the movies.

This fantasia of food, wine, art and cinema is the dream-come-true of Rudyard Coltman, a Portland attorney who has previously operated traditional movie theaters in Burns and Baker City . The 37-year-old Coltman is a film aficionado who speaks with equal zeal and knowledge about the films of Ingmar Bergman and the ” Star Wars” saga, and he has long fantasized presenting the finest movies in the finest setting.

“I’ve grown up with a lifetime of subpar presentations,” he explains. “People who appreciate film should be able to see it in the best condition. Most movie complexes have a sterile, uninspiring atmosphere. I knew there could be more.”

A nearly $10 million investment

Coltman spent several years determining what it would cost to acquire land and build the theaters and restaurant to his exacting specifications. He selected Vancouver because it was underserved in both high-end dining and access to specialty films. And he demanded that his architects and equipment vendors go beyond the norm to create ideal viewing spaces.

Even though movie attendance nationwide is declining, Coltman poured nearly $10 million into the project because he sensed he could lure audiences that had given up on going to the theater.

“So many people have stopped coming to the movies, partly because the experience has become more unpleasant,” he says. “We want those people to come back to the movies.”

Cinetopia is a heck of a lure. The complex consists of eight auditoriums — one of just under 300 seats, four others closer to 100 in capacity, and three “Living Room Theaters” that hold about 65 viewers each. All of them sport oversized, fully reclining leather chairs. The rise from one level to another is higher than in other multiplexes. The space between rows — the distance that the guy behind you needs to reach to kick your seat — is much greater, enhancing your sense of physical isolation and connection to the screen.

Only one auditorium sports a high-definition projector, but all of Cinetopia’s theaters have pricey Klipsch sound systems, and the one in the big theater is, according to the company’s Web site, the most sophisticated theatrical sound system on sale anywhere. In all theaters, little touches contribute to the experience: exit signs are unobtrusively placed beyond the line of sight, and the walls are doubly thick to prevent people watching the hushed “March of the Penguins” from overhearing the climactic battle of ” Star Wars” just next door.

It’s all swell, but the Living Rooms truly dazzle. Coltman could have stuck twice as many seats in these theaters, but he has instead spread the cozy chairs and ottomans around in such a way that you feel as if you and your companions are watching the film from a private skybox like those at the Rose Garden.

The Living Rooms aren’t meant for kids: after 4 p.m. , admission is restricted to those 21 and older, and tickets cost $10 during the day and $13.50 in the evening. (Ticket prices in the other theaters are $7 and $9.50.) But for the quality of presentation you get — and, more importantly, for what you don’t get (blotchy images, scratchy sound, noise, kids. . . .) — it’s a fair price.

Coltman is determined to find films that are worthy of the display cases he’s created: As of press time, Cinetopia is showing a number of the best small films in release (including “Hustle and Flow,” “March of the Penguins,” and “Howl’s Moving Castle “), plus ” Star Wars” to show off the high-definition technology and advanced sound system. He makes clear that “we don’t want to be pigeonholed as an art house,” and he’s willing to stand up to the region’s movie powerhouse, Regal Cinemas of Knoxville, Tenn., to get prints of the best films, no matter how big or small they may be.

More than a movie

Equally important to the film experience at Cinetopia is the food. At the concession stand, along with the expected Goobers and Red Vines, Cinetopia offers gourmet pizzas made in-house, popcorn with homemade flavored butters (garlic, almond, four-cheese), and a rotating selection of hot dishes: lasagna, chili, sweet-and-sour pork and so on. All of this food can be taken into any of the auditoriums on specially designed trays that snap into the cup holders in the oversized arm rests.

In the restaurant, which is as posh and professional as anything in downtown Portland , chef Alan Lake serves a menu of small plates with high quality ingredients and great variety: sashimi, short ribs, a lamb burger, wild mushroom strudel, carpaccio, Dungeness crab, traditional tapas. Again, you can order this food to eat in the theaters, or you can dine indoors — on an outdoor patio, around a fireplace or in a private room.

If for nothing else, Cinetopia would be worth visiting just for the wines. Coltman has invested in an Italian Enomatic serving system that makes it possible for more than 100 bottles to be opened and remain fresh for up to three months, allowing customers to order in single-ounce increments. Want to try that legendary Opus One, Leonetti or Mondavi Reserve? An ounce may run as much as $16.50, but you can have a taste from that $200 bottle that might otherwise elude you. For less-expensive wines, a full glass can cost as little as $6.

This sounds like a press release, I know: perfect theaters, wonderful food, a dizzying selection of wines, art on the walls. But there is nothing like this anywhere in the Portland area or, as far as I know, the world.

I have been in executive screening rooms on every back lot in Hollywood . I have seen movies at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and in the poshest multiplexes in New York , London , Paris , San Francisco and Los Angeles .

And I am here to tell you this: Cinetopia is the most amazing movie theater I have ever seen.

Shawn Levy: (503) 221-8332; shawnlevy@news.

©2006 The Oregonian

Something’s in the air: Garlic!

Reprinted from the Palm Beach Post
By Jan Norris, Palm Beach Post Food Editor
Thursday, November 6, 2003

The air around here will be decidedly aromatic as the Fifth Annual Delray Beach Garlic Fest starts cooking this weekend.

A competition for the title of Garlic Chef will bring in name chefs from South Florida to vie for the smelly title. They’ll be “seeded” during cook-offs Saturday and Sunday, with the winners going head-to-head — and pan-to-pan — with two-time winner and reigning Garlic Chef, Alan Lake, in the final round Sunday afternoon.

The contest is loosely based on the Iron Chef competition. The chefs are given identical “mystery baskets” of food from which to create three dishes in a one-hour countdown. Garlic is the only ingredient in the basket they can be sure of.

Lake is ready to defend his title. A drummer for a jazz band when he’s not cooking, Lake thinks the music is what will bring him the win again.

“Given my background in music, and jazz in particular, it’s my nature to improvise. I feel that that ability gives me an edge when applied to my cooking, as they both come from the same place.” His competitors may know something about improvisation, too, he says, but “even if they’ve visited, they’ve never lived there.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 The Palm Beach Post