Fun Evening, Fine Dining at Max Downtown

Last Sunday was another big Arts Council event: Max’s Farm to Table Wine Dinner for United Arts. Long name, I know.

Every year, Max Downtown partners Richard Rosenthal and Steven Abrams close down their restaurant, undoubtedly Hartford’s premier destination for amazing food and top-notch service, and let us use their space (and staff) to create a one-of-a-kind fundraising event to support United Arts and Neighborhood Studios, our summer arts apprenticeship program. Max’s Executive Chef, Hunter Morton, creates a truly amazing five-course meal featuring seasonal ingredients from local Connecticut farms and, to top it all off, philanthropist and business leader Andy Mandell serves up a wonderful live auction featuring some really cool items. You know what they say: never bid on an empty stomach.

You might be thinking, “what about the booze? I thought this was a wine dinner!” We work with Connecticut Distributors, Inc. and Toast Wines by Taste, a great boutique wine seller in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, to find a well-known winery to select appropriate pairings for each course. This year, Pam Macrini of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines brought along bottles of some of her best vintages—from a lightly chilled Valdiguié to a subtle Chardonnay and a full-bodied Petit Sirah—for our guests to enjoy with each dish. Talking throughout the evening, she explained why each wine was specifically chosen and gave us all some pointers about how to discern the flavors of each sip. I’m no wine expert, but this was good wine. Real good.

As with any big event, Allie, our events manager, and I spend most of the afternoon running around like chickens with our head cut off, only to see the event come together in all it’s splendor moments before the guests arrived. It was a wildly successful “love fest,” with many big corporate sponsors and individual arts enthusiasts celebrating great art and fine food. Cathy spoke from the heart about her first 8 months as the new CEO of the Arts Council, and our 2012 United Arts Campaign Chair, Mayor Pedro Segarra, gave a passionate account of how important the arts are to him and to the quality of life of Hartford. Most moving, however, was the story of Sasha Brooks, an 18-year-old alum of the Breakdancing Shakespeare Neighborhood Studio at Hartford Stage, who talked about how his involvement with the program and the arts gave him direction. It was really wonderful to hear a first-hand account of how the arts can change someone’s life.

By the end of the night, Allie and I sat exhausted at the auction check-out table as I scarfed down the last of my fifth course, an unbelievable strawberry brioche bread pudding. It was a long day and a very long night, but a landmark evening for our United Arts Campaign. Plus, it’s nice to get together with 100 of our closest friends and share something we’re all enthusiastic about: the arts.

And wine.

Very, VERY special thanks to the chef, staff and partners of Max Downtown, Connecticut Distributors, Toast Wines, Pam Macrini and J. Lohr for their wine expertise, and everyone who attended the event: enjoy the gift bags!

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