September 3, 2008

El Gaucho's Sommelier, 1978 and 2008

Jay%20Soloff%20at%20El%20Gaucho.JPGWhat if--just for one night--you could turn the clock back 30 years? Jay Soloff did it this weekend, once again uncorking mellow, well-aged bottles for the mellow, well-aged diners at Belltown's premier steak house.

Back in 1978, Soloff was the wine steward at El Gaucho, then located at 7th & Olive, then (as now) one of the city's swankiest joints, with waiters in tuxes, tableside service of Caesar salads, chateaubriand for two, and flaming desserts. A former hippie and would-be history professor, Jay had wandered up to Seattle from Tempe, Ariz. Having worked his way through college washing dishes at a health-food restaurant, he cut his hair and got a job waiting on tables at the original Boondock's on Broadway. (Jerry Kingen, who built the restaurant, also started the Red Robin chain and owns one of Seattle's top-grossing restaurants, Salty's.) Soloff showed a flair for wine, and his academic cred made him a good teacher, so he bounced his way into the wine cellar at El Gaucho at a time when sommeliers were a truly exotic breed. Breezy and glib, Jay was a big hit with the restaurant's clientèle of cigar-chomping power brokers.

He moved on to start his own wine brokerage, and, in the early 1990s, became a founding partner of DeLille Cellars, where he heads marketing. Then Paul Mackay, who had been El Gaucho's maitre d' when Soloff worked there and who had since reopened El Gaucho in Belltown, asked him to come back for one night.

So there he was, back in his tuxedo, working the floor. "I thought I might be a little rusty," Jay said, "but approaching the tables turned out to be easy. And there's none of the concerns that people had 30 years ago about price." Yes, now that steak houses cater to high-rollers and hoi-polloi alike, now that most guests don't even bother wearing jackets at dinner, now that they're dropping $24 on a glass of California cabernet and $125 on a prime rib, they're not flinching at prices in the high three-digits for brunello.

Was he selling any DeLille Cellars? "For sure. That's what they all want, the Grand Ciel." It goes for modest $300.

Jay Soloff poses with a bottle of DeLille Cellars 2004 Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon in front of an oil painting of longtime dining room staff by Nina Mickhailenko.

El Gaucho, 2505 First Avenue, 206-728-1337 El Gaucho on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at September 3, 2008 8:30 AM | TrackBack

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