Friday, March 30, 2007

Seriously Open for Business

Tom and Maureen say:
Z opened its doors for the first time last night and it was, well, is it okay to say it was brilliant? We'd blather on for pages and pages except that the ratio of time to tasks is still way out of whack (and Maureen returns to her full-time job on Monday). Forgive the brevity. Madcap stories will appear here eventually.

Until then, come see us for dinner:
Mon-Thu, 4p-9:30p; Fri-Sat, 4p-10p and Sunday 4p-8p

Beginning April 2nd, come for lunch too:
Mon-Fri, 11:30a-2:30p

Phone 603.629.9383 to make a reservation. Or walk on in. One of us will be at the door waiting to greet you at 860 Elm Street, Manchester, NH. Z will be closed on Easter Sunday.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Toward Opening Day with a Bullet

A very tired Maureen, who has neither the time nor the inclination to proofread this before she posts it, says:

Now I know why, when we first moved back and spoke of our intentions to open a restaurant, our friend and fellow restaurateur collapsed in the shoulders and said said, "Why would you ever want to do that?" She were mostly joking, of course, but people? I soooooo get what she were saying. This is why they make those 18-hour bras, isn't it? Since we got our liquor license three and half days ago, we have seriously considered sleeping in the space.

And getting that liquor license wasn't without its drama. The second Tom had the signatures in hand to obtain the actual license, he got in the car and headed for Concord. It was mid-afternoon and the state offices were open until 4:30p, so we had plenty of time. Except when he arrived there, a little before 3:30p, he was told that the trade name was printed incorrectly on our permits. I got a frantic call from him asking for the phone numbers for the Health and Fire Departments, which I pulled off the Internet. While he raced back to Manchester, he called both agencies and the amazing staff there pulled together new permits and had them waiting for Tom when got back into town. Then it was back in the car and a race against the clock to get back to Concord before the state offices closed. It was 4:26p when he presented the corrected permits and got the license.

Then, there's the usual drama. The kind that's definitely more than a pain in the ass, but isn't what you'd call catastrophic: vendors lacking pride in craftsmanship who have no choice but to re-do their work because we didn't give them another choice; delays in signage production owing to back-ordered paint and the time the paint will take to cure; other, smaller parts of the interior vision not translating as well as we'd hoped when they were put into place.

But we had our first staff meeting and Tom and I are confident that we attracted an aces team who believes in and reflects our overall vision; out of the kitchen we're getting good energy, good noise and good smells; we've got our linens on site, our liquor orders placed and the stereo speakers wired and placed.

We're almost there, but not quite. There are easily a hundred things for every member of the staff, including Tom and me, to do and do just this morning. And then there are the phone calls. Vendors. Ad sales. Curious folks about town. There are the faxes. Deliveries. Questions. Endless proofreading. And let's not forget feeding the parking meters (that's a full-time job in itself).

It's early yet today, but already I'm behind. Still, the thought it takes to write a post here forces me to slow down the adrenaline rush and remember that it won't be very long at all before someone I love sees a dream he's been making for the last 20 years come true. I have never wanted one, single thing for 20 years; I can't imagine what that must feel like. But it does me a little misty when I try to.

Y'all keep an eye on this space for the opening announcement, you hear?

Friday, March 23, 2007

We Got It!

Tom arrived back in Manchester about an hour ago with
the liquor license in hand


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The First of Several Announcements

Tom and Maureen say:
The last week or so it's been nothing but noses to the grindstone getting the work done that would allow us to begin the not-very-long, but still somewhat winding road known as obtaining the permits required for Z to open its doors.

The permitting process in Manchester is far from onerous, but it must be followed in a very specific order, each step dependent upon the one before it.

That journey came to an end at 3:30p yesterday when we obtained the last permit needed to go before the State Liquor Commission today and get our liquor license. What does this mean? Well, once we have our liquor license, we can open the doors any time we're ready.

And being ready means that we took about five minutes to celebrate and then it was back to work. Recipes tweaks. Getting the liquor order finalized so the second we have the license, we can fax it off. Programming the POS system. Printing the menus. Assembling materials for staff training. It's at the point now where prioritizing is impossible because everything's of equal importance. And details that seem like they'd no take time, are eating up hours.

But we're close. Close enough that the light at the end of the tunnel is a beacon instead of a pinprick.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Come for Dessert. Stay for Dinner.

Maureen says:
The progress we made this week was stunning. No longer do I have tilt my head to one side and squint my mind's eye to see the vision: what once was potential is actualized. Tom's been on the opening of no fewer than four restaurants; Z makes the fifth. And while he's told me over and over that the rate at which things come together increases exponentially during the last couple of weeks, it was a challenge to stand there, surrounded by materials, tools and staging, and believe him.

So we've got our own version of March Madness going on here and the brunt of it's being taken by Tom; the pace of my full-time job has picked up as well, making it more difficult for me to support him. When the end of the day comes--and it's coming later and later--we're done. Spent. Kaput. Hence why Tom hasn't been back to the blog to a) announce that dessert is the winner for this week's menu preview and b) post the chosen dessert.

But you? You all will soon get your chance to partake in one of Z's signature sweets. It wasn't easy to choose just one preview, but the one we've chosen is guaranteed to please.

Creamsicle Crème Brûlée

The exact culinary origin of this classic is apparently contested, with various European countries taking credit for it. Sometime toward the end of the 19th century, however, the French trumped them all with their translation so that today we know it as crème brûlée.

Z's version was inspired in part by Tom's challenge to create a signature crème brûlée that honored the Italian tradition of the restaurant he worked for in the 90s. Enter Tuaca.

Like crème brûlée, Tuaca's origins are also unclear. According to, this premium liqueur with hints of citrus and vanilla has been said to have been created for Lorenzo the Magnificent, an Italian ruler who was a patron to Michelangelo and Botticelli. American servicemen, the site says, discovered Tuaca during WWII while stationed in Livorno, Italy, but couldn't find it upon their return home. Then, Tuaca came to the United States in the late 1950s, but it is and has always been crafted by the Tuoni family in Italy.

Z crafts its crème brûlée with this unique liqueur and the result is one, Tom said, that when he first tasted it brought him back to his childhood when his grandfather, who worked for a dairy, made sure there was always plenty of ice cream to choose from and enough creamsicle ice cream to go around for everyone.

Creamsicle Crème Brûlée is served with candied citrus peel and druken orange sections.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday-come-Wednesday's Teaser Coming Soon

Maureen says:
So far, we've previewed a starter, a salad and an entree, leaving us with a sandwich or a dessert to showcase.

Which do you want to see? Tell us your preference in the comments section or via email to and we'll post the preview as soon as the votes are in.

I have a feeling I know which one's going to win.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Tom & Maureen say:
We have a very long list of things to do and very little time in which to do them. The days are here where we not only can, but must focus our attention solely on matters that operational in nature.

Over the course of the next week we'll be working on:

  • Ensuring our employee manual is well written, easy to read, thorough, and last but by no means least, compliant with federal and state regulations.
  • Drafting product knowledge guides for the fab opening staff we've hired (yes, there will be a test--so we've got work on that too).
  • Assembling all other staff training materials and HR-related documentation.
  • Producing and tasting samples from the kitchen (it's rare Maureen eats before 3p these days and that Tom eats all, so at the least, this guarantees something other than pure adrenaline will fuel us).
  • Finalizing food and beverage product orders.
All this on top of what is really and truly the last--LAST!--big push to complete construction so the permitting process can begin in earnest. And wrapping up the formal Web site. And. And. And. And.

Emotionally, we are soooooo ready for this phase to end and the next to begin--the phase where we open the door and let you all in.

As a result, after tomorrow's menu teaser, posting will be sporadic for the next week to ten days, but do check back because we've only hit the pause button. There's no such thing as a full stop at Z.

And remember, you can always sign up for the newsletter if you want to be among the first to know when those doors do open. Just send an email to with the word subscribe in the subject line or body to be added to our e-mailing list.

Thanks for reading and for your emails, comments, interest and support. Have a great week everybody!

Friday, March 9, 2007

TGI What?

Maureen says:
When you're opening a restaurant or, I imagine, any business, that familiar acronym spoken by millions come the end of the week no longer holds any meaning. You TGI a lot of things, but TGIF? Not so much. Not yet anyway. When it's one of Z's busiest nights of the week, it will be a different story. For now, Friday is just like any other day because on Saturday we'll still be overscheduled, overextended and if we're not careful, overwhelmed.

In spite of the maelstrom-like start to the week, we're ending it in great shape:

  • The electricians returned to swap the outlets in place for the ICGs needed to support the POS system.
  • Wednesday's job Open House brought in 40+ candidates who applied to be part of Z's opening team and there was more quality among the applicant pool than not (when does that ever happen?).
  • Our dining room chairs and bar stools arrived yesterday. So did 85 percent of our small wares.
  • The final half wall with its custom window is up, with wainscoting, window installed.
  • Found money in the budget resulted in the purchase of a PEK Radiant Broiler for the kitchen.
  • We selected our uniform shirts and successfully avoided having to dress staff in (the ubiquitous) black and ordered our bistro aprons.
Behind the scenes, work continues on the Web site, the employee handbook and about 728 administrative details that aren't difficult, only time consuming. I don't have the heart to tell Tom that we lose an hour tomorrow. Probably because I'm not quite resigned to it myself. If life can change in an instant, imagine how much we could accomplish in that lost hour.

Or maybe I will tell him. Because he's taking the KitchenAid with its ice-cream attachment away today and he hasn't even made ice cream for me yet. "I'll make ice cream for you," he said before leaving this morning. "It'll just be at a different location."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tuesday's Teaser

Tom says:
So, Tuesday's Teaser is running a bit late. Everything in our lives right now seems to be running a half hour behind. Things we thought we'd do in the morning don't get tackled until late afternoon; plans for early evening get pushed back to the next morning. But--enough with the whining. As someone reminded me the other day, I did, after all, sign up for this.

Today's menu preview: Duck Breast

It seems I've always loved duck and if I recall--someone (I wonder who?) will correct me if I'm wrong--it's what Maureen ordered on one of our first dates down in South Beach (talk about your whirlwind courtship). That aside, my love for duck has as much to do with its flavor as its versatility. As a young chef I learned early on that working with it provided a multitude of ways for me to--forgive the pun--spread my creative wings.

The Duck Breast at Z is a dish I've been working on for years, adding and subtracting, tweaking and fine-tuning until I hit upon what I believe is a new classic.

We start with a whole duck--bone-out breast and thigh. The thighs are slow cooked, confit-style. Fat is rendered from the breasts (skin down, low temp), then placed in reserve for more culinary goodness later in the process; meat is picked from the confit thighs, added to a mix of red peppers, cucumbers, Napa cabbage, cilantro and mint before being rolled into a Vietnamese-style spring roll.

The duck breast itself is then seared skin up in a H O T pan, then put into the oven, skin down again, with a hoisin glaze. We leave it in there just long enough to achieve medium rare--fine duck breast off the bone should never exceed a medium temperature. When it does, the meat dries, toughens and takes on the gamey flavor that turns folks away from it. I promise you, no one is going to turn away from our Duck Breast.

The final component of this signature dish is basmati rice cakes seasoned with a bit of sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. The rice is purposely overcooked just a smidge so that once it's cooled, it rolls easily into balls that are then flattened into cakes. How are the cakes cooked? See above; culinary goodness. Also known as duck fat. It's my opinion in general that fat rules, but duck fat? It doesn't get much better than that.

If you want to see the garnish, well, you'll just have to come in, won't you?

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Tom says:

The Good.
Our Chef de Cuisine started today. Dave went straight to work getting the kitchen organized and by the end of the week the first samples will be coming out of Dave's new home away from home.

Mike's putting the finishing touches on construction--the glass block partial walls are up; the back bar is built, including shelving, and is ready for paint; and the remaining areas of the floor are prepped and awaiting tile.

The menu is just about set now with last-minute inspirations for dessert rounding out our offerings. After a meeting this morning with Ed and scheduling additional meetings later for later in the week, we can say the same about the wine list.

Employment ads--print and online--have generated a steady stream of applicants that should provide us with a solid pool of candidates from which to choose (we're holding an Open House for employment on Wednesday from 12-5p at the restaurant, so if you're interested or know anyone who might be, send them down to 860 Elm Street, Manchester).

The Bad.
Part I of the two-part cautionary tale about what happens when you choose, out of necessity or otherwise, to be your own General Contractor.

Got a call first thing this morning from our signage vendor with the news that the city didn't approve our sign. Our plans, as submitted, had the sign hanging too high on the building (despite the fact that I can look up and down the street and point to examples of exactly what they rejected). All told, this is the first and--knock wood--the only hiccup we've heard from the city and, well, it's probably something that could have been avoided if I'd hired a professional GC who might have been better acquainted with current codes and thus addressed this issue at the design stage. We have options, but we don't have time to think on any one of them too long. As always, as many people reminded me, there are worse problems to have.

The Ugly.
Part II of this cautionary tale makes the signage seem like a non-issue. I need isolated ground circuits (IGCs) to run the Point-of-Service system. When I first talked with my electrician, I did mention the need for both power and telecommunications ports to run this POS system I hadn't yet purchased, but didn't specify what kind. An experienced GC, especially one who had managed restaurant renovations, would have known to install IGCs at the outset.

As ugly as this particular situation is, we've been and continue to be fortunate such that extra charges here are offset by savings there. The additional cost to change the outlets over will be made up by the forced changes to our signage. Just another one for the books when we go to open a second shop (just kidding, Maureen--you can start breathing again).

Tuesday's going to be another monster of a day, but it's also the day we preview an item from our menu. Look for that tomorrow night, late. Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Little Things

Maureen says:
When you're starting any business, you'd think the big decisions would be the most difficult ones, the ones that result in long, drawn-out debate and endless discussion. That's what I thought because in my mind big decisions are, by default, equated with big money.

What I've discovered, though I suspect I always knew it on some level, is that the bigger the decision, the louder your gut speaks to you and its message is unmistakably clear. Things like choosing a logo or lighting or even the almighty point-of-service system were the cliche no-brainer decisions. Where we're getting caught up is in the little things.

Choosing staff shirts, for example. We don't have a large staff, so price per shirt isn't a huge consideration. Fit, however, is. So is color. Ditto sleeve-length. And we made a decision a long time ago that unisex isn't the way we want to go. Thus, locating a supplier with shirts that are the right style and weight, that offers compatible men's and women's versions with two sleeve-lengths per with a color palette that's in keeping with our decor and our brand? That's what results in the long, drawn-out debates and endless discussions. Add to that that staff will also wear bistro aprons, which come from a different supplier with its own rainbow of colors we'll need to match, and I've experienced my first hours of lost sleep since we started this venture.

Other things I've been working on behind the scenes include the Web site (choosing a design was easy, mostly because our designer is brilliant, but writing the content is another trial), coffee and tea selections (when everything you've tasted is great, paring down to your final offering is unexpectedly difficult), creating a mood music strategy (fortunately, I've got a friend who's aces at this and he's offered to put together a few custom mixes for your dining pleasure), and walking around the house with the menu folio to see how it looks next to the menu sheets in various levels of light (we may need to change our original color choice).

Then, there's that whole list of other little things that would, in our eyes, make Z nothing short of perfect but aren't necessarily in the opening budget. We can't do all of them, and the ones we'd most like to do are the ones that cost the most. There's time, we tell ourselves, to add these in after the opening. They are, we tell ourselves, touches that only we'll miss because we're the only ones aware of them. We need to redefine our idea of perfection, we tell ourselves, because as much as opening a restaurant is about realizing a dream, at the end of every shift it's really about the food, the experience and the relationship we have our customers. In those areas, there is no room for compromise.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Four Thousand Words Worth

Tom says:
These photos were taken two days ago and already they're dated. That's how quickly things are progressing at Z. That's how quickly things need to be progressing at Z. To the untrained eye it probably looks as though we're nowhere near opening, but as is often the case, appearances are to the contrary. We've got lights. Banquette seating installation. Almost a bar. Obviously we've got a camera. Pretty soon I'll be able to call out, "Action!" And that, friends, is going to be a really really good day.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Tom says:
Back in the day when I was a wanna-be engineering student, I learned that the Newtonian definition of momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. In other words, momentum is a measurement of how difficult it is to stop an object in motion or


The principle of momentum conservation states that velocity remains constant unless the object is acted upon by a force outside the system. This week at the restaurant we've experienced a critical increase in velocity. This, in turn, has increased our momentum such that our hope of an opening date is less fantasy and more reality.

After days and weeks where it seemed we were stuck in a state of inertia, finally, I see the light at the end of this renovation tunnel. What's more, we're moving toward that light with a speed that can only come from putting every red cent you have and then some into making your life's dream, well, your actual life.

Then there's the panicked realization that despite the end of the renovation drawing near, there are still 1,246 things to do; the lists are daunting and my petition to the timekeepers in Greenwich to add more hours to the day have been denied. Best I can do is remind myself, constantly, that so long as I am always doing something, then eventually everything will get done.

One item on that list is uploading new photos of the space from the camera to the computer so we can give everyone another look at how far we've come, though it's entirely possible that to the outside observer it might not look like we've accomplished much.

But right now it's time for this object--me--to be at rest. The light may be visible, but the tunnel, she is long.