Saturday, October 29, 2005

Home Again, Home Again

Hey, everyone, we're back. We had a great time exploring Long Island wineries, Manhattan eateries, and the wine list at Bern's. Expect tons of posts and photos in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We Interrupt This Vacation...

I'm taking advantage of the wireless networks that surround Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Manhattan's Lower East Side to point you to a couple tidbits.

First is my profile of Kathy FitzHenry on SFist. Even on vacation I'm a good little columnist.

Second, those of you in the East Bay should keep an eye out for Edible East Bay, a free publication focusing on the local food community of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. I'm a regular contributor, and I'll mainly be writing about wine, but I'll write about other topics as well. The inaugural issue has articles by me about Livermore's wine region and East Bay charcuterie, and other pieces by local writers about food topics relevant to those of us on this side of the Bay. These pieces represent the first printed collaboration between Melissa and me: She did the photos, I did the text. Those of you across the water might look for Edible San Francisco.

Edible East Bay can be found at the following locations:

  • All East Bay Andronico's
  • Market Hall
  • Monterey Market
  • Diablo Foods
  • Piedmont grocery
  • Berkeley Certified Farmer's Markets
  • Kaiser Certified Farmer's Markets
  • Alameda Marketplace
  • Fourth Street Marketplace
  • Capay Vision (all capay valley events)
  • Whole Foods

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Persimmons on SFist

Photo by melissa nicole.
Expect sporadic blogging for the next couple weeks (as opposed to my normal, highly regular blogging) as Melissa and I wander through Long Island, Manhattan, and Tampa. For the moment, though, read my persimmon piece for SFist

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Fire in the Hole

It's easy to romanticize the life of a winery owner. We often imagine a flush wine baron kicking back in the villa as the bank account overflows.

And maybe that's true some of the time, but more often the owners have poured their hearts and life savings into their business and their bottles. These wines are their livelihood, the investment that puts food on the table.

Which is what makes the fire that destroyed a wine storage facility in Vallejo so devastating and heartbreaking. The supposedly indestructible vault held current releases as well as decades-spanning libraries for a number of large and small wineries. For many of the wineries that used the facility, their whole inventory is now gone and the coming year's budget looks bleak. There's nothing anyone can do about it: You can't rebuild wine.

I know some of the affected people personally, and I know of all the others. I wish them all the best in moving forward after this painful loss.

UPDATE: Carolyn says in the comments (thanks!) that there's an as-yet-disorganized effort among collectors to contribute some wines back to the affected wineries. While the current releases in the warehouse represented a huge financial loss, the library wines represented the history of the wineries, and for the producers had a value far greater than the market price. See her comment, and if you have any older wines from any of the wineries who used that storage facility, please consider offering some back to them. These are producers you obviously care about, and it would mean a lot to them.

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Some Sites to Check Out

One day, I promise, I will get around to My Big Fat Blogroll Revamp so that I can point you to the many sites I read regularly. Until then, here are a few to keep you occupied. I promise everyone else I'll make time for the Revamp soon.

Fork & Bottle - I first met Jack three years ago, and we lost touch until recently. But we've been catching up with a vengeance. Jack and Joanne are seriously into food and wine, and their site is more magazine than blog. You'll find extensive tasting notes for all manner of food and wine, commentary, and schedules of upcoming gastronomic events around the world.

Eat Feed - This is another magazine-type site, but I follow them through their podcast. The show has good interviews that dig relatively deeply into topics I find interesting: history, traditions, and techniques.

bad things - I don't have the snarky tone that seems to define bloggers. But Max has plenty to spare, and he uses it to great effect on his blog, where he'll roll his eyes about the food press when he's not discussing sports or developments in genetically engineered food.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

WTN: 2004 "Vogelmeier" Moscato Giallo, Alois Lageder, Alto Adige

Moscato Giallo from the Alto AdigeI don't think I've ever been disappointed by a wine from Italy's Alto Adige region, also known as the Südtirol. Those of you who have deciphered the sparse clues I leave about my wine tastes will immediately understand. German invaders—occupying soldiers in the past, shorts-clad tourists in the present—ebbed and flowed through the Alpine meadows along the banks of the Adige river, influencing the culture as they went. German and Italian coexist in the streets, in the village names, and in the cuisine. German wine styles linger in the cellars.

A number of you also know that I love the muscat grape. This family of fruit, one of the few to produce a wine that smells like the unfermented grapes, is like Kaylie from Firefly/Serenity: exuberant, unashamed, and sexy in a way more obvious beauties aren't. Dry muscats are a rare treat. More often, the grape juice ends up in fragrant dessert wines.

Those two loves converge in the 2004 "Vogelmeier" Moscato Giallo from Alois Lageder, one of the Südtirol's best-known producers. I stuck my nose over the shimmery gold liquid and let out a lustful chuckle. "Well, it's not corked," I said to Melissa with a grin. Intense floral aromas—classic muscat—gush from the glass alongside a serpentine minerality that wiggles in and out of your consciousness. Melissa says it has rich smells of pear. One sip demands another, and another, and another. "Yummy acidity," say my notes, "with a long finish of flowers and fruit." The wine sits lovingly on the tongue, somewhere between austere and voluptuous.

We bought this wine (and, drat, I don't have the price but it was definitely under $20) at Vintage Berkeley. I wanted a dry muscat to pair with some dishes featuring grapes, but you'd enjoy this wine alongside delicate fish or gnocchi tossed with thin slices of ham and dressed with a light cream sauce.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hulk Squash!

Photo by melissa nicole.
Or...Hulking Squash! Or...Hulk Smash Squash!

See my winter squash piece for SFist (in an odd bit of synchronicity with Kate, which I happily noticed shortly before posting).

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Alliance for Innovative Wine Packaging

The Alliance for Innovative Wine Packaging sent me a press release about a show they're doing at Copia on October 27. We'll be in Tampa by then, far away from Napa's food and wine center, but I'd love to hear a report from anyone who goes.

I'm intrigued by wine packaging in general (see, for instance, my piece on wine bottles), and I like seeing new packaging concepts. I once heard an analyst speak about market trends in wine, and he argued that screw caps may not be the ultimate wine closure, but they've made consumers willing to accept experimentation. New solutions that go beyond the bottle and cork can now gain traction in a marketplace that would have been dismissive five years ago. Just ask Three Thieves, the winery that puts its wines into jugs and boxes.

These alternate containers and closures have a lot of benefits. New closures help diminish "cork taint," the foul smell that often comes from cork and can kill a wine, and new packaging gets around the main problems with bottles: Their awkward shape makes storage difficult, and glass is breakable. Boxes with inner bags keep oxygen out of the wine even after you've started pouring it. (And as my friend Rebecca once pointed out, bags can be smuggled into the ball park more easily than bottles.) Robert Haas recently suggested to me that the best container for wine might be a can. A bold statement, but perhaps there's something to it: No damaging light or oxygen can get to the wine, the material is durable, and it's easy to open. There's a lot to be said for exploring new packaging.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The City That Never Sleeps

You might remember that we're heading to New York soon. We'll be in Long Island for a couple days, touring wineries before Lenn and I teach a class at Stony Brook. Then we'll be in NYC proper for several days before heading to Bern's in Tampa Bay.

We hear there are some good things to do in New York City. Any suggestions?

We've got reservations at Blue Hill and wd-50, and we definitely intend to hit Artisanal, 2nd Avenue Deli, Landmarc, and Kitchen Arts & Letters. Of course we'll also be leafing through the two-issue series on New York in The Art of Eating.

But we're open to all sorts of activities: theater, opera (I'd love to attend a Met performance), museums, etc. So leave a comment or drop me a note with ideas you might have. I'm sure we won't have time to visit them all, but that will just entice us to visit again soon!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Gourmet Survivor II: The Results

The exit polls have been taken, the votes have been counted, the dust has settled, and the winner of Gourmet Survivor is... William and Jason! Congratulations to you both!

That, I think, is the best possible outcome. One of the hardest parts of this competition has been seeing good competitors tossed off "the island." Jason and William (and Kathy and Melissa, for that matter) slaved over their entries and their write-ups, and I know all the coaches were awestruck by the effort everyone put forth.

And you can all pat yourselves on the back: Adam's event raised $4,200. Thank you to everyone who voted. Really.

I want to extend a big thanks to Jason. He's worked hard for the last few weeks, and he really got into the challenge. Our pre-weekend emails were an enthusiastic exchange of ideas as he planned his entry. Melissa and I hungrily looked through his photos as they arrived early each Sunday morning. We hope he had as much fun cooking for his family and friends as we did hearing the reports. We know his family enjoyed the feasts he's made.

Jason, it's been a real treat having you as a guest obsesser, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about your culinary endeavors. Melissa and I will keep an eager eye on your Flickr photos.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Peppers Part 2 on SFist

Photo by Melissa.
Some of you know I have a wimpy palate when it comes to spicy food. So this week's SFist post on chili peppers was more challenging than most.

But I'd make this Chili Pepper Banana Bread again, even if I'd have to nibble it very carefully.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Pim Gets Desperate

Poor Pim. She's so unsure of her contestant in Gourmet Survivor that she's putting out pleas on food forums like Opinionated About and calling in favors. Her contestant has had some generous donations as a result, but I believe that the lesser-heard voices of the masses will turn the tide. I have confidence in Jason: His final entry speaks for itself. It's still early in the race, and you can make a difference. Small votes from many of you can win against the large votes from a few.

Go to Adam's donation page, contribute a small amount, and put Jason's name in the comments. Remember: Every penny goes towards helping those who have been displaced by Katrina and Rita.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Gourmet Survivor II, Final Round: Jason's Jambalaya

This is it. The final round of Gourmet Survivor II, Adam's Katrina/Rita fundraiser and online competition. In round one, Jason made Po'boys the centerpiece of a gourmet meal. For round 2 he made not one, not two, but three different beignets, plating them with the flair one normally only sees in nice restaurants.

And today, he's made jambalaya, once again offering up a tasty treat for you to admire.

In the past, I've asked for your help to move Jason to the next round. Now we want him to win, to rocket to international glory as the second-ever Gourmet Survivor. Compare his entries in each round to his competitor's, and there's no doubt who deserves the title. He's baked, roasted, decorated, shopped, and chopped solely to help raise money for those in need. He's driven to out-of-the-way stores, bought unusual ingredients, and given up several weekend days, just to get you to vote.

I know many of you have voted already, or given to other disaster relief funds. But even a tiny contribution to Adam's relief efforts will help victims struggling to rebuild their lives, away from all that they knew before. Of course, bigger amounts are even better.

Here's how to help Katrina/Rita victims and support Jason's efforts. Go to Adam's donation page. Enter your information. Most importantly, be sure to put Jason's name in the comments. Every vote costs $5: A $20 donation gives Jason four votes (but ONLY if you put his name in the comments).

And now I'll let Jason describe his jambalaya. Remember, he's done all this work out of his own desire to help those in need. Please don't let him down. Vote to show him how much you appreciate all that he's done. Just remember to put his name in the comments.


Jason's Jambalya

Here we are at the last round of the Gourmet Survivor competition. I would like to thank everyone for his or her support so far in contributing to the Red Cross disaster relief fund. Let's aim for this final round to be our most beneficial yet. Also, I would like to thank Kathy, Melissa and William for playing along; I believe we have all had a great time. The greatest amount of thanks really must go to Adam and Derrick though. Adam for hosting this wonderful competition, and Derrick for all the coaching and the hosting of my entries.

Anyhow, on to the food. For this last course any New Orleans item could be cooked up. I paid close attention to the voting on the Amateur Gourmet site where gumbo and jambalaya were neck and neck, right behind an item of ones own choosing. To try and stay with the likes of the people jambalaya was chosen. This spicy dish of rice, chicken, sausage, and shrimp is well-suited for a cool autumn evening.

The day started out so well with a trip to the market to get fresh vegetables from the stands. Then I took a detour before heading over to the butcher. With the cool air setting in apples are in full swing here in Michigan. I headed over to the apple orchard so we could enjoy the fruit of the season. By far the best apple for an apple pie is a Northern Spy. Not often locatable they are a special treat. I spent a bit over an hour at the orchard picking my own apples and then browsing around and buying two gallons of fresh pressed apple cider. After leaving the orchard it's back on track, heading to the butcher, to pick up the andouille sausage, chicken quarters and shrimp.

It is such a shame that I could not invite every one of you over for this New Orleans treat. As the jambalaya came together the house was graced with the spicy smell of sausage and seafood. The wonderful colors mingled so well that the anticipation for dinner was high. There were quite a few steps in this dish, but the final product was certain to be perfection.

Once on the table it was time to give it a try. I must say that more than anyone my father was in pure heaven. I personally did not think anyone would place any of these dishes above the original Po?boy challenge, but dad did. He commented on the wonderful spicy flavors and how they blended so well with the rice and meat mixture. A perfect blend of flavors that complemented each other so well.

Some may say that this is a dish to be savored and enjoyed on its own, but I personally feel that the addition of the homemade walnut onion bread and fresh baked apple pie put it over the top. The colors of a fall day, the flavors of New Orleans and family for dinner; what more could be asked for?

For an in-depth look at the jambalaya, visit the Jamabalaya Photo Set

WTN: 2001 Château Carbonnieux Blanc

When Lenn asked me to name the best wine I've had in the last thirty days, a topic initially suggested by Basic Juice's Beau, I knew which wine I would choose. I told Lenn it would take me some time to write it up. "Mine will be fairly involved," I wrote. "I'm shocked to hear that," he replied, with perhaps the tiniest hint of sarcasm. Hmph.

But I can't just regurgitate some facts about the Graves region of Bordeaux along with a tasting note—even a poetic one—for the 2001 Châteaux Carbonnieux Blanc. It's a delicious wine to be sure, but my experience with it is part of a larger story. As all wine should be, really: Wine is at its best when it's just one part of a meal. You don't grok wine until you recognize that factors such as good friends, good food, and cozy surroundings can make even humble wines magical.

My friend Tom called us several months ago to invite us to be his guests at a restaurant he'd discovered. But, he explained, the restaurant, Capo, is in Santa Monica. Tom lives in Sunnyvale, three hundred fifty miles north of Santa Monica. We live in Oakland, forty miles north of Sunnyvale as the crow flies. Clearly, the restaurant had made an impression. Stay tuned for my thoughts in a separate post.

So imagine the scene as we converge on the restaurant's nondescript exterior, along with Tom's girlfriend Justine (who lives a mere sixty miles away). The heavy drapes in the lobby open to reveal a softly-lit, cozy space lined with interesting artwork and topped with exposed beams. A long bar stretches to the right, with a cheerful fire at the distant end, a source of warmth for the customers and the food cooked over it. As we sit down, Tom hands me the wine list. We're splitting the wine, Tom's way of urging me to choose a better wine than I would if I were trying to be polite to the host.

I flip through the many pages a few times. Capo has a deceptively thick wine list; the heft comes from deep vintages of a few producers rather than shallow vintages from many producers. Still, it takes some time to evaluate.

Once we settle on our openers, I consider the options for a starter wine. I'm expecting a torchon of foie gras, Tom plans to order a sweetbread salad, Justine opts for hamachi (grilled? seared?) with figs, and Melissa leans towards a caprese salad with buffetta (akin to fresh mozzarella). In addition, we order a platter of salumi to share.

An aside for all you wine lovers out there. What would you choose and why? You don't need to know the Capo wine list: Pretend you can choose any wine you'd like. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I tell Melissa I'm going to ignore her dish. She understands: The delicate flavors and texture of her caprese are too different from the meatier, richer tastes the rest of us will have. Flipping nervously through the list for a third (a fourth?) time, I notice a tiny selection of White Bordeaux. This, I think, has promise. White Bordeaux is a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon, and the gravelly soil with limestone sprinkles in the Graves region gives these wines a food-friendly acidity and a weight that can stand up to the dishes we've ordered. I often find a figgy quality in semillon and I envision that bridging to Justine's dish. The foie gras has a regional affinity with this wine: Bordeaux forms the northern border of France's southwest, one of the two main foie gras regions in the country (the other is in Alsace—hence the phrase "fat as a Strasbourg goose"). I hope the rustic lineage of the sweetbread salad and the salumi platter will be similar enough to the food of the area. European wines tend to naturally pair well with the cuisines of the regions where they're produced, though Bordeaux's long history of selling in a global market makes that guideline less reliable.

The server pours glasses around the table. Everyone smiles as they take a sniff. Tom nods with satisfaction. Justine gives a sighing "Mmmmm," and Melissa says "yummy, yummy." This is a really good wine. It gets even better once the food arrives. It finds its best match with the sweetbread salad, though no one's unhappy with the wine alongside his or her dish. The evening is off to a perfect start.

You can see why I thought of that night when Lenn asked me to name the best wine I've tasted in the last thirty days. So what did it taste like? Those of you who read this site regularly know that I rarely take my notebook when I dine out. I never like the way it removes me from the conversation. I regretted that decision as soon as we tasted the wine, though do I need a long list of adjectives to remind me that I loved its shimmering minerality and solid balance? Justine offered the most poetic description: "It felt like velvet on the tongue, or mink, or grandma's vanilla pudding." She continued, "when wine moves from a beverage to an experience... this is perfection." Melissa said it "tasted just heavenly." For Tom: "a wonderful clean taste with just a touch of acid." Go. Buy this wine. If you can find it in a store, it shouldn't be more than $30 or so (it was $65 at the restaurant).

At this point, I'm expected to pass this suggested topic to some other web wine enthusiasts. I'd like to hear Jack & Joanne's response, since they drink some damn good wine (though he's already warned me he probably won't take up the baton). And it'd be fun to hear from Kieca. And few people have such an exuberant love of wine as Viv at Seattle Bon Vivant.

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