Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Oh, blog, how I've neglected you. But, fair readers, you would have had no interest in my mediocre late-night meal at the uptown 'inoteca in the middle of last week. The panini (proscuitto, goat cheese, tapenade) was good, as was the antipasto platter (olives, an overdone and cold fritatta, sopressata, a mild cheese similar to provelone, some kind of squash, pickled fennel/carrots/cippolini onions), but the arugula and pickled onion salad was over acidified, despite calming fresh shaved parmesan. Oh, well.

On Saturday, we went back to Dell'Anima to see the chef and overordered. Bruschetta came with virtually an entire loaf of bread--and we finished it all. Our spreads--rapini with pine nuts, caramelized onions, chick peas--probably would have been enough for dinner. But then came tender grilled octopus (vastly oversalted) with chorizo, and quail served over grains with fresh cucumber and mint. My favorite course was the pasta, toothsome orichette with a lamb ragu and some kind of bean. Complimentary risotto was also oversalted, probably a result of more chorizo.

Striped bass came pan-seared and with the skin on, garnished with a spring garlic puree. I haven't had such a beautiful piece of fish in a long time. Chef also sent out a skirt steak with his own version of chimichurri sauce, but upon its arrival we realized we were much too full and brought it home for happy leftovers.

Last night, finding ourselves in Murray Hill, we went to Artisanal for snacks. I never realized Artisanal was so expensive. A duck and foie gras rillette with apricot marmelade came with an unlikely dose of cornichon. Onion soup was delicious but completely ordinary. Steak tartare had all the usual suspects. The macaroni and cheese (I felt obligated to order something cheesy, given Artisanal's dedication to dairy) came with penne, and I will admit that I just hate macaroni and cheese made with penne. It never seems to hold the cheese the proper way. The bill was a whopping $100 for our snacks and wine tastes (a boring list, for those interested). I won't be going back.

We're planning for Chinese food in Sunset Park today, provided we actually motivate and make it. I'm vowing to be less remiss in my posting in the coming week.

2 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


At the end of my street in Astoria, there's this restaurant.  I'm convinced it's owned and operated by the Mafia. Four years ago, when I first moved back to New York after a short-lived stint in Boston, I was taken to this restaurant by family friends.  I remember thinking that it was straight out of a Sopranos episode.  Until last night, I hadn't been back.  

But we were looking for a way to pass time without going too far from my apartment, so Piccola Venezia it was.  The dining room was as I'd remembered, replete with mirrored walls and red-tuxedoed waiters.  The wine list was a leather bound book boasting an impressive--if incongruous--array of Napa Valley cabs.  The menu hit every note of familiar (with the exception of my personal favorite, linguine with clams) and the white linen tablecloths inspired in me some kind of unwilling nostalgia.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the only other table in the restaurant, a couple older than us, were engaged in some frisky extramarital affair.  Funny, but true. 

We ordered a bottle of 1992 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, which was delicious if not quite Italian.  We shared mussels in white sauce (respectable, if not life-changing) and shells with ground pork and broccoli rabe (a dish I happen to prefer with orrichette, but who really cares) to start.  The waiter brought bruschetta with crushed tomatoes, sliced provolone, olives, and sopressata.  My entree, thin-pounded veal with mozzarella and mushrooms--although I swear the menu said eggplant--was a bit tough.  My date's osso bucco was plate-consuming.  I was surprised at how pillowy the accompanying gnocchi remained. 

For dessert, I mistakenly ordered baked Alaska, because I've never had it before.  Perhaps this was my week of saccharine sweet desserts.  Over-sugared meringue enveloped an over-sugared brownie, all of which sat in a pool of over-sugared strawberry something or other.  It was too much.  But the complimentary cookies ("you're always getting free stuff," my date half-complained) were kind of perfect chocolate chip tasties.  

When I think back on the Italian meals of my childhood, this restaurant is what comes to mind.  I don't think it matters that the food is just okay, or that the wine list has nothing to do with the, er, region of focus.  I think what matters is that this type of spot is readily disappearing and I'd like to will it back into the American reality, except that I'm kind of broke and eating like an Italian principessa ain't cheap. 

Piccola Venezia
42-01 28th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Here in South Carolina, people eat seafood all day long. Oysters and shrimp, fried, boiled, and roasted, thems the name of the game. I had done my due diligence before flying out and located a few places identified by Charleston locals as "authentic," places I felt obligated to hit up during my short stay. So, after an afternoon cruising the Charleston Battery, home to some of the most princely homes I've ever seen, I made a pit stop at Jestine's Kitchen.

Just my luck: shrimp and grits were the blue plate special of the day. Sauteed spicy jumbo shrimp came floating in grits with peppers and brown gravy. I ordered a side of fried okra, crispy and perfect. My friends ordered macaroni and cheese and fried green tomatoes and corn bread with butter and honey.

We drank teas, sweet and otherwise.

For dessert, we ceded all control to the sugar monsters of the south and ordered more than we should have, courting diabetes with decadent coconut cream pie, banana pudding topped with fresh meringue, and a Coca-Cola cake topped with the sweetest frosting I have ever tasted in my entire life.

It was the quintessential southern experience and the perfect diet-crasher. Good thing tomorrow's run will burn off anything left behind.

Jestine's Kitchen
251 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401

Thursday, March 19, 2009


On Tuesday night, all I wanted to do was put my feet up.  I ran 15 miles through the St. Patrick's Day parade in the afternoon, wishing I had chosen another day to do so.  A trip to the movies to see Watchmen, possibly the longest--and worst--move I have ever wasted 11 bucks on with the exception of Saw II made me hungry and tired.  My partner in crime decided we had spent too much money the night before and suggested we cook. 

I want a meal that requires few pans, little preparation, and a dedication to product.  We found chicken thighs (skin off, a vast disappointment, but oh, well), thick asparagus, perfect white potatoes, Persian cucumbers, decent-enough arugula, and sugar snap peas at C Town, my most local and most ethnic supermarket.  Back home, I tossed the thighs and asparagus together with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  I put the thighs on a baking sheet and sent them on their way at 400 degrees.  When they were half done, after about ten minutes, I added the asparagus to the tray.  

We sliced the Persian cukes and put them together with arugula, halved sugar snaps, wide strips of peeler-sliced Parmesan, and red onion, tossed with the remainder of my lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.  Peeled and boiled potatoes came together with two tablespoons of nonfat Greek yogurt, a half cup of warmed skim milk, some butter, salt, and pepper.  We mashed, then whisked.  They were perfect. 

Our meal took 30 minutes, just enough time for us to polish off a glass each of Gruet, New Mexico's own methode champanoise sparkler.  In the time it took to shop for and cook dinner, Watchmen would have been finishing its introductory sequence. I'll take the chicken thighs over that Marvel failure any day.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Yes, I know.  I missed two consecutive days of blogging by allowing my personal life to take over.  Sometimes things go by the wayside.  I'm only human.  Between my 30-40 mile running weeks, my 60-hour-a-week job, friends, family, and boys, blogging is taking the backseat.  

Sunday night, after a dreaded double, I hit up Casellula for the millionth time with a date.  At this point, the staff of Casellula likely thinks I've dated every available (and unavailable) bachelor in the TriState area.  I measure the quality of the date by how the guy reacts to an endless array of cheeses and chocolate cake, which, regrettably, they had run out of on Sunday night.  Probably for the best.  This particular date loved the pig's ass sandwich as much as he loved the five cheese selection I ordered from the fromager.  

That would have been exciting on its own, but Monday brought a whole host of new adventures.  We had a late afternoon cocktail at Gramercy Tavern, my favorite bar in New York City (it always smells like Christmas), followed by what can loosely be termed "very expensive snacking" at The John Dory.  Crudo was nothing short of brilliant.  Nantucket Bay scallops arrived in a giant scallop shell adorned with a meyer lemon reduction.  Kampachi, a personal favorite, arrived beneath slices of ginger, a delicate amplification of the fish's freshness.  We ate an amuse bouche of arctic char pate with fried parsnip chips, oysters with a cilantro mignonette, and rock shrimp over buttery and salty grits.  With two glasses of wine, this seafood snacking came to a staggering $100.  Good news: the warm dinner rolls, bready and delicious, are free for the taking. 

Our meal at The John Dory came too early in the evening to fall into the category of dinner, which meant that after killing some time in Sunset Park I found myself moved to eat again.  Koreatown seemed the obvious option.  Complimentary kimchi spread--pickled cucumber, various styles of napa cabbage, fermented tofu, fresh tofu, seaweed salad, pickled daikon--opened the floodgates for an incredible Korean meal.  A scallion pancake stuffed with kimchi and onions provided the perfect precursor to a big bowl of Korean soup, filled with sliced beef, fresh beef dumplings, vermicelli, and rice cakes in beef broth.  They brought us strawberry ice-cream at the meal's end, which tasted of very good strawberry yogurt.  The day was a resounding success. 

Please know, before entering Koreatown, that you will be treated to all kinds of entertainments, the least of which involve live piano music played from fake rock formations.  I'm not kidding.  This is Manhattan's secret 24-hour-a-day playground.  And it's worth the trip.

401 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

Gramercy Tavern
42 E. 20th Street
New York, NY 10003

The John Dory
85 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Kum Gang San
49 W. 32nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Saturday, March 14, 2009

French Fries

My father says French fries are the perfect food.  Keep in mind that this man also despises eggs, so I'm not sure how much attention you'd want to pay to his culinary declaration, but still.  I'm finding it harder and harder to resist the giant and constantly freshened bowl of French fries that sits on the pass at work.  I like them when they're so hot that they rip the skin off the roof of my mouth.  I like them when they're floppy and fleshy on the inside.  I like them when they're burnt to a crisp.  I even like them when they've been in the pass for a while and are about to be thrown away.  

I just love French fries.  Evil little sticks of heaven.  

Ok.  For a food that possesses virtually no nutritional value, French fries might actually be the perfect food.  They have all the right textures and just enough salt to raise one's blood pressure.  
It's an ongoing battle between me and the silver bowl, and the bowl usually wins.  It's hard enough to pass up the beautiful, crusty Sullivan Street Bakery bread that sits in the basket near the Stumptown coffee station (an indulgence I choose to honor rather than ignore).  It's a real challenge not dipping my hand into any of the plastic bins containing the Belgian dark chocolates that we serve for dessert ("eat all the chocolate you want," my boss says, as if I need another devil on my shoulder).  

I'd be worried if my pants weren't a bit baggy, so I take it one fight at a time.  Yes, the fries are winning, but so is my resolve not to eat white flour or refined sugar, so take that, my lovely little potatoes!

As a social experiment, though, I'd like to point out that every member of the staff at my restaurant fesses up to having gained ten or more pounds since the place opened, attributable in great part to the free fries.  I'm going to have to come up with a better method of self control, because standing in the pass and willing my hand away from the hot fries just isn't working.  

Friday, March 13, 2009

Counting Calories

For those living outside of metropolitan New York, last year's city-wide calorie legislation may have slipped under the radar.  In 2008, all New York City chain restaurants (extending from Outback to Starbucks) were required to post calorie counts of all food and drink items sold at their establishments.  New Yorkers are a naturally thin breed--we walk a lot, we exercise a lot, and we have an extremely high consciousness of where our food comes from--so it isn't really a surprise that we were the first to do this.  

Posted calorie counts have, in many ways, changed the way I think about food.  In high school, I snacked on low-fat blueberry muffins from Dunkin' Donuts.  I was 15 pounds overweight.  Come to find out those "healthier" muffins packed a whopping 500 calories, roughly 1/4 of what I should have been consuming in a day.  A Subway pizza with sausage, called a "personal pizza" and really no bigger than a slice and a half, serves up 800 calories of tubby tummy terror.  

The movement to understand and appreciate food is widespread and New Yorkers have certainly embraced it with alacrity.  Many of us eat at restaurants who advertise the farms from which they source their produce.  Say "Four Story Hill" or "Satur" to a New York diner and you're bound to provoke a conversation about milk-fed lamb and sugar snap peas.  

But fast food has made us a fat and lazy nation.  Americans exercise too little and eat too much. Collectively, we rely on quick fix options to fill our stomachs and collectively we have seen the rise of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.  That's no coincidence.  

New York has often taken the lead when it comes to progression in this nation.  I don't see why posted calorie counts should be any different.  I went to Subway yesterday, running late for a meeting in the City.  I ordered a six inch sandwich, 370 calories, according to my helpful posted information (though mine was probably less, since I skipped the cheese).  "Get a footlong," the woman behind the counter said.  "It's five dollars."  

I shook my head no.  I didn't want an 800 calorie lunch, though I was hungry enough to eat it.  "So yes?" she asked.  "Footlong."  I said no.  Loudly.  She made my sandwich and sent me on my way.  Had I been unaware of the damage that extra six inches could cause, no doubt I would have taken the hold foot and eaten it in one sitting.  

But, unlike all of those Americans faced with the same decisions and less helpful information, I was able to cut my losses.  Let's hope Texas gets the memo soon.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Yesterday was the Michael Skurnik industry tasting at the Altman Building.  I've been to a lot of tastings in my lifetime, but this was--by far--the very worst.  I was surrounded by nepotism (Christina Turley pouring her daddy's wine in the room's rear, utterly thankful that he procured her and her inexperienced palate a position as wine buyer) and fake friends (yes, I avoided a dreaded encounter with a former Tempranillo rep because I can't really stand her and because she rejected my friend request on Facebook.  True story).  

There were also upward of 500 wines, none of which I could quite get to because the lines were so long.  Signage was bad.  I ended up in Italy twice when I was really looking for Austria.  The only tables I really had the opportunity to taste through completely was the grower champagne table.  Nice stuff, but not what I need for my restaurant right now.  

These tastings are all about running into people and I do not want to run into people.  I want to go into a room, taste my way through the current vintages, scratch down a few notes, and be on my merry way.  Thank god I'll be out of town for the next round on the 23rd and 24th. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting Skeeny

No more eating out.  Not after last night's Ryan Skeen foodfest at Irving Mill.  The chef known for his dedication to all things pork has proven, in his latest menu, that porcine anything is still where it's at.  

The dining room couldn't be prettier, done in a farmhouse style with wide wooden floorboards, service station made from antiques, large sconced chandeliers suspended from the ceilings.  At the dining room's front, a circular cut of stone raised to a high top seats six or seven.  

We started with cocktails, Plymouth gin, ginger syrup and pears.  Then we progressed to a 2005 Lignier Morey-St.-Denis that saw a bit too much oak.  Salt and pepper pork ribs tasted like they had been marinated in very good soy sauce and slipped from the bone when bit.  Boudin blanc hot dogs came topped with lardon and caramelized onions, the perfect accoutrement.  I was underwhelmed by battered rabbit legs accompanied by a nondescript aioli.  Ditto for raw fluke adored with chopped walnuts and sliced grapes (it lacked acid).  

But Beausoleil oysters from Canada were tiny and sweet and a beef bavette, served with beef cheek, had a deep and smoky flavor.  Our side of macaroni and cheese, topped with pork rinds, was a bit gritty as if the roux had not been incorporated fully, a downright shame.  

For dessert, we ordered a banana parfait with a whole bunch of crunchy things in it that we couldn't identify.  The house sent apple doughnuts with vanilla ice-cream and two glasses of viscous Pedro Ximenez, the result of the following interaction had between the server and myself: 

Server: I have a question for you.  Are you industry?

Me: Yes, how did you know?

Server: By the way you ordered.  Where do you work?

Me: I'm the Beverage Director at *blank* and he used to be the Beverage Director at *blank*

Server: Do you know Ryan Skeen?

Me: I've never met him.  

Server: Cool.  

And then the free stuff arrived, not at all a bad way to end my weekend.  

Irving Mill
116 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where The Hell Is Bushwick, Anyway?

I had to take a cab out there, since it was late.  I was supposed to be in and out of work in three hours.  Obviously that didn't happen.  A group of people were meeting at Roberta's for dinner.  They do this most Monday nights. 

By the time I arrived, a thousand things had been ordered, passed, re-ordered, etc.  I sat down and was passed a plate of bone marrow, sea salt, and jam.  Along came agrodolce radicchio with Marcona almonds, polenta with guanciale and a poached egg, roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, curly spaghetti with thick rounds of pepperoni, spaghetti with meatballs (each ball a different type of meat, no less). 

And then... pizzas.  White pizza with Napa cabbage and anchovies, pizza with speck and a fried egg on top, pizza with burnt broccoli and cabbage, pizza with pepperoni and sausage, too many pizzas to count.  A calzone, longer than my forearm and three times as wide, steamed when cut and revealed slices of pink proscuitto, a creamy white cheese, and more runny eggs.  

We drank red wine (bring your own) out of tiny mason jars.  Almond cakes drenched in honey and topped with homemade whipped cream did not outshine Stumptown coffee (order at your own risk: even the drip takes forever).  

I didn't go crazy because most of these things are on my "do not eat" list.  Everything in moderation.  I will say that Roberta's may be my new favorite place to hang out.  Long and rustic tables with mismatched chairs fill the dining room, which also boasts a pizza oven that churns out Naples-style pies, small and black-ish on the edges.  Christmas lights, books, old wooden waterskis, hanging skeletons, and other found items provide a junkyard decor, not unlike some barbecue places you might see down south.  Best of all, the outdoor space, open for dining in spring and summer, also plays host to a rusting Volkswagen bug. 

If you can figure out how to get to Bushwick, this might be one of New York's best-kept secrets.  Cash only.  

261 Moore Street
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bar Seats

At Dell'Anima, the downtown late-night hot spot that everyone keeps telling me to visit, the worsening economy has not reared its ugly heads.  We entered a fairly empty dining room a little past one in the morning and sat at the kitchen bar.  That is, the line of seats directly in front of the chef.  You can watch the grill and pasta stations as you eat.  

The chef, a friend of my dining companion, informed us that the restaurant had served a staggering 200 people.  On a Sunday night.  In March.  Few restaurants have the loyal following of this one.  No ornery disposition followed us into our late-night meal.  I appreciated that.  All too often, I've been the server on the opposite side, livid at the nerve of the diner before me eating well after normal human hours. 

We ordered four dishes, ate six.  Grilled sweetbreads arrived amidst a fennel marmalade and parsley root puree.  The sweetbreads, unadorned by the familiar trappings of batter and oil, were soft, clean, and delicate. 

Next came Brussels sprouts and a farm egg with lardon.  The egg was runny and bled gooey innards over tender sprouts.  I hated sprouts until last year.  I don't know what took me so long to come around.  

Paper-thin ravioli stuffed with a blood-red beet puree.  Poppy seeds.  Brown butter.  

Homemade tagliatelle (flour-free diet be damned!) with bolognese.  Pliable, toothsome pasta, yolk yellow.  Perfect. 

Gnocchi with oxtail ragu, mirepoix, perfect celery leaves.  

Finally, the most perfect dish of all: skin-on orata (seabream) cooked en papillote with green and black olives, fresh thyme, fingerling potatoes, and lemon.  

They charged us for our lambrusco and amaro.  Where had the food disappeared?  The six-course meal, in all its delicacy and impeccable execution, had been sent out to us for free.  

But I would have paid, and been happy to do so.  And I'll definitely be back. 

38 8th Avenue 
New York, NY 10014

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Oh My Stars, I'm Going To El Bulli

You read it here first.  Assuming all goes as planned, I'm headed to Bar-the-lona for Labor Day weekend for a little molecular gastronomy.  For those wondering, I will gladly put my "no white flour/refined sugar" diet on hold for the occasion.  

Unless the man who's footing the bill does not suffer bankruptcy or some karmic collapse between now and August, well, then, Ole!  Spain it is.  

Ferran Adria.  OMG.  This is so exciting.  

Viva la Espana!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Literary Side Of Eating

On the Upper East Side exists the most amazing kind of haven.  This haven retains a cult following by foodies and chefs.  Magazines have given it its due, as have the David Changs of the world.  

This place is called Kitchen Arts and Letters.  They sell only cookbooks and books about food. 

I guarantee that you have never seen anything like this store.  Every regional cuisine you've ever wanted to explore has its own book--nay, shelf!--at Kitchen Arts and Letters.  Looking for the collected works of M.F.K. Fisher?  Check.  Searching for that Martha Stewart Entertaining cookbook from 1986?  Double check.  The collected recipes of Ferran Adrian from El Bulli, 1980s through today?  That's a special order, but you get the picture. 

Any food book you can possibly imagine this store can provide.  Their out of print section ranges from the tacky (The Pasta Diet: How to Lose 10 lbs. In 14 Days and Keep It Off Forever) to the esoteric (Fine Sauces From the 1800s).  Books range from inexpensive to just plain ridiculous.  I found older informational books, missing their sleeves, that cost upward of $100.

The greats are all here.  Some books are considered requisite tomes for aspiring chefs (See: The Fat Duck Cookbook, which was probably more popular before the Michelin 3-star closed down last week due to a staggering 40 reported cases of food poisoning), others merely pretty to look at.  If you've had enough of Johnny Iuzzini's smiling visage, don't go here to escape: his book, Dessert 4-Play, is proudly on display.  

As for me, I lost myself in memoir, among the ranks of Reichl, Trillin, Damrosch, Buford, Child, David, and Hazan.  I could have spent the entire afternoon.  Instead, my boss and I dropped $400 for our restaurant's permanent collection and dragged our loot downtown.  

If you like cookbooks, or any kind of book focused on the history or anthropology of food, visit this establishment.  You will not be disappointed. 

Kitchen Arts and Letters
1435 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10128

Friday, March 6, 2009

Late Night Menu

I waited too long to eat dinner, relegating me to selection's from the late-night menu.  

I shared bitter ballen and a burger with my co-worker, a feeble attempt to get something in my body without eating too much bad stuff.  Luckily, the hungry staff was quick to attack the French fries.  

Bitter ballen are small, breaded meatballs, pan-fried and served with the Belgian take on dijonaise (whole-grain mustard and mayonnaise).  The burger, supplemented with fatback, arrived on a plain McDonald's bun, adorned with gruyere cheese, pickles, onions, and a fried egg.  Ketchup on the side with steak fries.  You probably couldn't imagine a tastier burger.  

And nothing could be worse than having said burger at one's disposal on a nightly basis.  I feel like I should repent, but I'm Jewish. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

'inoteca, The Sequel

Stopped by the new 'inoteca last night.  You know, the one that used to be called Bar Milano, until the economy hit the skids?  I wanted truffled egg toast, sure, but I'm not eating white flour, and also, for the next few weeks the kitchen is only doing cold apps between 1 am and 3 am (I arrived at 1:30).  

I had a rocket (read: arugula) salad with shaved pecorino and pickled red onions.  Pecorino is a bit more gentle than its cow's milk cousin, parmesan.  That was a good thing.  The salad needed a bit of softening.  It came dressed in lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper, but with all those onions it was a little too acidic.  I found it tasty but a bit pucker-inducing. 

The chef sent out a panna cotta, topped with cinnamon and fresh pomegranate seeds.  I talked to him about it myself and learned that he used inverted cane sugar rather than refined sugar in the recipe, so I didn't feel bad eating it.  The bar tender sent negronis, per the generous Joe Denton, who even more generously remembered speaking to me when I had lunch at Milano over the summer.  Also on the comp tab: healthy dosages of amaro, topped off even when they shouldn't have been.  

The wine list is predictably Italian and not of much interest to me.  I had a declassified nebbiolo that lacked any characteristic tar-and-rosiness, from my perception.  

No matter.  The Denton brothers have made good in Murray Hill, securing 200 covers a night, minimum.  Economy be damned: people still need their truffled egg toast, I guess.  

323 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


What I neglected to mention in my post yesterday was what we drank, which probably matters just as much--if not more--than the sausages I downed during service.  

My boss is an Italiaophile. He has a history working in Italian restaurants and loves Italian wine, a passion expressed in our lean but Italy-heavy wine list.  I'm trying to wean him off an unhealthy dependency on the boot.  So for now, we consider it our responsibility to drink through as many Italian wines as we can. 

On Monday, that included the 2004 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbria.  I was in Umbria a few summers ago (the region that touches the interior side of Tuscany) and even there, where wine tends to be substantially less expensive, Sagrantino still cost a pretty penny.  We have our Bea Sagrantino on the list for $145.  It was a grape once thought to be extinct until Bea and Arnaldo-Caprai saved it from the compost pile.  These days, it still appears in limited production solely in Umbria, in accordance with Italian DOC laws that state that the government will only put a stamp on the wine if it hails from the confines of its growing region.  
The grape is rustic and full-bodied with a deep purple tinge and dry tannins.  Fruits on the palate include the Cabernet profile fruits: black cherries, currant, stewed fruits.  The funk I always find on Italian wines dominates the wine's aroma.  This is the kind of wine that one drinks to warm up.  

2004 was a fine vintage, much more moderate, climate-wise, than its predecessor.  In 2003, a heat-wave led to overripe grapes, higher alcohol wines, and Old World bottles that tasted like New World bottles.  Such is not the case with this vintage, a more restrained (and for my money, more likable) year.  

If you can't afford Sagrantino--and many of us can't--take its cousin Montefalco Rosso for a ride.  Montefalco Rosso.  The wine is a blend of Sagrantino, Cabernet, and Sangiovese, so it tends to be less weighty and more immediately quaffable.  But it's also a fine example of what Sagrantino, as a grape, adds to a wine.  So enjoy it, and drink up. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

After The Storm

Last night may have been more about drinking than eating, but I still had my share of interesting snacks.  Chef was making sausage for a special tasting menu, so I sat in the kitchen and ate fresh sausage with my hands. 

Pork and garlic sausage may have been my favorite, the most robust of the things I ate.  Boudin blanc, a light and pillowy pork sausage, didn't disappoint.  Duck sausage was new to the menu for the evening, rustic and gamy like only the best duck can be.

He also made a tart with thin pastry dough, boudin noir, and cheddar cheese crumbles.  In the past, I have avoided boudin noir because, quite frankly, it freaks me out.  In traditional form, the sausage is just pig's blood in casing, and the idea of cutting into something that's nothing more than a whole lot of blood is pretty unappetizing.  I'll eat anything, and I certainly won't turn away free food in the kitchen, so I ate that boudin noir tart like it was my job.  Actually, it was my job.  The tart had a deep pork flavor and if I didn't look at it too long I could convince myself that I wasn't eating blood. 

For the record, the other thing that freaks me out--and that I have, unfortunately, had quite a lot of in my 28 years--is headcheese.  I don't like the consistency and I don't like thinking about boiling the head of an animal down to its essence.  I should say this: Better to use the entire animal than to let offal go to waste.  I honestly believe that we are a wasteful and careless society and that European cultures totally show us dumb Americans up when it comes to using what's on hand.  I'll eat sweetbreads, liver, kidneys, and brains until the cows come home, but headcheese just isn't my bag.  Maybe the problem is that it's called headcheese and I don't like to think that the inside of anything's head resembles cheese.  But that's just me. 

It was a night of meat, which means that today, on my day off, my culinary asceticism must kick in.  It's back to fish and vegetables for a while.  And how I've missed you!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Share Plates

The chef said he had a Four Story Hill Farm cote de boeuf for two that was a little "too funky" to serve to guests.  The cote is $120, a little over 30 ounces of rib steak sliced and served with the bone.  Cooked in butter.  Oh boy.  

The funkiness came from a dry age, which had turned the steak, pre-cook, a coppery brown.  It arrived medium-rare, arranged in slices around that large rib bone, usually the part generating the tastiest--and messiest--meat.  

It may have been too funky for guests, but the cote was fine for me and my cohort.  In fact, the dry aging gave it a rich, earthy flavor, like no other steak I've sampled.  Rich red slices came flanked by crisped slices of fat, always my favorite bits of the rib steak.  Thirty-odd ounces were gone before we knew it; I let my friend have the bone.  

Would it have been worth $120, had the bill been on me?  Definitely.  Steakhouses charge $40 for adequate-to-good dry aged steaks for one that don't even come close to the flavor and depth of this baby.  Eating a steak like this almost makes me wonder why I'd even bothered to eat other, less pedigreed steaks in the past.  And it truly makes me wonder why anyone would ever order a filet mignon, ever, when the mighty rib steak kicks its butt all over New York.

Not that I needed much convincing, but I'm a bona fide convert.  I ate no French fries with my steak, no veggies.  I drank only the tiniest sip of wine.  The steak needed nothing: not seasoning, not bearnaise, not A1 (an insult, really, to the integrity of great meat).  It came as close to perfect as a steak ever can, and that's elevated praise coming from this lifelong carnivore.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's A New Day

If you're wondering why I'm posting at this ridiculous hour, it's because I can't sleep.  Let me rephrase that.   I was asleep.  And then I woke up.  And it was hot, so I put my air conditioner on, even though it's February.  And then I was thirsty.  And then I was just... awake.  

Why not do all of the things I had scheduled for my supposed "morning," I thought.

So here I am. 

Yesterday, I began work at a new restaurant.  I've decided that it would be inappropriate for me to list the details of where I work on this blog for a variety of political reasons, but I don't think it's inappropriate for me to discuss the food.  As a Beverage Director, one of the perks of the job is the carte blanche when it comes to eating through the restaurant's menu.  One has to know the food to know what wines will best complement it.  And so I am required to eat.  

I'll be tasting through the menu over the course of the coming weeks, still keeping my self-created dietary restrictions in mind.  That's no easy feat, I'll admit, but I'm doing my best.  Family meal consisted of English muffin pizzas.  I did have one, but I'm pretty sure that one white-flour English muffin won't seal my fate.  

But for my actual dinner, eaten at the end of service, I had lamb ribs, served over a pickled tomato yogurt.  Lamb ribs are notoriously fatty, a turnoff to some (not me).  They're also pretty tiny, which makes eating them feel slightly less gluttonous than eating other kinds of ribs.  Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the crime. 

Next up, a poulard, roasted and served with carrots, celeriac, bread, and Honeycrisp apple.  Poulard is a young chicken (less than a year old) that has been fattened.  The result is a superbly moist bird with rich and juicy skin and tremendous chicken-y flavor.  It came cut into six smaller pieces, over a makeshift stuffing of the combined above ingredients.  There was a sweet and savory quality to the dish that I couldn't help but fall in love with. 

Both the lamb and poulard hail from Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania, where proprietors Steve and Sylvia Pryzant raise milk-fed chickens, lamb, and apple-fed baby pigs.  If you haven't heard of Four Story yet, you will.  They are traditional, true to the land, and responsible for producing some of the finest meats in the northeast.  Their wares are expensive and well worth the price.  

All this I enjoyed with a glass of Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais from the southern tip of Burgundy.  Sigh.