Thanks for being here in 2014! See you next year!
Above: the Rocche del Gatto Pigato blew me away with its freshness and rich minerality. It was such a stunning pairing for the takeout Vietnamese that Ceri treated us all to on Wednesday night. This wine was a lovely discovery for me.
It’s hard to describe the emotion that I experience when I visit Ceri Smith’s amazing Biondivino wine boutique in Russian Hill, San Francisco.
The walls of the shop are lined with a literally oneiric selection of my favorite Italian wines and a smattering of wines that I’ve never seen before and am thirsting to taste.
Cappellano, Castell’in Villa, Giacomo Fenocchio, Cavallotto, Crociani… Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
Above: the nose on the Orgo Rkatsiteli was like a stroll through an apricot orchard. Ceri has been to Georgian wine country and has been instrumental in turning San Francisco on to these stunning wines.
But the most incredible thing about the shop is its wonderful salon character.
After our Bele Casel Prosecco tasting on Wednesday night, Ceri and Zach Zito, who helps her manage the busy store, kept the shop open and continued to receive wine shoppers as we drank Pigato and munched on delicious Vietnamese takeout.
Some would stop and have a glass of wine. Others would grab a bottle and hurry on to their holiday party.
It’s simply a magical place for Italian wine and Italian wine lovers.
Of course, our dinner and confabulation had been preceded by an entirely brilliant pairing of Bele Casel’s Prosecco Col Fondo with the Brescian caviar that was served as I poured the wines for guests.
Thank you again, so very much, Ceri and Zach, for hosting me and Bele Casel’s wines. I LOVE your shop…
In other news…
I lit the three candles as I said the prayer and Georgia P asked me why we don’t blow out the candles like we did on her birthday.
The candles represent something that happened a long time ago, I told her. It was a really special moment for me as I watched her watch the candles burn.
Tonight before we sit down for dinner, we’ll light four candles (the photo above is from last year when we were still Austin).
Tomorrow, Tracie P is going to make us all her awesome latkes.
Happy Hanukkah, everyone! Hag urim sameach!
This year has been one of the highest highs and the lowest lows.
I flew back to Houston yesterday afternoon from Boulder where I attended the Boulder Burgundy Festival and mingled with leading wine professionals, winemakers, and wine scene glitterati.
After Tracie P and I put the girls to bed, she made me a wonderful risotto alla parmigiana and we opened a bottle of our favorite Fiano d’Avellino.
She was eager to hear about the festival but we were both riveted by the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri.
I hadn’t even been born, I thought to myself, when the Watts Riots in Los Angeles gripped the nation’s attention.
Here we are, I said to Tracie, nearly fifty years later, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve come far.
Grandma Judy is coming to Texas from La Jolla today and we’ll be heading to Orange, Texas to celebrate the holiday with Rev. and Mrs. B. and the Branch-Johnson families.
We have so much to be thankful for this year: health, prosperity, and the good fortune to experience some of the greatest pleasures in life through wine and food.
But this weekend, the folks in Ferguson will be on our minds and in our hearts and prayers.
Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week…
So when we sat down to dinner last night with Tad and cousins Joanne and Marty, I pulled all the
stops corks: Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo, Camossi Franciacorta rosé, Borgo del Tiglio 2011 Collio (blend), and Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco Asili.
The Asili, which I opened about 20 minutes before serving it (I did not decant), was rich and powerful in the glass, with dark red fruit becoming brighter and brighter as the wine aerated.
This wine has many years ahead of it but I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable it was after just ten minutes. And even in this warmer vintage for Barbaresco (one of the infamous “American” harvests from the aughts), the acidity in this wine was electric.
It paired beautifully with Tracie P’s ragù (above), which she served over rigatoni.
On a very chilly night in Houston, Asili and the bolognese filled the house with wonderful, cozy aromas.
It was such a treat to have him here. He’s on his way to Austin later today and then to southern Texas for work (he’s an education expert and consultant).
And it was such a joy to watch him interact with the girls, who couldn’t quite figure out why he looks so much like their dad!
Thanks again, brother, for being here.
It meant the world to us. Travel safe…
That’s me (above, far right) with Ben Shapiro (with camera) nearly two weeks ago now, interviewing Chef Vittorio Fusari of the Dispensa Pani e Vini, a focal point for the appellation and the people who grow and make the wines.
Chef Vittorio, you are an inspiration to me in so many things and your cooking is as wholesome as it is thrilling each time I visit.
Sharing a glass of Franciacorta with you on my last day in Italy was a highlight of my trip. Thank you!
That’s me with Silvano Brescianini, left, my friend and client, general manager of the Barone Pizzini-Pievalta winery group and vice president of the Franciacorta Consortium.
Silvano, thank you for your generosity and all that you’ve done for me. I love working with you.
And most of all, I admire and thank you for your pioneering work in organic and biodynamic viticulture.
I really and truly believe that you are making the world a better place for our children and Tracie P and I love your wines (the rosato in particular!).
That’s me with Franciacorta winemaker and consultant Nico Danesi, left, my friend and enologist behind some of my favorite expressions of Franciacorta.
Nico, thank you again for treating us to the extraordinary dinner at Lido 84. A few days after you took us there, I’m sure you already know, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star.
It was a great and thoughtful choice and we all enjoyed it merrily. I’m looking forward to when you come back to the U.S.
And that’s me with my bromance Giovanni Arcari, left.
Giovanni, what can I say? Our friendship has opened up a magical window into the wonderful world of Brescia and Franciacorta.
Your generous hospitality and your fierce loyalty mean more to me than I could ever express. You are part of our family’s life here in Texas, you know and love my children and my wife, and you are the best friend anyone could ever hope for.
I can’t wait to do a shot of whiskey with you in a Texas honky tonk and take a drive up the coast in California wine country listening to wistful Burt Bacharach.
Thank you, Franciacorta. I’ll be back soon…
The unbridled curiosity of youth took me to Europe in my twenties when I spent a decade alternating school years between Los Angeles, Padua, Pisa, and Rome. There was always a scholarship or fellowship (including the Fulbright) that delivered me across the Atlantic and there was always a summer gig in Proseccoland that fed me when the grant money ran out.
A decade in New York followed and so did the yearly trips to the old world. Those were years, too, when I regularly hit the road with rock bands. Back then, I’d drive to Cleveland or even Detroit from the east coast in a straight shot with a van-load of drums and guitar amps.
Today, the thought of departing for Europe fills me with unease.
Maybe because we’ve been eating out a lot lately and finding a babysitter can often be a challenge, offers to take her out to dinner of her choice had been rebuffed this year, although that changed (as you’ll see below).
And so I decided to surprise her with a catered picnic at our favorite park around the corner from our house.
Tracie loves the charcuterie and cheese plates by our friend Felipe Riccio at Houston’s hippest wine bar, Camerata.
I know he does some catering work and so I discreetly contacted him and asked him if he’d be game to make us a picnic.
Just look at that spread!
Tracie really didn’t expect a thing. But as Felipe was putting the finishing touches on the mise-en-place, a sudden Texas rainstorm arrived. After some frenetic, furtive texting (because it was a surprise), I asked him to come to the house. We decided to set it up in our girls’ playroom, which added to their excitement because food is not allowed in the playroom.
The frittata di pasta, a nod to her years in Naples (above, right), a Parthenopean classic, was rivaled only by the superb insalata di mare that he made.
Wholesome macaroni and cheese for the girls, housemade peanut butter, a berry-heavy fruit salad (they love berries)…
For mom and dad, mozzarella di bufala with a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel, his expertly sliced prosciutto, his house-cured olives… And of course, it can’t be a picnic, as Nino Ferrer sings, without the cornichons!
(I highly recommend listening to the song while reading this post.)
It was outta sight! Thank you, again, Felipe! We LOVED it. And btw, the girls had more macaroni and cheese for dinner and we munched on the leftovers throughout the weekend.
I had taken the girls out all morning that day so that Tracie could sleep in and go on the nice, long run she had asked for for her birthday day. And for whatever reason, by the time they were ready for their naps, she decided that yes, after all, she did want to go to Tony’s for dinner for her birthday.
And thanks to our good friend Joanne Witt, aka “Food Princess,” a super cool lady whom I know through food writing here in town, we were able to find a last-minute baby sitter for the cost of a bottle of Venica Pinot Grigio. (THANK YOU AGAIN, Joanne! You are THE BEST!)
If you follow the harvest news from Italy, you know that this very wet vintage was extremely challenging for grape growers but outrageously good for truffle foragers.
Tony treated us to his Alba white truffle soufflé (above), which paired brilliantly with a somewhat tannic, meaty Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi by Garofoli.
Chef Kate and Tony, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Your food is truly extraordinaire. And we were thrilled by our excellent dinner. Thank you!
But nothing could compare to the kiss that we shared at the end of an unforgettable day of great food and our time together as family.
But now that we’re settled into our new lives in Houston, the stars occasionally align for a baby sitter and a date night.
On Saturday, I took Tracie P to Caracol, a chic and smart Mexican seafood restaurant here in Houston and one of my favorite restaurants in the U.S. right now.
Chef Hugo Ortega’s cooking is always fantastic but the thing that takes it over the top is wine director Sean Beck’s excellent, value-driven wine list.
We drank a delightful Oregon Pinot Gris by the glass with the tender conch ceviche above.
The escabeche was delicately seasoned and not overly sour, the shrimp perfect salted and grilled.
One of the things I love about Caracol is how cosmopolitan the crowd is there. You always see lots of sharply dressed young south American professionals at the bar (where we love to eat).
But that night, I only had eyes for Tracie P.
Next we headed over the Camerata, the city’s hippest wine bar these days (and the place where all the visiting international wine celebs hang).
We love chef Felipe Riccio’s affettati and cheese selection.
Not just one but two orders were placed for his expertly sliced prosciutto, which accompanied a super tasty bottle of Bourgogne Blanc Le Petit Têtu 2012 by négociant Jean-Marie Berrux.
But it quickly snapped into focus and white and white stone fruit aromas and flavors emerged along with good balance in alcohol and acidity.
I didn’t know the wine but Monday morning googling revealed that it’s pretty hard to come by. The fact that you can drink it here is another example of how Houston, in my view, is swiftly becoming one of America’s top wine cities (more on that later).
By the time we left to turn back into pumpkins (around 9:30), we were surrounded by young blue bloods, finance and energy managers who swirled and sniffed their glasses with an earnestness that would rival that of their counterparts in lower Manhattan.
Tracie P and I have been married now for nearly five years. With two little girls now and a move to Houston earlier this year, our lives have changed a lot since we first drank beer and danced at the Continental Club in Austin back in 2008.
But “eating at the bar” is still our favorite thing to do together. And we’re happy to live in a city that always seems to have a spot and a bottle to accommodate us.
I love sipping with you, beautiful Tracie P… What a fun night! I love you.