Sex, Wine, and Rock and Roll

…well, no sex actually, just good wine and rock and roll with Nous Non Plus and The Little Death last night at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan. Thanks to everyone who came out last night to support us and rock out. It was a great way to end NNP’s 2007!

Special thanks to our sponsor, Bollinger, who generously provided refreshments for the green room and our set — no other beverage will suffice (although last night they only sent non-vintage Special Cuvée and Céline noted that she only drinks Grande Année).

It was one of those super packed nights at the Merc, and, if I do say so myself, we were electric.

Céline was in top form… man, that girl can sing.

Céline instructs the crowd to clap their hands and say yeah.

It happens every time… she makes me blush on stage.

Laura and Moby from The Little Death. They rocked it pretty hard last night.

For more photos, check out fan and friend Gary Wexler’s gallery.

Utterly California

John Yelenosky — a good friend from my La Jolla High School days — and I had dinner last Tuesday at what is clearly one of San Diego’s finest restaurants, Market in Del Mar (about 20 minutes north of La Jolla). His father owned a wine store when we were coming up together and today John is the European Wine Specialist for the San Diego offices of Southern Wine and Spirits, one of the preeminent distributors of European wines in North America.

The concept behind Market is what some in the business call “market fare,” i.e., heirloom produce sourced from artisanal growers. The restaurant is located not far from the legendary Chino Farms,* a once humble roadside produce stand in Rancho Santa Fe that became a flash point in the heirloom vegetable revolution (thanks, in part, to a hearty endorsement from Alice Waters). Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables used in the kitchen, explained our waiter, are sourced daily from Chino Farms.

Executive chef and owner Carl Shroeder (La Jolla High, class of 87, same year as my brother Micah) shows a deft hand in the kitchen — especially with the entrées — and his food was excellent if not entirely original. The wine service by Brian Donegan was impeccable but our waiter was a little overly enthusiastic and too precious for my taste.

The dish that impressed me the most was the “Market salad,” which strangely does not appear on the menu.

The salad consists of fresh and lightly steamed heirloom fruits and vegetables (note the light green, pine-cone shaped broccolo romanesco florets above), dressed in olive oil and cask-aged vinegar, served over different types of heirloom lettuce. The pasta-bowl serving dish was warmed before assembly and the heat gently wilted the lettuce leaves and delicately accentuated the flavors of the dressing. We matched with a 2005 Vin de Savoie Apremont by Pierre Boniface, made from Jacquere grapes — an unusual and commendable wine-by-the-glass. This utterly Californian dish needed the bright fruit and acidity of the Vin de Savoie and the pairing of the seemingly just-picked vegetables and this fresh wine was great.

Above: the “Hot and Sour and Wonton” soup that the chef sent over didn’t exactly overwhelm me but was tasty.

Above: wine director Brian Donegan really knows his stuff and his wine service was top-knotch. I liked the 2004 Spätburgunder by Julius Wasen und Söhne that he poured for us by the glass. I was nonplussed, however, to see only a few tables ordering by the bottle on this busy evening (after all, this decidedly upscale restaurant is located in one of San Diego’s most ritzy neighborhoods, Del Mar/Rancho Santa Fe. Do Californians not drink wine at dinner? This one does!).

Back in the day, John and I used to play in a band together, ditched fourth-period art class together, and generally had a good time growing up in a sleepy beach town where nearly everyone surfed and/or played guitar (I only did the latter). Neither of us would have imagined in 1985 (when we graduated from high school) that — at age 40 — we’d both be working in the world of wine.

Above: John Yelenosky circa 1985.

Above: despite my doofus looks (and all the trouble I got into), I did well in high school.

* Chino Farms
6123 Calzada del Bosque
San Diego, CA 92067
Hours: Tue-Sat 10 am-3:30 pm, Sun 10 am-1 pm

James Beard Meat Loaf

Following my post on the The Reification and Hierarchization of Wine (which included a note on my mom’s James Beard meat loaf recipe), a lot of friends and readers wrote me saying they hoped that mom would indeed make a meat loaf while I was out in California for the holiday.

Luckily, mom was reading and planned the meat loaf for Sunday night (I am flying back to New York, tomorrow, Monday).

We paired with a 2002 Chambolle-Musigny Mommesin, earthy, tannic, and with nice fruit to go with the rich, irresistible meat loaf — a standby, comfort-food dish that brings back good memories of childhood while rewarding even the most discriminating palate.

Above: Ecce panis caris! James Beard meat loaf with roast potato and carrot, homemade coleslaw, and secret chili sauce.

Today’s secret ingredient? “I didn’t have any bread crumbs so I used matzoh brie,” my mom said.

As per James Beard’s recommendation, the cold meat loaf makes for great sandwiches the next day (see below).

My mom also made a great baby arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and pine nut salad.

Beard, James, James Beard Cookbook, New York, Marlowe, 2002 [1970], p. 220.

Chardonnay in them there hills…

Above: many private gated, luxury communities in the Temecula, CA wine country have names like “the Vineyards,” “the Harvest,” or “Chardonnay Hills.”

Chardonnay is the name of the prevalent white grape variety grown in Chablis, Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits, and the Mâconnais (Burgundy, France). Chardonnay is a toponym, the name of a village near Mâcon (Burgundy, France), where some believe the Chardonnay grape originated (perhaps once called Pinot Chardonnay or Pineau Chardonnay).*

Chardonnay Hills is the name of a luxurious gated community in Temecula, California.

Chardonnay is also a label that many California winemakers use for their oaky, buttery bottlings of 100% Chardonnay, which generally don’t taste anything like naturally vinified, traditional-style Chardonnay.

Above: it should take you about 30 minutes by car to get to Chardonnay from Mâcon (according to Google Maps).

This morning, my mother and I enjoyed a leisurely drive from Palm Springs (where we spent the holiday with family) to San Diego, stopping in Temecula, this time to drive through the wine country (on the way up, we made a quick stop in Old Town Temecula for lunch). The altitude climbs gently as you drive up Rancho California Road from Interstate 15. About a quarter of an hour from the freeway, you find yourself in a small valley lined with vineyards and wineries. I imagine vine growers decided to plant here because of the altitude and the breeze that blows through what is now called the Temecula Valley American Viticultural Area.

Above: some of the private roads in the Temecula wine country are lined with Cypress trees like in Tuscany.

Do not attempt this at home! I snapped this pic of a tumbleweed from the driver’s seat. I imagine that the same breeze blowing the tumbleweed helps to provide ventilation to Temecula vineyards.

* Some believe the toponym originates from the Latin cardus or “thistle” (akin to the English cardoon).

Burrito Origins

“Signor polpettone venite avanti, non vi peritate,” wrote Pellegrino Artusi in La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1881). “…lo so bene che siete modesto e umile…”: “Please step forward Signor Meat Loaf and please don’t be shy… I know that you are modest and humble.”

In today’s world of ubiquitous haute cuisine, “heirloom” vegetables, and “molecular gastronomy,” we often forget to raise a glass to those salt-of-the-earth dishes that we all — at least most of us — love. Just as Artusi loved his meat loaf, I can never say no to a good burrito — whether ranchero, Mission style, or chimichanga (fried).

When I posted the other day on a burrito I ate in Temecula, I speculated on the dish’s origin. The passage below is the fruit of a little internet research I did this morning (from Palm Springs).

“The burrito, meaning literally little burro or donkey, became irreversibly linked to the tortilla-rolled packages. Burrito lovers David Thomsen and Derek Wilson believe that the modern burrito originated ‘in the dusty borderlands between Tucson and Los Angeles.’ The word burrito first saw print in America in 1934. It was sold at Los Angeles’s famed El Cholo Spanish Cafè during the 1930s. Burritos entered Mexican-American cuisine in other parts of the Southwest around the 1950s and went nationwide a decade later.”

Cited from Smith, Andrew F., “Tacos, Enchiladas and Refried Beans: The Invention of Mexican-American Cookery.” Presented at the Symposium at Oregon State University, 1999.

“1962 MULVEY & ALVAREZ Good Food from Mexico (rev. ed.) iii. 81 Burritos in the northern part of Mexico and in the southwestern part of the United States are quite different. Now a popular dish in many restaurants and taco stands in California and Texas are northern burritos, which are made by folding a flour tortilla around a mound of re-fried beans, seasoned to taste with chili.”

Cited from the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition).


Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don’t look real to me
In fact, they look so strange

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leaders but get gamblers instead

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

And when I look in the faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grays and
Black and white
They don’t look real to me
Or don’t they look so strange

Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag taggy people
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth

Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth
Let’s drink to the three thousand million
Let’s think of the humble of birth

— “Salt of the Earth,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Thanksgiving 07 (Palm Springs, CA)

My niece and nephew Amalia and Abner.

“Don’t carve the turduckenTM without me!!!!” (nephew Eli, bro Tad, and mom Judy)

It was the first time we’d all spent Thanksgiving together in many years. Brothers Micah and Tad made toasts about how lucky we all are to have never known truly hard times in our lives. We all remembered how our “poppa,” our grandfather (our mom’s dad), grew up poor and made it his life goal that his children and grandchildren would never face the troubles he did. He made it…

It all helps to put this year’s trial and tribulations into perspective.

In my toast, I told everyone how happy I was for the support and love they’ve given me over the last four — very (emotionally) tough — months. It taught me, I told everyone, that it doesn’t matter how good or bad the wines you drink and the foods that you eat (even though I make a living writing about that stuff)… all that matters — I know now — is the people with whom you break bread and the folks who share your cup of wine… “Family,” said Micah, “that’s the most important thing…” Thanks to Micah for hooking up our Palm Springs family Thanksgiving. I even got a tan!

Nephew Cole is a rockin’ guitar player (and I mean that… we made a recording of us playing some blues).

Nephew Eli and his dad (my bro) Tad. Eli told me that he is a “fiscal conservative.” He’ll be able to vote next year… amazing…

Tad and my sister-in-law Diane.

The 97 Leroy Bourgogne Blanc was corked (damnit!) but the 99 Quintarelli Valpolicella was a treat, the 04 Roty Gevrey-Chambertin perfect with the meal, and the 03 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco (opened 3 hours before we drank it at the end) was heavenly.

Mom Judy and sister-in-law Marguerite (she’s expecting… Marguerite, that is…).

Bro Micah wrastles the turduckenTM.

Out in the Dessert

Yesterday, my mom and I stopped for lunch in Temecula on our way out to Palm Springs. I had a classic ranchero burrito (also called a “wet” burrito or burrito ahogado, a “drowned burrito”). I’m not sure but I believe that the burrito and the ranchero burrito are Californian inventions since I’ve never seen burritos served in Mexico (where smaller-sized tortillas are always served warm alongside grilled and roast meats and fish).* It wasn’t bad, actually.

Click here for my post on the burrito’s origins.

Old Town Temecula is a touristy shopping district.

The main street is lined with tchotchke stores and speakers that play country music. There was a wine store but it was closed.

Made it out to Palm Springs. The house where Micah (my brother) and Marguerite vacation has a salt-water pool. It’s really nice.

Micah’s grilling up some sausage and my other brother Tad cracked a beer open.

Sweet potato, bourbon, and spicy Italian sausages from Siesel’s Old Fashioned Meat and Deli in San Diego (where Micah and Marguerite also got the turduckenTM that we’ll be eating tonight for Thanksgiving).

El Pescador (back in California for the Holiday)

El Pescador on Pearl Blvd. is the classic La Jolla (CA) fish monger. They have a grill behind the counter and there are few seats in the front of the store where you eat facing the display cases filled with fresh fish. Everything about this place — from the freckled-faced, sun-bleached kids that work behind the counter and grill to the laid-back sleepy-beach-town vibe — says Southern California. I had a grilled California yellow tail sandwich with avocado. It was awesome… Tom Wolfe didn’t know what he was missing.

I don’t know why but I love looking at raw seafood displays. I just find the patterns hypnotizing.

Note how the California “spiny” lobsters don’t have the big claws like the east coast kind.

They also have New Zealand salmon (left) and Idaho trout (center) but the yellow tail is always local. Those tuna steaks looked pretty good, too.

Later today I’ll be leaving for Palm Springs where I’m spending the holiday with my whole family…

In other news…

I really like what Eric Asimov said in this interview: “in my blog I’ve tried to take a stand against the tyranny of tasting notes that has overtaken the wine-drinking world. I don’t write about wines that I’ve tasted and spat, I write about wines that I’ve drunk, most often in the context of a meal. So I feel that I’m giving a more complete picture of the pleasures of wine drinking than you get reading the usual litany of wines and scores…”

“You’ll have to have them all pulled out…

…after the Savoy Truffle.”

Above: this 26-ounce truffle fetched a whopping $208,000.

George Harrison’s song “Savoy Truffle” has nothing to do with Piedmont truffles. In fact, it was inspired by a box of chocolates:

“Savoy Truffle is a funny one written whilst hanging out with Eric Clapton in the sixties,” wrote Harrison. “At that time he had a lot of cavities in his teeth and needed dental work. He always had a toothache but he ate a lot of chocolates—he couldn’t resist them and once he saw a box he had to eat them all.”

“He was over at my house and I had a box of ‘Good News’ chocolates on the table and wrote the song from the names inside the lid…” (Harrison, George, I, Me, Mine, San Francisco, Chronicle, 2002 [1980], p. 128)

The “Savoy” in the Good News chocolates box probably referred to the famous Savoy Hotel and Restaurant in London, where celebrity chef Auguste Escoffier began cooking in the late nineteenth century. The hotel and restaurant get their name from the Savoy theater, which in turn took its name from the nearby Palace of Savoy, built by Peter Earl of Savoy in the thirteenth century. Since the middle ages, the House of Savoy has been closely linked to Piedmont (where white truffles are hunted) and in the early eighteenth century, nearly all of the region came under control of the House of Savoy. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy became Italy’s first king.

Though George calls the song — based on an affectionate anecdote — “a funny one,” the colorful chocolate-inspired lyrics of “Savoy Truffle” also address the issues of excess and over-indulgence in modern-day society. After all, the singer reminds us, “You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.”

This year’s truffle season in Piedmont hasn’t been great and I’ve heard that many NYC restaurateurs have had to discard their truffles after the tubers arrived in bad shape. I had some white truffles at a Piedmont-themed dinner where I spoke at the end of October. They were pretty good but not phenomenal. Frankly, white truffles never seem to taste the same outside of Piedmont. I wonder how the lucky owners of the above truffle — a group of Hong Kong businessmen — will serve it.

When my friend Steve sent me the link to the story above about the 26-ounce truffle, I thought to myself, “does anyone really need a truffle that big?”

Me? I’d rather keep my teeth.

Above: an early draft of George Harrison’s lyrics for “Savoy Truffle.”

Creme tangerine and Montélimar
A ginger sling with a pineapple heart
A coffee dessert–yes you know it’s good news
But you’ll have to have them all pulled out
After the Savoy truffle.

Cool cherry cream, nice apple tart
I feel your taste all the time we’re apart
Coconut fudge–really blows down those blues
But you’ll have to have them all pulled out
After the Savoy truffle.

You might not feel it now
But when the pain cuts through
You’re gonna know and how
The sweat is going to fill your head
When it becomes too much
You’ll shout aloud.

But you’ll have to have them all pulled out
After the Savoy truffle.

You know that what you eat you are,
But what is sweet now, turns so sour–
We all know Obla-Di-Bla-Da
But can you show me, where you are?

Creme tangerine and Montélimar
A ginger sling with a pineapple heart
A coffee dessert–yes you know its good news
But you’ll have to have them all pulled out
After the Savoy truffle.
Yes, you’ll have to have them all pulled out
After the Savoy truffle.

— “Savoy Truffle,” George Harrison

The Reification and Hierarchization of Wine

With his customary stinging wit, Franco Ziliani — the top Italian wine blogger in my book — posted this insightful and hilarious post on The Wine Spectator “Top 100 Wine Countdown” in which he aptly compared the marketing ploy to a striptease.

I greatly appreciated the analogy because it captures the absurdity inherent in the hyper-commercialization of wine in our country. After all, at the end of the day (literally), wine is something that we put into our bodies. Beyond its inebriating effects (which many of us enjoy), it is a source of nourishment that complements the food we eat (at least for those of us who drink food-friendly wines, i.e., wines with reasonable alcohol content and healthy levels of acidity that stimulate our digestion).

Just as the striptease represents a reification (read dehumanization) of the female body, so The Wine Spectator “top 100” list and “countdown to the wine of the year” represent a hierarchization of wine. This hierocracy reifies wine by telling us that there is one wine superior to all others and by implying that the so-called superior wine is the one that all other wines should aspire to. Such static quantification opposes the very nature of wine: the quality of wine lies in the foods with which we pair it, the ways in which and places where we consume it, and — most importantly — the people who make it and the people with whom we share it. Wine is a dynamic “living” substance. It evolves with time (and changes radically from the very moment a cork is pulled and the liquid begins to oxygenate). The intrinsic value of wine exists not in an abstract hierarchy but rather in the moment that we drink it — whether an under-$15 bottle of young Chinon or a 1990 Bruno Giacosa Red Label Barolo.

Time for me to stop pontificating? Yes and thanks for reading.

In other news, I gave a talk on Italian Renaissance cuisine Monday night at a Beard Foundation event.

Above: a scene from the Beard House. I will always think fondly of James Beard. I never met the man but my mother (an excellent cook) loved his cookbooks and crafted many of her best dishes from his recipes. Her “James Beard” meatloaf is always great. We won’t be eating meatloaf at Thanksgiving this year — my first time back for the holiday in more than six years! But maybe I can talk her into making it on another night while I’m in Southern California next week.


“Will you take me as I am?”

Sitting in a park in Paris, France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh, but California
California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home

I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue, the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you, California
Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock’n roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California, I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues

So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue
They said, “How long can you hang around?”
I said “a week, maybe two,
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California”
California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as l am?
Will you take me as l am?
Will you?

— “California,” Joni Mitchell