One night in Paris with Alice

Above: Alice F and Tracie B, two of my favorite ladies, and I went natural-winebar-hopping the other night in Paris.

If you ever get a chance to go natural-winebar-hopping in Paris — where many believe the winebar concept and the natural winebar were born — with the leading lady of natural wine writing, Alice Feiring, go for it. In perhaps the only city on earth where the maître d’s are ruder than the hosts at Babbo or Sparks Steakhouse, Alice your-table-is-waiting-right-this-way Feiring, Tracie B, and I ended up at Racines in the picturesque Passage des Panoramas at the end of the night a few weeks ago while we were in town for gigs with NN+.

Above: The first wine we drank at Racines was this entirely stinky, cloudy, dirty, oxidized Chenin Blanc by winemaker Eric Callcut, who calls it “The Picrate,” which I imagine is a reference to the picric acid. I imagine that picrate tastes like saltpeter since it is used in explosives but I didn’t get a gunpowdery note on this wine. Thoughts?

Between her popular blog Appellation Feiring and her wine-memoir/manifesto The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, there is no denying that Alice is one of the wine writing world’s boldface names — whether you agree with her radical positions or you find yourself diametrically opposed to them (there’s really no middle ground with her, which is something we all love about her). But in Paris, she is considered a primissima donna and Tracie B and I were thrilled to be her companions: the toast of the Parisian natural wine circuit seemed to bow before her as if in audience with the queen.

Above: The charismatic owner, Pierre, already enjoyed quite a following even before Food & Wine called Racines “Paris’s hottest winebar.”

As it turns out, owner Pierre Jancou’s family is from Modena, where I taught for a summer many, many moons ago for U.C.L.A. When we discovered our Emilian connection, he insisted that we taste Donato Camilli Lambrusco, which was fantastic — bright with acidity but light in the mouth. Even though we savored the minerality in every last drop of the Chenin Blanc (The Picrate, above), we agreed that the Lambrusco was the wine of the night. (Franco, I know… I know… I’m the only dude who drinks Lambrusco in Paris. That’s HOW much I love Italian wine!)

Pierre is not the only one at his restaurant that speaks Italian with an Emilian accent. His charcuterie speaks Emilian dialect, too, and the lardo melted sumptuously in the mouth, with the natural fruit of the Lambrusco slicing through its liquid fat like a serrated ravioli cutter on a Sunday morning. I ate blood pudding (below) and beets as my main course (just to keep things light). Tracie B and Alice split the sole, which was also excellent if pricey.

Above: The artisanal and natural qualities of Pierre’s food really stood out in the blood pudding and beets. His radically natural ingredients brought a balance and lightness to a dish you would otherwise expect to be gut-splittingly heavy. I ate every last morsel.

For someone who once performed “One Night in Paris” at the Paris Paris nightclub in Paris (yes, it’s true), this was one night in Paris that I will never forget.

The best nachos ever (and in the French press)

Above: Do Bianchi’s pick for “best nachos ever” at Polvo’s in Austin.

Do Bianchi got some props today in the French press. In a Valentine’s Day post, Le Monde’s blog Le Post called my “gastronomic blog” a sign of the recent “radical change” in Americans’ tastes (presumably after the presidential election). Gee… if that’s a compliment, I think I prefer a French insult.

So I thought I’d post on this Valentine’s Day on a good ol’ Tex-Mex classic, nachos.

I’ve eaten nachos all across these fine United States of America, and as partial as I am to the nachos served at the sometimes crusty but always classic El Cholo in Los Angeles, Polvo’s in Austin now holds the title of “best nachos ever” in the Do Bianchi Pantheon of ars culinaria mexicana.

While the decor at Polvo’s ain’t the Ritz, the waitstaff is friendly (although the hosts are sullen). Everything I’ve eaten there has been great (and well-priced), including the mole (we went there last night for dinner before an excellent Guy Forsyth show). My only true lament: what do you have to do in this town to get a beer without a lime in it?

My valentine, Tracie B, makes some pretty mean nachos herself, with spicy ground and sautéed turkey, melted cheese, and her own homemade tomatillo sauce (above). Sooooo good…

In other news…

NN+’s video was a Valentine’s Day feature on YouTube today! Pretty nifty…

Happy Valentine’s, y’all!

Italian wine: the price is right (and catching up on my reading)

It wasn’t easy to get online where Tracie B and I were staying last week in Paris: there was no wireless in Céline’s father’s fourth-floor studio on the Left Bank in the 6th and I am only now catching up on my blog and newspaper reading. (I don’t know: a week’s stay in a private apartment in Paris two doors down from the Seine or wifi? I’ll take what’s behind door number 1, Bob.)

I was thrilled to see Eric’s article on Italian Unknowns in The Times. I am a huge fan of Valle dell’Acate’s wines and was so glad to see the winery get the attention it deserves. The Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of my favorite Sicilian wines — regardless of price.

Now more than ever, Italian wines represent the greatest value for their quality on the market today. I don’t know why Eric second-guessed himself, wondering out loud if “Italian wine buffs will easily cite omissions.” In my view, his picks are right on the money and the price is right.

Back in the blogosphere, Italian Wine Guy continues to blow my mind with how he pushes the envelope of wine blogging. I really dug his use of images from the Pasolini 1961 classic Accattone, set in the tough neighborhoods of Rome (that’s star Franco Citti, above), one of my favorite films of all time. His introspective “Beatrice interviews” offer unique perspective and insight into the world of Italian wine.

I just couldn’t resist Simona’s culinary anamorphism in this post on a traditional dish of her native Umbria, torciglione (above). Whether chopped liver in the form of the Twin Towers (2nd Ave. Deli) or a Renaissance-era depiction of the tower of Cremona to commemorate a noble wedding (Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, 1441), I am a sucker for food fashioned to resemble something else.

I can’t read Vinograf’s blog (it’s written in Czech) but I often find myself staring aimlessly at it. I know its author and I share an affinity for some of the same wines and it’s one of the most visually interesting blogs in my GoogleReader.

Buona lettura (or buona visione, as the case may be)!

The best pork store in New York (cast your pearls at this swine)

Of all the places on earth to open an Italian pork store, the Upper West Side is not the first that comes to mind. But, then again, stranger things have happened…

Two Saturdays ago, Tracie B and I had time for lunch in the City after an overnight layover in New York on our way to Paris and so we decided to experience celeb chef Cesare Casella’s new collaboration with the owners of Parmacotto, the Rosi family: Salumeria Rosi, on Amsterdam and 73rd, in the heart of the Upper West Side (not exactly known for its pork consumption).

For those of us who gave up buying and/or ordering sliced prosciutto and other Italian affettati in the city, our traif dreams have been answered: whether you stay to dine or you take out, the slicing at Salumeria Rosi is performed with a grace and precision worthy of Brescello’s favorite son (that would be Don Camillo to you laypeople). Even my previously favorite pork store, Faicco (on Bleeker in the heart of what was once Scorsese’s Little Italy), has too often dashed my dreams with ineptly sliced charcuterie (although the arancini there are still the best).

The mixed affettati platter (above, including speck, mortadella, and porchetta) was simply the best I have ever had outside of Emilia-Romagna.

Cesare’s leek torte was sublime, the crust flaky and light, the filling balanced with the savory and piquant flavors of the wintry allium porrum. It paired perfectly with an aromatic Müller Thurgau by Terlano.

It’s not easy to photograph eggs but I had to include my attempt at capturing the warm, pillowy mouthfeel of the scrambled eggs matched with crisp and slightly bitter ruchetta in the Pontormo salad inspired by the Renaissance master, who was obsessed with his diet, digestion, and the consumption of eggs — not to mention author of one of my favorite paintings, The Deposition in the church of Santa Felicita (pronounced feh-LEE-chee-tah) in Florence. Cesare created the dish many years ago for a story I worked on with Luigi Ballerini on Pontormo and his sometimes bizarre culinary habits.

The rigatoni were slightly overcooked but the guanciale in the amatriciana was entirely and decadently delicious. (Check out this old and fun post on the meaning and etymology of guanciale.)

Beyond the oxymoronic fact that it is located on the Upper West Side, one thing, among many others, that sets Cesare’s pork store apart from the traditional newyorchese temple to swine is the design by celebrated Italian production designer and Scorsese-veteran Dante Ferretti. The centerpiece is an Arcimboldo-inspired map of Italy, a beautiful expression of culinary anamorphism whereby every region is represented by its gastronomic tradition (it’s done in white stucco but Emilia has been adorned with polychromy). My skills as a photographer proved ill-suited when I tried to capture it in jpg: it spans the back wall and the ceiling. I won’t conceal that I found it to be wholly exquisite.

O Cesare, I cast my pearls at your swine!

Check out Tracie B’s ecstatic post Suino divino.

Ending on a high note: a swig of Bolly to wash it all down

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Above: Bonnie Day (Emily Welsch) and Jean-Luc Retard (Dan Crane) at the end of our sold-out show in New York on Monday night. Official Sponsor Bollinger (our only endorsement… no Ibanez guitars here!) provided us with a few bottles to end NN+’s “tourette” on a high note.

Touring is never easy and we were all pretty beat by the time we got to NYC for the final show of our tourette, as it was dubbed.

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Above: Me (Cal d’Hommage) and Maurice Chevrolet (Ryan Williams) in the green room before the show. Ben Shapiro, seated between us.

Yesterday our new record Ménagerie hit number 22 on the college radio charts. We’ve never debuted so strongly and I can’t conceal that I am thrilled at the response to the record.

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Above: A view from the stage at the show. Thanks everyone for coming out on a Monday night.

A hearty thanks to everyone who came out. Check out JT’s take on the show (thanks for the shout-out, man!).

cavatelli

Above: Cavatelli with broccoli raab at Centovini in SoHo.

Tracie B, Prof. Harry Covert (Greg Wawro) and his lady Eileen, and Ben Shapiro and I convened at Centovini in SoHo for a light dinner (much needed after saucisson lyonnais!) and 2006 Pelaverga by Castello di Verduno before the show. Times may be tough in the NYC restaurant world these days but Nicola Marzovilla’s mother Dora’s cavatelli are always a winner in my book. The 06 Pelaverga had a richer mouthfeel (more corposo, you would say in Italian) than in previous vintages I’ve tasted. I like the way that winemaker Mario Andrion is making it even more rustic in style. A great food-friendly wine that will pair well with a variety of dishes.

Thanks everyone for visiting Do Bianchi, all the well wishes and the kind words about the tourette. Tracie B and I are back in Austin and tomorrow I’ll start posting about our enogastronomic adventures.

On deck for tomorrow: “The Best Pork Store in New York City.”

Stay tuned…

Coulée de Serrant! (and NYC show Monday is nearly sold out)

chicken

Above: Tracie B snapped this pic of me at Coulée de Serrant. Do you see the chicken crossing the road? Why does it cross the road, you ask? To “regulate” the vineyards, no doubt! (That’s the euphemism they use at Coulée de Serrant.) Mother nature does her work…

On Thursday (after a string of three rocking and super fun gigs in Paris), Tracie B and I visited Coulée de Serrant in Savennières (Loire), the estate and vineyard where some of our favorite wines are made.

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We’re about to leave now for the NN+ gig in Lyon and I’ll post about our fascinating visit as soon as we’re back stateside. We learned that it is botrytis and not oxidation (as many believe) that give Joly’s wines their distinct aromas. Tasting the 07s revealed just how vintage-driven these wines are (compared to the 05s, the most recent we’d tasted in the U.S.). We had a blast!

In other news…

We were happy to learn that the Monday show at the Mercury Lounge in NYC is nearly sold out. There are still tickets available (click link to buy) so please pre-buy if you can. Looking forward to seeing y’all in NYC: it’s been so much fun to play the new album (available on Itunes now, btw) and I can’t wait for you to hear it!

Okay, gotta run! Don’t wanna be late for the gig!

Natural Lambrusco in Paris (and late for sound check)

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We’re on our way to sound check (and I’m running late, as usual) and I can’t wait to post about recent enogastronomic adventures. Last night, Tracie B, Alice, and I did drink this fantastic natural Lambrusco by Camillo Donati with Pierre at Racine.

Ok… gotta run… more later… stay tuned!