Best meals 2011: Le Calandre (Padua)

Imagining that 2012 wasn’t going to be our year of Michelin-star dining (and having just cashed a check for a song we sold to Gossip Girl), Tracie P and I treated ourselves to dinner at Le Calandre in early February…

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments: for the one night where we hadn’t already planned where to eat, we dined at Le Calandre in Padua — a 3-star Michelin restaurant.

tagliolini di mozzarella

the texture of the julienned mozzarella released unexpected flavors from the plastic cheese

scampi tostati con “formaggio fresco” di latte di fave, radicchio di Treviso e mele

toasted langoustines with a “fresh cheese” of fava milk, radicchio trevigiano, and apples

battuta di carne cruda piemontese al tartufo nero

as instructed by our server, you wrapped the nuggets of raw beef in the shaved truffle, served on a piece of bark, and then dipped them in light beaten-egg sauce

cappelli liquidi di brodo d’oca all’arancia

these were cappelletti filled with an orange-goose broth, like soup dumplings

cannelloni croccanti di ricotta e mozzarella di bufala con passata di pomodoro

crunchy cannelloni filled with ricotta and buffalo mozzarella with tomato sauce

risotto di zafferano con polvere di liquirizia

saffron risotto with licorice dust

maialino di latte arrostito, salsa di senape e polvere di caffè

roast milk-weaned suckling pig, mustard sauce and coffee dust

proiezioni al cioccolato

dessert came with a mini-screening to complement the physical sensations

Many believe that Massimiliano Alajmo is the best chef in Italy today. He might very well be. Le Calandre was a fantastic experience… And for however experimental and avant-garde his cooking, the flavors were pure Italy… A stunning and thrilling evening, full of sensual surprises…

Nota bene: Le Calandre is not a cheap date (THANK YOU GOSSIP GIRL!). But you can order à la carte and there are a lot of very reasonably priced, wonderful wines on the list, like this Malvasia Secca dell’Emilia by Donati, one of my favorite producers. Natural and wonderfully stinky and crunchy, lees-aged, bottled fermented… Perfect with the wide range of flavors…

Hanukkah sameach!

We lit candles last night for Georgia’s first hanukkah… :)

I’ve been doing all the cooking, trying my best to cater to Tracie P’s every whim.

Last night’s order was a three-cheese — gruyère, monterrey jack, and cheddar — Macaroni & Cheese.

A little white wine and stock in the béchamel makes all the difference imho. It was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself!

Tonight’s menu: latkes (fried in extra-virgin olive oil) and sparkling Vouvray…

Christmas Letter 2011

So many great things happened for Tracie P and me in 2011 but they are all eclipsed by the miracle of Georgia Ann Parzen, who arrived on Monday, December 12.

Around 3 a.m. this morning, as Tracie P and I cleaned the soiled linen in the bassinet and changed another dirty diaper, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the prayer that Jews say after going to the bathroom: Asher Yatzar ([Blessed Are You] Who Has Formed [Humankind]).

Blessed are You, HaShem, Our G-d, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Over the course of the year, Tracie P and I have been blessed with many miracles: the miracle of Georgia’s conception, the miracle of our healthy pregnancy, the miracle of Georgia’s delivery, and the miracle of our family, who supports us with their love and devotion.

This morning at 3 a.m., we paused again to reflect on the miracle of a dirty diaper and the health of our baby girl.

On this Christmas 2011, I’m happy to report my business has continued to expand and Tracie P’s been loving her new position selling fine wines. I launched a new wine column for the Houston Press and my band released a new record. My first wine list was well received in Los Angeles and I was invited to speak on Italian wine and wine writing at a number of conferences held this year in the U.S. and Italy. I’ll never forget my first Cretan sunrise on the day of the first European austerity vote, nor the Venetian sunshine on Tracie P’s face on a bright winter’s day on the Grand Canal.

This year’s blessings are too many to count and not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror without remembering the long and often challenging road that delivered me to this special moment in our lives.

And so, on this early December morning, as Georgia and Tracie P slumber, and I can hear the first birds begin to chirp with the Texas dawn, I’ll say a prayer for a dirty diaper and I’ll thank my lucky stars that it turned out so right for strangers in the night.

Why We Love to Hate the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

In the wake of a recent post on the absurdity of wine shipping regulation in Texas, a cordial, however tense, dialogue (online and a voce) ensued between me and my friend and colleague Alfonso Cevola, a 30-year veteran of the Texas wine industry, a high-level manager for one of the state’s leading wine and spirits distributors, and a top wine blogger in the U.S.

As we debated the value and implications of the ban on out-of-state retailers in our state, I expressed my visceral observation that the fact that I cannot buy wine and have it shipped from a wine store in New York City just feels “un-American.”

Alfonso responded by pointing out that, “in fact, it is very American.” He was right.

To understand our state’s (and nation’s) peculiar relationship with alcohol, we need to look back to the early post-Prohibition era, when the Twenty-First amendment made alcohol legal again in our country (national Repeal was passed in 1933; Repeal in Texas was not passed until 1935).

“The Twenty-first Amendment is a deeply contradictory instrument,” writes Thomas Pinney in A History of Wine in America: from Prohibition to the Present (vol. 2, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005). “In its first part it enables the return of alcoholic drink, while in its second part it allows for the growth of an unprecedented tangle of restrictive and obstructive regulation. As one winemaker has put it, ‘Prohibition was never repealed, it was just amended.'”

Click here to read the rest of my post today over at the Houston Press.

The best restaurant in LA @SottoLA (and yes, another baby photo)

I just couldn’t resist sharing this photo of our “little connoisseur”…

*****

2011 has been such an amazing year for us. And among the many “firsts” in this Parzen vintage, I wrote my first wine list for Sotto in Los Angeles.

Learning that the restaurant had been named “best new restaurant of 2011” by Los Angeles Magazine on Friday was the icing on the sweetest cake.

It’s been such a rewarding experience to be part of the restaurant’s talented team and I can’t conceal my pride in the all-Southern-Italian wine list that we put together there.

Here’s a post on Sotto from June of this year… I can’t wait for Georgia to try Chefs Zach and Steve’s Neapolitan pizza (see my note at the end)…

Chefs Steve and Zach literally combed the Malibu foothills foraging for wild fennel flowers — finocchietto — to complete their pasta con le sarde, traditional Sicilian noodles with sardines, pine nuts, raisins, and — de rigeuerfinocchietto.

The occasion was a wine dinner at Sotto in Los Angeles in honor of my good friend Giampaolo Venica who wrote on the Twitter today What a great pasta with sarde last night @sottoLA, probably best ever had.”

Tracie P and I simply adore Giampaolo and Chiara, who are celebrating their first wedding anniversary on Sunday! Mazel tov! :) Photo by Alfonso, who also joined us.

Things behind the bar were getting steamy last night. Amazing cocktails…

I just had to ask the parents of these happy children for permission to snap their photo. Pizza is a wonderfully universal dish, isn’t it? Who doesn’t like pizza?

Now that Tracie P and I are expecting, I find myself thinking all the time about nutrition and Baby P. It was great to see these super polite kids enjoying the wholesome Neapolitan stuff!

Georgia P makes headlines in Houston (and best meals 2011: Al Covo, Venice)

Georgia P had her name in the paper today: here’s my post for the Houston Press on the wines we paired with hospital food and “what they meant to us.”

That’s the three of us, above, as we were about to leave the maternity ward on Wednesday afternoon. We were exhausted but overjoyed.

At 3 a.m. this morning, as I cradled Georgia P in my arms after she and Tracie P had finished nursing, it felt like my whole life were flashing before me: the highs and the lows, the joys and the heartbreaks, “my devil and my deep blue sea”… I love Georgia and Tracie P so much my heart could burst… somehow those “twenty thousand roads” led me here and I have my lucky stars to thank for that…

*****

Here’s one of our “best meals of 2011”: our first anniversary dinner Al Covo, Venice…

For our anniversary dinner, Tracie P said she wanted to eat seafood and so after much consultation and discussion with friends and colleagues, we decided on Al Covo.

We started with the mixed seafood appetizer: baby squid, shrimp and prawns, clams, and snails. Delicious…

I managed to snag the last portion of handmade noodles dressed with granceola (spider crab) and its corallo or “coral”: pink roe, a delicacy that you find only at this time of year when the crabs mate. Unbelievable…

Tracie P had the cod with prunes and potatoes.

The potatoes had been cooked in the tocio or jus of the fish and their starch had imparted a wonderfully delicate and creamy texture to the sauce. This was simply one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever tasted… Stunning confluence of flavors and textures…

We drank an 07 Malvasia by Zidarich and after our meal we munched on cheese and sipped an 06 Recioto di Soave by Fasoli. I can’t think of a better meal to have here…

Owner Cesare offered us a Capovilla distillate (such beautiful, delicate aroma) and with bellies full and warmed by the excellent brandy, we made our way back to our hotel across a deserted and chilly Piazza San Marco, the Basilica of St. Mark and her mosaics watching over us like a fairy godmother, and we tumbled into each other’s arms and into bed…

Georgia comes home, fav photos, and what we drank at the hospital…

We’ll be bringing little Georgia P home today. She’s passed all her tests with flying colors and she and Tracie P are doing great. We loved how the last page of her birth certificate form welcomed our “new little Texan.” :)

I know that every new father thinks that his little girl is the most beautiful of all and I’m no exception. I’ll have two gorgeous girls at home now… I’m the luckiest guy ever…

We are so lucky to have the support of our family: it’s been a joy to have Rev. and Mrs. B here with us and they’re staying at the house all week to help us get settled.

What a joy to watch Rev. B. rocking his new granddaughter! He’s so big and she’s so little! :)

Modesty won’t allow me to reveal a photo of Tracie and Georgia P nursing. But to see Georgia “latching” just minutes after she came into this world was like viewing a living and breathing allegory of maternity. This drawing by Raffaello will have to suffice: words cannot express the emotion we both felt in that precious, precious, unforgettable moment. We’re happy to report that nursing is going great.

The staff at the Seton maternity ward was fantastic. Maybe it’s Texas: everyone was so friendly and sweet and all the nurses shared their own personal experiences. Dr. Abikhaled, our ob/gyn, was awesome. And our anesthesiologist — the only male health care provider in the crew — wore cowboy boots.

And what did we drink to celebrate our joy? As if you have to ask…

Georgia P, Tracie P, and I would like to thank all the folks who commented, tweeted, texted, emailed, and posted on Facebook from the bottom of our hearts. Our lives are so rich right now: full of joy, full of happy tears, full of laughter, brimming with love for a newborn child, overflowing with love for each other… Our virtual community — spanning the Atlantic ocean and the continental U.S.! — means so much to all of us. G-d bless you all…

Georgia Ann Parzen

Georgia Ann Parzen

6 pounds, 14.5 ounces

20 inches

December 12, 2011

3:52 p.m.

We had a really tough labor but once we were admitted this morning things started moving quickly and Georgia was born at 3:52 p.m., with just a few pushes.

Tracie and Georgia P are both doing great and everyone’s healthy and happy…

It’s a miracle… a beautiful, glorious miracle and we are so thankful for the many blessings in our life…

She’s a beauty!

More later… Thanks, everyone, for your support, wishes, and love these last 9 months… they have meant so much to us!

She’s so beautiful!

News of Baby P…

We’re still not quite ready to be admitted to the hospital but the process has begun. It sure ain’t easy… But we are blessed to have the loving support of our family and Rev. and Mrs. B will be arriving in Austin later today…

In the meantime, I wanted to share the gift (above) that Baby P received from our good friends Lucia, Federico, and little Santiago in Montepulciano.

We sure can use the comic relief!