pasta al pomodoro mon amour

spaghetti al pomodoro

Tracie P often shakes her head at the monotony of my diet: given the opportunity, I could eat pomodoro (our familial designation for pasta al pomodoro) eight days a week.

Savory and sweet, chewy and creamy… when it’s done right, it’s one of gastronomy’s greatest combinations.

Just think of how transcendentally iconic it is! From Gragnano (Campania) to Tokyo, from Rome to Moscow to Berlin to Mumbai… there is no culture or people on earth that has not embraced its virtues!

It combines techniques and foods — fruit and grain — from the new and old worlds, a marriage of intelligence and natural bounty. Can you think of a dish that more greatly represents humanity in one of its finest expressions?

Although they didn’t dress their noodles with tomato sauce, the (historic Italian) Futurists tried to abolish pasta. It made for weak character, they claimed.

That was a time before our understanding of metabolism and its role in good health had evolved fully. There are few wholesome victuals so easy for our bodies (at least mine) to digest. (If you’ve ever attended a Futurist banquet, as I have, you know that your morning after is reminiscent to recovery in the wake of an excuse for a meal at Alinea.)

Our friends at our favorite trattoria, Il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle, once boasted to me that Angelo Gaja dines there regularly.

What does he eat? I asked.

Pici (humble Tuscan noodles made with just flour and water) al pomodoro.

From the candelabraed tables of kings to the pauper’s cafeteria pew, its democratic nature is absolute.

Pasta al pomodoro, mon amour, I just may have to toss you once again tonight…

I can walk everywhere (that face)


those eyes

When suddenly I stumbled on that face
That face, that face
That dangerous face
I mustn’t be unwise
Those lips, that nose, those eyes
Could lead to my demise
That face, that face
That marvelous face
I never should begin
Those cheeks, that neck, that chin
Will surely do me in

“That Face” from the musical The Producers

She is the love of our lives…

I can’t love Tracie P enough for giving her to us…

buona domenica… happy Sunday, yall… :)

War is over if you want it: my date with Ringo, 10 years later

ringo starr george harrison song

Above: Ringo Starr appeared at the Bottom Line in New York and the Tonight Show in Los Angeles the week the Iraq war began, ten years ago. My band opened for him in New York. Here’s a link to the NY Times article above, dated March 23, 2003 (the photo was taken at his LA show).

“Iraq War’s 10th Anniversary Is Barely Noted in Washington,” reported The New York Times this week.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2013, we marked ten years since the war began.

I remember that week in 2003 like it was yesterday.

On my way to sound check at the Bottom Line on West 4th St., I had to cross a protest parade on 5th Ave. A few days prior, my band’s manager had called to let me know that we would no longer be headlining the bill: Ringo Starr had replaced us and we’d be opening for him.

It was a surreal moment for me. At once, the world seemed to be falling apart (world war three was about to begin) as I was fulfilling a lifelong dream (to share a stage with a Beatle!).

As Ringo and his band rehearsed “Yellow Submarine” during sound check, nostalgia for the Summer of Love — when I was born and when youth culture embraced a utopic “imagine” vision of the future — was palpable in the room: outside you could hear the chants of the anti-war protesters as Ringo walked his band through tweaks to their set.

If only the Washington regime had given containment peace a chance…

Thanks for letting me share this memory with you and let’s hope and pray that Georgia P’s generation will know many decades brighter than the last…

Wherefore art thou Romeo? Ask @RomeDigest (& a fav Chianti)


One of the questions I get asked more than any other is where should I/we eat and drink in Rome?

Of course, I have my favorite haunts (from my year studying at the Vatican library as a Fulbright scholar) and my many visits in the years since.

But as the Romans used to say, ubi maior, minor cessat: there’s a new resource for dining, drinking, and touring in Rome and it’s called The Rome Digest.

For some years now, I’ve been pointing romei to the inimitable Katie Parla and her ParlaFood. And when I go to Rome, she’s the person I try to have dinner with!

She’s now teamed up with some of the top Anglophone food and wine professionals in the Eternal City to bring us the digest, which I highly recommend.

Btw, a romeo (pl. romei) is a pilgrim heading to the city on the Tiber. (And this peregrinatory word is pronounced roh-MEH-oh.)

Check out their new site. They rock.

In other news…

selvapiana best chianti

When I cozied up to Tracie P on the coach last night after we put Georgia P to bed, she asked: “What wine are you drinking? It smells like Chianti!”

I had popped a bottle of 2010 Chianti Rufina by all-time fav Selvapiana. So right on, with great acidity and fresh red fruit and gentle earthiness, and just the right amount of tannin to tame a piquant aged pecorino. I love LOVE this wine.

Did I say that I love this wine?

Thanks for reading… may you drink well this weekend! Buon weekend, yall…

Soldera update: 4-year prison term for vandal, 6 requested by prosecutor

brunello scandal soldera

Above: One of the casks of Soldera’s wine that was destroyed by a vandal in December 2012.

The news that the Soldera vandal has been sentenced to four years in prison arrives via Franco Ziliani’s blog, Vino al Vino, today.

(The sentence was originally reported by

According to the report, judge Monica Gaggelli gave the vandal, Andrea Di Gisi, two years less than requested by the prosecutor.

Natural wine… don’t ask, don’t tell (@DonkeyandGoat dinner @VinoVinoWine)

best natural wine california

Above: Tracey Brandt of Donkey and Goat (Berkeley, California) was in Austin last night for a dinner at Vino Vino.

You might say that, second only to Produttori del Barbaresco, Donkey and Goat is the “official Parzen family wine.”

We drink it regularly at home (Stone Crusher in fridge? Check!), my parents-in-law Rev. and Mrs. B drink it regularly (hey, Rev. B, did you drink that Helluva Pinot Noir without me?), and it’s been a by-the-glass favorite on our list at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I co-curate the carta dei vini with @CaptainWine) since the restaurant’s inception more than two years ago.

Tracie P and I are thrilled that the wines are finally (legally) available here in Texas and these days we buy them regularly at the Austin Wine Merchant and the Houston Wine Merchant (two of the dwindling number of independent retail operations in our state).

I was geeked to sit down, taste, and chat last night with Donkey and Goat’s better half, Tracey Brandt (above) at the best little wine bar in Austin, Vino Vino, where owner (my client and friend) Jeff Courington had organized a dinner in her honor.

Last year, when I sat down with her husband Jared at Sotto, he told me: “I don’t like labels and I don’t consider myself a Natural winemaker… I think of it more as ‘unmanipulative’ winemaking. But that’s not as fun to say.”

roast beef texas austin

Above: Vino Vino chef Jesse Marco’s rib roast with polenta and kale was as delicious as it looked.

In our conversation over dinner last night, Tracey noted that “we were already making wine in this style before we had even heard the term Natural wine.”

Does she call her wine “Natural”? I asked.

“Here’s what I say to people,” she told me, “our wines are often referred to as ‘Natural’ wines.”

She said that she first hear the term when she and Jared presented at VinNatur in Italy in 2008. By that time, they were already into their fourth vintage.

There are three basic tenets of their winemaking philosophy, she said:

“First, the wine should be food-friendly. Second, the wine should be ‘honest’; it should taste like the place where it was grown. And [lastly] the wine should taste like the varietal. In other words, if it says Pinot [Noir] on the label, it should taste like Pinot.”

There’s been such a fuss about the use and misuse of the term Natural over the course of the last eighteen or so months.

Does it really matter what the winemakers, wine pundits, or wine lovers call it?

My thought is… don’t ask, don’t tell… just drink it (if you like it)…

Tripe porn (trippa alla napoletana)

neapolitan tripe

Just had to share this photo that I snapped earlier today at Tony’s.

My good friend and client Tony always makes classic Italian dishes that he reserves for friends who come into eat at his swank restaurant (the Houston oil moguls’ official commissary).

Today it was classic trippa alla napoletana, Neapolitan-style, slow-cooked tripe with potatoes and chili flakes.

Man, it was good…

“Why don’t you put this on the menu?” I asked Tony. “It’s delicious.”

“It just doesn’t sell,” he said.

Go figure!

When you visit Tony’s, be sure to ask him what he’s got going on in the kitchen that’s not on the menu.

Buon appetito, yall!

Trinchero skin-contact Malvasia & scampi @CiaoBelloHou by @BobbyMatos

trinchero malvasia orange wine

Above: Chef Bobby Matos‘ cooking has never been better and the seafood never fresher and more tasty at Tony’s Ciao Bello restaurant in Houston.

Thanks to our constipated wine distribution and impacted-bowel wine importing regulation here in Texas, it’s rare that we have the opportunity to (legally obtain and) enjoy European wines that are not available in other states (with more liberal regulation like California and New York).

Last night, when I spoke at a wine and seafood pairing dinner at my friend and client Tony’s Ciao Bello restaurant in Houston, I had the good fortune to taste the Trinchero skin-contact Malvasia, which, to my knowledge, is only available in my adoptive state.

bucatini crabs legs

Above: The bucatini had been tossed in a sauce made of stock from the crab shell, white wine, bay leaf, and a touch of cream. They were then topped with breaded and fried crab legs.

It’s brought in by maverick “against all odds” importer Doug Skopp, a colleague whose become a friend.

I’ve followed Trinchero — a Vini Veri producer in Asti — for nearly ten years and I am huge fan of their Barbera, especially the Vigna del Noce cru, arguably one of the best expressions of Barbera available commercially today.

(Polaner brings the wines into the rest of the U.S. but not the Malvasia.)

monkfish prosciutto

Above: Tracie P and I generally don’t eat seafood in Texas beyond Tony’s restaurants. It’s just never as good as in my home state California.

The skin-contact Malvasia was tannic and dense although more delicate on the palate than I expected. The scampi were delicious but slightly overpowered by the wine, however satisfying. (I might have done the Trinchero with the phallic prosciutto-wrapped monkfish and lentils above.)

Remarkably fresh, it really began to show its muscle and nuance as it opened up, with layers of nutty and dried stone fruit flavors.

Thank you, Doug, for bringing in this groovy wine! And thanks, Bobby for the fantastic dinner last night. Your cooking has never been better. Great dinner…

The Americani, April 5 & 6 at Villa Marinelli, Cison di Valmarino

best american cover band

My Italian cover-band from the 1990s (from left), Shawn Amos, me, Charlie George, and John Krylow.

Charlie, John, and I went to high school together (Charlie and I go all the way back to Hebrew school). And Shawn and I met back in the 1990s when we appeared together in a Taco Bell commercial (for real).

We spent three summers in the early 1990s touring the sinistra Piave area artisanal beer festival and sagra circuit.

Our band is now called “The Americani” and we’ll be performing a set of americana covers on Friday and Saturday, April 5-6, at the Villa Marinelli in Cison di Valmarino (in Proseccoland).

The shows are free and the Prosecco and beer will be flowing. Show time is 10 p.m. both nights.