When a song makes you cry (leaving for Italy again)

Driving back from seeing a client in Houston this week, John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jetplane” came on in one of my mixes and I just couldn’t hold back the tears. I knew that in a few days I’d be packing my bags and leaving again, heading back to Italy.

As we head into the last trimester of our pregnancy, it’s just so hard to say goodbye to Tracie and Baby P. (I was only supposed to be away for a week but the trip was extended when the Nonino family asked me to lead a group of celebrity mixologists on a cocktail tour of Friuli and Milan.)

This year has been a happy one for us, with our healthy pregnancy, business going well, and family and friends here in Texas who support and love us. Becoming close with all my long-lost Texas cousins has been such a blessing for me. The other day at Rosh Hashanah lunch, I told the Rosenbergs how much it means to me and they all just smiled and said, “that’s what Texans do.”

We have so much to be thankful for but saying goodbye to “my girls” this morning nearly broke my heart… I love them so, so much…

All my bags are packed I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’ it’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’ he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

The lost art of the aperitivo

When my good friend and one of the top wine professionals in the state Fabien Jacob poured me a sweet white vermouth as an aperitivo the other night at Dough Pizzeria (one of my favs) in San Antonio, I was transported back to my university days in Italy in the 90s when no meal started without an aperitivo…

Today, I wrote and posted a fun piece about vermouth and its role in Americana cocktails over at the Houston Press.

Buona lettura e buon appetito!

Campari e Soda: time for a break

Man, I’m tired and it’s time for a break. Yesterday, before meeting friends for dinner after a long day of tasting and business meetings, I took time out for a Campari e Soda at the Bar Commercio (you can imagine the 1950s-era neon sign) on the outskirts of Lecce (yes, Lecce!) where I’ve spent the last two nights.

The bitterness of the Campari was tempered by a sweet, tangy slice of blood orange and the briny olives and lightly salted toasted almonds rolled around my tongue enveloped in the bright red bitters — an earthly however immensely rewarding pairing for one tired dude.

Today I head back to Venice and tomorrow to Austin. Alfonso was right when he told me, more than two years ago, that I would miss Texas more than I could imagine: more than ever, I wanna go home with the armadillo.

I’ve been on the road for nearly two and half weeks and I’ve been away from Tracie P for way too long. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around her and hold her tight again… One more longest night before I will see her again but one day closer to her sweet lips and loving embrace…

Thanks to everyone for following along here and at COF2011.com: your visits and comments and encouragement have meant the world to me. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

There’s lot more to tell and there will be time for that, too. But now it’s time for a break…

See you in a few days…

Lunch at home with the Nonino family

Conversation over lunch in the home of the Nonino family (the first family of Italian distillation) ranged from encounters with Marcello Mastroianni, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Luigi Veronelli to the (literal) renaissance of native grape varieties in Friuli. I was THRILLED to be invited for lunch in their home, a fascinating family with a fascinating history. That’s daughter Cristina and father Benito above. They served an aperitif of Amaro Nonino on the rocks with a slice of blood orange.

There’s so much to tell about our confabulatio and there will be time for that… in the meantime, the bean and potato soup — with barley, chestnuts, and bits of melt-in-your mouth bacon fat, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with freshly cracked pepper — was an amazing confluence of flavors and textures. A rustic, powerfully sensuous dish…

Stewed goose thigh was o so tender and delicious with polenta and cabbage. Benito thanked us for coming, noting that they feed him better when there are guests. They’re a very colorful bunch and the hours we spent together were literally marvelous.

This was definitely one of the most fascinating visits so far but the tale of what was told yesterday will have to wait…

Zen and the art of the spritz

Lachlan and I went back to the Caffè del Corso on the main piazza in Cividale del Friuli yesterday between winery visits for an audience with the grand master of the spritz, owner Simone, who delivered a lecture on the nuance of Aperol vs. Campari. When time and technology permit, I’ll relate what he had to say…

Getting my spritz on in Friuli

Bobby, Lachlan, and I got our Aperol spritz on during the ora dell’aperitivo (the aperitif hour) in downtown Cividale del Friuli yesterday.

In keeping with my credo no wine without food, no food without wine, I just had to have a few mortadella cubes, even though I knew that much food lay in my immediate future…

Rock the Gulf Benefit at the Shuck Shack Austin

Can you think of a better place in Austin to hold a Rock the Gulf benefit than the Shuck Shack? This tasty little seafood joint is at the top of our list for summer outdoor Gulf Coast-style dining. You see, for all of ya’ll who ain’t never been down to the south too much, Gulf Coast dining spots dot the highways and cities of the Lone Star State from Orange on the Lusiana border (where Tracie P grew up) to Austin, the cradle of the west. All of these businesses, many of them locally owned liked the Shuck Shack, have been affected by the oil spill disaster.

The Shuck Shack is one of Tracie P’s accounts (and one of her favs, I may add) and she helped to rustle up donations for this exceedingly well organized (I must add) event held last night on the south side of Austin. That’s owner Katherine Fertitta and manager Bill Garcia.

Fried catfish, Texas caviar, biscuit, and corn on the cob. Uh huh…

I couldn’t resist the “Bloody Shame.” Tracie P had a “Tar Ball Lemonade” (with muddled blueberries playing the starring role).

The music (I also must say) was excellent, but, then again, that happens nightly in Austin (how do you like my Texas swagger?). Tracie P even won a donated raffle prize! How about that???!!! An Eddy Summer Sausage basket that will be greatly enjoyed this estive season Chez Parzenella!

To find out about how you can help, check out the Gulf Restoration Network.

Earthquake (!), pre-Prohibition cocktails and the Grapes perform tonight

Above: The pre-Prohibition cocktails at the newly opened Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego calmed my nerves after a 5.4 magnitude quake!

The San Diego Kid (that’s me) arrived in San Diego from Austin, Texas yesterday only to be greeted by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake. Having grown up here, I’m relatively accustomed to such natural occurrences but the young man helping me at the rental car desk nearly pooped in his pants. Luckily, pre-Prohibition cocktails awaited me at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego (where my friend and colleague @ChezSheila had just launched her newest project).

Above: The San Diego Kid fit right in with the Old Town 19th-century reenactors (no joke!). Note the first appearance of my Nudie boots.

If you happen to find yourself north of the border tonight, come check out the debut performance of The Grapes at one my favorite sushi destinations, Zenbu, tonight at 9. It should be quite a scene…

In other news…

The Do Bianchi Wine Selections Hard-to-Find Friuli Six-Pack is now available, featuring the wines of Scarpetta (Bobby Stuckey’s winery in northeastern Italy). Click here to read about why Tracie P and I like these wines, made by an American in Italy, so much…

Remembering our wedding day at Jaynes

After picking up Tracie P at the airport (on what was a no less than “Top Gun” gorgeous San Diego day), we headed to Jaynes for dinner: we hadn’t been at Jaynes together since our wedding day in January and so it was so fun to remember all the great moments! Tracie P had a Campari and soda to start (possibly her fav cocktail).

We opened some great bottles last night but one of the most fun was this bottle of 2006 Arnaud Ente Bourgogne Blanc, drinking so beautifully right now, a guilty-pleasure wine that Jayne and Jon carry on their menu and that we served, among others, at our wedding reception there. It’s one of those wines that prompts the question: why does new oak seem to work so perfectly in Burgundy when it fails so miserably in other wine-making regions we love? (With its wax seal, deep punt, and heavy glass, this wine has a very “naughty bottle” as Jancis Robinson might say.)

Thanks again, Jayne and Jon: you couldn’t have created a more perfect wedding reception for Tracie P and me.

And thank you Tracie P, for being such a beautiful bride, such a loving wife, and such a gorgeous and generous soul. What a wonderful memory and what an amazing day that was. You couldn’t make this adoptive Texas boy more happy. I love you…

Happy mother’s day, ya’ll!

Bloody Mary Morning (a lil’ Tex Mex porn)

tex mex

Last weekend’s 3-day bachelor party… well, let’s just say it left me and brothers Tad and Micah a little hazy. By the time it was over, it was most definitely time for a “Blood Mary morning” and so, to make their culinary Trifecta complete (they’d already had some great Texas steak some great Texas bbq), it was time for Tex Mex at one of Austin’s classics, Chuys. My morning started with a Michelada — essentially a bloody Mary made with beer. Chuy’s features $3 margaritas and bloody Marys on Sunday, btw, I wonder why?)

tex mex

The Wild Burrito, above, is a “wet” burrito made with slowly braised tender stringy beef and Hatch chiles. Some might argue that the inclusion of Hatch chiles and the Sonora-style “wet” presentation would betray New Mexico and Arizona roots of this dish. But who needs dogmatism on a bloody Mary morning? Needless to say, I did my best “James Brown” imitation, as Tracie B likes to tease me, consuming this dish.

tex mex

Deluxe chicken enchiladas, above, are essentially, enchiladas verdes, with sour cream added to the salsa verde. An Austin original, Chuys has become a Texas franchise chain restaurant. But it’s everything Tex Mex should be: cheap, colorful, delicious, fun, and a perfect cure for a hangover!

tex mex

Fajitas are an undisputed signature of Tex Mex cuisine. Some will argue that they originated in Austin while others will claim Houston. No one will deny that they have become a calling card of Tex Mex cuisine from sea to shining sea.

Thanks, again, to brothers Micah and Tad (below), for coming out and giving me a great “lost bachelor weekend” here in Austin. I can’t think of better way to end it than with a blood Mary morning!

tex mex

Check out this amazing video of Willie doing “Blood Mary Morning” way back when before he was even playing his signature guitar. If that ain’t Texan, I don’t know what is!