After having an encounter with a now former friend who made some extreme, severe comments about our family’s life in Texas, I asked the two people who read my blog to consider that “state boundaries do not represent monolithic ethical, moral, and aesthetic divides. There are all kinds of people in [my adoptive state] Texas, just as there are all kinds of people in California (including plenty of ultraconservative racists, among others, in my home state).”
I was thrilled to get a chance to discuss the unfortunate episode. Thanks for checking it out.
The only thing that mattered to the person in question was that I live in Texas. Nothing else about my persona interested them. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to me (and everyone) than just geography.
Thanks for checking out the song as well. Heartfelt thanks to Michael for having me on his show.
The Parzen family just got back from our yearly summer trip to La Jolla, California to visit our family and friends there. It was an awesome trip.
The following are our favorite places to visit, updated based on our last stay there.
La Jolla is a lot more crowded than it used to be. And the traffic there has become challenging to say the least.
But as long as you don’t waste half of your day driving in and out of town, it’s still a fantastic place to vacation.
That’s the view walking down the hill toward the Children’s Pool in the photo above, one of the best places to watch the sunset. And you invariably find seals and sea lions on the beach there and on “seal rock” just a stone’s throw up the coast (literally a stone’s throw).
Just had to give a shout-out this week to John Libonati (above) and his awesome natural-focused wine shop Hyphen- in Palm Springs. Yes, Palm Springs!
For a lot of folks who grew up in southern California like me, Palm Springs was often a destination for visiting relatives, family get-togethers, and long weekends just a few hours away from home.
But in my adult years, those get-aways always meant bring your own wine because you’re not going to find much there. Let’s face it: beyond Sherman’s Deli, Palm Springs is not exactly known as a fomo food destination.
That’s all changed now that John, a lovely man from a storied New York restaurant family, has launched his shop. Organic is the baseline, he told me when we visited earlier this week. He wants to get his clients to get out of their “Rombauer” mind set. And it’s working.
Yesterday, during a visit with a hipster colleague in San Diego, news of natural wine in the desert was met with glee.
“I’m going there this weekend!” he exclaimed. “Where is this place?”
He was pleased to know that you’ll find it right on California State Route 111 as you drive into town.
John ran restaurants and night clubs in the city roughly around my same years in New York. It was so much fun to reminisce about some of the characters and players from that now lost era when cool bands still played at CBGB. Natural wine began to become a thing around that time as well.
Wines for Peace: Brunello Consortium auction benefitting Ukraine, Monday, April 11, at Vinitaly. Click here to learn more.
Since the late 1980s, Italian cuisine in the U.S. has been shaped by a tension between traditional- and creative-leaning forces.
Remember the wave of “northern Italian cuisine” that came around in the Reagan years? “Sunday gravy” was out and polenta was in.
The problem was that culinary interpreters often didn’t see these dishes in historical or cultural context. The rich meat- and jus-driven sauces we ate as kids in this country were a derivative of haute Neapolitan cuisine (vis-à-vis Ippolito Cavalcanti).
Polenta, on the other hand, so popular “rustic” and “peasant” (ugh, I can’t stomach that term) movements of the late 1990s, was a dish that many older people in Italy refused to eat at the time because it reminded them of a time when there wasn’t enough to eat (the 19th-century pellagra crisis in Italy was caused in part because polenta had become a staple for economically marginalized families; in the years following WWII, many older Italians in the north will tell you, polenta was all they had to eat).
Making my way over to Cotogna from my hotel in San Francisco the other night, I couldn’t help but remember a chilly winter evening in the late 80s when I stopped a man on the street and asked him if he knew the way to a certain “trattoria,” a name for pseudo-Italian restaurants that had become popular in the second half of the decade.
He did, he responded, but he would only tell me — and I’m not kidding about this — if I pronounced it correctly.
It wasn’t traht-toh-REE-ah, as I had enunciated it. It was traht-TOH-ree’ah, with the emphasis on the second syllable, not the second to last.
It kinda says it all, right there.
In my view and experience, the greatest Italian restaurants in the U.S. have always found a precarious however brilliant balance between the traditional and creative. And my meal at Cotogna was a fantastic example of how respectful homage to tradition can be transcendent.
The carrot sformato (first photo) blew me away with its ethereal texture and subtle dance of bold but elegant flavors. Sformato — properly called a savory custard in English — is all about the texture. It should be firm but light, rich but buoyant. I know already from my Instagram that people agree with me: this dish was nothing short of show-stopping. I loved it.
The asparagus alla fiorentina (second photo) brought to mind trips to San Francisco with my parents when I was a child in the 70s. They would slurp coffee as they inhaled “eggs Florentine” at a swank hotel restaurant on Union Square.
This truly Florentine-inspired dish sang out to me. The flavor — the bontà or goodness as we say in Italian — of the materia prima was nothing short of spectacular. And I loved the play in texture — again, texture! — between the lardons and American-style bacon (which btw is extremely popular in Italy today).
The finale, garganelli with rabbit, also played on its balance of textures and subtle flavors. I loved that the rabbit was ground, not stringy, and the richly flavored pasta was the focus of this dish, not the rabbit. I couldn’t agree or have enjoyed it more.
Paired with the delicious, spicy Ruché Panta Rhei by Valdisole (thank you, Ceri Smith!), this dish became the synecdoche for the entire dinner. For a generation who grew up complaining that there wasn’t enough sauce on the soggy over-cooked and rinsed pasta, it made me feel like we might finally have adolesced.
Thank you wine director Joseph Di Grigoli and team for taking such good care of me. Your work is as inspiring as it is delicious.
It’s hard to believe that Tacos El Gordo in San Diego wasn’t on my radar before last week. But thankfully, that culinary lacuna has been remedied.
An early flight to California had left me with some free time last Monday before our family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner. And although an attempted visit to the legendary and now Michelin-rated San Ysidro taquería Tuétano ended in failure (because it was Labor Day and the restaurant was closed), the taco fantasies of at least one lapsed Californian were fulfilled that day when the Google landed them at the amazing and totally packed Tacos El Gordo on Palm Ave. in an old converted Taco Bell in Chula Vista.
You’d be hard pressed — or should we say, hard rolled — to find an eatery that hews so closely to the tacquerìa model of the Ciudad or Tijuana, both cities where said traveler spent a lot of time as a youth.
Tempted by the brains tacos, said traveler opted instead for the venue’s flagship dish, tacos de adobada: corn tortillas laden with marinated pork that has been fired in a vertical broiler.
cabeza = head
tripa = tripe
buche = pork stomach
suadero = rose meat (so called because it is pinkish in color; see here and here)
sesos = brains
lengua = tongue
Like their counterparts in Mexico City and Tijuana, the chef at the adobada station is as colorful in their delivery as they are histrionic in their carving.
Everything was so tempting, including the loaded fries. But a first visit to this amazing restaurant called for the classic.
Tacos El Gordo opened in Baja California in the 1970s and launched its first location on the U.S. side of the border in the late 1990s.
I can’t believe I hadn’t found this place until now. But I got here as quick as I could and now there’s no turning back.
Hack alert: if you’re not ordering the adobada (which is clearly the restaurant’s most popular dish), you can skip the main (and very long) ordering line and use one of the specialized lines for fries and tacos with other fillings.
You can take the grape out of Italy but you can’t take Italy out of the grape.
The chiasmus flowed through my mind when Eric Van Drunen and Michael Christian poured me the first of their latest releases from the Los Pilares winery in San Diego, California last week.
The wonderful Los Pilares skin-contact Falanghina from their 2020 harvest — one of their best to date, they said — had all the hallmarks of great Falanghina: freshness, good acidity, and classic notes of citrus and minerality. On-the-skins fermentation gave the wine a creamy texture that made me crave for some grilled fish tacos (mahi mahi, if you don’t mind). But the thing that really impressed me was how clean and focused this wine was.
The fruit for this wine, like all their labels, comes from San Diego-county grown grapes, including vines on tribal lands. It was barely 13 years ago when people would still sneer when the seemingly oxymoronic expression “San Diego wine” was uttered. Eric and Michael seem to have put that old chestnut into the roaster for once and for all, as the metaphorizing goes.
The other wine that had my tongue on its toes was this excellent Assyrtiko-Mission-Barbera co-ferment.
Los Pilares grower Coleman Cooney has been experimenting with new grape varieties for years now and this is definitely one of his best efforts imho.
The Mission, a California native that has been deservedly getting more and more attention in recent years (thank you, Bryan Harrington), seemed to give this wine the “lift” that young sommeliers look for these days. But it was the Santorini grape that imparted the rich saltiness in this wine. Eric and Michael served it cellar temperature: it was one of the moreish wines that you just can’t put down. Vibrant fruit, nice acidity, and best of all, fresh and extremely clean on the nose.
Both wines were 1,000 percent winners on my palate and in my book (sorry for the mixed metaphorizing).
It seem like only yesterday (the now prehistoric 2016 to be exact) that snootiness was still required when discussing the wines produced in “America’s finest city.”
Does anyone remember wine professional Allison Levine writing about a Los Pilares wine for the Napa Valley Register?
“I was told it was from San Diego,” she reported. “Yes, you heard me correctly — San Diego, the beach city at the bottom of California.”
In all fairness to Allison (and beach/bottom alliteration aside), she liked the wine, even though she relegated it to the dust bin of “natural wine,” always a non-starter for the Napa set. But her note still oozes with the disdain that northern Californian natives feel for their southern counterparts (sorry for the Google alert, Allison!).
I grew up in that “beach city at the bottom of California” and it was great to be back and taste some of my county’s most recent viticultural efforts. As the allegorizing goes, BOTTOMS UP!
When it opened in 2007, the restaurant rode atop the new wave of gastropubs that opened across the U.S.
Guests would work their way through appetizers like Gambas al Ajillo, Chips and Gravy Poutine, Queso Fundido, Crispy Calamari, munching away and washing it down with groovy European wines and international craft beers.
You’d ask for a bottle of lithe Nebbiolo or a hearty Mourvèdre as you struggled deliciously to decide between mouth-watering mains like Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, Steak Frites, or the legendary Jayne Burger (above). Or sometimes, you’d just order nearly the whole damn menu and share with friends around the wonderful hand-crafted community table on the patio, the wine and music flowing all the while.
Above: Jaynes was also a place where great musicians gathered and great music happened — paired with white Burgundy and old Nebbiolo.
Yes, I’m so sorry to say but you read that write: Jaynes was.
Yesterday, Jayne and her husband Jon announced in an Instagram post that the restaurant will not reopen.
The only thing that attenuates our sadness is the tide of warm memories that fills our hearts and minds.
Jaynes gave Tracie and me so much. It was one of the backdrops of our early courtship, the host of our wedding reception, and the place where everyone knew our names when we returned to my hometown. Our children played there together, we played countless concerts there.
Above, from left: John Yelenosky, Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle, Jon Erickson, Tracie Parzen, and Jeremy Parzen at Jaynes — where else?
Jayne and Jon, Tracie and I can’t thank you enough for the hospitality, the generosity, the friendship and solidarity that you’ve shared with us over the years. There will never be another Jaynes and the magic of those years will forever be inscribed in our hearts, in the name of joy and love.
We’re looking forward to the next chapter in your lives. Or should I say, all of our lives? For none of our lives will be the same without Jaynes Gastropub.
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
It was ten years ago this month that my brother Micah Parzen, an anthropologist and attorney, became the director of San Diego’s iconic Museum of Man.
As of yesterday, thanks to his efforts, the museum is now called the Museum of Us.
From his earliest days as steward of one of the city’s most recognizable and influential cultural institutions, he talked privately about his desire to make the museum’s name more representative of the community it serves.
The blowback from city patricians was unexpectedly harsh.
In a world where citizens of all walks of life are more actively reflecting on the significance of urban iconography, it may be hard for some to understand why people would react so aggressively to the thought of updating the museum’s name. But it took my brother a decade to achieve the political balance and capital that made it possible.
It’s part of his overarching campaign to “decolonize” the museum commmunity in the U.S. by recognizing and addressing systemic disenfranchisement.
“Change is hard and change is messy,” he said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribuine, “but it can be transformational, too. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
If you’ve ever flown into the main San Diego airport, it’s more likely than not that you passed nearly directly over the museum (above). In many ways, the unmistakable neo-colonial Spanish baroque architecture is a symbol for the city itself, a synecdoche of its cultural history and past.
Today, that museum is the museum of us. And that’s thanks to my brother. We couldn’t be more proud. Be sure to check out the Union-Tribune story.
Above: Rhys Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One of the things that has amazed me about California viticulture is how so many of the top growing sites are located in heavily wooded, wild areas.
The first edition (2018) of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California featured 70 wineries.
With the second (2019), that number grew to roughly 120.
With the third (2020), it’s looking likely that the guide will include more than 200 estates.
(As in years past, the guide will be published in the spring and hard copies will be available for purchase at each of the events along the Slow Wine tasting tour across the U.S. It will also be made available for download.)
These last three years of working on the guide have been an eye-opening — or should I say palate-expanding — experience for me.
There’s so much great wine in California, I’ve discovered, that never seems to get the media coverage it deserves. As I’ve written here on the blog, I believe that’s partly due to the fact that a lot of California’s greatest wines are sold nearly exclusively to mailing lists and high-end restaurants. The iconic wines of Philip Togni, a Napa benchmark, are a great example.
Above: Mark Pisoni showing me his garden insectary at the family’s Pisoni Ranch. There’s a waiting list for those who want to buy the estate’s top wines.
It’s also due to the fact that there’s a relatively small group of “new wave” producers who have received the lion’s share of the media’s attention over the last 10 years or so. The new kids on the block, most of them négociant labels, make great wines, too (and I’ve tasted a lot of them over these last three years as well).
But I’ve also met a myriad of legacy growers who have quietly gone about their business of growing and raising great wines for decades, often without the media attention they merit (especially among the new generation of wine writers who’ve emerged since the advent of the enoblogosphere).
The expansion of coverage for this year’s guide is thanks in great part to our new senior editor Pam Strayer, a former environmental and health journalist who now writes passionately and expertly about organic and biodynamic viticulture.
Thanks to her extensive contacts on the ground and her impressive experience tasting wines across the state, our team has managed to nearly double the number of wineries we covered last year.
The energy and commitment that she brings to our work have been an inspiration for me.
A leading specialist on American wines from organic and biodynamic vineyards, Pam Strayer is the author and publisher of 7 apps as well as forthcoming new web sites and books for the wine industry and consumers. She also consults to organic and biodynamic producers and organizations on marketing, strategy and communications.She is currently organizing a webinar for Women of the Vine & Spirits that will be held on Oct. 18 on the organic and Biodynamic sector of the wine industry (open to WOTVS members as well as the public) and writing an article for Beverage Media called “Green Wine: Where Are We Now.” She is also working on new books, Organically Napa, and Organically Sonoma, to be published along with a new newsletter.
Her wonderful blog is a great resource for those who follow organic and biodynamic grape farming in the state. I highly recommend it to you. She also leads consumer tours.