City of Houston declares June 2 “Italian National Day.”

Above from left, Italian Consul General Federico Ciattaglia, Italian MP for North and Central America Fuscia Nissoli, and Houston Councilwoman Mary Nan Huffman.

At yesterday’s celebration of Italian Republic Day (June 2), the City of Houston proclaimed the day “Italian National Day” in the city. The proclamation was delivered on behalf of Mayor Sylvester Turner by Houston Councilwoman Mary Nan Huffman.

Hosted at the beautiful Cohen House on the campus of Rice University, the event included addresses by Ciattaglia, Nissoli, and Huffman, as well as a performance of “Fratelli d’Italia” (“Brothers of Italy”), the Italian national anthem, followed by the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Members of the Italian Air Force, stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, were also in attendance.

In one bittersweet note during the festivities, Italian Consul General Federico Ciattaglia shared the news that his mandate will end this fall and that he will be leaving Houston.

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Eating well in Langa/Roero: old school is better than new. My Bra has some cool options.

Today’s post is the second in a series on my favorite places to eat in Bra (Cuneo province, Piedmont) during my seminars at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in (my) Bra. The toponym Bra comes from the late Latin braida, meaning a suburban field for farming.

Early in my career in wine, trips to Piedmont revolved around press junkets and visits to high-profile wineries that my clients, generally importers, hired me to write about for their websites and promotional materials. Those visits and tastings were often followed by meals at marquee restaurants.

But my gig teaching at Slow Food U has given me the opportunity to break out on my own and with my friends to discover some of Piedmont’s lower profile but equally delicious dining destinations.

One of those restaurants is the SUPER old school Trattoria Gallinaccia in Bra.

I ate there alone on my first full day and night in town in May when I was there to for my food communications grad seminars.

In Piedmont, restaurants like these generally have the same traditional menu, from appetizer to dessert. You won’t find any creative cuisine or colorful interpretations of classic dishes. Gallinaccia is so traditional that they don’t even recommend adding grated Parmigiano Reggiano to their tajarin al ragù (below).

Although not my favorite, Gallinaccia is solid. The staff is friendly. And the interior evokes a between-the-wars ambiance.

I liked it a lot.

One of the coolest things is that the wine prices at places like this are ridiculously low for Americans. I ordered a bottle of Dolcetto because I always start my Piedmont stay with the region’s de rigueur gastronomic wine (a personal tradition of mine).

It wasn’t a night to go “big.” But had it been, I would have gone with the Giacomo Fenocchio 2015 Barolo Bussia for €52. Yes, just €52! Can you imagine what that bottle costs at a restaurant, let alone retail, in California or New York? You can’t even find Fenocchio, one of my all-time favorite Nebbiolo growers, in Texas.

The next night I went to a similarly old school place and did go big… and it was worth every penny. Stay tuned.

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What’s so sexy about Moscato d’Asti? Come find out with me in Dallas on June 16.

Image via the Marenco winery Facebook. Marenco will be pouring its single-vineyard Moscato d’Asti for the guided tasting I’ll be leading on June 16 in Dallas. Their Albarossa will be served at the lunch following the seminar.

A few years ago, the Moscato d’Asti Consortium asked me to lead a seminar and tasting of top wines from the appellation here in Houston.

The resulting talk — “What’s so sexy about Moscato d’Asti?” — was so well received that they asked me to give the same presentation earlier this year for another group of Houston wine professionals.

On Thursday, June 16, I’ll be giving the same talk at the legendary Hotel ZaZa in Dallas.

Click here to register for the 11 a.m. event.

Did you know that Moscato d’Asti is one of the world’s few wines made to sparkle using only the grape’s natural sugar?

Did you know that Moscato d’Asti, despite how many perceive the wines, is grown entirely on small, family-owned and run farms?

Did you know that Moscato d’Asti, despite its undeserved reputation, is one of Italy’s most terroir-driven wines?

Every time we put on this seminar, it’s amazing to watch even seasoned tasters be blown away by the diversity and personality of these wines.

The other thing that I love about this seminar is that we talk about how Moscato d’Asti is the one and only Italian wine that has become part of the extra-Italian culinary canon in the southeastern U.S. There is a whole swath of people who drink Moscato d’Asti regularly but remain ignored by the wine trade. We’re going to talk about that, too.

Our tasting will be followed by a lunch where Coppo will be pouring its Nizza Barbera, Marenco will be pouring its Albarossa (attention wine geeks!), and there will even be a Barbaresco among many other top Piedmont wines.

I hope you can join us. And word has it that the Bubbleista might join us. Tracie and the girls will be with me that day as well.

Here’s a Texas Tribune post on how to give to victims’ families in Uvalde. Please consider also giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page.

We won’t forget Uvalde. Now is the time for action. Please vote, mobilize, speak out, donate, support, and believe that change is possible.

Houston’s light rail seemed the wisest way to get to downtown for Friday’s Black Lives Matter Houston, Fiel, Moms Demand Action rally for gun sense and protest of the National Rifle Association’s trade show.

On the train siting one row ahead of me were a woman and a man — she in her late 60s, he in his 70s. There ages became apparent over the course of their conversation. They were long-time acquaintances, Houston natives who happened to run into each other on the way to the event. Children, grandchildren, retirement, and milestone birthdays were among their topics for catching up.

It was also evident that they were both heading to the rally. At one point, the woman mentioned to the man that this was her first experience in activism. To this he responded that he had protested only one another time in his life… during the Vietnam war.

These first timers weren’t sure where they needed to get off the train. That’s when their fellow rider spoke up and assured them that Main Street Square was the right stop.

After I spent about an hour and a half at the main protest, I headed over to the protests across the street from the convention center where the NRA was holding the first day of its trade show. The two Houstonians who rode the light rail with me were already leaving. The sun was hot and they had arrived without water or a good hydration plan.

I hope they’ll come back the next time. Maybe with some extra water, sun screen, and some snacks this time (top provisions for activists).

Tracie and I have been protesting with Moms Demand Action for years now. We’ve also block-walked for candidates that support expanded gun restrictions. We were part of a historic wave of activists who flipped our historically GOP-controlled district after decades of a Republican rule that dates back to Bush senior who was once our district’s congressperson.

The only way we are going to affect change in our nation’s and state’s gun laws is by voting and raising voter awareness. We have already been active in the Beto campaign and you can bet that we will be out there block-walking for him as the campaign ratchets up.

People, if you care about reducing gun violence in our country, now is the time for action: please vote, mobilize, speak out, donate, support, and believe that change is possible. It may not come during this political cycle. But as a famous winemaker once said, sometimes the battles most important to fight are the ones you know you are going to lose.

If you live in Southeast Texas, please reach out to us to find out how to get involved. It’s going to be a long hot summer and we’ll bring the water, sunscreen, and snacks (for real).

Please don’t forget Uvalde. Please don’t forget Buffalo. Please don’t forget Pittsburgh. Please don’t forget Columbia. Please don’t forget the 1979 Cleveland School shooting, which happened in San Diego where I grew up (I was 12 at the time). The list goes on and on and on and on…

Tracie and I will be out there at the next rally for gun sense in this country. We hope you’ll join us.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

The unimaginable: prayers for our sisters and brothers in Uvalde.

The Parzen family wishes to offer its heartfelt condolences to all the families of Uvalde who have been affected by yesterday’s unfathomable act of violence.

This morning when I walked our girls to their school, the parents who were dropping off — me included — waited until every one of their kids crossed the building’s threshold. There was a lot of extra hugging and I-love-yous as we all wished our children a good day.

It’s unimaginable to think that there are nineteen families who won’t be picking their kids up today at school… in a community not that far nor not too different from our own.

G-d bless them. We are praying for them and we share their pain, however unimaginable for us.

In future, there will be time to address the insanity of our state’s gun laws.

But today, we pray and we hold our children as tight as we can.

*****

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
Then push away the unimaginable

From the song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the musical “Hamilton.”

All about (my) Bra: were I eat and drink in Slow Food City.

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My recent trip to Italy to teach at Slow Food U was a whirlwind. My itinerary and schedule had me on the ground for literally four days. Because the timing was so tight (including a day with two back-to-back three-hour seminars), wine country visits and trips to Piedmont’s many great dining destinations were not possible.

So it was that the small city of Bra, where the Slow Food Movement was founded in 1986, was radius of my culinary exploration.

Because of its association with Slow Food, Bra has some really interesting restaurants (including many chain pilot programs; more on that later). My next series of posts will be devoted to my favorite spots to eat and drink (including destinations from previous visits).

The first question that comes up when you mention the name Bra to an English speaker is does Bra, the toponym, have a relation to bra, the intimate apparel?

No, it does not (obviously).

Bra comes from the late Latin braida meaning a field in a suburban area. It’s relatively common across northern Italy. Some will remember the famous Piazza del Bra in Verona.

Bra in Cuneo province (Piedmont) got its name because it was an agricultural hub in Roman times (as was Verona, for that matter).

Over the seven years of my teaching gig there, one of my favorite first stops has always been Local, the university’s food shop and casual restaurant. It’s expensive, as the students always complain. But the food products there are phenomenally good.

Even though it’s not a regional dish, their porchetta sandwiches are inanely delicious (not always available) and their vitello tonnato is as traditional as it comes. They also do modern and classic interpretations of Bra’s famous veal sausage (more on that later). Our girls loved the cooked salsiccia the year they came with me.

But on this occasion, the classic Piedmontese salt-cured anchovies with salsa verde spoke to me.

Dissertations could be scribed on this mainstay of Piedmontese gastronomy. In many ways, it represents the basic building blocks of the Roero-Langhe-Monferrato culinary cannon. Vitello tonnato couldn’t exist without those anchovies. Nor could bagna cauda.

It was a thrill for this wine blogger to discover that they were serving a new wine from a favorite Dogliani farm, a Riesling from Cascina Corte, an ante litteram naturalist producer.

The bright acidity and intense fruit of the wine was such a fantastic match for the richly salty fishes and the garlic-heavy flat leaf parsley dressing.

And it all really hit the spot for lunch after a long day of travel from Houston.

Stay tuned for more notes on where to eat and drink in Bra…

Getting your mandatory Covid test before returning to U.S. from Italy (UPDATE 5/23/22).

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covid testing europe“The requirement to test for Covid before flying to the United States,” reported the Times yesterday, “is hated by many travelers and the U.S. travel industry. But the government shows no sign of getting rid of it.”

Like every other American traveler returning from a work trip to Europe, I needed to receive a negative Covid test before boarding a plane from Munich to Houston last Thursday.

In my experience, the best place to check on current travel requirements is the U.S. Embassy in Rome’s website.

As of May 16, 2022 (the last time the Covid info page was updated),

    all air passengers 2 years or older (citizens of all nationalities, including U.S. citizens, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated) with a flight departing to the US from a foreign country, are required show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 1 day before travel, or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, before they board their flight.

(Please be sure to check with the embassy of your destination country and the CDC for the most recent updates and requirements.)

To my knowledge, there are two testing kiosks at the Malpensa airport in Milan where my trip began and ended.

One is the MED MXP testing site: https://www.medairport.it/

I’ve never used that one.

The other is DocVG: https://docvg.it/

I’ve used that one now a few times and recommend it. When I used it last Wednesday, the day before my flights back, I had the results of my rapid test in five minutes. The cost was €50. It was the same experience as during my previous trip to Italy last year.

One thing super important to note is that “the 1 day before travel” begins 24 hours before your departing flight leaves for the U.S. In other words, if you have a connecting flight in Europe, you need to wait until 24 before your U.S.-bound leg.

Usually, I connect in Frankfurt, Germany to board a flight back to Houston. But because my Frankfurt flight from Milan was abruptly cancelled and I was rerouted through Munich, I had a short layover there. Because I was worried I wouldn’t make my flight and be stuck in Germany for the night, I took a Covid test at the airport in the international departures area (a kind of nowhere land where you have already gone through the passport checkpoint). Depending on how much you were willing to pay, you could get the test results as quickly as 30 minutes. I got mine in about 60 minutes for €45.

The bottomline is that there are ample opportunities to get tested at the airport. Sometimes they are challenging to find online. But they are there. Europeans have different sensibilities than ours when it comes to customer service, response times, etc. So don’t be alarmed if it takes a minute to receive confirmation emails etc.

Be sure to check with your embassy in the country where you are traveling. And also look out for your airlines “travel ready center” for info on requirements and even links for testing sites.

One new element emerged on my last trip: before you take your test, you now need to register for lodging in case you test positive.

In order to complete my registration for the test, I had to indicate where I would stay in case I tested positive and could not return to the U.S.

There were only two options for quarantine lodging. And neither — let me just put it this way — were the Ritz.

That was when it really hit me. I’ve been extremely fortunate during my three trips to Italy since Covid reshaped the way we travel. But if I were stuck in Italy for a quarantine, it would really throw our family’s work and schooling schedules into a tailspin.

It’s not clear to me how long I would have had to isolate in a hotel room. It seems like the CDC allows you to travel after five days following a positive test as long as you are not symptomatic. Here’s the page on quarantines I was able to find on the CDC site.

I have to go to Italy for work (I was teaching last week at Slow Food U). If I didn’t, I probably would consider postponing my trip until the testing and quarantine requirements are lifted. We’re planning to take the girls to Italy next summer because they have been begging to go back. But just think if we had gone this summer and got stuck in Italy?

Travel safe and enjoy wherever you are going. Please be sure to check in with official channels on requirements and testing etc.

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo. When are we going to stop teaching our children hate?

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo.

When are we going to stop teaching our children to hate?

When are we going to realize that racism is so deeply engrained in our society that it leads a young person to shoot people who look different than them?

When are we going to come to terms with the fact that barely veiled racism is all around us, no matter where we live?

Only when we do are we going to break the expanding cycle of racist terror in our country.

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in El Paso. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Pittsburgh.

*****

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom (1994)

Did you see Stanley Tucci at Slow Food U where I teach in Italy? I’m heading back there next week.

Stanley Tucci is one of the few issues that brings division to the Parzen family household.

Tracie loves — LOVES — his show.

I still haven’t forgiven him for mispronouncing timpano in his 1999 breakout hit “Big Night” (ouch).

Scherzi a parte… Joking aside…

Tracie did eventually convince me to watch a few episodes of his “Searching for Italy” show and I genuinely thought it was great.

We still haven’t seen the episode where he goes to Piedmont. But we’ve been told that he makes a stop at Slow Food University where I have been teaching in the grad program for the last seven years (above).

I’m so proud of the work I do there (I teach food and wine communications). It meant the world to me that so many people called to say they had seen Pollenzo, the village and campus, on Tucci’s show.

I’ll be there on Monday and will be teaching for the better part of the week. Because Tracie is working full-time now, we need to limit the time I’m away from home. So this is going to be a very short trip. But if you happen to be in the Roero-Langhe area, ping me for sure and we’ll taste something great together (there’s a wonderful natural wine bar and a mostly great old-school Piedmontese in the town where I stay).

In other news…

My editor gave my pitch the green light and if all things go as planned, my Pietro Crescenzi translation and critical apparatus are going to be published by a University of Toronto imprint later this year.

I’m so stoked about this. My heartfelt thanks to all the folks who shared good vibes, encouragement, and wishes. We did it! THANK YOU.

I fly out tomorrow night. Wish me luck, wish me speed. Hit me up if you’re around. See you on the other side…

The Italian wine list has evolved in America. But is Italian wine in danger?

Above: the list and food at Felix Trattoria in Venice, California blew one Italian wine blogger completely away. Wine director Matthew Rogel has created what is possibly the best Italian list in the country right now. Its depth and thoughtfulness are going to be hard to match.

Today it seems hard to believe. But it’s been more than 20 years since Joe Bastianich launched his game-changing all-Italian, high end-heavy wine list at Babbo in the West Village, opened in 1998.

New York-focused Italian wine insiders from that era will also remember that it was right around that same time that Nicola Marzovilla debuted his similarly ambitious list at I Trulli on E. 27th with a southern-centric program.

Of course, the ultimate cognoscenti will also recall the extraordinary cellar put together by Vincenzo Cerbone, and later by his son Anthony (one of the loveliest people in our industry), at Manducatis in Long Island City — “opened on Christmas Day in 1977.” But that was ante litteram and antediluvial.

All three of these lists were a foreshadowing of what was to become a bona fide renaissance of Italian wine throughout the world.

I’m not quite old enough to remember the good old days of the holy tretalogy — Bolla (Soave and Valpolicella), Ricasoli, and Fazi-Battaglia — that once populated the italophile wine lists of America.

But memories of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, with its artsy-fartsy label and clear-glass bottle, are yet unhazed in my mind.

It’s incredible to think how refreshingly unsurprising it is today to find a sub-section for “Alto Piemonte-Valle d’Aosta” in the superb program conceived by Matthew Rogel at Felix Trattoria in Venice, California (above). It’s followed by “Roero-Langhe” and not by “Barolo-Barbaresco-Brunello-Super Tuscans” et alia, as one would have unwittingly expected even just a decade ago.

But is Italian wine in America “in danger” as one colleague (a leading player no less) put it to me earlier this month?

Above: a friend treated me to a super bottle last night at the wonderful Ferraro’s Kitchen Restaurant and Wine Bar in North Miami. In terms of its drinking window, that wine was as perfect as it could possibly be. What a bottle! And great menu by chef/owner Igor Ferraro. Even a decade ago, you wouldn’t have expected to find such a gem and such excellent wine service in the U.S. outside of New York.

The presence and marketshare of Italian wine in the U.S. has expanded over the last 20 years, they said, thanks to Italian restaurants here.

But now that the once supremely unencroachable Italian restaurant scene here is now being gently however consistently elbowed by the growing tide of internationally focused concepts, Italian wine is not growing in tandem.

The plain-sight evidence of this? Italian restaurants, for the most part, have Italian-focused programs, they pointed out. But as soon as you stray to something like, say, a high-end and high-concept Korean steakhouse, you’ll be hard pressed to find much beyond France and California. Similarly, casual and formal-dining French concepts hardly even consider Italian wine. Progressive American cuisine? Only the initiated will ever know how much Italian wine appears on the list at the French Laundry.

For Italian wine to meet the challenges of the future, they noted, it needs to find a way to connect with an increasingly fusion-focused international dining crowd. And it needs to reconnect with francophiles who now seem more open to getting oustide their box (perhaps because of prohibitive pricing of the French stuff).

Is natural wine the key? Is sustainable? Is organic? Will it be through programs subsidized by the EU? Will it be thanks to a new generation of new wave of Italian wine lovers? Will it be launched by a new generation of Italian wine professionals? Do we need to mount an intervention with the WSET to inform them that Italian wine isn’t just an afterthought?

My colleague doesn’t have the answer yet. But they’re working on it.

After more than two decades of unparalleled growth for Italian wine, it seems we are at a crossroads. Who’s with me?

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