Mario Batali’s joke on Bill Clinton (and great charcuterie in La Jolla @ArriciaMarket)

Yesterday, Bobby Pascucci (above) shared some of his excellent porchetta di testa (below) with me at his new Ariccia Italian Market in La Jolla.

His testa (pig’s head) brought to mind a salacious tale often retold in New York restaurant circles about President Clinton’s first visit to Babbo.

It’s a little too racy for Do Bianchi but my editors at the Houston Press didn’t bat an eye when I asked them if I could post it there.


The many “inos” of New York, a visit to Maialino (New York Stories II)

Above: I loved the fried artichokes at Danny Meyer’s Maialino.

It’s amazing to think that restaurant maven Jason Denton opened his Italian sandwich shop ‘Ino back in 1998 — the same year that Batali-Bastianich launched Babbo. Strolling around the West Village last week, I spotted two new (at least to me) “inos”: Gottino and Corsino.

It occurred to me that the Molto Mario paradigm is like al-Qaeda: it’s not just a working method or brand anymore; it’s a concept. And the rash of “inos” that have appeared across the City in the last fourteen years are akin to the self-appointed “cells” of the Jihad (perhaps modeled more after Lupa and Otto than his earlier successes).

I’m embarrassed to say that I still hadn’t been to Maialino (which opened in 2010), Danny Meyer’s Rome-inspired “ino”. And when Alice and I arrived there at 8 p.m. on Friday, the place was slamming packed.

I was geeked to reconnect with my good friend Nicolas, who works there. And we ended up having a nosh at the bar (including the awesome fried artichokes, above).

Nicolas treated us to a delicious bottle of Perella, one of Bruno De Conciliis’s expressions of Fiano. And I was psyched to see 2006 Produttori di Carema by the glass (!) and a truly courageous selection for the Pinot Grigio by the glass: Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio Dessimis — a vineyard designated, skin-contact, tannic expression of lees-aged Pinot Grigio. That’s a pretty gutsy choice for someone expecting Santa Margherita…

I tasted a 1997 Dessimis a few years ago in Friuli and was blown away by the elegance and power of the wine. And although I thought the 2009 offered at Maialino isn’t fully developed (the wood still resided atop the wine), I loved the fact that the wine director Liz Nicholson (whom I haven’t met) is prompting her guests to question the Pinot Grigio status quo in our nation.

OBut no matter how hard courageous and well informed wine directors like Liz try, you still can’t take the “ino” out of Pinot Grigio…

Up next: New York Stories III, Alice and I pay a visit to the “Wine Seer” uptown and “everything is beautiful at the ballet”…

One night in Paris with Alice

Above: Alice F and Tracie B, two of my favorite ladies, and I went natural-winebar-hopping the other night in Paris.

If you ever get a chance to go natural-winebar-hopping in Paris — where many believe the winebar concept and the natural winebar were born — with the leading lady of natural wine writing, Alice Feiring, go for it. In perhaps the only city on earth where the maître d’s are ruder than the hosts at Babbo or Sparks Steakhouse, Alice your-table-is-waiting-right-this-way Feiring, Tracie B, and I ended up at Racines in the picturesque Passage des Panoramas at the end of the night a few weeks ago while we were in town for gigs with NN+.

Above: The first wine we drank at Racines was this entirely stinky, cloudy, dirty, oxidized Chenin Blanc by winemaker Eric Callcut, who calls it “The Picrate,” which I imagine is a reference to the picric acid. I imagine that picrate tastes like saltpeter since it is used in explosives but I didn’t get a gunpowdery note on this wine. Thoughts?

Between her popular blog Appellation Feiring and her wine-memoir/manifesto The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, there is no denying that Alice is one of the wine writing world’s boldface names — whether you agree with her radical positions or you find yourself diametrically opposed to them (there’s really no middle ground with her, which is something we all love about her). But in Paris, she is considered a primissima donna and Tracie B and I were thrilled to be her companions: the toast of the Parisian natural wine circuit seemed to bow before her as if in audience with the queen.

Above: The charismatic owner, Pierre, already enjoyed quite a following even before Food & Wine called Racines “Paris’s hottest winebar.”

As it turns out, owner Pierre Jancou’s family is from Modena, where I taught for a summer many, many moons ago for U.C.L.A. When we discovered our Emilian connection, he insisted that we taste Donato Camilli Lambrusco, which was fantastic — bright with acidity but light in the mouth. Even though we savored the minerality in every last drop of the Chenin Blanc (The Picrate, above), we agreed that the Lambrusco was the wine of the night. (Franco, I know… I know… I’m the only dude who drinks Lambrusco in Paris. That’s HOW much I love Italian wine!)

Pierre is not the only one at his restaurant that speaks Italian with an Emilian accent. His charcuterie speaks Emilian dialect, too, and the lardo melted sumptuously in the mouth, with the natural fruit of the Lambrusco slicing through its liquid fat like a serrated ravioli cutter on a Sunday morning. I ate blood pudding (below) and beets as my main course (just to keep things light). Tracie B and Alice split the sole, which was also excellent if pricey.

Above: The artisanal and natural qualities of Pierre’s food really stood out in the blood pudding and beets. His radically natural ingredients brought a balance and lightness to a dish you would otherwise expect to be gut-splittingly heavy. I ate every last morsel.

For someone who once performed “One Night in Paris” at the Paris Paris nightclub in Paris (yes, it’s true), this was one night in Paris that I will never forget.

Friends in High Places

Life’s coincidences are funny, aren’t they? The lead singer of my band (Nous Non Plus) Céline Dijon (aka Verena Wiesendanger) knows Peter Ruggie (right), who works for Henriot, because his wife’s dad and her dad are old friends. She knows Babbo’s wine director Peter Jamros (left) because he’s dating one her best friends.

Céline was in town to celebrate the birthday of her beau, Patrick Woodcock, former member of the French band Air and the founder of Mellow.

Among other libations, we enjoyed a bottle of non-vintage Henriot rosé. It’s nice to have friends in high places…