Someday Tracie B will be is now Tracie P!

tracie parzen

Photo by Alfonso.

An earthquake struck San Diego early Monday morning but Tracie P and me didn’t have anything to do with that… ;-)

bahia don bravo

How could our wedding be complete without ceviche at Bahia in Bird Rock? That’s where we had our rehearsal dinner.

bahia don bravo

Only one of the Texans present had ever had a camaronilla. Guess which one! ;-)

italian wine guy

We were geeked to share the Bahia experience with best man Alfonso and SO Kim.

tad parzen

Brother Tad gave a toast, welcoming the Branch/Johnson family to La Jolla.


Uncle Terry “preached” to the choir and welcomed me to the Texas family.

We love Bahia for the view, we love Bahia for the “ambiance,” and the food is always good. But when Dora is in the kitchen, it’s our favorite.


“De parte de tu restaurante favorito,” wrote my friend Roberto who works there, “les deseamos mucha felicidad y realmente todos estamos muy contentos por ustedes. Felicidades.”

I wrote this post on the plane. We’re in NYC on our way to Italy! Stay tuned…

Spanna 55 or 58? The answer and seals on the beach

You may remember a post from more than two years ago on a bottle of Vallana Spanna 1958 that my good buddy, wine writer and WSJ editor, Jeff Grocott and I shared for our fortieth birthdays. The wine was fantastic — fresh, with lively acidity and fruit, a real treat. Last night, I had the great fortune to pour and to taste the 1955 with our good friend and Jaynes Gastropub regular John G, who graciously tasted me, Jayne, and Jon on the wine (as we say in the wine biz, using the dative form of first person singular, for you linguist geeks). Jayne and Jon have some crazy stuff on their reserve list (be sure to ask them or me about it next time you visit) and this beauty showed gloriously. As much as I enjoyed the 58 back in New York with Jeff, I have to say that the 55 showed better (and is generally considered the slightly superior of the two spectacular vintages for Piedmont). Had it been topped off with young wine at some point? I’m sure it had. Was it recorked (and maybe even rebottled) recently? Probably not so recently, given the mold I found under the capsule. Was it a stunningly delicious wine, with vibrant fruit and acidity, and that ineffable lightness that traditional Nebbiolo attains when vinified and aged in a traditional manner? Well, I think you get the picture… If not, see the photo above.

When my shift ended, Jayne and Jon graciously let me pop a bottle of the 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by Sanguineto I had brought in my wine bag. My pairing? The Jaynes Burger, obviously. Man, I am just so crazy about this wine — a traditional, old-school expression of Sangiovese (in this case, known as Prugnolo Gentile), with smaller amounts of Mammolo and Canaiolo. Classic red fruit flavors, Nadia Comăneci balance between acidity, fruit, and tannin (Benoit, who shared the bottle with me, agreed). I’ve squirreled away another bottle to share with Tracie B (maybe over camaronillas — deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with Pacific Ocean shrimp — at Bahia Don Bravo, my lovely?) when we come back out in a few weeks for the San Diego Natural Wine Summit at Jaynes August 9. Check out the wines we’ll be pouring here.

Jumping on a plane now to get back to Tracie B in Austin (it’s been two days too long since I’ve seen her) but here’s a quick vid I shot this morning of the seals outside of mama Judy’s place in La Jolla:

Camaronillas and Cornas

Here’s a little photo essay of Sunday night 2004 Chablis by La Chablisienne and sunset and then 2001 Les Méjeans Cornas by Jean-Luc Colombo and camaronillas at Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock. Salvador and Roberto have been really cool about letting me bring my own wine and the other night they turned me on to a dish I’ve never had there: camaronillas — grilled corn tortillas wrapped around jumbo shrimp and then deep fried. The camaronillas are then dressed with shredded cabbage, lettuce, fresh salsa, shredded cheese, and a light mayonnaise sauce. Salvador explained that camaronillas is a cognate of camarones (shrimp) and quesadilla (a tortilla stuffed with cheese). Salvador said that it’s a specialty of his home state Guerrero.

Bahia was packed when we got there so we walked down to Calumet Park, broke out our stemware and 2004 Chablis by Chablisienne and watched the sunset.

The point you see in the distance is Bird Rock, the surf break that gives Bird Rock its name.

We shared a glass of 2001 Les Méjeans Cornas by Jean-Luc Colombo with this foxy lady.

Camaronillas are my new favorite dish at Bahia and they paired well with the rich Cornas. The mouthfeel of the fried shrimp, in particular, went well with the meatiness of the excellent wine.

I love Dora: she’s the chef at Bahia. She’s not there every night, but, man, when she is, look out!

Breaking (good) news: Antinori’s 03 Brunello released by Italian authorities

It’s not entirely clear what went on “behind the scenes” but Marchesi Antinori has become the first Brunello producer — of the 5 officially known to be suspected of adulteration — to announce that its 2003 Brunello will be available for sale as early as next week. Read the whole story at VinoWire.

Although the question of when Brunello producers will be given “guarantee” letters by the Italian government remains unclear (nor is it clear which arm of the government will issue said letter, now required by the U.S. government for Brunello imports), the news of Antinori’s green light seems to be a very positive step in the right direction.

I, for one, am very relieved to see that the Brunello controversy is beginning to subside and I look forward to drinking 03 Brunello by all of my favorite producers.

In other news…

Above: Grilled Mahi Mahi tacos and 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia at my favorite taco shack, Bahia Don Bravo, in Bird Rock (La Jolla), CA. Click on image for centerfold.

I finally convinced my favorite taco shack to let me bring my own wine: last night Irwin and I opened 1989 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia (white) with our grilled Mahi Mahi tacos. Irwin was really blown away by the Lopez de Heredia, noting that “there’s nothing about this wine that I don’t like.” It was showing very well, with nice acidity, nuanced fruit, and judicious alcohol — perfectly balanced.

Bahia was packed last night and we were lucky to find a table for two. Irwin really dug the Viña Tondonia, saying that it was “the best white wine I’ve ever had.” I have to say that it is one of my all-time best white wines, too.

We also drank a 2003 Vignalta Gemola, a Bordeaux-style blend made in the Euganean Hills outside Padua, where Petrarch spent the last years of his life compiling and editing his life’s work. It didn’t show as well as other bottles I’ve opened.

Bahia Don Bravo
5504 La Jolla Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-8940

No Place Like Home

After all the recent (and drastic) changes in my life, I didn’t have anywhere to attend High Holy Day services in NYC and so I decided to come home, where I spent Yom Kippur with my brother Tad, his wife Diane, their kids, and my mom Judy at Temple Beth El in La Jolla, where I had my Bar Mitzvah some twenty-seven years ago (when this now thriving congregation worshipped in the living room of a house on La Jolla Scenic Dr.).

The services were good, my fast was easy, and it was great to be with my immediate family (hadn’t spent the holidays with them in way too many a moon). Rabbi Graubart, who plays a pretty mean Havdalah service on 6-string (Yom Kippur fell on the Sabbath this year), gave a good sermon on forgiveness (citing the story of Joseph and his brothers), something the world — and my life — is in need of (both to give and to receive). We broke the fast at Tad and Diane’s, where, after dinner, I played guitar with my nephew Cole, who’s getting really really good.


Above: the view from Bahia where I grinded down on a Carne Asada Burrito with Guacamole and drank a beer with my bro Micah.

Today (Sunday), I went to one of my all-time favorite taco stands, Bahia Don Bravo on La Jolla Blvd., with my brother Micah, who, like brother Tad, is a super successful lawyer based in San Diego (he also has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Case Western).

I found this crazy site called Burritophile that lists the address and phone number etc. And I thought that I had too much time on my hands!

The weather is beautiful today (we’re about to go down to the La Jolla Cove and jump in the water) and we sat outside where we both ate Carne Asada Burritos with Guacamole and drank a Negra Modelo.

The burrito’s chopped onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and guacamole were fresh and the beef tasty. And, man, that beer tasted good as we gazed out at the water (which was looking particularly beautiful today, with different layers of blues and greens).

Life sure has been crazy lately and it’s been a really, really hard time for me. It’s good to know that some of the good things in life don’t change… like a Carne Asada Burrito and a beer on La Jolla Blvd. a few blocks from my old elementary school, Bird Rock Elementary.