Fusion: Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria and smoked Texas ribeye

Last night was a night of fusions and no one was taking sides at Trio at the Four Seasons (Austin).

The first was Washington state abalone, oysters, and salmon, paired with Prosecco. Chef Todd was cooking for a Washington state wine event in one of the event spaces at the Four Seasons hotel and he sent down some of the pairings to our table at the restaurant downstairs where a friend and client had asked us to join him with a Prosecco producer.

Perhaps the most extraordinary fusion came in the guise of a Texas smoked rib-eye paired with the Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The Frappato character was powerful in the bottling we unstopped yesterday evening and the match between the bright fruit and the smokiness and fattiness of the beef was delicious.

But the most intriguing fusion came with a smile and rimless glasses. Daniele d’Anna, the current generation of the Bortolotti family of Prosecco producers. Daniele is the product of a “mixed” marriage: his father is Neapolitan and his mother Veneta. I’ve never met anyone like him: he can switch between a thick Veneto accent (familiar to me) to Neapolitan (familiar to Tracie P) on the turn of a dime. I was curious to ask him about what it’s like to live in a Veneto now dominated by the Lega Nord, the xenophobe Separatist movement.

The Lega Nord wants to secede from the Italian republic and form its own country, severing ties with central and southern Italy. Let’s just say that the Lega doesn’t look so favorably on southern Italians, their customs, mores, and life rhythms. The image from the left is taken from a bizarre Lega campaign that I saw when I was in Italy recently. “They suffered immigration,” it says. “Now they live on reservations. Think about it.” Pretty scary, huh?

I liked Daniele very much and he struck me as a highly educated, cosmopolitan, and enlightened fellow. I doubt he shares the xenophobic sentiments of his Leghisti brethren. He made an interesting point: anyone who wants to get something done in Italian politics today, he observed, needs to take sides. His girlfriend, he told me, joined the Lega so that she could run for mayor of her small town in the Veneto, Asolo (one of my FAVORITE and one of the most beautiful and historically rich places in the world). Does she share the Lega’s racist platform? No, Daniele said. She just joined the Lega as a means to an end, he explained. Do they talk about politics when she comes over to the parentals’s for dinner? No, he said with a smile, they don’t. The 31-year-old woman won the election by the way and now serves as Asolo’s mayor.

Only in Austin can a Salvadoreño (my friend and client Julio, above, left), a Methodist (Tracie P), a Jew (that’s me), and a Trevisan walk into a bar and order a Texas smoked rib-eye with a wine aged in amphora from Sicily. Sounds like a joke, but I’m here to tell you, people: it ain’t!

Buon weekend, ya’ll!

There’ll be more posts from my recent Italy trip coming up next week. Stay tuned…

Happy Thanksgiving (and some culinary anamorphism)

ginger bread

Details from the Ginger Bread Charity Diorama at the Four Seasons Hotel, Austin, Texas. Photos by Tracie B.

Maybe it’s the little boy in me… I’ve always been fascinated with culinary anamorphism — a cultural phenomenon whereby food is refashioned to resemble something else, edible or otherwise.

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The tradition of fashioning food to look like buildings stretches back to the Renaissance. One of the most famous examples is torrone nougat: on the occasion of the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza, October 25, 1441, the bride and groom were presented with a nougat replica of the city’s church bell tower, the so-called Torrione (today known as the Torrazzo) from which the sweet derived its name.

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Another such example from recent memory is Abe Lebewohl’s depiction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers, fashioned out of chopped liver from the Second Avenue Deli.

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The Art of Cooking by fifteenth-century Italian chef Maestro Martino (which I translated for UC Press, 2005) offers many examples of culinary anamorphism, mostly for the sake of recreating milk and eggs on days when they were forbidden by the Catholic church.

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Last night Tracie B had to drag me away from the ginger bread diorama in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin. Our good friend chef Todd Duplechan oversees the creation and construction of this wondrous little city. Each edifice is auctioned off for charity (last year, a celebrity loved it so much, she paid for it to be recreated and reassembled in Las Vegas, “just so she could show how cool Austin is,” said chef Todd).

Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!

Sublime: tuna tartare, avocado, and Soave

From the “life could be worse” department…

The acidity and minerality in the 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and the rich flavors of raw tuna and fresh avocado made for a sublime pairing the other night at the happy hour at Trio, the steakhouse at the Four Season in Austin. When I’m not on the road hawking wine (mostly in San Antonio and Dallas these days), you’ll often find me there, hanging with my buddies chef Todd Duplechan and wine director Mark Sayre (Mark just passed the third level of his Master Sommelier. Right on man!).

Believe me, the wine trade isn’t always as glamorous and fun as it sounds but it’s kinda cool when you get to rep a wine like the Suavia (which I do).

Above: That’s where the grapes are grown. I visited Suavia in Soave Classico in April after Vinitaly.

Today, I’m heading to an “undisclosed location” in Arizona for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss.

Tracie B will be meeting up with me tomorrow in San Francisco and then we’ll head to Napa where we’ll be tasting at some of the wineries the company I work for represents in Texas. I am exhausted after three days on the road hawking some excellent wines from Friuli but, honestly, life sure could could be worse.

The highlight of our trip will be the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting in San Francisco and the winemakers dinner the night before.

I’m posting from the Austin airport and I gotta run to make my plane. Stay tuned…

Nebbiolo Super Freak: gulf oysters and Produttori del Barbaresco


It’s a very kinky pairing/the kind you don’t bring home to mother…

In Italian you say, ti tolgo il saluto, literally, I withdraw my greetings from you.

I imagine that’s what Franco will say to me tomorrow at the Vini Veri tasting when he learns that Tracie B and I paired Nebbiolo with oven-fired gulf oysters last night.

Since I moved to Texas last year, gulf oysters have become something of an obsession. I’ve always been a fan of the mollusk but I never thought the shucked shellfish of New York and Long Island could be beat. That lasted until I tasted my first gulf oyster in New Orleans last month.

Above: Coalminer Mark, aka Mark Sayre, aka “the best sommelier in Austin” serves 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco by the glass at happy hour at Trio, the excellent steakhouse in the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. The wine list is killer, the comfort food appetizers menu is yummy, the prices are right, and the valet parking is FREE! Run, don’t walk.

The 2007 harvest in Langa was a classic vintage and will potentially be a great one, probably similar to 96, 01, and 04 in its profile. The 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco was showing handsomely last night and I cannot conceal that I am ENTIRELY geeked someone in Austin is doing it by-the-glass at a happy hour price. Wine director Coalminer Mark of the Four Seasons and the San Diego Kid might just have to bury the hatchet.

Above: Tracie B’s boss Jon Gerber served raw gulf oysters at his annual “Shuck and Suck Crawfish Boil,” a yearly blow-out party, benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

Nebbiolo and spicy, oven-fired gulf oysters? An unconventional pairing to say the least, but the freshness of the Langhe Nebbiolo and its lighter body and acidity was delightful with savory oyster and chorizo that adorned its silky surface. Hey, Franco, call me a Super Freak… ;-) I’ll see you tomorrow in Isola della Scala.

In other news…

The Italian wine trade fairs start today and I’m about to get on a plane for Venice. Stay tuned: next post from Italia…