Bobby Stuckey & Lachlan Patterson in Austin (Georgia’s first wine tasting!)

Bobby and Lachlan were in town yesterday hosting a luncheon at Vino Vino for their line of wines, Scarpetta, including their new Barbera del Monferrato, which we loved.

We’ve become friends after we traveled to Friuli together a few years ago and then Tracie P and I had one of our all-time favorite meals at their restaurant last year before Georgia P arrived.

Master Sommelier Bobby is the apotheosis of cool and the sweetest guy…

Chef Lachlan is the Indiana Jones of Italian restaurateurship in the U.S. His focus is intense but it never blurs his passion. The soulfulness of his cooking is never eclipsed by his celebrity. And yes, ladies, he’s single!

His riso adriatico was stunning. They had been in Dallas the day before and Alfonso posted on the lunch here. “One of the best meals of 2012,” Alfonso told me a voce.

Our good friend April Collins, their Texas broker and one of the most beloved wine professionals in the state, did a superb job orchestrating the event.

Georgia went to her first fancy wine tasting and luncheon! She was SO good and a lot of friends got to meet her for the first time.

All of the top Austin wine professionals were there. We’re lucky to be part of such a close-knit wine community.

Best meals 2011: Frasca (Boulder)

Dinner at Frasca with Tracie P in September was one of the best meals of my life… for the food, for the wine, for the fun, and for the sheer joy of sharing it all with the woman I love…

When Tracie P and I talked about one last “babymoon” before the last trimester of our pregnancy (when she can’t fly anymore), she expressed her desire to dine at Frasca in Boulder. And so on Saturday, we headed for the Rocky Mountains and one of the best meals we’ve ever had.

It’s so hard to get properly sliced prosciutto in this country and I have told Tracie P about Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s obsession with reconditioned vintage Berkel slicers and how their beveled blades make all the difference (it’s in the diffusion of the heat, Lachlan explained to me last year when we traveld in Friuli together). When our server asked us about what we wanted to eat, the first thing out of (and into) Tracie P’s mouth was: P-R-O-S-C-I-U-T-T-O!

Co-owner Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey graciously offered to select the wines for us and it was only fitting that we start with 2010 Malvasia by Venica & Venica: Lachlan, he, and I tasted the wine together last September at the winery in Collio not long after it had been harvested. We loved the spice in this vintage of Malvasia by our good friend Giampaolo Venica.

Lachlan’s frico was off-the-charts good.

Bobby surprised us with this 09 lees-aged Sauvignon Blanc by Borgo del Tiglio, a winery I’d never tasted or seen in the U.S. I love the muscular style of Sauvignon Blanc embraced by certain Friulian producers. If ever there were an international grape variety to grow in Italy, it would be Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, where winemakers can obtain sublime expressions of this aromatic grape. The 09 Tiglio had a crazy spearmint note on it and it was amazing to see this intense wine evolve over the course of the evening. (Note how Bobby decanted it for us.)

Lachlan’s cooking is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. His gnocchi had that perfect balance of substance and lightness.

His ravioli were stuffed with a “deconstructed ratatouille,” in other words, all of the ingredients of the classic French dish, but prepared separately. Again, the quality of Lachlan’s pasta is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. (Note the yellow color.)

1997 Schioppettino by Ronchi di Cialla was one of the most incredible wines we’ve drunk this year. Unbelievable minerality with this bright, fresh grapey note and under 13% alcohol. Simply incredible… It was gorgeous with Lachlan’s roast pork loin.

After dinner, Lachlan gave us a tour of the kitchen and revealed some of the secrets behind his Neapolitan pizza, served at their new pizzeria next door. Believe it or not, we actually went next door after our 3-hour dinner and ate again! I’ll post on the pizza later this week.

At certain point during our dinner, we were having so much fun that we were nearly overwhelmed by the joy of sharing food and together. Almost simultaneously, we looked into each other’s eyes and it was as if the same thought had just come to our minds at the same moment. I looked at Tracie P and told her I loved her and that it’s a miracle that we found each other: there’s no one else in the world that I could share an experience like this.

See that glimmer in her eye (as she enjoys a Sanbitter before dinner)? It makes me melt like prosciutto on her tongue…

IMHO, Frasca is the best Italian restaurant in the U.S. and you really can’t go wrong there. But it’s so much better if you go with someone you love…

There’s so much more to show and tell about our dinner in Boulder but it’ll just have to wait… Stay tuned and thanks for letting me share this special evening with you!

Friuli! Day 1: Valter Scarbolo and how he reshaped the way Americans think about Italian cuisine

Today’s post is the first in a series on my recent trip to Friuli with sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca in Boulder.

Above: Valter Scarbolo (pronounced SKAR-boh-loh), right. His family’s landmark restaurant La Frasca in the province of Udine (Friuli) helped to create a new paradigm for Italian food in the U.S. That’s Shelley Lindgren of A16 (San Francisco) and Joe Campanale of Dell’Anima (New York) in the foreground. When Valter speaks, North American restaurateurs listen intently.

Few if any Italian food and wine insiders, I’m sure, would disagree with me: the first place you need to eat when you visit Friuli for food and wine tourism is Valter Scarbolo’s La Frasca in Lauzacco (not far from Udine).

When I arrived in Friuli in mid-September, the first place my good friend Wayne took me to eat was Valter’s place. (Here’s the post I did the next day on our amazing meal.)

Above: Among other key elements to contemporary Italian cuisine in the U.S., Valter has introduced a generation of North American restaurateurs to the concept of “cult prosciutto,” in this case Prosciutto d’Osvaldo.

A note on the term frascafrasca (Italian) or frasčhe (Friulian) means simply branch. Linguistically and culinarily, it represents a wonderful instance of metonymy (“the action of substituting for a word or phrase denoting an object, action, institution, etc., a word or phrase denoting a property or something associated with it,” OED online edition). In Friuli, a frasca was a roadside stand where producers of cured meats, cheeses, and wines would set up shop to sell their wares. Some believe a branch was placed by the side of the road to draw attention to the stand, while others believe that the vendors would display their products under the shade of a branch. Of course, where wine, prosciutto, and cheese are sold, customers will want to taste with the producer. Ultimately, the term frasca began to denote (as a metonym) a place where patrons gathered to eat (there is a kinship here with the word trattoria). Today, the term is regularly used to denote a restaurant, although Valter’s venue, “La Frasca,” remains the frasca by antonomasia.

Above: One of the amazing dishes that didn’t make it into my post about dinner with Valter Scarbolo was this orzotto, a “risotto” made with barley instead of rice, chanterelle mushrooms and squab ragù.

We all (or at least some of us) remember the “Northern Italian Cuisine” revolution of the 1980s, when restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco seemed determined to expunge “Southern Italian Cuisine” from their menus. In fact, it would more properly be called “pseudo-Northern Italian Cuisine” because the true regional Italian cuisine shift toward the north didn’t take shape until the Bastianich-Batali powerhouse Babbo opened in New York City in the late 1990s.

With the rise of the Bastianich empire in the late 1990s, a new generation of high-end American diners were introduced to Friulian cuisine, first through the Istrian clan’s Frico bar in Manhattan, which I believe opened in 1996 and closed in 2007 (see Eric the Red’s 1996 review here), and then later through Frasca in Boulder, which was opened by Bobby and Lachlan in 2004 (IMHO, one of the top-five Italian restaurants in the U.S. today).

I can tell you from personal experience that both sets of restaurateurs view Valter and his restaurant (which can trace its origins back to the 1960s) as a paradigm for Italian cuisine and hospitality.

Above: The Tagliolini “San Daniele,” actually made at Valter’s using prosciutto by D’Osvaldo, which is made in Cormons, not San Daniele.

The Friulians are an industrious people. Valter is the apotheosis of that spirit and his bright personality and spirtuality express themselves in the metrics of his family’s wines, his superb cuisine, and his warm hospitality. Anyone who knows the man personally, I’m sure, would share my impression.

To know Valter is to know true Friulian gastronomy and I consider myself lucky to know both.

There are many places I’ll be taking Tracie P to dine when we go to Friuli for our vacation in February. But the first will be Valter’s Frasca.

Next up: Ronco del Gnemiz, one of my favorite Friulian wineries…

Prosciutto bloggers unite!

Just had to share this link and send some blog love over to the Prosciuttificio D’Osvaldo in Cormòns (Friuli). That’s a photo I snapped of the D’Osvaldo collection of pigs the other day when I visited with the Ponca 10 (below, later that evening on the Gulf of Trieste). I’ll be posting about D’Osvaldo and what I learned, saw, and tasted there in a few weeks (but first Tuscany and the Veneto!). Stay tuned…

How do you like those jazz hands? ;-)

Colorado Day 3 (bis): brush with celebrity at Frasca

Above: Jesse Becker of Frasca is one of Boulder’s 6 — yes, count ’em — master sommeliers. He turned me on to a fantastic Verdicchio di Matelica (Colle Stefano 2006).

Boulder is some town. By my count, there are currently 6 master sommeliers working here. The food — from the tripe tacos to the hakuri turnips — is fantastic. The air is clean, the folks friendly.

The affettati (charcuterie) at Frasca are served with a rafano (horseradish) sauce. The San Daniele prosciutto was perfectly sliced (not too thin, not too thick) and I have to say that the domestic Fra’ Mani salame toscano was very good. The grissini (bread sticks) were the best I’ve had outside of Italy.

I’ve had some amazing enogastronomic experiences in the few days I’ve been here, including a brush with food and wine celebrity: I got to taste some wine and chat with master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, whose excellent Friulian-themed restaurant Frasca just won an 08 Beard for best chef in the South West (for chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson; Bobby was also nominated for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional).

Above: no Friulian menu would be complete without a frico, in this case, a frico caldo (a warm as opposed to fried frico), made with potatoes and Friulian Montasio (cow’s milk) cheese.

Above: mandatory tuna tartare is often dull and unimaginative but Frasca’s Hawaiin Big Eye Tuna “Crudo” with Pickled Ramps and English Peas was great. The Verdicchio di Matelica (more fruit- and mineral-driven than its neighbor Verdicchio di Castelli di Iesi) made for a perfect pairing.