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.


A bottle of red, a bottle of white… some things never change in La Jolla

Before heading up to Los Angeles this week to work at Sotto where I curate the wine list, I stopped in my hometown of La Jolla, California, to have dinner with father Zane who was in from Indiana visiting my brothers down there. We decided to go to Carino’s Pizza on La Jolla Boulevard, a restaurant where the décor has not changed since 1971, when the current owner bought the joint and when my family moved to Southern California from Chicago (Remember when Annie Hall moves to LA eats in a vegetarian restaurant, smokes pot and uses black soap? That’s essentially what happened.) The place looks like a movie set and is still adorned by murals of Mt. Vesuvius.

The food at Carino’s is nothing to write home about. But then again, I was at home. I hadn’t been there in literally 16 years. The antipasto was exactly as I remembered it. Over breakfast the next morning mama Judy said, “honey, I hate to tell you this, but you smell like garlic. You should do something about that before you start your day,” she added. I guess it’s the kinda food that “sticks with you.”

Carino’s has a moderate corkage fee of $8 and so I brought this excellent bottle of 09 Toni Jost Riesling that my buddy Jesse sold me. I’ve been drinking a lot of Riesling this summer (and posting about it over at the Houston Press blog, Eating Our Words).The wine was bright and delicious, with a wonderful 12% alcohol. Great pairing for the antipasto.

The pizza hasn’t changed either. We had the peperoni with jalapeños.

I popped a bottle of 05 Benanti Nerello Mascalese from Etna, Sicily. This has been one of my favorite red wines this year: earth and black and red and berry fruit, with bright bright acidity, and that wonderful balance of elegance, lightness, and power that you find in the pharmacist’s wine (Benanti made his fortune in pharmaceuticals before becoming a winemaker).

Zane doesn’t drink red wine, so he didn’t have any.

He talked to me about the usual subjects: his expertise in aerophysics and the recordings arts, Israeli politics, and his legacy as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Some things never change… Es muss sein…

La Jolla brunch and new Parzen family member Daisy

Brunch at the Pannikin in La Jolla is a sleepy beach town classic. So yummy…

Bagels and lox, California style.

Parzen family welcomes new member Daisy, a rescue. That’s niece Amalia and brother Tad with Daisy. Amalia gave her her name.

Tracie P and I just had to stop for something sweet on our way back to the beach at Michele Coulon Dessertier, who made our wedding cake.

Did I mention that I LOVE BEING ON VACATION. We’re gonna take a nap now… yum…

A fav guitar: Fender ’62 reissue blonde olympic white Stratocaster

That’s my Fender ’62 reissue blonde olympic white strat with mint-green pick guard, one of my favorite guitars. The photo was taken a few years ago when I was playing with NN+ in New York. And yes, that’s a fake black-eye: we all dressed as injured tennis players for that particular Halloween show. ;-)

I’ll be playing that axe tomorrow night with my new Americana group the Grapes at Zenbu in La Jolla through my brother’s Fender Twin.

Owned by my highschool friends the Rimels, Zenbu is one of me and Tracie P’s all-time fav places for sushi. Hope to see you there! Should be a fun time. We start around 9 p.m…

The Grapes at Zenbu (La Jolla) Thurs. Sept. 2

Just a quick post this busy Friday morning to let ya’ll know that my band The Grapes will be playing in La Jolla at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Zenbu.

We’ll be rocking some old-school Americana, roots, and blues, with a touch of British invasion — featuring my BFF John Yelenosky on his fav Kinks tunes and me on my fav Beatles. Justin Richert, another high school buddy, will be sitting in on lap steel (!!!).

The show is free and the sushi can’t be beat…

Hope to see you there!

Buon weekend, ya’ll!


wedding cakes

Just had to add these photos quickly before we head out for the next adventure: we had a great lunch at Michele Coulon Dessertier, who created our wedding cake earlier this year. Most people think of her café purely for dessert, but her savory menu is FANTASTIC. All of her ingredients sourced for local growers, like the salad above, most of which came from San Diego’s famed Chino Farms.

wedding cakes

We try to eat at Michele’s every time we’re in La Jolla.

wedding cakes

Every time we visit Michele, it brings back such a great memory of our wedding cake! :-)

Now it’s time to get dressed up and head south…

Eating our way through California

california tomatoes

Above: Top Italian wine writer Mr. Franco Ziliani (possessor of a palate I admire immensely) likes to tease me (rightly) about how I’m so crazy for the wines of Piedmont, I’ll even drink Barolo in the middle of the “scorching hot” Texas summer (and believe me, it’s been a hot one in Texas this year!). Well, yesterday I quit the California dreaming and did me some serious California eating! Those are tomatoes from Chrissa and Dan’s garden.

grilled marlin

Grilled marlin, scallops, and shrimp for lunch with client and new friend Mike K at the classic ol’ San Diego downtown eatery Dobson’s. (Thanks again for lunch, man!)

baker and olive

Savory San Diego Bread and Cie bun with locally sourced olive oil from Baker and Olive, and Fra’ Mani salame at epicurean Chrissa and Dan’s place (a truly yummy locus amoenus their house is!).

california produce

Dan’s excellent heirloom tomato salad, sourced from their garden (what’s the name of the Polish cultivar?).

california sushi

Late-night sushi at Miso Harney sushi in Old Town (they serve until 12 a.m.!) after Tracie P got in from Austin (I got in the day before). Geared for a young crowd, Miso Harney is a great place for later-in-the-night super fresh San Diego sushi and an SD-restaurant-industry fav.

california traffic

Of course, there’s also the California summer traffic to contend with. Ugh… Not so bad though, considering the view!

I bet you’re gonna like where we’re headed today… Stay tuned… It’s a special one…

Debut of my new band THE GRAPES (and New England giant bluefin tuna)

From the “man cannot live by wine alone” department…

Above: The Grapes, me on guitar and vox, Andrew Harvey drums, John Yelenosky guitar and vox, and Jon Erickson bass and vox. We’ll be playing our first gig in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

We named our new country-rock band “The Grapes” after the legendary Liverpool pub where the Beatles used to hang out (Vinogirl can verify this).

We’ll be performing for the first time at one of my favorite sushi restaurants in the world, Zenbu in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

Above: When I visited Zenbu the other night, owners Matt and Jackie Rimel (high school friends of mine) shared some lightly seared New England giant blue fin tuna belly with me. All of the fishes are fished individually by harpoon, Matt told me, so as not to harm dolphins. Matt is one of the most interesting dudes I know in the restaurant business and has hunted and fished and surfed all over the world. Zenbu is a unique sushi experience. Tracie P and me love it.

We’ll be bringing a little country music to the Pacific Coast with some tunes by Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm and the Tex Mex Trip, Gram Parsons (de rigueur), and some rockers like Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie.

I hope you can join us. There might even be some interesting bottles of wine being opened that night!

In other news…

Did I mention that I’ve wanted to be a cowboy all my life? Found this photo while visiting mama Judy in La Jolla over the weekend (taken at Hebrew school in Chicago).

One last note on Giacosa Asili 07 from Antonio Galloni (and the complete wedding album online)

From the department of “wine geekery”…

Above: I wish words could convey Bruno’s bright smile that day and the pleasure he seemed to take in tasting and talking about his wines with Franco, Tracie P, and me. Photo by my better half.

One last note that I wanted to share, for the record, culled from emails I traded yesterday with one of the wine writers I admire most and one of the greatest English-language authorities on the wines and winemakers of Piedmont, Antonio Galloni (who also happens to be an extremely nice guy).

His comments speak to Bruno’s observation that you could “smell Asili” in the 2007 Asili white label bottling (even in the light of the fact that the wine was made predominantly from grapes sourced from a parcel previously classified as Rabajà).

“Because of the freakish growing season in 2007 that you describe,” i.e., with an extremely mild winter and consequently anticipated vegetative cycle, wrote Antonio, “the 2007 Asili white label does actually reflect a lot of that vineyard’s characteristics, even if it is 80% juice from Rabajà.”

He also pointed me to this passage, lifted from his October 2009 tasting notes: “Curiously, the 2007 Asili is a very soft wine, considering it is made mostly from vines that informed such majestic Rabajas as the 2001 and 2004.”

All of us present at the tasting a week ago Sunday were impressed with how approachable the wine was. And Bruno’s observation, “you can smell Asili in this wine,” was significant, indeed, especially in the light of the unusual vintage and the reclassification of the Barbaresco cru system. Antonio noted that in the wake of the reclassification, “you will soon see a host of new, single-vineyard bottlings from places you probably never knew existed.”

Food — or grapes, as the case may be — for thought.

Thanks again to Ken for asking me to look more carefully at Bruno’s observation and thanks to Antonio for his truly invaluable insights.

In other news…

It will remain one of the great mysteries in the history of humankind: how did a schlub like me end up with a beauty like Tracie P née B?

The complete wedding album is online here. Thanks again to Jennifer and CJ for an amazing job!

And thanks to my gorgeous bride Tracie P: words could never express the happiness and joy that you have brought into my life, an endless Valentine, every night when I kiss your sweet lips good night and when they greet me in the morning. I love you so very much… What a miracle you are!

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…