Nothing like a little Nazi ass kickin’

tarantino

If you grew up like I did, going to Hebrew school three times a week in La Jolla (twice during the week after school and then on Saturday for synagogue services) and the mandatory two hours of Holocaust studies per week (along with Hebrew language and bar mitzvah prep) and the countless field trips to the Holocaust museum in Los Angeles, then you have probably suffered from the same Holocaust anxiety that I did as a young kid.

So when Tracie B and I were deciding how to celebrate the one-year anniversary of our first date, she took the reins and said, “after the week my man’s had, I think he could use him a little Nazi ass-kickin'” and treated me to a screening of Tarantino’s new film Inglourious Basterds, about a group of Jew commandos sent behind enemy lines to kill Nazis toward the end of the second world war.

I’ve read a lot of disappointed reviewers who say the movie is not “violent enough” and lacks the thriller elements of his other films. And they might be right.

But a closer look at the film reveals that it is not a roman d’aventure (story of adventures) but rather an aventure de romans (adventure of stories): the film is a seamlessly woven fabric of allusions to nearly all the great war movie genres and beyond, with the Spaghetti Western as the frame that holds all the elements together. The conceit of the “cinema that kills” was entirely brilliant.

Tracie B pointed that in my endorsement of the film I am contradicting my credo that there can be no good Holocaust movie with a happy ending. But I counter saying the story is a fantasy and is exaggerated caricatures underline its basis as an oneiric and purely filmic tale. But I don’t want to ruin the dénounement

I do wonder if the e in Tarantino’s basterds is akin to Derrida’s a in differance. Does anyone know the derivation?

Ironically, on this day, one year from our first date, when I boarded a plane and came to visit her for the first time in Austin, I said goodbye to Tracie B today: I’m at the airport headed to California for business and to catch up with a few friends.

I promise: more wine tomorrow (and probably some good stuff, considering where I’m heading) but thank you for indulging me today in a little Nazi ass kickin’… It’ll do a body good every once in a while.

Natural wine with a capital N: 91 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant

Above: What is natural wine? The question of what it is (and what it isn’t) is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of wine blogging and punditry today. No one would deny, however, that Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant is natural wine. The 1991 was fantastic the other night.

Things have been so crazy lately — between “keeping the world safe for Italian wine” (check out this recent post I translated for VinoWire) and hawking wine in California (hey, Alder, there are wine bloggers who start wine clubs and are proud to attach their names to them!). So crazy that I neglected to post about a very special bottle of wine — 1991 Coulée de Serrant — that Tracie B and I opened to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks ago.

Above: I had packed the bottle in a thermal bag (recycled from my mom’s annual mother’s day gift of gravlax from Barney Greengrass) with an ice pack and stashed it my suitcase and brought it back from La Jolla to Austin. The sturdy wine held up well — not surprisingly.

Where did we find this bottle? In this most unlikely of places: La Jolla’s oldest luxury hotel, located on Prospect, in the heart of downtown, La Valencia (often pronounced lah vah-LEHN-chah by locals), affectionately known as “The Pink Lady” or “La V.” A good friend and fellow wine dude had mentioned that he found the wine on the list, which is otherwise dominated by flights and flights of big, oaky California Cabernet. Tracie B and went in there a few months ago at the end of the night and convinced the current sommelier to sell it to me (I have to say it was a steal for a Joly that old).

Above: At Trio, chef Todd Duplechan prepares shishito peppers the same way that padrón peppers are served in Spain. The pepper is not spicy but tangy and moreish, as the British might say.*

As it turns out, I recently became friends on Facebook with the sommelier who put that wine on the list at La V, Dustin Jones, who now reps for Fourcade and Hecht. “It was definitely a hand sell,” he wrote me, “and a tough one at that, the fact that 6 bottles were put in inventory and they still have it suggests that this is not a wine that sells itself!” One man’s esoterica turned out to be our golden Chenin treasure: Tracie B and I were thrilled to get to taste an older Joly and it didn’t disappoint.

Above: We shared our 91 Coulée de Serrant with sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd, who surprised us with this special dessert for the occasion. Mark is without a doubt the top sommelier in Austin and so whenever I have something really special that we want to open away from home, I take it to him. Mark and I are good friends but whenever you BYOB, you should always remember to share a glass with your sommelier.

The wine had bright acidity and nuanced fruit on the nose and in the mouth and it showed a caramel note that Tracie B attributed to the winery’s practice of letting botrytis form on the grapes. (Remember her post on our visit there?) No one would question the “natural wine” street cred of Joly and Joly’s approach to winemaking proves over and over again how natural winemaking can deliver remarkably delicious wines with remarkable aging ability.

Above: We had so much fun that night at Trio and Mark and Todd made such a special dinner for us. Even I feel handsome when I’m standing next to the beautiful Tracie B. Who wouldn’t?

In the wake of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit, a few folks have written me pointing out that not every wine we poured at the event would be considered a “natural wine” by everyone. I’ve even heard from some of the most authoritative voices in the field. I’m beginning to believe that the notion of “Natural Wine” (with a capital N) is more of an ideology and an attitude about living, eating, and drinking than a set code of self-imposed regulations. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with Kermit Lynch, who, when I asked him about this, told me: “Before I find out how the wine is made, I taste it, and if I like it then I ask about the winemaking.”

Can a wine taste “natural” even if some elements of vinification go against natural winemaking dogma?

* Of food or drink: that makes one want to have more (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).

Bats! Bats! Bats! And awesome 2001 Inferno

From the “this blew my mind” department…

Last night Tracie B and I were the guests of the lovely LeVieux family, whose daughter-in-law Laura and I grew up together in La Jolla. They live in Austin in a high-rise on Lady Bird Lake (which until recently was called Town Lake and isn’t a lake at all but rather a bend in the Colorado River).

I had heard about the famous Austin bats that emerge every night at dusk but I had never seen them. Wow… bats! bats! bats! They put on quite a show last night — even for those at the dinner party who consider themselves veteran bat spectators.

Watch the videos and you’ll see.

Mrs. LeVieux made her excellent Julia Child osso buco and so I brought a bottle of 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore Inferno, which sang in the glass. We’re at the peak of summer temperatures here in Austin and so we served it at cellar temperature. Its tannins were masculine yet gentle, its fruit voluptuous, a fantastic more-mineral-than-earthy expression of Nebbiolo.

The osso buco was tender and fell off the bone and the gelatinous marrow paired superbly with the rich but light-in-the-mouth wine.

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday to everyone!

How I stay so thin

From the “just for fun” department…

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES FOLLOW!

jeremy parzenPeople ask me all the time how I stay so thin when I work in the food and wine industry and indulge — perhaps too often — in the hedonist pleasures of eating and drinking.

Yesterday, after the nth photo of a Jaynes Burger (my favorite dish at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego) appeared on my blog, Tom G commented and noted: “You need a dietician, you return to Cali and go for the Burger and fries in the land of fresh fish and veggies, better lay off that Chicken fried steak for a week. I also think you need an extra dose of red wine.”

Tom, thanks for the comment and for the genuine concern. Unfortunately, Tracie B and I are headed to Dallas for a Saturday evening and lazy Sunday of unusual wines and chicken fried steak “prepared with native yeasts” by Italian Wine Guy. So, the diet will have to wait until next week.

Above: Cake tasting for our wedding celebration in La Jolla. Tracie B wondered out loud: “wouldn’t it be great if you could spit at a cake tasting the way we [wine professionals] spit at a wine tasting?”

In fact, I do pay attention to my health (that’s me, above left, on tour with Nous Non Plus in May, poolside in San Jose before the show; Tracie B and I got engaged the next night after the show in LA!).

Above: On an account call in Arkansas for lunch, I asked our waiter for the restaurant’s “signature” dish and she brought me Frito Pie. Sometimes, as a food and wine professional, you find yourself in situations where you have to make unfortunate food choices and so it’s important to take care of oneself. The pie wasn’t so bad and I only ate a small portion of it. It did pair well with Primitivo.

I try to follow these simple rules:

  • I never eat when I’m not truly hungry;
  • I only eat at mealtimes, at most three times a day;
  • I never eat something that doesn’t truly appeal to me, even if I am hungry;
  • I try to eat as many leafy greens as I can;
  • I try (not as hard as I should) to stay physically active.
  • Above: California is the Golden State (not so much these days, actually, with its budget crisis) and Texas is the Lone Star State but Texas rivals California on any given Sunday for its gorgeous produce. I’ve found it’s easier to find farm-to-table produce here than in my home state and that farm-to-table isn’t limited to higher-end eateries. That’s the insalata mista at Dough Pizzeria in San Antonio.

    I do believe wholeheartedly (pun intended) that as food and wine professionals, we have a responsibility to project balance (aequitas) and good common sense in our daily lives and eating habits.

    Above: Ceviche, camaronillas, and grilled mahi mahi tacos at Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock, La Jolla (San Diego). Photo by Tracie B.

    When we go home to visit in La Jolla, Tracie B and I do tend to indulge in foods we can’t find here in Texas, Asian cuisine in particular. On this recent trip, I took mama Judy to lunch at Spicy City (an excellent Szechuan restaurant in Kearny Mesa, San Diego, highly recommended). Or the superior seafood (see above) we find at places like Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock (La Jolla) or Bay Park Fish Company on Mission Bay.

    I’m not sure what Italian Wine Guy has in store for us tonight but I know tomorrow’s “supper” will center around Kim’s (i.e., IWG’s SO’s) secret recipe for chicken fried steak.

    Stay tuned… There’s more food porn to come. Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy weekend!

    Post scriptum: with this post I’ve added a new category to Do Bianchi — de santitatis or on health.

    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:

    Gone fishin… Giant squid taco anyone?

    Above: Tracie B gave me a pair of Fender Stratocaster head-stock cuff links as an early present for my birthday this year. The last year has been one of the best of my life… Meeting Tracie B and moving to Austin… but more on that tomorrow… :-)

    Today is my birthday and so I’m taking the day off… goin’ fishin’, so to speak.

    In the meantime, I’m going to relish every last drop of anticipation for the 1999 Barbaresco Santo Stefano by Giacosa that Tracie B is treating me to tonight to celebrate…

    In other news… holy giant squid taco Batman!

    In all my years growing up in La Jolla, I never saw anything like this. The video below was shot just a stone’s throw from where I lived as a kid and not far from where my mom and brother and his family live still. Amazing…

    Twister scare: you’re not in La Jolla anymore, Dorothy…

    We interrupt this wine blog to inform you that a tornado warning is in effect for Travis County

    Above: I grabbed these images from the Austin CBS affiliate site, KeyeTv.com. They were all taken not far from where Tracie B and I live.

    It was as if the extreme weather was following me: yesterday, I awoke in Dallas at Italian Wine Guy’s to one of the worst storms I’ve ever experienced. On my way to a morning tasting at the Royal Oaks Country Club, I literally saw trees fall along the road, lightening strike not far from me and Dinamite, and a flash flood that had me in a foot of water. When the emergency alerts come on over the radio, one of the things they stress is to avoid deep water because that’s how a lot of folks drown, thinking that they can make across a flooded road. You can lose control of a “standard SUV,” they say, in just 2 feet of water.

    Above: It’s not hard to understand why Texas is such a God-fearing country.

    At least one of my accounts had to cancel our appointment yesterday because the store had flooded and one of my accounts — a leading Italian restaurant in Dallas, Nonna — had to close for the evening because they had lost power: when restaurants lose refrigeration, tens of thousands of dollars of food can go wasted.

    Above: Talk about hail of “Biblical proportions”! My goodness!

    As I drove back down to Austin in the afternoon, it seemed I was driving just ahead of the storm. I picked up some pizzas and Tracie B and I hunkered down at her apartment. At a certain point, the storm hovered about a mile away from us as we watched the storm reports on the local news. At that point, tornados had been reported and the storm was heading directly toward us from the north west. We stepped outside to watch it over Ramsey Park (across the street from Tracie B’s apartment complex). It was an amazing, truly awe-inspiring, and beautiful thing to see.

    Above: I took this shot in Dallas yesterday from my car using my phone. The two cars had been washed away in a flash flood.

    We’re headed to La Jolla today, which is a good thing since triple-digit temperatures are expected today and this weekend. Tracie B and I love our life here and we are so fortunate to enjoy a life so rich with good work, good wine and food, and wonderful loving people around us — literally and virtually, out there in the blogosphere. But, man, I sure understand now why Texas is such God-fearing country!

    In other news…

    I’m in the Marines Too got married! Congratulations to Philip and ImAMarinesGirl! Tracie B and I wish you all the best and hope you can get over to Japan soon!

    In other other news…

    Tracie B and I will be dining Chez Jayne tonight. Can’t wait to taste the Terrebrune Bandol Rosé that Jon put on his list… If you’re in San Diego tonight, please stop by…

    California sweet: La Jolla won’t annoy ya…

    La Jolla won’t annoy ya
    La Mesa what a place-a
    Salinas is as keen as it can be
    You’ll feel betta in Murrieta
    Stomp your feet over Montecito
    Go insane for the lovely terrain
    Wait and see
    Think about all the fun you’ve missed
    Come on out here and get sun-kissed
    If you really wanna live and not just exist
    You better get across our old state line

    Mel Tormé
    “California Suite” (1957)

    Tracie B and I spent our first weekend back in La Jolla since I moved to Austin. The number-one-hit-song highlight was nephew Oscar’s first birthday party. The Riles-Parzen family gathered together in March, 2008, not long after he came into this world, for an “Oscar Party.” That’s brother Micah (Oscar’s dad), me, and the birthday boy (chewing on my lens cap!).

    The night we got in, we were 8 for dinner at Jaynes (where else?). The food was great and we drank a fantastic 1997 Felsina Chianti Classico riserva (on the list at a great price) with our main courses and 1985 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione courtesy of Benoit at the end of the fête.

    The 97 Felsina showed an irresistible goudron note and its fruit and acidity were great with the seared ahi tuna. Nearly a quarter century in age, the 85 Poggione was bold, beautiful, and proud — with vibrant acidity and gorgeous fruit. I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the last five years and it has never disappointed.

    Saturday afternoon found us shopping with Judy at the Asian market in Kearny Mesa, 99 Ranch Market. On her shopping list: rice noodles, preserved mandarin oranges, persimmons.

    Hot and sour wonton soup for lunch at Spicy City (4690 Convoy St Ste 107, between Engineer Rd & Opportunity Rd, San Diego, CA 92111, 858-278-1818). Also in Kearny Mesa. So good… I LOVE that place. (I used to get my pre-sbarbato highlights done at the Korean salon in the same shopping mall.)

    On Saturday night, Tracie B and I were geeked for sushi with Judy at Zenbu but we wanted to check out the “hot rock,” too. Our waiter told us it was the “biggest rock” she had ever seen. (Thinly sliced beef is cooked on the scalding hot rock.)

    I had no idea that my highschool buddy Matt Rimel, who owns Zenbu together with his lovely wife Jacky, was such a fan of Texas. He got this belt buckle there. A professional hunter, he travels to my new home state five times a year for bow hunting, he told me. He invited me to go boar hunting with him this year… I am SO there. Alfonso, you game?

    Saturday night ended with a bottle of 2006 Lunar (whole-bunch-fermented Ribolla) by Movia at Jaynes. Benoit and I decided to decant it. I’ll do a post later this week on Lunar and the story behind it. Aleš Kristančič explained to me how he makes it when my band Nous Non Plus played at his winery in April 08. It’s incredible…

    The rentacar screwed up and gave us a Mustang instead of the Pinto I had reserved. Me in a muscle car? Why not???!!! When we rolled up to the Jaynes Gastropub, martial arts instructor and bouncer at Air Conditioned next door, Alex, told me, there’s a tough guy underneath my nice-guy skin. He asked me rhetorically: “How else would you have survived so long?” Right on, brother, right on. I’m so glad I made it!

    Brooklyn Guy in da house at Bahia

    Jon and Jayne brought 2006 Sinskey Vin Gris for our dinner with Brooklyn Guy and Brooklyn Lady in La Jolla.

    When Brooklyn Guy and Brooklyn Lady sat down with me over ceviche tostadas, camaronillas (deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with shrimp), grilled mahi mahi and battered and fried pollock tacos the other night at Bahia Don Bravo the other night in Bird Rock (La Jolla), we mused about the fact that even though we’d never met, we feel like we know each other well from reading each other’s blogs and getting to know each other’s palates. As it turns out, Brooklyn Lady is from San Diego and went to high school in La Jolla like me (she at Bishops, me at La Jolla High). I was geeked to meet Brooklyn Guy (the masked man of our bloggy blog world), as were Jon and Jayne, Robin, and my wino buddy John Yelenosky. We’re all fans of his blog and we had gathered a pretty cool collection of wines for the occasion.

    The Rully was showing exceedingly well and its lightness was great with the fish tacos.

    Highlights were the 2006 Sinskey Vin Gris (brought by Jon and Jayne), a killer 2005 Rully Premier Cru Les Cloux by Jacqueson (Yelenosky), a smoking 2000 Dessilani Ghemme Riserva (my contribution, drank so friggin’ well, if I do say so myself), and not to be outdone, Brooklyn Guy showed up with a bottle of 1996 Fleury, one of his favorite grower champagnes — simply off-the-charts good.

    I ventured back into the kitchen and poured Dora a glass of the 96 Fleury.

    Brooklyn Guy, Brooklyn Lady, and I actually had a pretty heavy talk about life, relationships, and marriage. He and I had never met in person but he’s been a very generous friend, often sending me notes of encouragement and moral support when he could sense unease in my life through reading my blog. It’s one of the most amazing things about blogging: by sharing our thoughts and palates, we somehow form meaningful bonds, woven (thanks to the dynamic medium) into the human fabric of experience in an entirely new way. You might think that friendships born of blogging would be superficial, but as it turns out those ties often reveal themselves to be more significant than those forged in other spheres of our lives.

    It’s a small world after all…

    Lifeguards and tattoos, classic beachtown culture at Bahia Don Bravo in sleepy La Jolla. Roberto and Salvador have been really cool about me bringing my own wine to Bahia but we really outdid ourselves this time: I mean, come on, 1996 Fleury at Bahia???!!! Awesome… They both tasted with us, as did Dora.

    Good Stuff I’ve Been Eating in San Diego

    Have been back in San Diego for the Passover and a recharge following the epic trip to Italy and Slovenia (“Italy: Day 4” on deck for tomorrow). Heading back to NYC soon for some tastings but in the meantime, I’ve been indulging in some southern Californian classics as I rest up and get my tan on. Hey, you know, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose/Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free.”

    Had a bowl of cioppino at my favorite local fish shack, El Pescador: most food historians agree that cioppino originated in San Francisco, a local catch-of-the-day tomato-based soup probably inspired by Ligurian ciuppin (I can’t find an etymology for ciuppin but my philological intuition points me to the Latin supo supare, meaning to toss or to throw, possibly “to toss everything into the pot”?).

    Also had a smoked albacore salad. Man, that stuff is good.

    And how could my La Jollan sojourn be complete without a guacamole-bacon omelet with homemade salsa from Harry’s Coffee Shop, the old-school lunch counter stand-by since 1960 (virtually unchanged).

    In other news…

    On Friday, I caught up with my friend Marco Barat, a super-talented wine professional and local youth soccer coach, who celebrated his namesake saint’s day at the somewhat-over-the-top So-Cal-glam restaurant Pasquale in downtown La Jolla. I really dug his Lion of Venice t-shirt (above). April 25 is also Italian Liberation Day.

    The cover band at Pasquale’s did a pretty smokin’ Janis-inspired version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”

    ME & BOBBY MCGEE

    – words and music by Kris Kristofferson
    – first popularized by Roger Miller in 1969 (#12 Country hit)
    – lyrics as recorded by Janis Joplin on the 1971 album “Pearl”
    (Columbia VCK-30322)

    Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
    And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
    Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained
    It rode us all the way into New Orleans
    I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
    I’s playin’ soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah
    Windshield wipers slappin’ time, I’s holdin’ Bobby’s hand in mine
    We sang every song that driver knew, yeah

    Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
    Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no
    And feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
    You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
    Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

    From the Kentucky coal mine to the California sun
    There Bobby shared the secrets of my soul
    Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
    Yeah, Bobby baby kept me from the cold
    One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away
    He’s lookin’ for that home and I hope he finds it
    But I’d trade all o’ my tomorrows for one single yesterday
    To be holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine

    Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
    Nothin’, that’s all that Bobby left me, yeah
    But if feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
    Hey, feelin’ good was good enough for me, mm-hmm
    Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

    La-da-da La-da-da-da La-da-da da-da da-da
    La-da-da da-la-da la-da, Bobby McGee, yeah
    La-da-la-da-la-da La-da-la-da-da
    La-da-la-da-la-la, Bobby McGee, yeah
    La-da-da La-da-da La da-da La da-da
    La-da-da La da-da La da-da
    Hey, my Bobby, Lord, my Bobby McGee, yeah
    Lo-da-lo da-la-lo-da-la
    Lo-da-la-lo da-la-lo la-la-lo la-la-lo la-la
    Hey, my Bobby, Lord, my Bobby McGee, yeah