The best seared foie gras ever (and an interesting discussion of Boccioni)

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Above: The best seared foie gras I’ve ever had, last night at Tesar’s in the Woodlands (Houston). Chef Tesar sears it so aggressively that the outside is charred while the inside becomes gelatinous. Before searing it, he studs it with a vanilla bean. Paired with Château Les Justices 2005 Sauternes, served by the glass by my friend Scott Barber, top sommelier AND art historian.

My line of work brings me into contact with some pretty interesting folks.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed down from Dallas toward Houston and met cousins Joanne and Marty at the relatively new and much-talked-about Tesar’s Modern Steak and Seafood in the Woodlands. Chef John Tesar is one of those young buck celebrity chefs who’s done it all: New York, Vegas, the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas (the most ostentatious city in the world)… And now he’s branched out on his own with a high-end namesake restaurant.

My friend sommelier Scott Barber had been raving about the food and man, I gotta say (and ya’ll know I don’t say this lightly), the food was kick-ass good.

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Above: Mediterranean-style octopus can be harder to prepare than it looks. Scott agreed that the secret (after tenderization) is patience: it simply takes a long time to achieve the desired tenderness. It was off-the-charts good, I gotta say.

But the star of the evening last night was Umberto Boccioni. Before getting into wine, Scott studied art history in Italy. The funny thing: neither of us were into wine at the time, but we both lived and studied in Italy during the same period (literature and paleography in my case). He has seen my post the other day where I incorporated one of my favorite Boccioni paintings, “La rissa in galleria” (“The Riot in the Galleria”).

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Above: The fetishization of beef. One of the signature dishes at Tesar’s is “side-by-side” where you taste grain-fed and grass-fed beef side-by-side. One could argue until one is black and blue in the face about which is better!

Boccioni is such an interesting painter and his work is fraught with tension — historical and aesthetic. I was THRILLED that someone appreciated the reference and why I made it. Our conversation drifted to the significance, cultural and sociological, of the painting’s backdrop, the Galleria of Milan, the famed 19th-century domed arcade of the Lombard capital. Marty pointed out that the Galleria lent its name and its arched dome to Houston’s consumerist mecca, the Houston Galleria.

But I digress… Food and wine are just a pretext to discuss aesthetics, no?

Tesar’s is not cheap but it really delivered: would you like a little Boccioni with your Fixin?

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Above: The 2004 Fixin by Mortet showed gorgeous, unexpected acidity and paired swimmingly well with house-made garganelli tossed with Parmigiano Reggiano and grated black truffles.

Thanks again, Joanne and Marty, for a wonderful dinner. And thanks again, Scott, for the Boccioni and the Fixin!

In other news…

The best news is that today I’m headed home to that super fine lady of mine… This lonely heart’s been away two days too long!

Yesterday, driving in the rain from Dallas to Houston, “Heard it in a Love Song” by Marshall Tucker Band came on. Man, what an awesome song. Can’t be wrong…

White Nero d’Avola? Come again?

From the “life could be worse” department…

Last night found me off duty after an afternoon of appointments in Houston. So I met up with cousins Marty and Joanne and Aunt Lillian at Marty’s favorite restaurant Tony’s. Marty and Joanne are regulars there and are close with owner Tony Vallone, who always sends something special over to their table. Last night’s special treat was sautéed sea urchin tossed with mushrooms, tomatoes, and long noodles.

Sommelier Jonathan Hoenefenger paired the dish with Tony’s house white: a Nero d’Avola vinified as a white wine (Tony is Siculo-American). Frankly, I had never heard of such a thing (and neither had Italian Wine Guy when I asked him about this morning on my way back from Houston). In my experience, vanity bottlings like this rarely deliver more than novelty, but this wine was fresh, with bright acidity and minerality, and a surprising tannic note that found a worthy dance partner in the tender, meaty bits of urchin.

With our main course, we opened Quintarelli’s 1999 Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (an IGT for you DOC/DOCG/PDO/PGI buffs and a great example of how some of Italy’s greatest wines are not DOCGs). Man, this wine was killer: still a baby in the bottle, tannic and rich, with a seductive chewy mouthfeel, excellent with my Brooklyn-style thick cut pork chop. And the price was unexpectedly reasonable.

We took Aunt Lillian home (she’s 94) and retired to Marty and Joanne’s place, where we discussed Parzens and Levys, bubbies and zaidis, and even indulged in a little talmudic banter (Marty’s a law professor, after all).

Thanks, again, Joanne and Marty, for a wonderful evening!

Life could be worse, couldn’t it?

Unforgettable: James Burton at the Continental Club, Austin, TX

From the “Nebbiolo meets the Hag” department…

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Above: THE LEGENDARY JAMES BURTON has played on more of my favorite albums and tracks than I can count. Check out his discography here. Last night’s show at the Continental Club in Austin was one of the most amazing experiences of my life… literally… We had a blast. Photo by Tracie B.

It’s all thanks to my cousin Marty, who gave my number to Joe Pat, who used to be the wine director at Tony’s in Houston, where Marty is a regular (“John Kerry could be in the house,” said Joe Pat, “and if something was wrong with Marty’s salad, Tony would drop everything to take care of it.”) After taking a glance at my blog, Joe Pat knew what kind of music I liked: “The Hag and Barbaresco are two great things,” he once wrote me in an email (before we met last night), referring to Merle Haggard, “and why are there more references about wine in country music than all genres combined.” Friday, Joe Pat called me to tell me that James Burton was playing at the Continental Club in Austin, one of the greatest American honky tonks (in my humble opinion).

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Above: James Burton is the father of a style of guitar playing called “chicken pickin.” A special gauge (thickness) of strings is used to allow the player to bend the strings easily with the middle, ring, and little fingers, while s/he holds a pick in between the thumb and index finger.

He opened his set with “Las Vegas” by Gram Parsons — the opening notes are one of his most famous riffs. What followed was a string of “hits”: he played everything from Ricky Nelson to Elvis and Merle Haggard, and everything in between, all the unforgettable riffs and solos that took some of the greatest songwriting and performances from A to A+. The number that moved me the most was “I am a Lonesome Fugitive” by Merle Haggard: if you’ve never heard it, check it out and you’ll see/hear why his guitar playing is so important in terms of how it shaped popular music in this country.

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Above: Isn’t she gorgeous? I am simply the luckiest guy in the world to have found her. I mean, she is the sweetest girl in the world and she LOVES her some James! And she can cook… AND she can speak Italian! ;-)

Man, I love this town and I love that girl for bringing me here!

We’re heading out to a day at the Austin City Limits music festival…

Happy Sunday ya’ll!