A16 still rocking it big time (and an awesome Gaglioppo rosé)

Above: A16 was opened in 2004 and continues to stand apart even after eight years on the cutting edge. On Saturday night, with the restaurant packed to the gills, the margherita pizza — a litmus test for any Italian restaurant — was exceptional.

One of the things that impressed me the most about my trip to San Francisco last week was the complete and utter across the board professionalism of the food and wine professionals I met with.

Even though you’ll find some of the greatest expressions of American and pseudo-European gastronomy in New York and Los Angeles, there is no U.S. city — in my view — that can rival the confluence of world-class service and informed, intelligent, and thrilling wine and food that you find in San Francisco.

When I visited A16 on Saturday night, I was greeted at the door by wine director and owner Shelley Lindgren, who was holding a tray with three spritzers on it.

In the bustle of this high-profile restaurant at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, a guest proceeded to brush by her, knocking the tray to the floor and the cherry-red spritzers all over Shelley’s white pants. Without missing a beat, Shelley looked up and smiled at the guest, who was mortified. She told her, “o please don’t worry about it! It’s no problem at all! Please enjoy your dinner.”

There are many reasons why A16 continues to pack them in every night. And this is just one of them.

Above: I was so geeked to taste this rosé from Gaglioppo, a wine that I’d been reading about all summer on Shelley’s Facebook. Friggin’ delicious… and a perfect pairing with my pizza.

I owe so much to Shelley. When she opened A16 back in 2004, she was the first wine director in the U.S. to offer her guests an exclusively southern Italian wine list. At that time, no one thought it could be done. Naysayers would ask: what are you going to do about white wine? what about sparkling wine? where are you going to source all the wine you need? and what about wines for your reserve list?

A lot has changed since then. There is a lot more southern Italian wine available in the U.S. today and more and more producers of fine wines from regions like Campania and Basilicata and Calabria are finding their way to the U.S. market.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that Shelley’s work has had a lot to do with this new wave of southern Italian wine in Italy. And there’s no doubt in my mind that her legacy made it possible for me to create my dream list at Sotto in Los Angeles.

“You know,” I said to her jokingly when she visited our table, “one of the reasons why I’m here is so that I can poach wines from your list.”

“That’s what it’s here for,” she told me, “that’s what it’s all about.”

Chapeau bas, Shelley. In my book, you are a model of food and wine professionalism.

Stay tuned: David Lynch’s new St. Vincent is on deck for tomorrow…

Mini-vertical of Gravner: it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it

Shelley treated the group to a mini-vertical of Gravner last night at Borgo Comello, a wonderful trattoria in Farra d’Isonzo (Gorizia). Be sure to ask owner Claudio Comello about wines not listed.

We rarely see Gravner red wines in the U.S. and so I was entirely geeked for this: the 98 was friggin’ AMAZING, so light in body but rich in aroma (goudron and earth) and flavor (dark berry fruit).

Thanks, Shelley! You rock!

Ex libris: books that have come across my desk

Truth be told, I don’t really have a desk (although, happily, that will be changing soon!). For the last year and a half, my office has been the Butler (Columbia U) and New York Public Libraries, the La Jolla and Marina del Rey Libraries, and a mixed bag of airport lounges and Starbucks. Here are some books that have come across my virtual desk this holiday season. (Click on the images for Amazon links.)

Puglia: a Culinary Memoir is the most recent entry in a wonderful series of regional Italian cookbooks published by my friend Polly Franchini in New York (I’m currently translating Venice). I really liked the narrative feel of this cookery book and the excellent translation by Natalie Danford is fluid and natural. The regional Italian cookery fad has been around for some time now (since the late 1990s) and while so many celebrity chefs have tried to hang their hat on the Italian regional mantle, few can deliver the way that Italian authors can: look to Maria Pignatelli’s recipes for truly authentic Apulian fare.

It’s never too late to save the world from Parkerization: my close friend Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Love and Wine or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, has appeared at Do Bianchi a number of times since it was released earlier this year. I can’t recommend this polemical book highly enough: this is required reading for anyone and everyone ready to cast off the yoke of Parkerized and reified consumerist hegemony (the rhetoric is Gramscian here).

Check out this post on Alice and her book by Craig Camp at Wine Camp: a Points-Free Zone.

You wouldn’t think there would be anything polemical about the industrious Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino’s most recent book, A Year of Wine, but there is: Tyler has anointed himself as the caped crusader devoted to exposing the often obscene carbon footprint of marketing-driven wines. Even in this primer for the neophyte wine enthusiast, he devotes ample space to the environmental impact of wine and wine consumption. I really liked the innovative format of this book: Tyler leads the reader through the year’s seasons of wine, with useful tips for how to decipher the choreography of wine service and how to pair and drink in an informed and intelligent manner.

I must confess that I am a little conflicted about including this last book, A16 Food + Wine, in my round-up. A16 is a great San Francisco restaurant and Jayne and Jon and I had a wonderful time when we ate there in October. It’s really two books: the first part is an excellent introduction to the wines, grapes, and winemaking traditions of southern Italy, by SF sommelier Shelley Lindgren, who blew the minds of the wine world when she launched an all-southern-Italian list in 2004 (the two exceptions are two of my favorite sparklers, Puro by Movia and Lambrusco by Lini). Her contribution to Italocentric vinography is perhaps the first comprehensive English-language survey of southern and insular Italy. It will reside proudly in the reference section of my new desk.

The second part of the book is Nate Appleman’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along, I-hung-out-in-Italy-for-a-while guide to air-quoted regional Italian cookery. He lost me at “chicken meatballs” (Italians make meatballs with veal, pork, and beef, and chicken is never ground in Italian cookery). I like Nate’s cooking and immensely enjoyed the restaurant (including his superb Monday-night meatballs) but there’s nothing genuine in his claims of authenticity.

I wish this book were just “A16: Wine” but I do recommend it as great guide to the wonderful wines of southern Italy, which represent some of the greatest values for the quality in the market today.

One thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half: it’s not easy to put your feet up on a virtual desk. But as I wait for my real desk to arrive (in Jan. 09), I’m looking forward to catching up on my own reading over the holiday break.

Buona lettura!

Next week: Do Bianchi’s top NYE champers pics!