First kiss: Tracie P. First sip: Brovia 04 Barolo.

I dream of your first kiss… And then I feel upon my lips again…

The first kiss of 2011 tasted just as sweet as that very first kiss of 2008. A taste of honey, tasting much sweeter than wine…

Tracie P and I had wonderful New Year’s eve at Tony’s with cousins Joanne and Marty, Dana and Neil, Mary Kelly (Neil’s mother), and prof Jonathan, who took the photos above. Don’t I look like I just won the jackpot? ;-)

That first kiss was followed by a first sip of 2011: Brovia 2004 Barolo.

I have long been a fan of traditionalist Brovia and I finally got to taste at the winery in March 2010 when I was visiting Piedmont with a group of wine bloggers. That’s Brovia son-in-law Alex in front of the winery’s cement vats. (Check out Saignée’s excellent post on Brovia here.)

No pharmaceutical yeast here: Brovia’s wines always captivate with their balance of freshness, purity of fruit, and their power, and this wine drank surprisingly well as young as it was, with not overly generous fruit tempered by mushroom and earth. It was a fantastic way to start our 2011.

I posted some of the food shots from that night over at Tony’s blog, btw: Chef de Cuisine Grant’s risotto is always stellar IMHO, and his rich beef stock carnaroli topped with fried sweet breads were served perfectly al dente that night.

All in all it was an unforgettable night, our first New Year’s as a married couple and a celebration of all the wonderful things that happened for us in 2010. We have lots of adventures (and challenges) ahead of us in 2011 and we’re looking forward to our upcoming trip to Italy (more on that shortly).

But in the meantime, I’m gonna keep on dreaming about that first kiss, tasting much sweeter than wine… Happy new year, everyone!

Unbelievable risi e bisi and other good stuff we ate and drank at Tony’s

Cousin Marty (above with Tracie P) and I often remark how remarkable it is that two schlubs like him and me ended up with such jaw-droppingly beautiful women. I guess it just runs in the family.

Last night, as their wedding present to us, his better half Joanne and he treated Tracie P and me to dinner at Tony’s, the hottest see-and-be-seen table on any Saturday night in Houston. Judge Manny and wife Betty joined us for what, I think it’s fair to say, was one of the most glamorous nights of our year so far: federal judges, U.S. ambassadors, bank execs, top radiologists, and throw in a sports celebrity or two — everyone came by our table to say hello to Judge Manny.

Tony, himself, presided over our table. Knowing our love of regional Italian cuisine, he answered my request for a great risotto with an improvised risi e bisi, a classic dish of the Veneto (where he knows I lived) and a favorite dish of Italian Jews. It was fantastic.

It had been preceded by a burrata drizzled with honey and a balsamic reduction and then topped with freshly grated Alba truffles (SHEESH!).

The tip-to-stalk ratio in the asparagus with Pecorino Romano gave the dish just the right balance of bitter and sweet.

Tracie P’s halibut was served over a sea urchin sauce.

My lamb chops were served over a cannellini “humus” and topped with a crumbled green falafel. Can you humus a few bars?

Sommelier Scott Banks surprised us with a Nebbiolo we’d never tasted, this Colline Novaresi by Fontechiara (Borgomanero, Novara). Extreme value on an otherwise high-roller list, grapey and with bright acidity, fresh on the nose and earthy on the palate, perfect for the wide variety of foods set before us.

Joanne and Marty, thank you for such a wonderful dinner… a dinner-event, really! And thanks, from the bottom of our hearts, for all the support you’ve given me and Tracie P, in this first year of our marriage, as we’ve begun building a life for ourselves in Texas. I can’t tell you how much it means, on so many levels, to both of us. We have so very much to be thankful for and are truly blessed to have you as part of our lives. And who knew my relatives were such fressers and machers?