The Make-Out Room (where it’s always New Year’s Eve-meets-the prom).
Why hello there. You polishing your silver, your Champagne flutes, and hopefully your dancing shoes? The city is gearing up for what is always the worst night to get a cab, ever. And it’s going to be a cold and rainy one—can’t wait to be out on the town in my dress and heels. But the show must go on!
I’ve already had such an action-packed week, I think I just need to keep my ride in fifth gear. Wednesday I had some dear friends in town from LA, and our night turned into a flashback of my 20s: we had a grand meal at Bix, cocktails at the newly renovated House of Shields (gorg), and then out for carousing until last call at the Make-Out Room. It was all very San Francisco, circa 1995. We were also consuming alcohol like we were back in our 20s, whoops. Fortunately my recovery lunch at Plow got me back in action. (I know, way to pop a flat two nights before New Year’s Eve.)
Last night was a cozy dinner at Range with friends in town from Paris. We cleaned our plates, which included standouts like their incredible clams (what a broth), goat cheese and sorrel-stuffed pasta, and some insane beef daube (my Parisian friends were thrilled). Our parade of desserts rocked (like the incroyable butterscoth pudding and bittersweet chocolate and nocino soufflé).
So, this little New Year’s Eve issue has my annual rant, “the bore,” which is a list of what I don’t want to see anymore (and is the one time in the year when I decide to give my usual positive slant a swift elbow to the ribs and let the snark reign). Yeah, it’s kinda fun to write (so I hope no one gets their feelings hurt). And in case you’re wondering about why pizza and street food aren’t on there, let me point you to previous bores.
I also have a fab guest wino this week, with the kind of resolution I’d find easy to keep (losing 15 pounds is so commonplace). Make yours fun, like vowing to cook for your friends at home once a month (I liked that one from a couple years ago). Or vow to become an expert on Champagne. Starting tonight.
Here’s wishing you a joyous start to the New Year. No DUIs, no barfing, no fighting, no biting. Many thanks for making my 2010 such a memorable one, but now it’s time to kick it in the ass. Play it off, keyboard cat! (And here’s where to go on New Year’s Day in case your night bites back.)
Cin cin! Baci! Buon Anno!!
Or to hell. Whatever, it’s a new year, so let’s just give these things a rest, shall we?
- As a dedicated and daily espresso drinker (addicted? Who, me?), nothing chaps my hide more than receiving a bowl of those cursed cubes of light brown sugar that take, oh, five minutes to dissolve into my espresso. Look, I’m all down with you using some natural/non-bleached/non-C&H refined sugar, but let’s use one that dissipates before my freaking coffee gets cold, okay? Damned hippie sugar. Granulated is good. (And don’t even get me started on the random twists of lemon rind that sometimes appear alongside my espresso. What the hell? Save it for my cocktail—because you are driving me to drink.)
- While we’re on it, dear servers, please stop offering me a cappuccino after dinner. And did someone really just offer me a latte at 10pm? Yeah, nothing like a big, steaming glass of hot milk and two espresso shots after a five-course dinner. The Italians have it right—save the hot milk espresso drinks for the morning (exception: artists, DJs, and other late-night types who wake up late).
- Restaurants that blatantly announce or promote their secret menu items. Uh, where’s the discovery in that? And you get zero cred for that move, I mean, come ON. Unless you’re In-N-Out, I don’t need to know about your BIG SECRET MENU ITEMS unless I become a regular and you’ve been open for at least a year. So zip it.
- Nom. Nom nom nom. Noms. Nomz. (Oh yeah, and “sammies.” What is this, Foodie Romper Room?)
- Sliders. Just seeing that word makes my skin crawl.
- Pop-up. Another one that is beginning to bug, partly because of the misuse and omnipresence of the term. The next thing that’s gonna pop up is my middle finger. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these temporary “one night only” business appearances. And I guess that’s why people say “pop-up,” because it’s quicker than saying “temporary” or “one night only.” I have no answers. I’m just bitching. Next!
- Uncomfortable seats. How am I expected to sit through a meal on a cold metal bench, a cushion-less wood banquette, a small wooden barstool with hard edges, or worst of all, those damned vintage Tolix metal chairs that dig into my hips and are only meant for skinny French bitches? I know they look cool. But in actuality, they’re the worst: they’re made out of cold metal, and they make my ass look big. Uh, thanks.
- The Ike’s saga. Jesus H. Christ. It’s open. It’s closed. It’s open. It’s moving. It’s staying. It’s opening elsewhere. Ahhhhhh! It was like the the Wikileaks of the local food media scene. Can’t believe Ike’s is in “the bore” yet again this year. Make. It. Stop.
- Restaurants constantly retweeting compliments from guests about themselves. So tacky. Unless you are revealing some insider tip about your business through said retweet, let’s lay off all the tweets that start with a “Thank you!!!” and then end with the remaining 140 characters of self-flattery. Yeah, we get it, someone thinks you’re freaking great. Why don’t you just forward all these compliments to your mother? Oh wait, she’s probably the reason you’re needing all this additional approval from everyone. Whatever, go get more therapy and cool it on the self-congratulatory RTs.
- Useless restaurant websites. I can’t believe I have to go over the basics, but here goes:
- no flash intro (thanks for wasting my time for 20 seconds, can I just get the information I’m looking for?)
- hell, no flash at all (how do you expect all these iPhone/iPad users to look at your website?)
- um, why the eff don’t you have your hours listed?
- LIST YOUR GODDAMN CROSS STREET—why are you making me go to Google Maps to find you? (Rude.)
- no music (you hear me? Stop it! No one likes that song but you. It sucks. I don’t care if there’s a stop or pause button for it. You’re not a DJ or music label, so lay off the tunes. I mean it. Someone is gonna get a spanking.)
- phone numbers that spell something (just give me the digits, yo—you’re not a cab company I’m trying to remember when I’m drunk)
- old menus (thanks for sharing that menu from 2007 with the Chilean sea bass on it)
- menus without prices (shady)
- and I know this is a pet peeve for some: PDF menus. But I disagree on that one—if it means the menu stays current and up to date, PDF away. I know, website maintenance is a pain. Really, trust me, I know.
Becky Pezzullo is an Italian wine specialist with a knack for perfect pairings and tableside wine education. Most recently, she was responsible for the all-Italian wine list at Bar Bambino, and has honed her skills over 12 years of working in the San Francisco food and wine industry. Becky is currently an independent consultant and the co-founder and wine director for Undercover Supper, a new roving supper club. She has traveled extensively in Italy, including interning for the 2009 harvest in Piemonte.
When people ask me why I got into wine, I always answer, “drinking with purpose.” Tough job, I know. Each taste is an opportunity to both learn and enjoy. Giving new meaning to armchair travel, each taste can be a journey to the soils and climate of that place and time where the grapes were grown. I’m making it my resolution in 2011 to drink wines that are more expressive of origin, and leave a smaller ecological footprint.
Originally wine was the rustic, fermented juice of grapes, a way of extending the harvest. Throughout its history, knowledge has been gained and improvements made in the vinification process. Ancient vintners buried clay pots known as amphorae underground to control temperatures and allow longer macerations. Then people found that storing wine in oak barrels smoothed the tannins, and allowed respiration that enhanced the end product. Certain vineyard sites seemed to create a more expressive elixir. And as history progressed, our mastery of agriculture ensured us a predictably pleasant glass of wine. But has technology gone too far? Does predictability keep us from magic and mystery?
In the vineyard, massive yields are achieved through aggressive use of pesticides, herbicides, and unchecked irrigation. When that many grapes are produced, there’s not much flavor concentration. But science has the answer. Sulfites, acid, sugar, and wood chips are some of the least suspicious additives. Large-scale commercial wineries have an arsenal of techniques and chemicals designed to control nuance or fluctuations in character that can arise from unique vineyard conditions. The priority is predictability. The chemicals utilized read more like the ingredients in a brightly colored children’s breakfast cereal, and the magic and mystery of fermented grapes are buried by the power of science.
Burgeoning wine geeks are introduced to the concept of terroir, the idea that an agricultural product is unique and special because of where it is from. This applies broadly to what we eat and drink. Cheeses like Comté taste of Alpine meadows the cows grazed in. Prosciutto di Parma has a creaminess derived from the leftover Parmigiano whey the pigs ate. Reverence for terroir is one of the driving reasons the European wines are labeled by place name rather than grape variety. Burgundy, the French would say, can’t possibly taste of anything other than Burgundy.
When we aggressively manipulate wines, we strip away their blueprint, their personality, and their potential. Large grape yields require manipulation to be palatable. In turn, reliance on a predictable product requires ongoing manipulation. These practices allow winemakers to produce wine that is profitable, by being palatable for the mass market. As we San Franciscans know, acquiring land in California is a significant investment, and a vineyard is no exception.
And, to be sure, many people will make the point that technology allows the production of better wines for a global palate and that, as a result, consumers have access to quality wines at more affordable prices than ever before. However, we’ve outdone ourselves. So much “good” wine is being made that, in France and Spain, governments are buying back the surplus and turning it into biofuel. Australian winemakers have faced a combined surplus of 100 million cases, and no witty name or cute critter can help them to sell that much wine. By today’s standards, an inexpensive bottle of wine is certain not to offend the palate, but alternately it won’t inspire either. Is inoffensive the best we can do?
The answer lies in re-thinking how we get to quality: restricting the yields, looking the potential of failure in the eye, and having the confidence to let the wine find its own voice. It’s entirely possible that, with the right approach, an inexpensive bottle of wine could actually be one that sings. Progressive winemakers are pushing the envelope, allowing nature to take its course. In the vineyard, during fermentation, and in the aging process, there is a renaissance of craftsmanship in which hands-off winemakers are letting nature speak. These wines lack the polish and glitter of a technologically crafted wine, but they win out in character, heart, and soul.
Suggested Drinking: With a disclaimer, while not cult favorites with a waiting list, these wines are not continually available in the marketplace, but if you know your importer/distributor, you’ll find more wine doors open to you.
Wines: Herederos de Argüeso Manzanilla Sherry, Spain $12 Dom. de la Pépière Muscadet, France $14 Benito Santos ‘Saiar’ Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $15 Verasol Tempranillo, Navarra, Spain $10 Château d’Oupia Minervois, France $12 Hermanos Peciña ‘Joven’ Rioja, Spain $13
Importers/Distributors: Louis|Dressner Neal Rosenthal Amy Atwood Jenny & François José Pastor
Look to some of the Bay Area’s best wine shops to help you with your quest: Biondivino, Russian Hill Arlequin Wine Merchant, Hayes Valley Terroir, SoMa Bi-Rite Market, Mission San Francisco Wine Trading Company, Twin Peaks/Inner Sunset Vineyard Gate, Millbrae Paul Marcus Wines, Oakland
These shops are helping to further wine education and accessibility, and they deserve your support.