This week's tablehopper: boss of me.
A bounty of fall sweet treats at Chez Panisse. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Well, happy Champagne Day to you! I am already plotting when to pop a split of Henriot that is waiting for me in the fridge. After this week of snafus, boy do I need it. All kinds of things went haywire. Good news: my Gaggia espresso machine has returned to the homestead. All praise the caffeine gods, I am back in the saddle. The bad news: I need to bring my Mac into the shop for a couple days so they can get her healthy again. Um, how am I supposed to get my work done? Am really not a fan of that solution. At all. Where is that Champagne? Let me drink some while I think about this….
But since I firmly believe in not working on my birthday (as boss of me, I am allowed to make these kinds of proclamations), I’m just gonna take it as a sign that next Tuesday November 1st is the perfect day to bring my computer into the shop. I’m officially taking the day off, happy birthday to me. Hey, you only turn 40 once.
In the meantime, I have been invited once again to co-host the radio show Edible Escapes with Anthony Licciardi on Sunday! Please tune in from 11am-1pm on KSFO 560AM. In honor of Halloween, I think we’re gonna be working on a sugar high that day.
Another thing for your radar: last night, I was invited to a launch party/dinner at Chez Panisse for Tamar Adler’s new book, An Everlasting Meal. Imagine M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf for our generation. I know, intriguing. I just wanted to let you know she’s doing a reading at Book Passage at the Ferry Building this evening at 6pm before heading back to NYC, come on down! Here are some pics from the lovely dinner last night.
So, today’s newsletter has a fabulous guest wino (Maria Hunt) in honor of Champagne Day (pop!), and a few other tidbits since I won’t be in your inbox with any news until next Friday. Oh, and since Halloween parties are already underway, here’s an updated listing of some Halloween-related activities for ya. Boo.
Happy Halloween everyone, see you next Friday!
Gossip & News (the word on the street)
Changes at Farina: New Chef Angelo Auriana, and More
There are a number of changes going on at FARINA, starting with a chef change: Angelo Auriana is the new executive chef, coming over from Gary Rulli’s Ristobar in the Marina. He is just beginning to make some adjustments to the menu: while Farina will continue to serve Italian food with a Ligurian focus, there will be some influences and dishes from other regions as well. (Don’t worry, the mandilli al pesto aren’t going anywhere.) Auriana has been the chef at Ristobar for the past year and half, and prior to that, was at the famed Valentino in Los Angeles for 18 years. He has an elegant touch, so I look forward to seeing how things develop on the menu.
More Farina updates: it looks like the upstairs terrace/roof garden is close to being complete. There are custom marble tables and wood benches that fit 6-8 each, with room for about 30 in all. There will be wind breaks, heat, music, and special lighting to make it comfortable, along with special tiles and other design touches—stand by for a sign-off soon.
The upstairs private dining room has also gone through some changes, and is now more of a wine room with a clubby look, including a wine rack and leather booths. There’s room for about 24 guests.
And for your calendar: truffle season is here, and Farina’s special contact who hand carries white truffles from Italy to the restaurant should be bringing them for special truffle dinners on November 10th and 30th. You will be able to choose from some special appetizers, pastas, and entrées to have the truffle shaved on (Auriana mentioned fonduta, risotto, and perhaps some dishes with duck egg or cardoon—he cooked a number of truffle dinners while at Valentino). Look for more special truffle dinners on December 8th and 28th, and January 5th and 25th (these will probably be black truffles). You can make reservations now.
Farina - 3560 18th St. San Francisco - 415-565-0360
New Chef and Other News at Ristobar
With the departure of chef Angelo Auriana from RISTOBAR, a new chef will be taking over, Michele Belotti from Italy. He has worked under the famed Paolo Frosio at Restaurant Frosio in Bergamo (Marc Vetri apprenticed at Frosio as a young cook), and was most recently a sous at Da Guido in Piemonte. Belotti originally came over to San Francisco for vacation, but has decided to move to San Francisco permanently and take the chef position. He begins November 14th.
In the meantime, Ristobar is launching a pizza special on the weekends: come by Sat-Sun from 3pm-5pm, and get any of their pizzas for $10. And it starts this weekend, yay.
Ristobar - 2300 Chestnut St. San Francisco - 415-923-6464
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
A Food Lover's Guide to the Napa Valley Film Festival
By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
The first ever NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL takes place this November, and it’s rumored to be the biggest film festival debut since Tribeca. Though Napa’s event doesn’t exclusively feature films about food and wine, there is going to be a hell of a lot of fine eating and drinking going on between flicks.
The festival has set the tone by teaming up with Foodspotting for the Movies To Dine For culinary contest, in which participating restaurants from Napa to Calistoga feature cinematically inspired dishes or drinks on their menus during the festival. Think Lambshank Redemption, Blue Velvet Cupcakes, A Sidecar Named Desire, The Curious Case of Banana Flower Salad, etc. Visitors are encouraged to snap and post pictures of as many of the special dishes as they can (there’s a Foodspotting guide online to help you find them all). Awards will be given out on the last day of the festival for the diner who foodspots the most dishes, the restaurant whose dish is foodspotted the most times, and the chef or mixologist whose submission best combines creativity, presentation, and flavor. The jury for the third award includes kitchen rockstars like Christopher Kostow of Meadowood and Joshua Skenes of Saison, as well as the co-founder of Foodspotting, Bosch’s official food blogger, and, um, me.
Plenty of individual Film Festival events also highlight the Napa Valley’s most famous products. Thursday November 10th, guests attending the Opening Night Gala hosted by Margrit Mondavi at the Robert Mondavi Winery will be fed by fifteen kickass chefs that include Robert Curry (Auberge du Soleil), Victor Scargle (Bardessono), Perry Hoffman (étoile), Michael Gyetvan (Norman Rose and Azzurro), Bob Hurley (Hurley’s), Mick Salyer (ZuZu), and Patrick Kelly (Angèle). Then, an afterparty at Bottega with Michael Chiarello. On Saturday November 12th, VIP ticketholders get whisked away to one of a dozen other stunning winery venues for multi-course sit-down bacchanals prepared by Napa chefs.
Cooking demos by local restaurants will rage on the back deck of the Oxbow Public Market from 11am-5pm Thursday November 10th through Sunday November 13th, courtesy of Bosch. At 11am on Sunday the 13th there will also be a panel discussion entitled “The Rise of Foodie Culture.” And much to everyone’s surprise and delight, COPIA’s beautiful, bankrupt doors will reopen as the Oxbow Screening Room—though sadly only for the length of the festival.
Last but certainly not least, the festival is screening the film JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, a documentary about the life of Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono. You may recall seeing his three Michelin-starred establishment Sukiyabashi Jiro on the show No Reservations, when Tony B ate 15 courses of sublime sushi, and the rest of us drooled into our napkins. This new film about Jiro’s life plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at various times and venues. Check the event website for the full listing of happenings, and how to get festival passes or individual tickets for the film.
Napa Valley Film Festival, November 9th-13th, 2011, at numerous locations all over the Napa Valley.
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Maria Hunt on Grower Champagne
Maria Hunt—aka The Bubbly Girl—believes pork should be its own food group, bubbly is meant for sipping anytime, and the Sicilians got it right when they made ice cream a breakfast food. Based in Oakland, California, she’s a cultural food writer, mixologist, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009), and hostess of TheBubblyGirl.com. Follow Maria on Twitter @thebubblygirl.
In most cities across the nation, a wine educator is lucky if they can get people to realize that every wine with bubbles is NOT called Champagne. It’s enough to give you a cheap Champagne headache. That tidbit is pretty much common knowledge here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where people exude food and wine smarts like people in other cities spew the stats of the local sports franchise.
We love our big name bubbly like Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label or Roederer’s Cristal with its reliably bright/crisp/toasty flavor profile made to appeal to millions of palates around the world. But this is the land of small-batch, handcrafted, and artisanal food and wine. On both sides of the bay, denizens line up for the quirkiest natural ice cream, the silkiest freshly made tofu, and micro-roasted organic coffee that’s no more than 48 hours old. So is it any surprise that wine aficionados and top sommeliers here are stocking their cellars with the “boutique” bubbly known as grower Champagne?
“Grower Champagnes take my breath away,” says Christie Dufault, a wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. “These wines are so distinctive and they have so much flavor.”
For the uninitiated, grower Champagnes are simply wines made by the same people who grew the grapes. These small, family-owned vignerons or winemakers are also called récoltant-manipulants (French for someone who grows and sells their own Champagne)—look for the letters RM on the label.
At K&L Wine Merchant’s recent holiday Champagne tasting, lovers of French bubbly discussed the merits of the grower wines like Champagne Loriot Vieilles Vignes, a silky and rich-tasting wine crafted from 100% pinot meunier from 60-year-old vines. “People here are curious about pinot meunier,” said Michel Loriot. “It is an unknown grape.”
And they vied for a last taste of the unusual Champagne Ariston Aspasie Cepages d’Antan—a powerful and elegant wine made from the three lost grapes of Champagne (pinot blanc, petit meslier, and arbanne)—with the same passion as they jockeyed for the last drops from a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée.
Never heard of the Champagnes Loriot and Ariston Aspasie? Don’t worry, you will. Those Champagnes—along with others like Egly-Ouriet, Gaston Chiquet, and Vilmart et Cie—are among the grower Champagnes appearing at high-end restaurants and wine shops.
So even if you’re perfectly happy with your Perrier-Jouët, why should you try some of this “breath-taking” artisanal bubbly? Here are three good reasons.
Whether the economy is in recovery or teetering on the brink of the next fall, one can only economize so much. We still need our creature comforts, like a good, cold bottle of Champagne waiting in the refrigerator at all times.
Sip for sip, grower Champagnes are a better value than other wines, whose price often is based on the perceived value of the product. Wine importer Terry Theise, who’s the Pied Piper of grower Champagne, puts it this way in his 2010 Champagne catalog: “You should drink it [grower Champagne] because its price is honestly based on what it costs to produce, not manipulated to account for massive PR and ad budgets, or to hold on to market-share.”
Gary Westby, the Champagne specialist at K&L Wine agrees. “You just have to get them to try the first one and after that they’re hooked,” says Westby, who calls the dot-com bust the best thing to happen for grower Champagne sales. “When the wines are clearly much better and a lot less expensive, people figure it out pretty fast.”
The same is true in restaurants. Scanning the wine list at restaurants like Gary Danko, Benu, or RN74, grower Champagnes on those lists are oases of affordability compared to some of the better-known wines.
Wine as Art
You know the difference between tasting a truffle from Michael Recchiuti or TCHO versus one from Godiva? They’re all sweet and chocolatey, but the local ones seem more unique, more expressive. That’s the same kind of experience captured in a bottle of grower Champagne.
“It’s less of a commodity and it’s a little more artistic,” says Rajat Parr, sommelier for the Michael Mina restaurant group. Since he began his career, Parr has showcased grower bubbly from the powerful pinot noir-based Champagnes of Egly-Ouriet and Jacques Selosse to the elegant chardonnay-driven cuvées from Pierre Péters. He won’t say they’re better than the Champagnes made by the millions of cases, but with grower Champagnes, buyers can know the name of the individual making their bubbly.
“It’s more transparent because you know the man who makes the wine, who does the blend,” says Parr. “It’s more about a person’s vision than about a house style.”
Sense of Place
There’s still a debate over whether terroir—the combination of soil, climate, and sun of a particular place—can be tasted in a wine. I believe it can, especially when I find the same flavor characteristics in several different pinot noirs from Anderson Valley. The same thing is true in Champagne.
“The thing about grower Champagne is that it so represents a unique sense of place,” says Brian Maletis of FatCork.com, a Seattle-based website that exclusively imports and sells undiscovered grower Champagne.
In the Côte des Blancs, it’s all about chardonnay, so most vignerons there make a blanc de blancs, like the exceptional ones from Pierre Péters and Gimonnet-Oger. In the Montagne de Reims, they’re proud of their pinot noir, so nearly everyone does rosés de saignée. In this style, made by Henri Billiot and Pascal Redon, the wine has longer skin contact, yielding a deeper color and vibrant flavors of plum and berry in a dry (non-sweet) Champagne.
And then there’s the Vallée de la Marne, where pinot noir’s delicate cousin pinot meunier has traditionally been the dominant grape. It’s not unusual to find fruit-forward wines made from mostly pinot meunier, like the René Geoffroy NV Expression Brut, Jean-Marc Charpentier Brut, or like the Loriot Cuvée Marie-Léopold Demi Sec, which bursts with jammy strawberry. Somms are gushing too about exciting terroir-driven wines from the lesser-known Côte des Bar, like Vouette et Sorbée and Donson et LePage.
Just think, with all these choices, it’s possible to find your own personal cuvée, a different artisanal Champagne for every food and mood. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Star Sightings in Restaurants (no photos please)
Dinner with Ron Burgundy
According to this tweet (via @thedapperdiner), Will Ferrell came in to dine at Frances.
Spotted in St. Helena: Beck had lunch at Farmstead last Friday October 21st before heading south to perform at Neil Young’s 25th anniversary Bridge School Benefit concerts at Shoreline Amphitheatre.
The Net Worth of Thursday Night
Busy night at Marlowe last night: earlier in the evening, Kelly Cutrone (Kell on Earth, The City, The Hills) and 7Live’s Lizzie Bermudez came in, and then when Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 party at zynga HQ wrapped up, Marlowe hosted the after party. (One of the few women named in the list, Google VP Marissa Mayer, was spotted in the midst of the sausage fest.)