This week's tablehopper: from Calabria to Chianti.
Cosenza Vecchia at dusk (and the Crati river). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Buon giorno! Yes, I am finally back from my two-week trip to Italia with my father, jet-lagged, a bit fatter (Italy tends to do that to you), and really, really glad my suitcase didn’t have any run-ins with that dang beagle after my flight home (wink wink). It was a 26-hour journey door-to-door (oof), so I am still a bit whupped. This pile of email isn’t helping matters either—you know who you are.
After 24 hours in Rome (bucatini all’amatriciana, check; gelato, check; pizza romana, check; Colosseum, check), it was incredible to return to Calabria after 12 years—so good to see and hang out with all the relatives, even if it’s a bit bittersweet to see how we’re all getting older. The highlight was of course visiting the farm where my father was born, such a pristine and beautiful place (near Lago in Calabria). I was also thrilled to spend an afternoon at Librandi cantina in Cirò Marina (sparkling gaglioppo, who knew?), dine on freshly foraged mushrooms in the mountains at La Tavernetta in Camigliatello Silano, take a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea one warm afternoon at Fuscaldo, and have an espresso where my grandfather used to grab his every day in Cosenza. Staying at my dad’s cousin Anna’s place meant we were fed like pigs getting prepped for the winter slaughter—that woman can cook. I was calling Anna “the beast” and joked about creating a new TV show for her called “Casalinga (‘housewife’) Smackdown.” Yeah, she would dominate.
After a week, we hopped in our faithful Meriva diesel, and I drove us nine hours north to Tuscany, specifically Chianti Colli Fiorentini. (Pro tip: Stopping at an autogrill in Campania is a good call—I had one of the best panini of my life, on a freshly baked rosetta roll, with the creamiest mozzarella di bufala and spicy soppressata. The espresso that followed was also stellar. Go Autogrill Agip!)
I had never visited the Tuscan wine country before, and my outpost for the next few days at Il Paluffo was the stuff dreams are made of. Yeah, staying in a restored 15th-century building is pretty special (ditto their fantastic olive oil and honey from their property). My food-savvy hosts at Paluffo toured me around to visit local artisan cheesemakers, an incredible meat market and salumaio (Macelleria Parti), some stellar local restaurants, two wineries (Castello di Monsanto and Castello della Paneretta), and we strolled through the too beautiful San Gimignano and Certaldo Vecchio. Early fall in Italy is a magical time—harvest was just wrapping up, the mushrooms were coming out in full force, and lightning was illuminating the night skies. I can’t wait to tell you more in a detailed post soon.
Now that I’m home for a bit (yeah, right), I sure have a lot of travel pieces to catch up on. Stand by. In the meantime, the pasta class I took at Il Paluffo inspired this week’s post I wrote on 7x7.com on where you can learn to make pasta locally (and where to buy the fresh stuff).
While I was gone, I also had a piece run on 7x7.com about seven special burgers you can only find on certain days in SF! And over at the Bay Guardian, you’ll find my piece about where I ate in Seattle on my recent trip, plus some tips from my hosts, Pioneer Square Pantry!
There’s a lot going on this weekend: tomorrow afternoon is FallFest (tickets are still available), Sunday is the second Batch Made Market, Tosca Cafe has reopened (more on this Tuesday), and Hemingway fans, I want to point you to this cool event on Monday, To Have and To Have Another (heh). Enjoy the fall weather this weekend.
See you Tuesday, a presto! Marcia Gagliardi
This Round Is On Me... (hey, thanks!)
(Sponsored): Get a Great Discount on the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting on Tuesday October 15th
Want to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s annual Top 100 Tasting Event? Come join us in honoring the most sought-after wine tasting event on Tuesday October 15th and score discounted tickets. The 100 wineries from around the world selected for the Top 100 event have delivered the best overall performances in the magazine’s tastings conducted during the past year. It’s from 6:30pm-8:30pm at City View at Metreon in San Francisco.
Also featured at the event will be the magazine’s “New & Notable” restaurants and bars in the Bay Area, which include 1601 Bar & Kitchen, A16 Rockridge, Aquitaine, Coqueta, Farm Shop Marin, Lolinda, and Tribune Tavern. These new additions to the Bay Area culinary scene will serve bites of a signature dish paired with wines featured at the tasting.
Guests will also enjoy specialties from local artisanal purveyors, including Avedano’s Meats, flying noir, Hog Island Oysters, Kika’s Treats, Mr. Espresso, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Sour Flour Breads, Socola Chocolates, and St. Vincent Tavern.
Great news: tablehopper readers can now get tickets for $85 (instead of $105!) and can be purchased here (discount code TABLEHOP2013 will already be inputted for you). Event proceeds will benefit San Francisco Baykeeper.
Event Details: W&S Magazine Top 100 Tasting Date: Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm Location: City View at Metreon, San Francisco 135 Fourth Street, 4th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
For more information, visit us here.
Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
First Look at Graton Casino Restaurants
By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.
More deets on the upcoming GRATON RESORT AND CASINO restaurants: Hard hats aren’t exactly my thing (I mean really, the hair, people) but it was worth suffering a little hat head for a tour of the 12 restaurants opening in early November in Rohnert Park. Chef Martin Yan of M.Y. CHINA and countless television cooking shows was showing off his 250-seat restaurant on Thursday, which will feature an open kitchen, noodle bar, and wok station (you can sit just inches from the action) and will also showcase “noodle dancing,” wherein chefs, um, dance with some 75 feet of hand-pulled Chinese noodles on the dining room floor. “It’s theater; it’s like fireworks every day!” said Yan. “We are bringing 5,000 years of Chinese culinary art…for the meal of a lifetime.”
More details: Douglas Keane’s DK Wings will feature his take on the game day favorite, with some 30 sauces and Japanese pickled vegetables (noms!) in the Marketplace, which seats 500 and is open 24 hours.
No expense has been spared on the $825 million casino, which has luxe touches everywhere, including terrazzo floors, backlit marble bars, and a two-story marble sculpture that drips ice into a bar at the center of the casino. “It’s like an adult Disneyland,” said tribal leader Greg Sarris. Families and children will be welcome in all the restaurants, with outside entrances (and free parking) for each of the eateries.
Two surprises: Smoking will be allowed on the floor of the casino, though none of the restaurants will allow it. Reps say there will be state-of-the-art air filtration. Also, the casino will not offer a buffet. Sorry, no $3 all-you-can-eat-prime rib. “This is not a place where food is just sitting out. We wanted something more interesting than a flat buffet,” said Sarris. Penny-pinchers take heart: The Marketplace will offer plenty of lower-cost noshing.
Now open in the former Wappo Wine Bar location in downtown Calistoga is 1226 WASHINGTON, a gastropub and Sunday brunch spot. The chef is Cathy Harbour, who has been a chef on luxury yachts and boutique restaurants around the world. Her menu will be seasonally driven and inspired by her globe-trotting travels. There will be lunch and dinner Wed-Sat, with a three-course supper on Sun. 1226 Washington St., Calistoga, 707-799-5889.
Today (Friday), there’s a benefit for cheesemaker and Epicurean Connection owner Sheana Davis, from 1pm-4pm at the Maysonnave House. The lineup, not surprisingly for such a high-profile foodie, is stellar, and includes food from Wild Thyme Catering, Depot Hotel, Uncommon Brewers, Eric Ross Winery, and, of course, plenty of cheese from her friends.
Donations for the silent auction and raffle are from Treme writer and cookbook author Lolis Eric Elie, Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie’s, and local restaurants Crisp, Hot Box, the Red Grape, and the French Laundry. The fundraising goal is $45,000 to help Davis get critical treatments and pay off bills for multiple surgeries. Tickets for the event are $50 per person at the door. You can make a donation online if you’re not able to attend. 291 First St., Sonoma.
Book Reviews (another place for your nose)
Pete Mulvihill with a Holiday Cookbook Preview
Don’t forget: the books mentioned below are available at 20 percent off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.
Oh man, the shelves are heaving under the weight of our biggest hopes for a cookbook-laden holiday season. Local publisher Ten Speed Press alone has Manresa, Pok Pok, and Ivan Ramen coming out this month. I’ll get to most of these as Christmas approaches, but for now, let’s start with cookbooks with a Portland pedigree.
Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird Gabriel Rucker, Meredith Erickson, Lauren Fortgang
First up is Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird by Gabriel Rucker and Meredith Erickson ($40, Ten Speed Press). Le Pigeon, on Portland’s east side, is a “celebration of high and low extremes in cooking.” Think fine Burgundies and Coors, “buffalo wings” made with sweetbreads, and a lamb belly BLT. The “dirty” part of the title comes from frequent use of offal and nose-to-tail meat, but the book is not dogmatic, and even less adventurous eaters will find plenty of inspiration herein.
Mostly, the recipes are replicable by home cooks, like the Lamb Shank and BBQ Beans or the Apple Cheddar Crostada. Some are more complex than weekday recipes, and the daring can try the Tête de Veau (Calf’s Head Terrine), Gribiche, and Egg dish or the Grilled Pork Tongue, Refried Beans, and Lardo. As always with Ten Speed, the book is hefty and gorgeous, from the debossed cover to “food porn”-quality photography.
Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. Liz Crain, John Gorham, David Reamer
About a mile and a half north of Le Pigeon is an irreverent and lively Spanish-inspired spot called Toro Bravo. Their new book comes from San Francisco publisher McSweeney’s (whose first cookbook was from Mission Chinese Food). This one is called Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. ($35). True to its name, the book is almost more story than recipes. There’s the chapter on a DIY meat curing setup, the tattoo of a chicken pooping out the name of the sous chef, and hundreds of photos.
Once you get to them, the recipes are pretty appealing all around. There are basics and fundamentals, from Romesco Sauce to Roasted Spanish Nuts. There are loads of small plates, both classic (Boquerones with Toasted Bread and Piperade) and creative (Butter-Braised Turnips with Mojo Picon). And there are mains (Lamb Ragù with Eggplant or Rabbit Fideos). And there’s plenty more: cocktails, charcuterie, desserts, and so on. In short, Toro Bravo is both inspiring to flip through and practical for everyday cooking and feasts alike.
The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings Nathan Williams
The last book in today’s lineup isn’t totally Portland-centric, but the editor lives there and a fair portion of the recipes come from folks in Portland. It’s The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings by Nathan Williams (Artisan, $35). I almost didn’t review this one, as it feels too precious, like more of a lifestyle book of pretty people and their awesomeness than an honest cookbook. There are many pages of cuteness, style, and design that seem superfluous to the recipes. That style will surely appeal to some: the cover photo looks like a Vermeer, and someone must appreciate photos of beards and bangs and bikes and biscuits.
But the recipes save the book for me. Everything appeals: the Citrus Lentil Salad; the Mushroom, Tomato, and White Bean Stew; the Spidskal (Cabbage Salad); Smørrebrød; the Sea Legs cocktail. I especially like the Copenhagen-based section. The recipes are all doable, mostly simple and elegant, and many are vegetarian-friendly. There are also lovely sentiments behind each featured recipe creator about food and community and the pleasures of gatherings. And unlike some of the cookbooks I bring home and never cook from, I get the feeling this will be dog-eared pretty quickly. So despite the stylishness (which, again, some people will love), The Kinfolk Table is a fine collection of simple but inspired dishes.
Thanks for reading, and bon appétit!
Guest Wine & Spirits Writers (in vino veritas)
Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Bocadillos)
Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.
He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.
Bocadillos: Sandwiched Between Borders
Gerald Hirigoyen, I’m confident, is cognizant that most San Franciscans know tapas, but pintxos, not so much. It’s like the difference between pinot grigio and pinot gris. There is no difference; it’s just a matter of provenance. So Hirigoyen, the chef-proprietor of Piperade and Bocadillos, plays it down the middle: sort of like straddling the western Pyrenees of north-central Spain and southwest France, as do the Basques, among which Hirigoyen can be counted. At the more upscale Piperade, on the north waterfront, he plays up the French side of Basque culture. At his more relaxed Bocadillos in North Beach, Spain is more prevalent.
One might think that the Basque word pintxo would prevail over the Spanish word tapa at Bocadillos; it does not. Executive chef James Lalonde lists just a trio of pintxos offerings under the much larger title of tapas. Here, too, where the wines of northern Spain might prevail, we find selections from all over the Iberian Peninsula.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m always big on keeping things true to their origins. Bocadillos is certainly not unique here, where restaurants try to satisfy diverse desires by broadening their scope. It’s just that my hope is for restos to be truly local to their cuisine when it comes to their wine programs; hardly any do.
All of which is not to disparage Bocadillos. I really, really like the place. It reminds me of those more modern tapas bars in Barcelona: easy, fun, and slightly raucous. The food at Bocadillos (which means “little sandwiches”) is sensational and full of flavor; and the portions are ample enough to be in line with the prices, which range from $3 to $17.
Two wines got my attention. The 2012 Do Ferreiro albariño ($12, glass), an aromatic white from Rias Baixas in the northwest, was more than a suitable foil for the fantastic crispy grilled, garlicky prawns in a lemon confit (one of the more expensive but outstanding dishes at $17). A chicken liver mousse ($10) with sherry (yeah!) was rich and silky as you’d expect and tasted wonderfully malty under the aegis of the Do Ferreiro (one of a quintet of albariños).
Fried corn fritters with Manchego ($13) and a bocadillo of braised short ribs ($6) with sherry (again), of course, were naturals with the 2008 Arrels Garnacha ($42, bottle) from Montsant. The region, in the schist-laden mountains about 1½ hours south of Barcelona, is one of my favorite Spanish appellations. The flaky stone lends an evident minerality to the red wines of the area, while Montsant’s dark fruit always seems opulent and rich without feeling heavy.
Here, the color of the Arrels is inky with deep, grapy aromas and a slight leatheriness that is a manifestation of 5 years in the bottle, although this wine has another 8 to 10 years of life. On the palate, there’s bitter chocolate, which played off the sherry-infused, sugary onions in the short ribs sandwich.
The wine list is fairly priced, ranging from $30 (‘09 La Fenêtre chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley) to $84 (‘09 Tallulah cabernet, Napa Valley). But do try some of the Spanish wines, where you can find some bargains, such as a five-year-old white (!) garnacha from Portal in Terra Alta (also $30), the ‘10 Reposo Muscat blend ($34) from Valencia, and an ‘11 mencia (the grape variety, not the comedian) from Guimaro ($38) in Ribeira Sacra.
As a tilt toward Basque sensibilities, there are two apple ciders, of course, one from France (‘10 Basa Jaun, $35) and one from Spain (‘13 Isastegi; $6/glass or $12/375ml). They can be taken as a metaphor for Gerard Hirigoyen’s place in the world.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2011 Do Ferreiro Albariño, Rias Baixas ($12/glass, $51/bottle).
For some reason, the vineyard of Do Ferreiro gives the wine an idiosyncratically peatlike quality, not unlike a single-malt Scotch. That’s what sets this albariño apart. Because of the soil, or the steam, that runs through the land, there is smokiness in the aroma, along with an herbal quality. The wine is beautiful, with crisp acidity and a lemon-lime finish. Rias Baixas is in the northwest corner of Spain, just above the Portugese border.
Why we don’t see more of the albariño grape here, I’m not sure. It’s affordable, it can be lovely, and it’s a hell of a food wine, what with its minerality and good acid. This albariño is aromatic with peach and citrus, and has delicious tropical fruit flavors with lemon-lime zest undertones.
Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.