Archive for June 2012

NGW: Triton Castilla y Leon Tempranillo 2008   10 comments

It was a warm night in 1979 and JoAnn had not yet broken my heart.  

Returning to my apartment, we approached a certain intersection in the commercial district populated by strip malls, not far from home base.  That evening, as we had done many times before, we decided to avoid the traffic by cutting across through the back of the local Sears parking lot.  On the back side of the building there were no other cars or people or lights.  As we rounded the corner of the building, there it was. 

Hovering.  Were my eyes deceiving me?  Perhaps.

Se en UFOJoAnn’s brown eyes widened .  She was artistic, pretty, buxom, had a quick smile, a wicked laugh and she was my girl.  I was crazy over her.  But she was also quite nuts (as I would realize later).  Still, she was there at the beginning of my wine journey.  Fizzy sweet Cold Duck, Riuniti on Ice, Lancers Rose, Fratelli Lambrusco and Mateus Rose– the Pantheon of 1970’s starter wines.  The stuff that Hangovers are made of.  We did them all.  But not a drop had passed through our lips that evening.

I can only say that it looked like a disk, But given our side view, it appeared cigar-shaped as well.   It had two rows of multicolored lights ringing the circumference of the craft.  Each row of lights flashing in a sequence that made it seems as if the lights were moving, pinball machine like– in opposite directions. 

I was fascinated by the flashing lights and the fact that this thing was finally there– a gift for me.  For as long as I remember, I had stared up at the skies hoping to see one.  One birthday, I received a telescope that my geeky self used to scour the heavens for signs of other life and good shots of the surface of the moon when I tired of searching.  Looking toward the heavens– Alpha Centauri, the Andromeda Galaxy, etc.– I wondered.

russian giant sky ufo ring october 2009 The Mystery UFO RINGS

So here it was. 

I stopped the car.  And we both just stared.  The thing, which had been stationary, then languidly shifted course toward our direction. 

“It’s coming this way,” I said, my heart starting to race. 

Yes, I had always wanted to see one of these.  Just not quite so close.  Taking evasive action, I gunned the 305 cubic inch small block 8 cylinder engine of my gold and black 1970 Camaro, hoping it would not stall– as it was prone to do.

The car delivered and we made our way to the exit ramp on the other side of the building. 

There were more cars and people in the front of the Sears store where it was a bit busier.  I pulled to the top of the ramp and got out of the car.  The craft, now hovering over the spot that we had just vacated did not seem to pose such a menace from this distance.  An orange Volkswagen Beetle pulled up behind my car.  I approached the owner of the Beetle:

“Do you see that thing over there?” 

“Yes,” he deadpanned. 

“It looks like a UFO!” 

“Yes,” again replied Senor Zombie. 

Ohhh-Kay… this conversation, if you want to call it that, was not going very far.  Now, the part that should have come sooner– I’m beginning to freak out a bit.  I return to my car where JoAnn is waiting and we pull out of the parking lot.  Within minutes we are in my bedroom back in the safety of my apartment.  I remember that JoAnn and I, two ultra-horny college kids, did what ultra-horny college kids do.  I remember laying on my back, mid-coitus, and looking out the window from the shadows of the bed in that darkened room.  Not quite out of body.  Not quite in the body, either.  And feeling someone was watching.  Covered in sweat, winded and exhausted we collapsed into a heap of panting flesh, all legs and arms splayed akimbo.  This was different from any other time before.  We were also drenched in an eerie self-consciousness.  As I replay the events in my head, I wonder what really happened that night.  I know that somehow I drove her back home and made it back to my house, though I skipped the back of the Sears parking lot on that return trip. 

As I mentioned, JoAnn broke my heart, which she did in spectacular fashion, with a meanness that even today I find indescribable.  However, in 1983, we did reconnect for a quick visit while I was in grad school (nothing conjugal, I made sure of that).  I made a point of asking her if she remembered that night.  She did.  “It really did happen?”  “Yes, the reply reminiscent of Senor Zombie.  And, strangely, that is all that we said to each other about that night.  It’s as if we couldn’t even bring ourselves to recollect the details.  Those details, as best as I can recall, you now have read. 

Was I dreaming?  Are these just the ramblings of an overactive imagination?   What is it that separates reality from what you see?  Can you really tell the difference?  And what is reality for that matter?  Is reality the repetition of acts that we perform everyday– working, kissing your loved one, having that morning cup of tea, as I am doing now?  So everything else that falls outside of that– which is to say, a singular event, is subject to the question: Did that really happen? Did I truly experience that? 

It may just be a matter of perspective.  Children live in the realm of imagination.  Dying people too, I think.  Maybe some of us turn to writing, drawing or photography to document our personal histories and make imagination a little bit more tangible.  To give proof of what we think happened.

“That’s me on the table, Mommy.”

Now I’m not saying that I was abducted by aliens.  But if I was, this would make it to the list of bottles I could have beforehand. 

Triton Castilla y Leon Tempranillo 2008 ($13.50).  Big, Dark and Brooding, it comes upon you quickly.  With an earthiness that is subdued by persistent black cherry fruit that is itself complemented by a layer of some herbal notes, this has an in your face kind of near-meaty quality to it.  Concluding with some very satisfying tannins.  Not a wine for everyday.  And despite its name (Triton, a sea god and son of Poseidon), if you’re in the mood for something that is grounded in the masculine qualities of Earth, this may be your wine.  Rated ***
 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 26, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2009   7 comments

My cousin married my uncle.  And we don’t even live in Arkansas. 

Actually, it was my mother’s brother and my father’s second cousin.  So there was no blood connection between the two.  Still, it was a strange alliance– but not for this obvious reason.

One thing the couple had in common was a shared sense of insane and oddball behavior.  They both had the crazy gene.  Though each expressed it quite differently. 

My uncle, a man ironically named Angel, though no one called him that, was a rough and tumble sort, street smart and a fan of the lowest forms of entertainment.  The kind of guy you would find wagering heavily at a cock-fight.  Lacking for a couple of aggressive roosters and pining for a little blood sport,  he had his son, Louis, use me to perfect his bullying technique.  His old man sitting back, enjoying the show, reveling in a contest that I was just trying to survive:

Louis, whom I have written about past, was a mere 4 months older than me, though he was always physically superior to me being at various times during our lives anywhere from one and a half times to twice my size.  And despite his size, he was also faster than me.  A Minotaur in miniature, his father could amp him up to come at me even though we were normally (and still are) very fond of each other.  The bumps, bruises, scratches and abrasions that I garnered from my tussles with my larger combatant quickly informed me of the obvious fact that I was not likely to win any kind of physical contest with Louis.  In the end I was cast as an uncomfortable, and tiny, Theseus. 

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Tripping backward onto the plastic slip-covered sectional sofa in my Abuela’s living room, I was cornered.  As I and lay on my back, he charged at me, all sweat and snot.  Bearing down upon me in full throttle, I instinctively put up my feet to shield myself.  As he came at me, I focused on his ruddy face chubbily confident in the victory that was at hand.  My knees now being pushed into my chest, my eyes widened in terror.  His chest pushing firmly against the soles of my feet, his blood-flushed face a mere few inches from my own– I kicked out to push him away from me.  The adrenaline must have been in full flow, because he went tumbling backwards across the length of my grandmother’s living room.  Landing on his butt with a  solid thud that shook the room, I braced myself for another charge.  I can’t recall if he started to cry, but I saw that he had lost his appetite for the scrimmage.  And this was the last time we ever fought.    

Although Angel, has unfortunately passed, from strong drink and fast living, his ex-wife, my cousin Nandy is alive (I think) somewhere in Arizona.

Nandy, brainy, well read, the first daughter in a family of musicians, was always quick with a smile.  She was in many respects the exact opposite of Angel.  I always found her to be kind and interested in the things that mattered to me, her 3rd cuz.  But once I became a teenager, I realized that there was something a little off about her.  Downright batty she was.  Married once before she exchanged vows with my uncle, she was still a legendary virgin coming into her second marriage.  I don’t think that the birds-bees thing was ever properly laid out for this forty-ish virgin who was taking a second lap around the marital track.  Though I only heard about this, she was also a shrew similar to the one in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate (click here).  Exhibit A: Husband numero uno– he was last seen running away from the house after she pushed him down a staircase that he was climbing with a new kitchen table on his back. 

All this history, my Uncle Angel knew as he exchanged nuptials with her.  But being a determined man, those warnings of sharp curves and rough road ahead seemed meant for someone else.  A match made in heaven?  What demon deity could have conjured this bizarre conjunction of the two trunks of my family tree?

Was the aging and virginal cousin de-flowered?  Naturally, the less than discrete Angel let on.  Though I imagine it must have been Caveman courtship: clubbed-over-the-head-and-dragged-off-by-the-hair-kind-of-thing.  It did not have the hallmarks of tenderness.  Shockingly, it was a short-lived marriage.

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These are two people who were destined to break stones– anyone’s stones, really, but especially each others’.  What better wine to celebrate them than with a few sips of Las Rocas– literally, The Rocks.

Image DetailLas Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2009 ($9).  Straight from up and coming Spanish appellation, Calatayud, this is 100% Garnacha that is a category killer in this price range.  With fleshy and ripe dark fruit that is supported by good bones (structure), this is a very accessible crowd pleaser.  And at this price, it should be snatched up whenever and wherever you see it.   I poured this recently along with another Garnacha from Cotes du Rhone at a friend’s party.  There were some seriously happy faces.  And seriously surprised expressions when I revealed the price!  Always gratifying.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 20, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Two-fer from Lan: Bodegas Lan Crianza 2006 & Bodegas Lan Reserva 2005   3 comments

 

This little guy in the photo to the left doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Today, we give you two from Rioja– both good buys!

 
Bodegas Lan Crianza 2006 ($10).  Opening with aromas and flavors of appealing crushed red cherries and made with 100% Tempranillo, this is has a frisky acidity that makes it quite food friendly.  It has softer tannins than its sister wine the 2005 Reserva.  I am of two minds on the wine.  On the one hand, it is somewhat one-dimensional– a simple wine really.  However, it has enough palate interest that it is better than merely good.  Rated **1/2  
 
 
 
 
Bodegas Lan Reserva 2005 ($14).  Slightly more complex than the Crianza, it has some vanilla notes that are imparted from the use of what I guess must be American oak– a fact that was confirmed on my visit to their website.  Being a reserva, it is aged in French and American oak for at least 12 months, followed by 24 months of bottle aging before release.  That oak is a bit more pronounced, but it is accompanied by a red Twizzler thing that turns me on.  The fruit seems slightly more ripe and it does not have the same acidic edge as its younger sibling.  That is probably due in part to the fact that this is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo, 10% Garnacha.  On the second night this tasted even better which leads me to believe that this is a good candidate for decanting.  While I give this a slight edge over its sister wine, in the final analysis, it is a matter of taste and on any given night, either of these will do the job quite nicely.  Rated **1/2

Posted June 13, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

The Morning Challenge   4 comments

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I started off today feeling pretty good about stuff.  Up at 6:30.  Trundling downstairs to the kitchen to make my morning tea and granola.  Kettle whistles, the eyes flash and hot water poured into a waiting teapot– earthenware of English make.  An antique flea market find from many years ago really.  Reminds me of some very happy times. 

Cereal tumbles into a small bowl joined by a splash of milk.  All of that done, I rested the bowl on my countertop.  I grabbed my plugged in laptop, the cord dragged across the counter where I sat and like a trolled fishing net capturing all in its path.  Including, to my displeasure, the aforementioned milk and granola filled bowl. 

 Breakfast deconstructed.  The bowl ricocheted off of the stool next to me and drenched the cushion in white liquid and acne-like granola bits.  Tumbling to the floor in slow motion and exploding into fragments.  Milk, cereal and shards of white porcelain everywhere in the moment when I expected to have my feet up catching up on my personal email and favorite blogs.  I was too concerned with cleaning up to photograph what was actually a pretty cool scene.

Years back, I remember I accidentally spilt a glass of milk on the kitchen table.  I did not like the taste of milk then, since I preferred a good Pepsi or Coke to that chalky liquid.  But it was an accident– really!  My mother perceived it somewhat differently and being the disciplinarian of the house, gave me my most memorable beating.  I was not scarred for life.  Ok maybe I am, because spilt milk brought me back to that moment.  Never cry over spilled milk?  That day I broke that rule!

I asked my mother about that incident which of course, she did not remember.  Am I the only one?

The mess now cleaned up, I am wondering what else will today bring?  If this is the worst of it, then I am going to have an incredible day.  The beauty of life is the unpredictability of it.  Am I meant to have been delayed this morning by that mundane event which resulted in this unexpected post?

When I start to ask questions such as these, I sometimes will take a look at my daily horoscope.  It’s more information regardless of whether it’s good or bad.  The day will inform me of that.  Here is what it said:

You have only just scratched the surface on a new endeavor. Keep digging today and you could uncover the whole beautiful thing (at any rate, you should make amazing progress). Acting in the moment is important today — spontaneous energy will feed new ideas and encourage everything to keep going in the right direction. If you’ve been waiting for a day to exhale, it’s today. You even have permission to get excited. This is going to happen!

I have got to hop in the shower and get out there!

Posted June 11, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Livio Voghera Barbera d’Alba Riserva 2009   11 comments

A Summer house in the Hamptons and a cast of interesting people.  For drama, you don’t need much else.

There was the dress designer, Dresser, a childhood friend of my future ex-wife.  There was his boyfriend, Geoffrey, who could not quite make up his mind if he was happy being a man.  If that was not entertainment enough, there was the older woman, who insisted on being recognized as a “Citizen of the World”.  There was Liz, part of the other Hetero couple in the house, who had a business connection to Dresser.   She was obsessed with being the “Coolest Mom in the World” to her 13-year-old son.  (Note to self– “Cool” parents are permissive.)  There was also a collection of Dresser’s friends, who did not pay rent but who managed to position themselves for invitations to the house on many weekends.  Some of these were gay or they were models, sometimes both, and many of them moochers, miscreants and charlatans who showed up to his weekly parties– vodka-fueled antics that were punctuated by the ritualistic slaughter of many unfortunate Maine lobsters.  

And there was the beautiful Argentine.  Not particularly tall, but leggy nonetheless.  My favorite memories of that Summer are the idle moments spent poolside, sunglassed, and entranced by her bathing attire.   Nothing more than “postage stamps held together by dental floss,” as Dresser would say.  Each and every day, those words resonated with me as I reclined in full appreciation of the care she took to tan her rounded buttocks in the mid-day Hampton Sun.  

It was a fantastic Summer till it all fell apart when the Heteros in the household banded together demanding a weekend of Quiet that didn’t happen.  It turns out that a party every weekend with a bunch of strangers was not all that it was cracked up to be.   That was perhaps inevitable.  But for today let us focus on the good things that came out of that summer and especially the scantily clad Argentine Princess.  Believe me, there is plenty of drama in that…

Now this recollection might normally lead to a review of an Argentine wine.  But there are many Argentines of Italian descent and I can live with that intersection of humanity even if it comes via the Hamptons.

 

When I catch myself unconsciously smacking my lips and clicking my tongue it’s usually cause by particularly striking sunbathing attire on a beautiful woman or merely a very good wine.  In either case, I sit up and take notice.  

Barberas with their natural acidity have always been appealing to me.  But it’s not all about the acid.  They also have the right amount of weight and depth that appeals to me.  

The last two Barberas that I have tasted are from Alba.  Located within Piemonte in northern Italy, Alba is one of two towns fabled for the production of better Barberas.  It seems easier to find Barberas from Asti.  But it does not take that much more of an effort to find the ones from nearby Alba.  Both are good, even if they have different characters.  Personally, I have found the ones from Asti to be a bit more minerally in character, whereas the ones from Alba are earthier.   Both sport appealing red and black fruit flavors.  But these days, at least, the ones from Alba draw my eye like a well-appointed bikini. 

Livio Voghera Barbera d'Alba Riserva 2009Livio Voghera Barbera d’Alba Riserva 2009 ($20).  A lovely if not quite powerful nose: touches of earth and perhaps a hint of tar transmogrify into a mix of stoney black plum and perhaps some violets and a smattering of hyacinth.  These give way to a medley of obdurate berries– red and black– that are insistent on having a fencing contest in my mouth.  En garde!  Thrust!  Parry!  What a nice finish.  My head says this is worth 3 stars.  But my mouth is clamoring for more.  Perhaps that’s the 14.5% alcohol speaking, but today– Mouth wins.  Rated ***1/2

Posted June 10, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

NGW: Domenico Clerico Langhe Visadi Dolcetto 2010   9 comments

Go ahead, criticize me for the comparison.  I dare you.

Visiting Venice several years back, my daughter and I found ourselves at the Ponte de Sospiri, or the Bridge of Sighs.  An enclosed bridge, which according to local tradition, offered a final view of the outside world before prisoners were taken to their incarceration.  But this is merely a stream-of-consciousness introduction to what I really want to get at. 

Although built in 1602, the bridge was given its name by 19th century international Rude Boy, Lord Byron.  He was that century’s version of the Chris Brown of our own times.   What?

Roaming all over the place, having lots of sex and putting down rhymes.  In Venice, Byron paused from his travels upon falling for Marianna Segati, in whose Venice house he had been lodging.  But she was soon to be replaced by 22-year-old Margarita Cogni.  Both women were married.  Cogni could neither read nor write.  But she had other desirable qualities and soon left her husband to move into Byron’s Venetian Crib.  All was not bliss– their frequent fighting resulted in Byron spending many a night in his gondola.  Eventually, he asked her to leave the house and she threw herself into the Venetian canal.  Beautiful.

When the first two cantos of Byron’s Don Juan were published anonymously in 1819, the poem was criticized for its ‘immoral content’, though it was also immensely popular.  Don Juan (Canto IX) may have summed it up best:

Love is vanity,

Selfish in its beginning as its end,

Except where ’tis a mere insanity.

Or as CB put it more personally in Deuces, his FU song (click here) to a certain girl he had broken with:

You’ll regret the day when I find another girl, yeah
Who knows just what I need, she knows just what I mean
When I tell her keep it drama free
Chuckin up them (deuces)
I told you that I’m leaving (deuces)
I know you mad but so what?
I wish you best of luck
And now I’m finna throw them deuces up

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

I’m on some new shit
I’m chuckin my deuces up to her
I’m moving on to something better, better, better
No more tryin to make it work
You made me wanna say bye bye, say bye bye, say bye bye to her

Live Fast.  Die Young.  In February of 1824, Byron suffered a small stroke– some say caused by excessive boozing.  In April of that year he was caught in a storm while riding and became ill.  He died of fever on April 19, 1824.  Byron dead at 36. 

In honor of his Italian adventures here is a lovely Dolcetto (little sweet one) with its own desirable qualities:

Domenico Clerico Langhe Visadi Dolcetto 2010 ($13).  Opening with mild woodsy notes, it undressed a bit at a time to reveal tart cherries with an undercurrent of mint and lavender on the midpalate.  Finishing with a touch of cocoa and firm tannins, it is drinkable now but I suspect will improve with 3-5 years in bottle.  I rate it for what it is now, not what it may become, but I will buy an extra bottle or three to see just how right I am.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

La Commedia è finita!   4 comments

Clueless in Brooklyn.  We began our Year of Living Unwittingly in a time warp.

Two Yuppies beginning life’s adventure together in the mid-1980s in the Big City.  As we shopped around for an apartment, we were told (by some real estate agent) that Carrol Gardens, was the safest neighborhood in New York City.  That’s how we ended up here in this place that at least at that moment, Time seemed to have forgotten.  More likely, Time may have just misplaced it.   

Image DetailSince we were just starting out, the apartment had many desirable qualities.  It was magnificent in certain aspects.  It was on the parlor floor of a Brooklyn brownstone with inlaid parquet wood floors, 14 foot tall corniced ceilings, white alabaster fireplace and a floor to ceiling gilded mirror decorated with cherubs and such along the upper part of the frame– that was just the living room.  That grand VERTICAL scale was a jaw dropper for sure.  Horizontally– that is to say square footage wise?  Well, that was a bit more of a challenge.  The 13 foot christmas tree we put up that first year took up nearly one half of the aforementioned living room.  The apartment also had the smallest full bathroom I had ever seen– a room with the scale of an undersized powder room crammed with toilet, shower stall, a sink the size of a dentist’s spit-bowl and about 2 square feet of floor space in which to stand if the shower stall was ignored.  Forget about counter space– it did not exist, so why talk about it?  But for two kids just starting out the apartment had one more really important feature– it was cheap.  And it was complete bliss.   

Stepping out the front door, to the left and a couple of blocks away, there was the NYC Police Department’s 76th precinct.  But that is hardly the reason the neighborhood was safe.   Turning to the right, and a couple of blocks the other way, at the corner of Union and Court streets, was the medical center for the International Longshoremen’s Union, named at that time after the long dead Anthony “Tough Tony” Anastasio.  He was Vice-president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, head of local 1814 of the ILA in Brooklyn during the 1940s and 1950s and he controlled the Brooklyn Waterfront.  Union HQ was back then, as I recall, located just across the Court Street from the Medical Center.  Anthony Anastasio was also younger brother of notorious Mafia figure Albert Anastasia.  

11 Witnesses and nobody saw nuttin’

Although Anthony officially died of a heart attack in 1963, his brother Albert was, um, less fortunate, having been gunned down in Godfather style while he relaxed in a barber chair, hot towel on face, getting ready for nice shave at his favorite barber shop in the Park Sheraton, a midtown Manhattan hotel, on a late October afternoon in 1957.  The story is told that after being shot in the initial fusillade of bullets, Albert had enough fight in him to mount a counter-attack.  He was not going down easy, but disoriented, he instead lunged at his killers’ reflections in the barber shop’s mirrors. 

 Pictures of the towel-draped Albert– who as head of Murder Incorporated was responsible for 700-100 murders– have always fascinated me.  A shattered mirror in the background and in one photo reflections of the investigators trying to piece together Albert’s last moments.  The last act in a morality spectacle that speaks poignantly of the consequences of crossing the wrong people and letting your guard down.   

Yes, it was a very safe NYC neighborhood.  Although located just 30 minutes via subway from Midtown, many of the local residents had not been to Manhattan in 20 or 30 years.  Why bother?

Sandwiched in between the constabulary encampment and the medical facility, you could find a white stone building with red awnings– an unusual feature in that particular stretch of Union Street– a real restaurant, not a pizza place, a REAL restaurant.

Image DetailOne evening, we decided to have dinner there and upon arrival were greeted by a double-wide refrigerator of a man, dressed in tuxedo.   This was a colossal block of a man.  Impenetrable and cut muscle with a thick neck that rose from squared-off shoulders supporting a substantial medicine ball of a head covered with slicked back hair that framed his dark brown unsmiling eyes.  Aside from the tasteful red awnings, the presence of Signore Musculo was the first sign that maybe this was not such a good idea.  

Formal attire in this homey stretch of Brooklyn was not congruent– this, a place where 3 a.m. arguments usually ended an exchange of  a Brooklyn style Fare-Thee-Well:  “F***, you!”  To which the quick-witted reply, “F*** Me?  No, no, no, F*** YOU!”  You get the picture. 

Too late to reverse course, we let the massive maitre d’ usher us to our table– at the front of the restaurant– by the window, of course.  Typically the best seat in any joint.  But this somehow felt different.

Here was an observation post where we could watch the neighborhood stroll by and COINCIDENTALLY, where we could ourselves be simultaneously kept under the watchful eye of Mr. Large Appliance and the old ladies across.  And being in the front, we would also serve as human shields in any potential drive by shooting.  Did I mention we were Clueless?  Maybe I am imagining this, maybe it was just great service?  Nah!

I’m sure we had some nondescript Chianti out of a carafe.  What was more memorable, née, remarkable, was the incredible rollatini which we ate with relish, though speedy dispatch, once it dawned on us that it would be best to skip dessert that night.  Perfectly cooked eggplant rolls containing a succulent combination of italian cheeses and herbs, covered in a blanket of melted mozzarella and adorned with a just the right amount of tangy-sweet marinara.  Finishing that, do we linger over a couple of espressos? 

I’m thinking that I’ll make coffee at home.  “Check please.”

Leaving the restaurant, we knew we would never eat there again.  That was probably best even if I still remember that it was the best damn rollatini I ever ate.

Image DetailWalking the one and one-half block stroll back home that night, I am certain that we were kept under the knowing and curious eyes of the “Neighborhood Watch”– those aging ladies perched on their window sills, including Exhibit A, the gravel-voiced Rose, sister of our landlady, Mary.  Sharing her raspy observations and social commentary with her sister:

“Mare, didja getaloada auwlla dat gauwbage dey was pullin’ outta dat movin’ trook acrauws da’ street?”   

[Translation: Mary, did you take a gander at the substandard furnishings that our new neighbors across the way were having unloaded from the moving van?”]

Her’s was not a subtle patois.  But, it was typical for this venue.

We were aliens.  Just passing through.  They knew it.  We eventually figured that out.  And so, they kept a respectful distance– we were short-timers on a short fuse.  Most of the people there had some connection (blood relation, employment, etc.) to the fellas who though typically unseen, really ran the neighborhood.  And the ones you did see– the sandpaper-throated Rose and her ilk– you would not want to mess with them either.  Yes, it was the safest neighborhood in New York City.

But that eggplant!  Now I’m not saying these rollatini taste like the ones we ate that night in the red awninged establishment– they do not.  But it’s a good start and you should not face any mortal danger as you eat these.

Union Street Rollatini

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 3 Eggplants (no need to peel, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices)
  • 1 Egg
  • 24 oz. of Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 lb. Mozzarella Cheese (coarsely grated)
  • 1 cup Parmesano Reggiano (finely grated)
  • 3 Tbsps. of toasted Pignoli (Pine Nuts)
  • 1 cup of Fresh Basil Chiffonade (cut into long, thin strips)
  • Kosher Salt

Directions

  1. Preheat Oven to 350 DEGREES F.
  2. Spread the Eggplant slices out on racks or in a colander and generously salt.  Set aside for 15 minutes and let brown liquid (which can add bitterness to eggplant) drain away.  While this is happening, get yourself a nice glass of Italian red wine, put your feet up and enjoy life a bit.
  3. Pat the Eggplant slices dry with a paper towel.  Brush the Eggplant slices with EVOO and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, checking to make sure that the eggplant does not burn. 
  4. While the egg-plant is roasting, beat the Egg and combine with Ricotta, 1/2 of the Mozzarella and 1/2 of the Pecorino (save 1/2 of the latter two cheeses for use in up for Step 8, below).
  5. Mix in the Pignoli.
  6. Gently fold in the Fresh Basil (do not over work the cheese mixture) and set aside.
  7. Once the Eggplant is cool enough to handle, place a healthy dollop of the Cheese mixture at the wider end of the cooked Eggplant and tightly roll, trying not to squeeze out the Cheese mixture.  Place in baking dish so they all touch each other with the end of the roll facing downward.
  8. Season with salt and sprinkle with remaining Mozzarella and Parmesano (from Step 4, above).
  9. Place in the preheated oven and bake until cheese bubbles into a golden brown– about 20-25 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the Mob Marinara (see recipe below).  You may need to finish for a few minutes under a broiler to get the desired golden brown color on the cheese.
  10. Remove the Cannelloni from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes or so to let the cheese set.  

Mob Marinara

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 1 medium-sized White Onion
  • 2 Garlic Cloves (crushed and minced)
  • 1 32 oz. Can of San Marzano Tomatoes (crushed in a bowl by hand)
  • 1 cup of Fresh Basil Leaves torn by hand
  • Kosher Salt

Directions

  1. Warm up the EVOO and cook the garlic and onion.  Cook over medium heat until softened and translucent.
  2. Add San Marzano Tomatoes bring to mild boil and reduce to simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Taste for seasoning and add Salt to taste.

Simple cuisine calls for a wine that’s understandable, if not simple.  These are not simple wines; yet they bang the drum, Pagliacci style, for cuisine from the motherland– or at least certain parts of Brooklyn.  They will pop with pasta, tomato sauces and Italian cheeses.  They will dance with vitello tonnato and sparkle against prosciutto di Parma.  And with today’s eggplant dish they might inspire you to believe in the magic of memory.

We have come a long way from nondescript Chianti.

Ettore Germano Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 ($21).  Pale in color but not flavor.  Juicy red fruit, suitable acidity and fine tannins.  A great wine to drink while you’re waiting for your Barolos to mature.  Rated ***

Ferrero Rosso de Montalcino 2009 ($21).  Ferrero’s Sangiovese vineyards sit between Banfi’s Poggio all’Oro Riserva vineyard and Argiano in the southwest corner of Montalcino.  Built of 100% Sangiovese, this has energetic cranberry-referenced red fruit that is almost Pinot Noir like.  With bright acidity and soft tannins., this is not meant for aging– it is for today. Rated **1/2

 

La Commedia è finita!

Posted June 4, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love