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NGW: Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008   4 comments

Today’s wine has me thinking of the kind of baked cherry pie you can find in many diners and humble restaurants across the land.  The kind of place where lives, lust and philosophy intersect as people scratch out a living. 

Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008 ($9). 100% Mencia and 100% delicious.  Opening with baked pie notes this medium bodied Spanish wine had satisfying tart cherry flavors.  Yet not so tart as to be unbalanced.  Finishing with soft acidity and tannins, this is to be savored now, but you might tuck away one or two for the future.  Rated **1/2

Continuing,  it reminded me of a place I spent a bit of time of in my late teens.  And as usual, things then took on a life of their own…
 
N was a human shark and he was always working some scam.  Whether the objective was to get a quick buck or a quick lay, he was always measuring the situation, figuring the angles.  With an avaricious heart and lascivious eyes he came into the family by marriage to my aunt.  In his youth, tall, handsome with a flat-top haircut, a winning smile, he stood out in the family photos.  His true character hidden under a polished veneer. 
 
By profession, he was a waiter in an upscale restaurant which he used to catapult him into a series of marital infidelities.  His wife was devoted and beautiful.  But he was compelled by an uncontrollable libido.
 
Naturally took a mistress– an Italian-American girl.  One of those Italian girls from the Borough of Queens in New York City. 
 
While entertaining out-of-town relations, N received a phone call from his teary-eyed mistress.  The blood drained from his face.  His hands turned cold and he broke into a cold sweat.  Seems the girl’s father, who was a local mobster, had supposedly dispatched an armed goon squad to N’s home to exact retribution for some disrespect shown to himself or his daughter.  Probably the fact that she was with a married man was sufficient to put Daddy in a sour mood.  But knowing N, as I do, there is much more to the story, which we will never know.  Turning to his visiting relatives, and explaining the situation with the least detail that he could, in a panic, he summoned them to quickly pack some bags for the hasty retreat out-of-town.  Piling into two cars, they headed down the NJ Turnpike to relative anonymity in the heart of southern New Jersey. 
 
How he explained this to his wife, I do not know.  Somehow, it never became an issue that destroyed their marriage.  But he is a slippery character. 

Women may forgive, but they do not forget.  Women of that generation surrendered themselves to their men, opened their legs, bore children and sealed their fates.  Surrender and capture at the same time.  But some men are not meant for the captivity of domesticity.  They are of two minds– they desire the normalcy, if you want to call it that of a home life– wife, kids, making donuts from 9-to-5, weekends in the park flying kites, dinner on the table, Johnny Carson fading to a silent deathly marital slumber.  But they have the craving for that life outside of home.  And in N’s case, with as many other women as would have him.  To him, each of these women were the same– surrendering themselves to him, opening their legs, and sealing their fates.  Is she playing him?  Or is he playing her?  It is a dangerous game.  And no one is in control though everyone thinks he or she is. 

Finding himself in one of the darker parts of the State of New Jersey, with his restaurant expertise, and because he was “family”, he convinced his brother-in-law to help him purchase a local eatery in a neighboring town.  It was a greasy spoon of an establishment in the heart of southern New Jersey.  For a short while, I worked there as a 16-year-old dishwasher.  

The town was at that time home to hillbillies, whores, racists and those who coveted thy neighbor’s wives.  (Of course, there were normal folks there as well, but they were pretty boring.)  He fell right in with the rhythm of the place.   However, being a Big City Boy of Puerto Rican descent, his perception was that he would not be considered desirable by the Welcoming Committee of the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.  His concern may not have been so far-fetched: the town was lily-white at that time and it was rumored that the local KKK branch was led by a suspicious and crusty old coot who was a sometime customer of the restaurant.  N’s solution to the problem was to claim Greek heritage.  So he was a Big City Greek.  Somehow, he thought this was better.  Most of the locals had never met a Greek before and he could pass for a reasonable facsimile if one did not know better.  But most of them also knew the sound of spoken Spanish even if they had never heard Greek before.  Still the ploy must have worked because we never found any burning crosses in front of the restaurant.  Or perhaps this was just all a product of N’s paranoia.  (As Curt Cobain once wrote: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”)

He was in his element—with an urbane manner and the exoticism of being thought of as a son of the Peloponnesus, the horny middle-aged local gals beat a path to his door.  Not having learned his lesson from the Italian Job, he reeled them in and had his way with them in a myriad of places including the restaurant kitchen after closing time: flesh slapping panting grunting rendezvous amongst the detritus of restaurant life: piles of plates, cutlery, wet dish rags, saucers, fry pans, spatulas and strainers, tomato sauce cans, pepper, oregano, garlic, dried basil, paprika, pickles, salt and leftover spaghetti. 

Meanwhile, his wife waited for him in the apartment above the restaurant.

He always made a point of justifying his behavior to me by explaining that once a man aged to the point in life where an erection was physically impossible to obtain, all he had was his memories.  So his mission was to build a pornographic library of memories that he could run like a highlight reel toward the end of his life.  His wife was not permitted the same privileges.  I wonder if she ever took on a lover of her own?  If she did , then she did it in a way that he never found out.  Soft-spoken and shy because she was not confident in her ability to speak English, she was nonetheless striking.  Raven-haired, with piercing dark eyes, she was tall, slim, you would never hear her walk into a room, she just seemed to appear, as a ghost appears.  

During business hours, the restaurant was populated by an oddball collection of customers who were served by a tiny cadre of waitresses culled from the local workforce.  The front of the house had a total of 16 booths and a juke box by the window to the left of the entrance.  Though small, the place was never filled.  One waitress could handle it easily on most evenings. 

There were 2, maybe 3 waitresses employed at any one time.  These were women with stories to tell and secrets to hide.  All of them were just decent people just trying to make it, living paycheck to paycheck, carrying the burdens of working class poverty and dreams of a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.  Sometimes, they were trying just to earn enough to buy their next round of drinks at the local road house, a place where they could sit back, Venus fly traps with legs spread open waiting for their next meal ticket to alight on their fragrant petals.   The smells of the restaurant kitchen, a combination of sweat and cooking grease stuck to their clothes and their salty skin at the end of each day.  Some went home and burnished their skin, till it glowed as white as porcelain and carried the scent of Ivory Soap.  Some covered  their musky odor with strong perfume.  Either way, theirs was a smell redolent of struggle and survival. 

And since the pay was meager and the tips inadequate—the place was a revolving door for a stream of waitresses.    

Buck-toothed Carol for one—we did not really call her that, but her upper mandible stuck out so as to give her a rather horsey appearance—so it seems fitting today.  Due to this unique physical feature, some words, like “perspiration” were often too difficult for her to pronounce: “sperspiration, I mean sweat!” she would say.  After the dinner “rush”, she would feed the juke box.  Her favorite was the Eagles, Lyin’ Eyes with its western twang:  

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin eyes

On the other side of town a boy is waiting
with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal
She drives on through the night anticipating
‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel

She rushes to his arms,
They fall together
She whispers that it’s only for a while
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She pulls away and leaves him with a smile

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes

In her late thirties or perhaps early forties and married to a greasy-haired flaccid hillbilly of a husband with two equally greasy gelatinous children, she befriended Bearded Norman, a regular customer whose greatest attributes were a prodigiously full and dark Agamemnon-like beard and the fact that his chariot was an equally dark pickup truck that he would park in front of the restaurant where he would take many of his dinners on nights when Carol was working.  Combine these fine qualities with a middle-aged paunch, and you could see that Bearded Norman was quite the catch– if you were Buck-toothed Carol.  I realized that their relationship had progressed beyond professional when I spied them chatting intimately in the cab of the pickup as I was leaving work one evening.  After Buck-toothed Carol quit, I never saw Bearded Norman again.  I guess he wasn’t there for the fine cuisine.

There was Faye, a younger woman than Carol, then in her late twenties, perhaps, early thirties, curvaceous, pretty face, but most remarkable for the fact that at such a young age, she wore dentures after having lost all of her front teeth.  Whether this loss was caused by disease or fist, I do not know.  Leaving little to the imagination, she did let on as indiscreetly as possible that many of her paramours were entranced by this attribute.  Not being the shy type, she once popped out her dentures to show us her naked gums. 

These were people serving food, right?  So yummy.

After Carol and Faye, there were two other waitresses there that made an impression on me.  First there was a Nordic beauty, whose name is now lost to me.  She was married to fellow named Hans.  They lived in a mobile trailer home, but she was comfortable with what she had and I sensed that she had no shame about living in such impoverished circumstances.  She was one of the most centered people I have ever met.  In some respects, she was angelic.  But she had lived enough to see the other, darker side of human nature.

Then, there was my secret crush, Terry.  She was in her early 20’s, a trim brown-eyed mass of mischief, freckles and brown hair.  Her boyfriend, Bad-Boy-George, was what my father would disparagingly have referred to as a hippie: stringy long-haired, moustached, and drugged-up.  The kind of guy Dad wanted me to avoid.  She was too good for him, but she seemed happy.  Visiting the restaurant during one of my college breaks my Freshman year, I sat in a booth with the Scandinavian goddess, to catch up on the stuff going on in my new collegiate life.  Terry was finishing the afternoon shift, and plopped herself down in the booth directly across from me—just a big how-do-you-do smile beaming across her face.  We leaned across the table to give a friendly greeting kiss.  As we met, I was surprised by the warm and wet kiss that was waiting for me.  We lingered there for a moment.  Then we sat down– each of us a little embarrassed.  Not knowing whether she was serious or just playing around for fun, I did not say a word.  A quick query, “Did I just see some tongue there?”, asked Ms. Scandinavia.  I blushed.  Neither of us was going to answer that question.  It just sort of happened.  Apparently, my crush was not so secret.

Later that evening, accepting an invitation from Terry, I ended up at the house that she shared with George.  I knew that George and one of his buddies would also be also there, but I figured, why not go and check out the scene.  Also, I was secretly hoping that maybe he would not be there.  Naturally, he was right on time and waiting for her arrival. 

Despite the fact that he was a ne’er-do-well, he wasn’t such a bad guy, really.  But she was still too good for him. 

Taking leave that night, I got in my car, turned the engine over and pulled out the driveway, each stone in the gravel driveway heaving under the crush of the rubber tires.  It had started to rain and waving good-bye, her smile faded, through tear-like droplets of water, as I spied her through the rear view mirror.  She turned her back and walked back into her life.  Driving home that night, I thought I would see her on my return trips back home.  But I never made the time to do that.  That was 1978.  Some years later, I asked N about her.  Terry had succumbed to cancer before reaching the age of 40. 

I like to think that Terry thought of me over the years.  Maybe she did.  Maybe not.  I know she pops into my mind now and again.  When she does, I remember that last day we spent together and my lonesome drive home in a light rain that night.

The years pass us by in an instant.  N is a broken man now– on dialysis, diabetic, and hollowed out.  When it comes to me, he can’t hide behind the now cracked veneer– elderly and ailing.  The wood beneath that veneer was never of the highest quality.  I know him from the inside out.  I suspect that, as he predicted, he is replaying that highlight reel in his head even as his broken body is failing him.

Despite his lack of qualifications as a role model, N was right in one respect: as you take the last few laps of life, ONE of the things we are left with is memories.  The others, if you play your cards well, are love and respect.  I am not sure how much he has of these last two.  These are the good things in life that one should always linger over…

Those Things and Memories of Accidental kisses.

 
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 July 18, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: The New Roman Triumvirate   9 comments

As one cabbie in Florence put it so succinctly and with “all due respect”: 

“Are you courageous or stupid?” 

Traveling with three women to Europe, always allow 1 hour for drama.  Ms. R has her own pace and she is not to be rushed.  It’s not that she is horribly late, but 15 or 30 minutes is nothing to her.  She has a habit of making me routinely late to anything we have to get to.

The drama started before we even left the country.  Too late in leaving the house, we ran into major traffic on the way to the airport.  Some of us had not had lunch, so we made a “quick” stop at the nearest Castillo Blanco for a 10-burger sack– a strategic error on my part– but I know how cranky Ms. R can be when she hasn’t eaten (it’s almost as bad as me).  Yes, we love those square little burgers.

By the time we arrived at the airport long-term parking lot, we were about 90 minutes from the scheduled departure time.  Normally, airlines recommend that you arrive at the Terminal at least two hours before departure on international flights.  There are, as it turns out, good reasons for this. 

We were still a short train ride away from the Terminal.  Naturally, Delta has two terminals and we went to the wrong one.  70 minutes to departure.  No problem says they– they permitted Ms. R to check her bags there.  I am thinking, “Say goodbye to those bags– they will never make it to Rome.”  (I was carrying mine on.)  We were instructed to proceed to security check-in at this Terminal and after clearing security, board a shuttle bound for the correct Terminal. 

“But you will have to hurry!” 

Airport Security– the now accepted Privacy Invasion Experience.  300 people in line in front of us.  60 minutes to departure.  The numbers are adding up to a whole lot of stress.  While we stand in line, Ms. R snakes her way past the crowd to see if she can find a legal way to cut the line.  “Sure,” comes the reply, “just ask everyone in front of you to let you cut!”  As she is making her way back to the three of us, a miracle– like a Biblical parting of the seas, the crowd behind us parts to let through an airport employee, pushing a wheelchair ferrying someone’s enfeebled grandmother past the throng.  Traipsing behind is a line of Granny’s family members.  45 minutes to departure.  With the slightest encouragement from my fellow travelers, we hitch ourselves to the end of Granny’s Entourage.  The last member of her family is a 12 or 13-year-old boy wearing a bright green shirt. 

“Follow the Green Shirt, Girls!”   

“Yes!  This is actually working!”  Meeting Ms. R halfway up the queue, as first the wheelchair-bound biddy and each of her family members pass her she looked surprised when she saw us hot on the heels of the Green Shirt.  As I walked past her all I said was “Follow us!”  This she did to many a dirty look from the people just ahead who had witnessed her ploy and did not know what to make of the fact that she had acquired a family of 10 people, one in a wheelchair.  Yet they all kept silent.  As we snaked our way past the 300, I admonished myself– “Don’t make eye contact!” 

“Stick with the Green Shirt, Girls!”

My stomach in knots.  40 minutes to departure.  Our flight is boarding.  But we are just getting to the body scanners.  Naturally, I am the one that gets stopped by airport security for not one, but three body scans and a frisk.  I would have stopped me too– I’m stressed, I’m perspiring, I’m a mess.  The minutes ticking away.  And we are still in the wrong Terminal!

Running to the shuttle, we get on and take the 5 minute ride to the correct Terminal.  Interesting word, “terminal”.  A noun in this instance describing a place, but normally an adjective or adverb describing a situation– as in terminal disease, or as the Eagles sang, “She was terminally pretty”.  It does not describe situations that I like to find myself in.  The shuttle lurches to a stop half way to our Terminal.  There is some crazy traffic rule about yielding the right of way to aircraft on the tarmac.  WTF!  35 minutes to departure!  Now going to 30!  Aircraft doors closing about 15 minutes before departure.  The shuttle lurches forward.  Pulling into the terminal we sprint for our Gate. 

Gate.  A better word, I think.  There is safety inside the Gate.  But the Gate can bar your entry.  Which shall it be?  Arriving at the Gate we are relieved to see that there remain about a dozen passengers that need to board.  We queue up behind them knowing we will get on the plane.  Reaching our seats, we stow away our carry-ons.  I am now ready for a strong cocktail and for this plane to pull away from the Gate. 

And then—- we sit.  In fact, we sit for long while.  30 minutes past the time that we should have left.  Then the voice of the Captain comes on overhead.  We’re delayed while they locate some luggage that is supposed to be on our flight.  After sitting for over an hour past our departure time, they located the missing luggage.  And we were off.

Now I can’t prove this, but I am certain that it was Ms. R’s luggage which she checked in at the wrong Terminal that held up our flight.  Today, some three weeks since that day, I chuckle about this.  Not only did she make me late.  She delayed a whole damn airplane! 

But I am the only one who really knows this.

Am I Courageous or Stupid?  More the latter, I have to admit.  But I would gladly do that again.  But next time without the drama at the airport, of course. 

Arriving in Rome the following morning, a heat wave has accompanied us from New York.  We settled into our Roman apartment in Trastevere.  Having washed the stink of travel from our bodies, we settled in for the evening– a little jet lagged and thirsty for some Italian wine.  Here are some of the things we drank the first 4 nights in Rome.  Maybe, they won’t taste as good outside of Italy.  Maybe they will bring back a few funny memories of the day an invalid in a wheelchair came to our rescue. 

As Caesar might have said: Veni, Vidi, Bibi!  For a trio of women, today we get a trio of vino bianco. 

      

Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2011 (€12).  With floral component on the nose, this is a tasty treat that is perfect for a Roman Holiday.  This has very pleasant acidity providing an ample backbone for the fruit.  Rated **

Müller-Thurgau Alto Adige – Südtirol 2011 (€5).  Opening with a little funkiness that led to kiwi with a touch of fizz and minerality and a limey acidity on the finish, this just kept satisfying.   A great bargain at this price!  Rated **1/2

Carpeni Malvotti Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore Conegliano and Valdobibiadene (NV) (€9).  A thirst quenching Prosecco, with clean floral notes, a slight yet pleasing sweetness balanced out by just the right amount of acidity.  Serve well chilled on a hot night.  Rated **

Postscript: on the flight back to New York, we arrived at the Gate a stress-free 90 minutes before boarding. 
 

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 July 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010.   4 comments

George Clooney is a Bastard.  Isn’t he?

Of course I know it’s Friday!  But after a nine-hour flight yesterday, I am still fighting off the after-effects of Jet-lag as I release this week’s NG Wednesday post.  You see, we have just returned from two weeks in the land of Caesar, Nero, Caligula and Burlusconi.  Here also, the influence of the Medici and the Venetian Dukes can still be felt.  Hundreds of years ago, these were places where secret accusations and private trials could result in your imprisonment.  Face your accuser?  Not likely.  Right against self-incrimination?  Too progressive.  Cruel and Unusual Punishment was the norm.  But this being the 21st Century, and what may have passed for progressive thinking back then is more the norm nowadays. 

And since we are in a new century, it is also now the Land of Clooney– well at least if you go to Lake Como it feels that way.  A true Sybarite, if ever there was one.  And, of course, he has the coin to be able to easily pull this off.  If I didn’t admire his lifestyle so much, I’d say he’s a bastard.  And that he might just be.  But I guess I could handle being called a bastard and worse if I lived like he does.

The Italian economy may be sucking wind.  There may be earthquakes and shipwrecks to contend with.  But it is still Italy and that means that it still has plenty of magic embedded in the pure fact of its existence.   Who can blame Clooney for wanting to live it up in Italy during the Summer?  I can think of worse places to spend Euros like a fool.

One of the highlights of the excursion was a visit to Piemonte (which included a luncheon in Barolo and a special tasting of the wines of Ettore Germano) and La Banca del Vino.  Located in Pollenzo, which is situated just west of Alba in Piemonte, we were treated to some interesting wines.  (Many thanks to our friends, Marclifestyle and Silvia, for setting this up!)

But first, a little bit about La Banca del Vino.  It is part of the college of gastronomy, where students enter a three-year course of study to learn about food & beverage appreciation.  This is not a cooking school.  But the campus includes a fine restaurant, a hotel, classrooms and of course La Banca.  A good way to think of this place is that it appears to follow the “Teaching Hospital” model, where classroom instruction is accompanied by hands on practical experience in the hotel, restaurant and La Banca, where the students interact with visitors from outside the campus.  At the end of their studies some graduates move on jobs in the hospitality industry or become food and wine writers.

La Banca is a place where many quality Italian producers “deposit” or more appropriately “contribute” a few cases of their vintages for storing and aging in the very fine air controlled vault built on the foundation of what used to be a mausoleum.  Many of the highest quality names, large and small, in Italian wine can be found here.  

Associati alla Banca del VinoAfter touring the vault, we participated in a tasting of 5 wines (Euro 20 per person).  The student manning the vault that day was a young woman, self-assured and smart, if not always correct in describing the wines we tasted.  There were a couple of areas where there could be improvement in the presentation of the wine for the tasting.  First, she presented each wine but asked us not to taste them before they were all poured out in order to allow them to develop in the glass simultaneously.  Fair enough—but then she put the wines bottles away from us so that we had to keep rising from the tasting table to look at the bottles to see what it was that we were drinking.  In her short description, she provided vintages, regions and varietals, though she did not name any of the producers.  Whether this is by design or by oversight, I am not sure. This could have been solved if the tasting were to include a short menu of the wines with vintage, varietal, producer, appellation and so forth.

During the tasting, the flight of wines included a Barbera, two Nebbiolos, an Aglianico and a Nero d’Avola.  Off the bat, before even tasting, I was not looking forward to the Nero d’Avola, as I tend to often find that they are overripe, over-extracted and too rustic for my taste.  Keep an open mind I had to remind myself as we worked our way through the tasting and arrived at the NdA.  The two Nebbiolos, one from Gattinara near the Italian Alps, and the other from Barbaresco, were the ones I was looking forward to tasting.  The Barbera was also high on the list. 

Cascina Castelet Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006.  Initially opening with characteristic Barbera acidity, this seemed to soften as it opened up.  Revealing the classic combination of red and black fruit, this is an accessible Barbera.  Did I mention this is food friendly?  Rated **1/2

Torraccia Del Piantavigna Gattinara 2007.  The best wine of the tasting.  With aromas reminiscent of forest, this Nebbiolo changed as we sipped at it revealing herbs and a lovely finish with supportive tannins.  Rated ***

Sottimano Barbaresco 2002.  This was a very difficult vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco.  With so much rain, the grapes in some vineyards were too bloated to ripen properly.  Then a hail storm hit causing so much damage throughout the region that many producers did not harvest the crop.  Sottimano was one of the few producers to bottle their single vineyard Barbaresco.  Had this been a complete blind tasting, I would have said this was a California wine.  Opening and finishing with a strong oak presence, it was fruit forward (more international in style) and even at 12 years of age still retained strong tannins.  It was our least favorite wine of the tasting and yet, given the vintage’s challenges, is a success of sorts.  Rated **

Damaschito Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture 2007.  Approachable dried fruit aromas and flavors, it reminded me of why I like Aglianico.  Rated **1/2

Gulfi Nerojbleo Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2003.  An in your face nose full of earth and dark fruit, this was the surprise wine of the tasting.  Well balanced. This is one that would easily accompany many grilled dishes.  Perhaps the fruit was tamed by the fact that it is a 9-year-old bottle.  Definitely the oldest NdA I have ever had.  Rated **1/2

These wines may not be easily available in the U.S., but they present a lesson in keeping an open mind—the words that I used as I took my first taste of the surprisingly good Nero d’Avola.  With this Italian inspiration, here is

Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010 ($8).  An attractive blend of Negroamaro (40%), Primitivo (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) , this is a nice example of what wine from Puglia can be.  Fruit forward on the nose and palate, it delivers soft red and black plum essence, though it is really done in a stripped down “Plain Jane” style.  The Cabernet lends it structure and it has surprisingly good length for the money.  Rated **
 
Now, I am not Clooney.  But for the past two weeks I felt the magic.  We laughed.  We sang.  We ate very well.  And we popped the corks on some nice bottles.
 

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 July 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

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