CHRISTMAS DINNER, ROME 1943
IN THIS ISSUE
BOOKS AND GIFTS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
by Geoff Kalish
BOOKS AND GIFTS
FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By John Mariani
FRENCH WINE: A HISTORY by Rod Philips (University of California Press, $34.95). This latest in the fine series on the world’s wines published by U. of California Press treats thoroughly a subject that, oddly enough, has never been given such an in-depth analysis. The story begins more than 2,500 years ago (though half the book is about what happened after 1870), and Philips brings us right up through today, what he calls a “golden age” for French wine, owing to technological and generational shifts and global influences and taste. Of course, it is full of great and startling characters, including Thomas Jefferson and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Sadly, Philips writes like the academic he is. His prose is flat and clinical, especially for a subject that should be far livelier. But it’s the best book out there on the subject and has been a long time in coming.
WINE AND SPIRITS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
REDBREAST SINGLE POT STILL SHERRY FINISH LUSTAU EDITION IRISH WHISKEY ($69)—Dating back to 1903, Redbreast is Ireland’s largest selling single pot still whiskey, and it has always had a distinctive sherry note to it. This Lustau edition, which refers to a century's old alliance with Bodegas Lustau and Midelton Distillery, is bottled at 46% alcohol, after maturation in sherry casks for 9-12 years, then finished in first-fill sherry butts from Lustau.
ANGEL’S ENVY CASK STRENGTH BOURBON ($180)—Only 8,000 bottles of this critically acclaimed bourbon was made for 2016, aged up to seven years in Portuguese oak and released at cask strength of 62.3% alcohol, so it packs a wallop but has all sorts of nuances when allowed to flow slowly over the palate.
NOVO FOGO SINGLE BARREL #87 ($99)—Novo Fogo is renowned for its cachaças, made from organic sugar cane in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil. Most cachacas are little aged or not at all, so this example, which spends five years in American oak barrel and released at 41% alcohol, is a rarity indeed, so it takes on the heartier notes of a good rum while retaining the citrusy, fruity quality of cachaça, so you can drink it neat rather than waste it in a caipirinha.
WOOD’S HIGH MOUNTAIN TENDERFOOT WHISKEY ($50)—Although there are now several spirits distillers in Colorado, they are still novelties in the market and therefore these spirits make a good holiday gift. Wood’s is located in downtown Salida, CO, made by PT and Lee Wood since 2012, who came up with the idea on a rafting trip. This is a single malt style, blended from 77% barley malts, 13 % malted rye, and 10% malted wheat, with an alcohol level of 45%. There’s a distinct chocolate-y flavor among the cedar and spices you won’t easily find in other malt whiskies.
HIGHLAND PARK FIRE EDITION ($200)—This special release 15-year-old single malt was matured in Port-seasoned casks, released at 45.2% alcohol, and, with only 28,000 bottles produced, it’s not easy to find, which puts it on the most wanted list of Scotch connoisseurs. It also has a distinctive Norse symbol on the label and is bottled in a ruby red glass “meant to represent the fierce and molten world of the Fire Giants” and comes in a black wood cradle.
PLANTATION O.F.T.D. OVERPROOF RUM ($32)—For aficionados of old style navy dark rums, this new entry, at 69% alcohol, has the deep color and the body of the genre and the characteristic bottom sweetness, but is not as dark as Gosling’s or Meyers’s. The “O.F.T.D” derives from spirits writer David Wondrich tasting the rum with Plantation’s distiller and exclaiming “Oh, f**k, that’s delicious!” but the company prefers to say it means “Old Fashioned Traditional Dark.” This is a product of France’s Maison Ferrand that makes Pierre Ferrand Cognac.
The Original Zeroll Ice Cream scoop, which contains a heat conductive fluid sealed within the handle, is a marvel of form and function, and, by eliminating compression, gives you to 20% more scoops of ice cream per gallon. The scooper is a brilliant example of American ingenuity born from a moment’s realization that something could be done better. According to Zeroll’s history, “Its revolutionary design was the inspiration of Sherman Kelly of Toledo, Ohio. As the story goes, Kelly was vacationing in West Palm Beach, Florida, when he observed a young woman dipping ice cream. Noticing the blisters on her hand from the constant use of the disher in the hard ice cream, he thought to himself, `there must be a better way to serve ice cream,’" so in 1933, Kelly developed the design made of cast aluminum (manufactured by Alcoa), whose interior fluid transferred heat from the user’s hand, and thereby defrosted the ice cream, with no need to rinse the dipper in water between servings. The scooper is one of the few simple things in the world that works perfectly and does so forever. It comes in different sizes but can be found for $12 and up.
Farberware Stovetop Percolator--My mother was a first-rate cook and highly efficient hostess—the less to do the better—and her coffee was always rich, flavorful and at the ready, thanks to her old stovetop percolator, by which boiling water is forced through a stem to filter down through ground coffee. Part of the allure was the moment when the little glass bubble on the top started to throb with coffee and made a unique popping sound—used as a ten-note jingle in Maxwell House coffee ads that was played on a wooden block instrument.
The first percolator was invented in 1804 by the America-British physicist Benjamin Thompson, and the stove top model was crafted by Parisian tinsmiths in 1819, perfected in 1889 by a patent owned by an Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich.
Only in the past
year have I acquired a percolator and find it
just as marvelous a machine as it
was in the 1950s and my coffee has never tasted
better, no matter what brand I use. The
8-cup Farberware model is the
simplest and most classic of them all, all for
about twenty bucks.
Trudeau Automatic Lever Corkscrew--I've
seen hundreds of corkscrew gadgets not worth the
money, especially when you can buy the
formidably reliable classic "waiter's corkscrew"
with its double-action leverage for about ten
dollars. But for something very beautiful
and very smooth indeed, I like the Trudeau
Automatic. It comes with a foil seal cutter,
then you merely lower a lever arm into the cork,
and--(since this is a French machine) Voila!--with
little effort the cork slides out. It's a
refined technique, not a showy one, and shows a
little respect for the holiday bottlings you
will open. You'll find in on-line for $60-$70.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
There is a fine new chef at Storico, which has become one of my favorite restaurants on the Upper West Side, quite a ways from the rush and bustle below 72nd Street. The fact that Storico is set within the New-York Historical Society lends it a certain refinement, and right now, during the Christmas holidays, both are well worth a festive visit.
The restaurant was opened four years ago by Stephen Starr, who in addition to Buddakan and Morimoto in NYC, recently opened the much heralded Le Coucou downtown. At Storico the light pours in through stately windows against milk white walls, puts a gleam on the historic brass chandelier, and brightens lemon yellow banquettes and fifteen-foot shelves set with antique chinaware from the museum's vast collection. During the day it’s a bright and cheery spot to dine, with an open kitchen and marble counter, while at night its has a casual sophistication that has increasingly drawn a neighborhood crowd. Thank heavens they’ve turned down the once intrusive music and no longer lower the lighting after 8 p.m.
The new young chef is Tim Kensett, whose tenure at London’s The Square and the seminal Italian restaurant The River Café shows in the lightness of his touch, the appreciation of ingredients, and a respect for the traditions of Italian cuisine as set by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray. He’s a jolly Brit with a good rapport with his guests, so I hope he stays put for a long time. He deserves more media attention.
We began with an array of antipasti that include a crudo of Albacore tuna with just-pressed, very green Capezzana olive oil, baby radish and saline bottarga ($18); crusty, smoky bruschetta topped with the best wild mushrooms I’ve had this fall ($20), including true funghi porcini; and buffalo mozzarella from Campania ($18) with roasted Long Island pumpkin, wilted dandelion and grilled chili, though imported mozzarella, which needs to be made daily, is never as fresh as it should be.
All the pastas at Storico are wonderful, from simple housemade tagliarini with good butter and shavings of white truffles ($17, with 5 grams of truffles $80, with 10 grams $140), to capellacci di zucca ($17 or $24), which are pumpkin-stuffed “little hats”—a holiday pasta—dressed with marjoram, dried chili that perks it all up and parmesan. Only slightly unorthodox is the risotto made with wheatberries, which give it a nutty flavor, blended with oxtail marrow, and pickled radicchio ($19 or $26). Also a bit out of the ordinary is the rigatoni with black cabbage (kale) impressed into the dough, served with pine nuts and pecorino ($19 or $26).
Main courses all have a novel twist to them, too, as with a luscious and tender roasted duck with braised borlotti beans, caramelized endive and aged balsamic ($36); and pan-seared skate wing with charred escarole and a preserved lemon gremolata. Half a lobster is cooked in butter with wilted rainbow chard and toast ($36).
Do not skip dessert at Storico. The lemon and sour cream tart with raspberries ($9) is light and has a fine balance of sweetness and tartness, and the dark chocolate-hazelnut tart with crème fraîche ($9) makes a great ending, perhaps with a dessert wine.
Cocktails run $14-$15 and there’s a glass of Valdo prosecco for just $12.
The wine list is admirable for its range and unusual labels from smaller vintners, though price hikes of 300 percent on some bottlings is tough to swallow. A Muri Gries Müller-Thurgau 2014 that sells for $14 in a wine store is $50 here and a Polvanera Primitivo 2014 shouldn’t be $54 when you can buy it for $11.
As noted, Kensett deserves attention, not just from the NYC media, which rarely venture north of 14th Street, but from cooks around town who need a refresher in how to prepare innovative but simple Italian cuisine the way it should be.
Storico is open Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
BELL CELLARS OUTPUT NOW
MORE WIDELY AVAILABLE
by Geoff Kalish
from South Africa, Anthony Bell has made wine in
the U.S. for
35 years—first at
Beaulieu Vineyard in the late 1970s and since
1991 at Napa Valley’s Bell Wine
To gain insight into these five wines, we attended
a recent tasting Bell
conducted at The Wine Cellar, an upscale
retail shop in the Mercato
Shopping, Dining & Entertainment Plaza in
Naples, Florida. The following
are my notes and some comments about the wines.
2014 Bell Red Blend ($23)—This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Syrah (37%), Zinfandel (11%) and Petit Verdot (2%). Bell noted that “the growing season provided numerous challenges—our third consecutive drought year, the South Napa earthquake in August, and late season hail—but we harvested about two weeks early, with intensely flavored berries.” The wine had a fragrant bouquet and easy drinking fruity taste of ripe strawberries and plums with notes of chocolate in its finish. This is a great “everyday” wine at an excellent price that pairs well with a wide range of fare, from smoked salmon to hamburgers and even pizza.
2013 Bell Yountville Merlot ($50)—According to Bell, Napa reds from the 2013 vintage should be excellent, with ideal growing conditions in most areas. This wine is made from primarily hand-harvested Merlot (95%) with the addition of a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 20 months in oak (97% French, 3% American). It had a bouquet and rich taste of ripe plums and chocolate, with a slightly tannic finish—perfect to mate with beef and veal dishes.
2012 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)—Made from a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (82%) and smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, the wine was aged for 18 months in oak (86% French, 14% American) before being bottled unfined and with a gentle filtration. “The blending of the six varietals provides the wine with great complexity,” Bell says. I found it to have a bouquet of cassis and ripe raspberries and a well integrated taste of fruit and oak. Prime rib and lamb chops are ideal mates for this wine.
Canterbury Syrah ($30)—For
this wine grapes from a Sierra Foothills vineyard,
noted for well drained
soils, were fermented and barrel-aged for 11
months in oak (59% French, 41%
American), followed by 10 months of bottle aging.
The wine showed a
bouquet and taste of ripe blackberries
and toast with a smooth finish.
B. Y. O. B. . . . AND OXYGEN
One Star House Party and James Sharman, a chef at Copenhagen's Noma, are offering a dinner at the base camp of Mount Everest, as part of a 14-day trip that will start in Kathmandu in Nepal on Dec. 10 and return on Dec. 23, at a cost of $1,050 per person (excluding flights).
“I love no steak better than a rib-eye, but this one - a $54 investment - was a mess. I took most of it home, where it made my dogs happier than it had made me. . . . Perhaps I would have been in a better humor had my $19 black-truffled, twice-baked potato been filled with appealing fluff rather than the semi-liquid glue at which I poked disconsolately. . . . A wonderfully demented grilled banana split the size of my laptop featured bananas that had been halfheartedly (nay, quarterheartedly) grilled. . . . For $45, this wasn't so much a dish as it was a pro-forma assemblage. Like too many dishes here, this is generic American "luxury" fare that hasn't been well thought out. . . . This is a pulsating mating ground for the 30s and 40s set - even a bit beyond - with a thumping vintage soundtrack to match. The not-so-young-and-restless of all descriptions flock in to join the dance, united only by hope and disposable income.”--Alison Cook, "Steak 48," Houston Chronicle (10/19/16)
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JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
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