Monday, December 31, 2012

the tuition riot

the tuition riot

jake parrott, senior beverage advisor, intended a march for equality but it didn't turn out that way.

the tuition riot

1.5oz salers
0.75oz fresh lime
0.5oz combier

shake with ice, strain, season with a grain or two of salt.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

department of dairy products

the stollen — most festive of teutonic baked goods — sits on the counter like a lumpy doorstop. part of journeyman's starving student assistance program, it is 51% butter. health dorks need not fret: it also contains cardamom, the world's third most precious spice and known to promote cardiovascular health.

stollen is an appropriate breakfast if your days are spent splitting cords of firewood as sleet pours down from a leaden sky.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

all roads

i have yet to meet a wine that does not like a dairied potato

it is my too-infrequent good fortune to be invited to home-cooked dinners with Pyrrhic guest lists, the kind filled with people whose discernment and taste are a source of pleasure and knowledge but are, by the same token, so refined that any attempt to contribute something to the table is an endeavour perilous to the ego. on these occasions, i sit in the corner taking notes, harmless, my ethnographic field training serving me well.

these are lovers of wine and the generous table who have been drinking widely, wisely, and secreting things away in their cellars for decades. tuesday night's table—small and richer than usual in fellow convivialists—was conducive to each person bringing interesting, delicious bottles, sometimes bottles quite a bit older than anyone without a cellar or an inheritance gets to drink. a magnum of bouzy champagne grower camille savès's carte blanche, a leoville-barton (1989), a pauillac (i forget the producer) from 1975, a hochheimer domdechaney riesling (1993), two rieslings from the late 1970s, a clos des couchereaux from jadot (1996, and with some years left in the bottle yet), and an unusual botrytised gruner veltliner from knoll (2004). i think a 2004 rebholz weissburgunder from im sonnenschein. there were others too.

over dinner, this country mouse pondered the opinion, voiced by some (though not many at the table), that "all roads lead to bordeaux." the leoville-barton was quite beautiful and surprisingly austere, with the characteristic green hatch chile fragrance; the pauillac was rich, soft, velvety, but with grip and power. contradictions are one source of complexity. you can see why captains of industry drink this stuff.

but: is bordeaux the telos of wine? maybe it's a matter of time but not for me, now. that clear, austere, cool burgundy, even before it finally opened up in the dregs of the bottle at the end of the night, was the one i poured myself when all eyes were on the potatoes. they were very good potatoes.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

the architecture of taste

tuna salad

update, september 2015: mile end's sandwiches now appear to be slipshod execution and heartbreak. look elsewhere for sandwich perfection.

cold tuna/red onion/celery salad with hot fried capers and cold celery leaf (+10 points), self-sauced with a warm soft-center egg and lemon aioli, on warm slices of (i think) raisin pumpernickel grilled in schmaltz on the inside faces only. from mile end sandwich on bond street, an establishment run by people who give a damn about the theory and practice of sandwiches.

toasting the bread on the inside face neatly solves the problem of the toasted outside face becoming too tough or crunchy to bite through without crushing the crumb underneath.* toasting in schmaltz means that the inside face takes a while to get soggy even under the pile of tuna salad. i strongly favour seasoning with sharp bursts of flavour, so the fried capers were particularly welcome. however, there was a bit too much salt sprinkled over the top of the egg (visible above), and i would find a way to put a tasty moisture barrier under salad and aioli to prevent the dressing from oozing out. but these are minor quibbles; this sandwich is a marvel of diverse temperatures, textures, and flavours.

this and mile end's chicken salad are the best sandwiches i've had in years. (yes, they leave even the very fine po'boys and muffulettas of new orleans in the dust. it's not their fault they weren't made by sandwich nerds.)

* architectonic problems like these should keep the owners of high-priced sandwich shops awake at night, yet we are continually beset by sandwiches with fatally flawed construction: breads so resilient that biting through them causes all the filling to splay out in disarray, tomatoes sliced too thickly to be severed in a single bite, fibrous vegetables left in large pieces, dressings of insufficient or excessive viscosity, meats cut along instead of across the grain. the list is depressingly long.

Monday, November 19, 2012

chicken salad

chicken salad

update, september 2015: mile end's sandwiches now appear to be slipshod execution and heartbreak. look elsewhere for sandwich perfection.

the mile end sandwich shop on bond street presented this, the best and nearly the most expensive chicken salad sandwich i've ever had: a modest quantity of light-mayo white meat chicken salad, fresh dilled cucumber slices, pickled and fresh red peppers, and gribenes, on thick challah toasted only on the inside faces. normally, the crunch in a chicken salad sandwich comes from little pieces of celery in the salad. here, pillowy softness from the bread, crunch from the cucumbers and gribenes. cool salad, warm gribenes. a textural marvel demonstrating, again, that the quality of a sandwich lies in an architecture of contrast and an awareness of how it unfolds through time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

la colmena

la colmena

the honey bee is a single-location, family-owned grocer in mexicantown, detroit. other than its jaunty logo of a perky bee in mexican garb holding a pepper, it is also virtuous for selling tamales made in-house: a dozen of the same stuffing (your choice of braised pork, chicken, or jalapeno cheese) for $7.99. while tamales freeze well and are a handy midnight snack, the tamale-buyer's perennial problem remains: how to get a variety of tamales without buying more dozens of them than is prudent? while i stood before the counter smelling the piercing orange flower fragrance of nixtamalized corn, surveying the offerings, and wishing for a bag of mixed tamales, a fellow-shopper mused aloud: "it'd be so nice to get a mixed dozen of the pork and the cheese." to which the counter-lady replied: "we can't break those dozens, sorry." turning to my crestfallen fellow-shopper, i said, "would you like to hear a great idea for tamale distribution that will likely result in a pareto improvement?"

useful notes: 1) putting the bag down on a case of canned beans makes it easier to count hot tamales, 2) when transferring a hot tamale from one bag to another, do not pick it up by the twisted end, and 3) tamales don't look like they ooze enough to merit double bagging, but they do.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


astro branches
astro bar

astro pulls ritual, sightglass, and handsome, and makes hot chocolate with askinosie in a long, high-ceilinged space in detroit's corktown. it felt like being back in san francisco but with friendlier people behind the bar.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

mission chinese

mission chinese

i was looking for a shirt and found, as well, the new york location of mission chinese food (on orchard street, a few blocks south of houston; conveniently close to doughnut plant, where the filled square doughnuts are the only things worth getting and they are very much worth getting). at 2pm on a thursday afternoon, there was no line. if you are planning to visit, bring a crew of at least four people. the food is good and everything inside is tinged with red from the aggressive lighting programme.

mysteriously, the manhattan mission chinese is better than what i remember of the original in san francisco. and even though it is its own entity on the east coast, the chinese name printed out front is that of the dingy lung shan chinese food shop that it shares space with on mission street. these refinements combined with traces of history, i suppose, are how legends grow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

nearly there

nearly there
[from the archive]

R&D in food is frustrating in ways that are not obvious (or, perhaps, even frustrating) to anyone outside that quite small domain. above, a new dish when it was "90% there."

one of the chefs had made particularly rapid progress: just a few days of work and a couple of flashes of intuition had brought his side project from an offhand remark by the head chef to a refined set of preparations with unusual but complementary flavours. everyone thought it was on the verge of being polished enough to make it onto the regular menu: an astonishingly quick development process. being so close, why not try it out for a visiting Important Chef of great renown dining in the restaurant tonight?

there is great excitement, and much needs to be done to prepare enough of the ingredients to serve everyone in the Important Chef's party. our protagonist, the R&D chef, comes in early on his day off to prep and will stay through dinner service to personally cook the dish. there is stress, there is pressure: the Important Chef is Very Famous in some circles. our protagonist feels the mixture of privilege and dread from having an opportunity to show his quality to "someone whose food i've idolized for years." mid-day, the head chef joins our protagonist and the rest of the R&D team to work out the presentation and plating of the dish. after an hour, they have gotten nowhere. no presentation seems to work, and they are running out of the laboriously prepared ingredients. there is no time today to make more.

several other special courses have been prepared in Important Chef's honour and, with less than an hour to go before he sits down to dinner, the team decides to pull this new dish from his already overstuffed menu. so that the ingredients are not wasted, some friends of the house who are also dining tonight will get it at their table instead. the word "crestfallen" is not inappropriate in this situation. our protagonist is packing the prepared ingredients from his R&D lab bench to bring them over to the service kitchen. as he walks out the door, he calls over to me: "in your notes, you could write down that 'he was a little upset at burning his day off to not cook this new thing for the Man Himself."

nearly there, but no cigar.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012



and now we want to go to berlin even more than before. did you know that german marzipan is broadly divided into two schools, the lübecker ornamentals and the königsberger austeres? of course, i paint with a broad brush out of ignorance. more fieldwork is clearly necessary.

(thx ursula)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

long-term thinking

"I have such perfect vineyards now. I bought them for the next generation."
hansjörg rebholz, oekonomierat rebholz
also see: kastanienbusch

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

heart of rice

yamana okutamba

imayotsukasa barrel-aged

the acetarium is currently more than usually overstocked with obscure sakes, having recently received a few especially abstruse bottles from their japanese correspondents in their regular shipment of ceramics, edibles, and potables. they pulled these two bottles out at dinner last week.

okutamba's yamana brewing company maintains a subscription service for sake nerds interested in exquisite, small-run bottlings—including this bulbous blue bottle containing a light, aromatic alcohol-added daiginjo that was limpid and more water-like than water (the 17% alcohol was not noticeable). 60% of the rice grain was milled away before brewing, removing bran, aleurone layer, germ and leaving only the fermentable starch core. the bouquet implications might be inferred from the difference in the aromas of cooked unmilled (brown) and milled (white) aromatic rice: the former earthy, nutty, slightly vibrating, the latter floral, quiet, pure, and calm. as in natural wines, these more delicate aromas are further enhanced by slow fermentation with native yeast populations at low temperatures. the scent of steaming white rice is distinct, round, generous, never overwhelming. this sake expresses this quiet kitchen pleasure.

the second bottle is an twenty-year aged pure rice daiginjo from the imayotsukasa brewing company in niigata, made with sake rice grown in niigata and sold only at the brewery in limited quantities. the kanji on the front label suggests that wood vats were used in production but this sake, though an unusual pale gold colour, was not woody or resinous in the least. neither the label nor the company's surprisingly comprehensive website are of any help in figuring out how the stuff was made. drinking this sake was like eating a bowl of great rice: richly flavoured, light but full-bodied with delicate texture and a slight chewiness, good just a little colder than room temperature, possibly even better slightly warm. the benefits of heterodoxy are numerous.

clearly, another stopover in japan is necessary.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

be here now

midway through the first annual nordic food symposium, the kitchen sent out two large bowls of tiny, ripe june-bearing strawberries scattered with anise-scented wild herbs, with cream from pastured danish cows. this is the best new nordic cuisine—perfect products, simply prepared. such rigorous and complex simplicity, done well, conceals the experience and maturity necessary to produce it. choosing food at the height of its flavour takes knowledge and experience; serving that food simply prepared and mostly unadorned takes confidence and self-knowledge.

simple food conceals its complexity. take, for instance, the foraged wild plants that now show up everywhere, especially in the nordic countries. thorsten schmidt, host of the symposium and chef behind malling and schmidt, showed us a few of the fields and forests from which he gathers wild vegetables and herbs for his restaurant in aarhus. learning about the culinary uses of these plants has been a multi-year exercise in trial and error, schmidt said. "i wanted to use more of the plants that grow in jylland than the farmers grew at the time but we had no local foragers to gather them for us. i had to learn how to identify and use these plants myself ... it was slow to start with,” he says, “but i now use more than 180 plants from around here to accent my cooking.”

he discovered early on that botanical field guides are useful for survival but not gastronomy. they often indicate if a plant is edible but almost never explain how plants might be used by cooks interested in their flavour or texture. they also rarely describe how plants look like as they grow through the year. over the last few years, schmidt has developed a network of experts who help him discover the wild foods around aarhus. one of these is a botanist with a particular interest in edible plants. "i send him a photograph of the plant,” schmidt says, “and he tells me how much i would have to eat for it to be poisonous. then i start experimenting with it, picking, tasting, and cooking with different parts of the plant every few weeks."

a slow, trial-based, experimental approach like this is critical because knowing what to eat is mostly about knowing when and how to eat a particular food. this is especially true when the seasons are as dramatic and change as quickly as they do this close to the arctic circle.

bo bech, from geist in copenhagen, was also at the symposium. the dish he made for dinner on the second night featured grilled baby leeks. "we forget that things change through their lives," he explained. "no one in denmark, maybe no one anywhere, harvests baby leeks this small. these are just a few days old and they will surprise you." he handed me a baby leek to illustrate. it was an unpromising vegetable, looking like a cross between a weedy tuft of grass and and a very slender scallion. but grilled for just a few minutes on one side over a very hot fire, the leeks became soft, sweet, and juicy on the charred side, pungent with the green flavours of garlic and white onions on the raw side.

grilling a baby leek on only one side is about cooking in the moment: a leek is young enough to be cooked like this for only a few days in its growing cycle. after that it is a regular leek, too big and fibrous to eat without long, slow, moist heat. cooking in the moment means learning not only that a leek is good to eat for this vanishingly small window of its life, but also that it is delicious cooked in a way totally different from how leeks are usually cooked.

warmed smoked eel, crème fraîche, char-grilled baby leeks, raw nasturtium leaves, carbonized garlic, by bo bech. (photo by claes bech-poulsen.)

"something we have had to do is learn how to use the products as they change through the seasons, to appreciate something for what it is right now instead of wishing it was something else, to be willing to reorganize the menu completely when a particular ingredient suddenly goes out of season because of the weather," schmidt says. "it takes a bit of rethinking on the part of the chef and diner. we have to learn to eat things as they are and figure out how to make them the best for what they are instead of wanting something that is out of season."

committing to cooking in the moment, especially when the moments are as fleeting as they can be in the nordic region, requires that the chef gives up the predictability that buying produce from all over the world offers.

schmidt says that "it takes a while to learn to subdue your ego and get used to not just letting yourself take the easy way out and ordering whatever your purveyors have, whether or not they're in season. you learn to cook whatever is available. when you're lucky enough to have beautiful ingredients, your responsibility is to do the work to find out what they are, when to use them, and how to cook them as simply as possible." in exchange, the chef grows comfortable with responding in the moment and eventually develops the knowledge and confidence to seek out the best products and then serve things at the peak of their ripeness almost completely unadorned, as schmidt did: perfect, perfumed strawberries accompanied by nothing more (and nothing less) than a shower of herbs and pale gold cream smelling of fresh-cut grass.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

mindful eating

Eating is often a knee-jerk reaction: we cook and eat what is most convenient, what is least expensive, what appears to taste good. But deciding what to eat involves consequences that are wide-ranging and long-lasting, even if we don't recognise what those consequences are. We can only make good decisions about what actions to take by knowing the consequences of those actions. And we can only know these consequences if we investigate, inquire, and gather more information.

Meat is a good example. Meat is environmentally costly. Most easily available meat is intensively raised and processed in operations that raise ethical and food-safety concerns in addition to the environmental ones. Learning more about meat production allows you to make better decisions about the meat you choose to consume. You may choose to eat less meat, and buy what meat you do eat from producers who claim to raise and process the meat in ways that minimise the risk of food-borne illness. In doing so, you are choosing to eat not the least expensive or most convenient meat, but rather the meat that is produced with attention to health or environmental impact. Or you may continue eating the meat you've always eaten, with a better knowledge of the risks that you are exposed to.

Another example: You go to eat at a very good restaurant. The food has been made with care from good ingredients. The check comes—it is for a staggering amount. Yet the prices, though high, are subsidised by chefs, stagiers, and producers who work long hours for little money; there is not much profit in food sourced and made with care. Fast food, in contrast, is inexpensive. It is often indifferently made with indifferent ingredients. There is much profit in fast food. Questioning what goes into the price of the food you eat may make you decide to cook for yourself most of the time and to eat out infrequently and only at restaurants that cook with care. Or it may not.

All this has been said before. Being mindful of the consequences of eating sounds like submitting to nothing but limitation, restrictions, and unaffordable food. Acknowledging, for instance, that eating food grown far away seriously damages the environment means for the most part restricting the food you eat to things that can be more efficiently grown locally than elsewhere—invariably a smaller and less predictable selection.

But the limitations imposed by mindful eating are not the full story.

Questioning what, how, and why we eat limits us in some ways but also opens up new possibilities. Limitations are like frames that, by excluding much of the view, allow you to look more closely at whatever is within the frames. If you decide to eat only local, seasonal fruit, you have no choice but to begin to pay close attention to the fruit that is around you. But you come to realise that strawberries taste different from day to day as the season progresses, that there are in fact different varieties of strawberries that ripen at different times, and you begin to eat strawberries only when they are at their very best.

Asking questions about the food you eat can lead you to discover techniques and methods of cooking and flavour combinations that are new to you but well-known elsewhere and to other people. For cooks, asking questions and finding answers is a way to learn how to express a particular sense of what tastes good and what is good to eat. It is also a way to develop that particular sense, the style of cooking that distinguishes you from other chefs: a way to develop a vocabulary for communicating your values in food, the reason why you cook.

We should ask ourselves a multitude of questions about the food we eat. Our decisions about food will be informed by the answers we find. The point is not to find the single right answer to each question—it doesn't exist—but rather to begin to ask the questions.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

revelations of unexpected balance

leo engel's knickebein

it isn't every friday night that i have more drinks than i can count. but if certain people—"the priests" roger scruton believes "that Bacchus has spread around our world, and who pursue their calling in places which can be discovered by accident but seldom by design"—are drinking with me, all bets are off.

heath hutto blows through town on occasion, each time stopping at drink on the way from logan (a 7-minute cab ride). though he now lives in a truly american state, he is known to the house and is probably there more often than i am. i left my beverage selections to him and will thompson behind the bar. they jointly settled on a series of what will called "revelations of unexpected balance."

the dead man's mule (ginger beer, muddled lime, orgeat, allspice dram, and absinthe) is a superb balance of spice, heat, anise, and the bittersweet fragrance of almonds; it changed my mind about anise in drinks. chewy, bitter, creamy, aromatic, the trinidad sour is made with equal parts angostura and orgeat, shaken with the softening influences of lemon and rye. leo engel's knickebein—an involved drink (see will's diagram above) featuring a whole raw egg yolk, whipped egg whites, a bit too much maraschino, and some theater in production and consumption—would have been improved by removing the chalazae on the end of the yolk (for this task, a pair of little scissors is handy). the little valiant (salers, cocchi americano, lemon, angostura, Big Ice, salt) is a variant on the little giuseppe (punt e mes, cynar, etc); both play salt against bitter and the two pale gentians in the little valiant were a winning combination that also looks much nicer in the glass. at the end, heath asked for three glasses of schuylkill fish house punch ("why three?" "one for you, two for me." "ah.") which the bar prepared in over-generous quantity and served up in a gallon punchbowl. the formula calls for cognac, lemon, sugar, rum (2 quarts), and peach brandy. apricot brandy substituted for the peach, this last being unavailable. after some of the ice had melted, it was a bracing and correct way to end a night filled with highly alcoholic and unconventional drinks.

among the many benefits of strictly limiting yourself to quality beverages made with careful attention to detail is the sensation of waking the morning after consuming at least twelve (but more probably fourteen) drinks with a feeling of profound freshness and clarity.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012



izmir is modern smyrna, famous then and now for figs and the sea and not to be confused with the smyrnas of georgia, tennessee, and delaware. in the category of good host countries, denmark and turkey rise to the top of the list. in the former, i sat down to dinner twice with people of only modest acquaintance and didn't get up again for 5 and 7 hours respectively, which brought tycho brahe to mind. in the latter, abundance is the sign of generosity, which is why we sat down in a formal living room on the outskirts of izmir to four bowls of this tomato soup filled with micro-okra. an agricultural specialty of izmir, micro-okra is more mucilaginously crunchy than regular old macro-okra. in the middle right, some yogurt covered in soured pomegranate molasses, a fine combination made even finer in application to okra and tomatoes: cooks take note.

in izmir, the appearance on the table of a platter of very small, thin dolmas indicates the end of the savoury courses, an occasion for dolour that can be assuaged by eating a dolma. i discovered that eating a dolma is a sign to the host that you want another. apparently, leftover dolmas are rare in izmir.

margaux, dauzac, 1988

dauzac 1988

i made dinner (venison, fried peaches, corn, feta, kale, basil, tomatoes, etc) and a bottle of reasonably old bordeaux (AOC margaux, the chateau dauzac is a fifth growth managed by andré lurton's management company) showed up; i'm lucky to have generous friends.

though there was a layer of mould under the capsule, the cork was intact and clean: it emerged from the bottle without incident. other bottles from the same batch had been opened and found wanting, but this one was fine. it was more than fine. for having spent 24 years in the bottle, this was remarkably fresh. the colour had not faded as old reds sometimes will, and in the glass it was full of distinct fragrances: tiny bird chilis, prunes, talcum powder, smoke. in the mouth, it was soft, round, and green like green tea and parsley. maybe a wine better suited to the fall than to high summer.

time is tannin's friend. recently, a bottle of young rhone grenache proved almost undrinkable despite smelling wonderful in the glass; it was like stuffing a styptic pencil down my throat. this was ... quite different.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

not-so-old riesling

pratello riesling 2002

i'd just come back from turkey by way of a 10-hour delay in vienna airport, whose only saving grace is widely available wifi, so robust, simple food was indicated. we spent a quiet afternoon with a relatively ancient, unctuous, oxidized italian riesling, marble counters, and lightly cooked beans. the riesling was rich in the way of old whites, flowery but austere, dark in the glass. jp (newly at haus alpenz) plucked this off the otto list by the simple expedient of choosing "the oldest bottle that won't require a second mortgage." it's always nice to drink with a pro.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

the path to meditation

It is against sanctimony and base prudence that much of my argument is directed, not in order to encourage vice, but in order to show that wine is compatible with virtue. The right way to live is by enjoying one’s faculties, striving to like and if possible to love one’s fellows, and also to accept that death is both necessary in itself and a blessed relief to those whom you would otherwise burden. The health fanatics who have poisoned all our natural enjoyments ought, in my view, to be rounded up and locked together in a place where they can bore each other rigid with their futile nostrums for eternal life. The rest of us should live out our days in a chain of linked symposia, in which the catalyst is wine, the means conversation, the goal a serene acceptance of our lot and a determination not to outstay our welcome ... Wine, drunk at the right time, in the right place and the right company, is the path to meditation, and the harbinger of peace.
roger scruton, i drink, therefore i am.

Monday, August 20, 2012

doing it right

in our relentless pursuit of making everyone satisfied that they have "done their best" and that everyone is a perfect snowflake, we often lose sight of how there are right ways to do things and thus, conversely, wrong ways to do things.* someone who is adroit follows an elegant and effective course of action, like odysseus, whose cunning and shrewdness (metis) led him to do the right thing (not a coincidence that droit in the original means right or law). a good printer, a good builder, a good furniture maker—all are adroit in their practice. the same holds for the cook. i found this passage from zhuang zi in the most unlikely of places (fuchsia dunlop, for those who care):
庖丁为文惠君解牛,手之所触,肩之所倚,足之所路履,膝之所倚, 砉然响然,奏刀豁然 ,莫不中音。合于桑林之舞,乃中经首之会。文惠君曰:“嘻, 善哉!技盖至此乎?” 庖丁释刀对曰:“臣之所好者道也,进乎技矣。始臣之解牛之时,所见无非牛者。三年之后,未尝见全牛也。方今之时,臣以神遇而不以目视,官知止而神欲行。依 乎天理,批大郄,导大髋,因其固然。技(枝)经肯綮之未尝,而况大骨乎!良庖岁更刀,割也;族庖月更刀,折也。今臣之刀十九年矣,所解数千牛矣,而刀刃若 新发于硎。彼节者有间,而刀刃者无厚,以有閒入无厚,恢恢乎其于游刃必有余地矣,是以十九年而刀刃若新发于硎。虽然,每至于族,吾见其难为,怵然为戒,视 为止,行为迟,动刀甚微,然已解,如土委地。提刀而立,为之四顾,为之踌躇满志,善刀而藏之。” 文惠君曰:“善哉!吾闻庖丁之言,得养生焉。
fortunately for you (and me), here is the least egregious of the translations of this passage:
His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. Movements and sounds proceeded as in the Dance of the Mulberry Forest and the blended notes of the King Shou. The ruler said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!' (Having finished his operation), the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dao, something in advance of any art. When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the entire carcase. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, (my knife) slips through the great crevices and slides through the great cavities, taking advantage of the facilities thus presented. My art avoids the membranous ligaments, and much more the great bones. A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting. An ordinary cook changes his every month; (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the whetstone. There are the interstices of the joints, and the edge of the knife has no (appreciable) thickness; when that which is so thin enters where the interstice is, how easily it moves along! The blade has more than room enough. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground. Then standing up with the knife in my hand, I look all round, and in a leisurely manner, with an air of satisfaction, wipe it clean, and put it in its sheath.' The ruler Wen Hui said, 'Excellent! I have heard the words of my cook, and learned from them the nourishment of (our) life.'
this passage describes action marked by elegance and economy of means, made possible by extensive and intensive knowledge and a particular approach to action. this approach also permeates dôgen's instructions for chef monks; these tenzo kyōkun (written "as instruction for accomplished practitioners of the way in the future") are worth reading.

Friday, August 17, 2012

pancake poet

The heart of real buckwheats, after all, is fragile, gentle, slow-beating, and indisputably alive ... Made into a batter sparked to life with some sourdough starter, left to ferment and mellow overnight, then sweetened in the morning with a little molasses, and baked on a griddle, the resulting soft, flannel-textured flapjack, with its delicate flavor and nutty, tangy aftertaste, is the pancake ethereal.
john thorne, serious pig

ice cream in the tropics

ice cream is particularly satisfying in the tropics. it melts too quickly to brook any delay or prolongation.

in the motherland, it can be purchased (for a dollar) as a small brick sandwiched between two pieces of baked wafer from an umbrella-shaded pushcart. there must be hundred of these carts, all tended by wizened individuals with old knives sharpened to concavity. the stuff all comes in paperboard-wrapped blocks from the same creamery — always sweet corn, red bean, yam, coconut, and raspberry ripple. a decisive cut, then the cardboard skin is peeled off with the tip of the knife. specialty bars and the like can be bought, but where is the charm in those? sometimes, if you're lucky, you encounter a cart that additionally carries a vat of singapore-style neapolitan: strawberry, chocolate, and sweet corn. this you can only purchase in a stack of tiny spheres in a wafer cone or in sandwich form, wrapped in a slice of soft, sometimes multicoloured bread. at anderson ranch, i made a chocolate and strawberry ice cream sandwich on toasted scali bread. those around me retched and gagged. the ice cream sandwich on bread may be an acquired taste.

there's a reassuring continuity here. flavours, carts, wafers, knife-wielding old men and women. nothing has changed since the 1980s. years ago, one of these pushcarts used to wait on coleman street, outside the old anglo-chinese primary school and ambush us on our way to the MRT station at city hall with a tootling horn and the promise of ice cream.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

westvleteren 12

westvleteren 12

the westvleteren 12 is revered by beer nerds and, like other westvleteren beers, used to be wholly unavailable in the US. even in belgium, it is available only by reservation and in limited quantities at the brewery, located in the trappist abbey of saint sixtus of westvleteren. fortunately, people who are moving and disposing of possessions sometimes come to dinner bearing rare beer. the 12 is a dark brown, strong, malty quadrupel tasting of acacia and chestnut honey but balanced with the bitterness of chicory. the back of the mouth gets the mineral taste of a good molasses. there were lees aplenty (which were grainy and untasty). cellared 28 months from bottling and sale.

khichdi, khichri, khichuri, khichari, kedgeree


large quantities of parsley and a healthy dose of turmeric and cumin are crucial. good with smoked mackerel, but maybe even better with the original, but hard-to-find, smoked haddock. our people are working on it even now. bowl by judith motzkin, maker of the bread device. for more on kedgeree, consult pages 305-327 of john thorne's superb pot on the fire.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

philosophies and approaches

Life is too short for me to approach a meal with the mincing steps of a Japanese prostitute.

Friday, July 27, 2012

josmeyer, pinot gris vendanges tardives, 1990

josmeyer vendanges tardives pinot gris 1990

we went back to a favoured sri lankan roadhouse and brought reinforcements, who brought many marvelous wines. the stub of this bottle of late harvest pinot gris went home with me (thank you, ed); incredibly, no one wanted it. sweet but not cloying, with brilliant acid balance, vinous, sappy, bitter like grapefruit or citrus albedo. mildly oxidised, smelling of nuts, copper, petroleum then, after some time in the glass, cold but very ripe lychees.

and speaking of colour: this was greek gold, with red and brassy lights. it went great with the cold starchiness of kheer that first night, and then in small sips on its own for the next four days, becoming nuttier every day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

a simple, reassuring balm

simon hopkinson's books are particularly nice to read because, like the best of the british (patience gray, elizabeth david, etc), he has no qualms about being idiosyncratic and is often right. this is from his latest article in more intelligent life, about emulsions:
It’s the exquisite blandness of mayonnaise that I adore almost more than anything. In these times—when cookery seems to demand so much punch and flavour, so much absurd invention—my little lidded pot of mayonnaise sits in the fridge, a simple, reassuring balm.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

henri boillot, puligny-montrachet (les folatières), 2002

henri boillot, puligny-montrachet (les folatières), 2002

when tacos are for dinner, white burgundy doesn't come immediately to mind. but i was happy to be surprised when carolyn took this bottle out of the refrigerator.

the cork, when the capsule was removed, was covered in a thin fuzz of white mould. but it came out just fine. deep gold in the glass, dry but not austere, it was filled with richness, intensity, and gravitas. no fruit left, just a little butter and vanilla, toasted hazelnuts, balanced by the full-mouth roundness and tautness of limestone. it had oxidised a bit in the bottle and was the better for it. could have been colder though, and would have profited from the decanter too.

premier cru white burgundy is a rare pleasure and, with black bean tacos and lots of avocado (chardonnay's lauraceous friend), well worth a thanksgiving.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

café integral x ats


café integral is located within american two shot, a select shop located in soho (135 grand). this makes café integral difficult to find. the establishment consists entirely of a small, precisely laid-out, softly gleaming white coffee bar. the strada, which often (but not always) indicates seriousness of intent, was strategically positioned to be the first thing visible, in direct line of sight from the door.

i did not have an espresso drink though, opting instead for a softly brewed nicaraguan maracaturra made by césar vega, who has retrofitted his kettles for better temperature control and also is CI's green buyer and roaster. the softbrew was particularly nice in the cold cup (a savory, mouth-coating, lactic acidity, mid-palate bitterness, with light menthol and caramel flavours and the aroma of milk chocolate) but i prefer the clarity of a paper filter. maybe one day i will become less immature, but for now coffee oils and fines are legitimate only in a sock-brewed, butter-roasted, robusta coffee served in a coffeeshop in the motherland.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

long time no see


last june found me in aarhus, interloping at a press event featuring several progressive chefs from denmark and northern europe. mads refslund was one of the participating chefs and he presented a course of wood sorrel leaves, white walnuts, and nearly uncooked lobster dressed with foie gras and an oil infused with roasted lobster shell. the walnuts were white in that a small army of volunteer cooks had spent five hours paring and tweezing every bit of the bitter papery skin from the nutmeats.

this resoundingly quiet, outwardly austere and cool dish was not much appreciated by the many people at the dinner who had come for a taste of fancy, showoffish food and did not get much of it.

it was the first time i was able to detect and articulate what—other than the use of unusual high-latitude ingredients—was distinctive about the sensory profile of progressive cooking in the north. it uses few aromatic spices, instead achieving nuance and variation with a diversity of raw plants that produce fresh green, herbaceous, and vegetal flavours. seed and vegetable oils are rarer and more used for low-temperature cooking and finishing than they are for frying or confit, animal fats (butters and lards) are more prevalent. foods are more often served cool or cold.

most distinctively, the sugar/acid balance tilts strongly in favour of high acidity, often derived from ingredients containing a wide range of acids with different flavours. there's not much of the citric or succinic acids that come from citrus and other tropical fruit, but plenty of puckery acetic acid from vinegars and soft lactic acid from a wide range of soured dairy. and there is more extensive use of grassy-tasting malic acidity (from unripe fruit, including grapes and apples), the violent astringent acidity of quinic and caffeic acids (from sea buckthorn), and the fresh, quickly dissipating lemony flavour of oxalic acid (from sorrels and rhubarb). a bracing, austere cuisine.

refslund recently took over the kitchen at acme in new york city, to which i went this weekend. we got there early and shared the warmly lit wood-paneled room and tin-topped tables with a handful of happy people exclaiming softly over the food. later in the evening, the crowd evolved to become more beautiful and, perhaps, less interested. the food was distinctly northern, translated to east coast ingredients and the east village context.

room-temperature raw mackerel filets came with with slices of meaty, crunchy uncooked porcini mushrooms and bitter young dandelion leaves, sauced liberally by a warm pool of an intentionally split, much lighter version of a lemony hollandaise. a pale summer cabbage had been par-cooked, halved, its cut face given a slow char on the plancha, then the spaces between the leaves filled with pine nuts, a cloud of microplaned gruyere, and shaved summer truffles. a generous and loose pile of chopped clams, scallops, and artichokes arrived topped by slender pea shoots and a foam supposedly made from sunflower seeds, everything bound together by creamy-textured pearl barley that had been hydrated and cooked in a series of broths to preserve the free starches on the surface of each grain. we barely finished a thoroughly satisfying and over-generously filled clay pot of gently cooked chicken, fried poached eggs, and roast new potatoes. the sauce at the bottom of the clay pot was the best kind of gravy: deep roast chicken flavour, with a fine-textured, flowing consistency.

throughout, many glasses of a 2010 AOC morgon from georges descombes. it started out light-bodied and austere, with a coppery flavour then, after an hour, my glass filled with the scent of peonies and cool stone fruit, and the smell of a temperate deciduous forest after a short rain.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

a short lunch at the bar


last june, a pleasant and generous surprise: what, for noma, counts as a short lunch at the bar. an unusual and thought-provoking meal, both the food and the service. this was most evident at meal's end. sweet courses at noma are light, to the point of seeming austere to those used to dessert as a soothing, unchallenging combination of richness and sweetness (and often chocolate). instead, a bowl of perfectly ripe strawberries with cylinders of barely sweet hay-flavoured gelled cream and a scattering of young chamomile buds. and a pile of shaved fresh carrots, rehydrated dried carrot chips, marinated carrot slices, bronze fennel, lemon thyme, carrot greens on top of a mound of whipped buttermilk. dazzling stuff.

there were many "snacks," an amusing description considering many of them had more fiddly components than your average main course. at the time, each diner would receive over a dozen snacks to open the meal. enough to dedicate one station (with a chef de partie and several stages) in the unusually organized and extraordinarily low-temperature kitchen to making them.

the food was outwardly simple—the art that conceals art—but nudged me nonetheless to attend, to eat in the moment. a few snacks in, rené brought a plate on which a napkin lay, a variety of fresh, dewy flowers nestled in its folds. in his other hand, a saucer.

a plate of undressed flowers and a saucer of unmixed dressing left on a table with no place setting forces the eater to use his hands, but also gives him the opportunity to eat the flowers either dressed as the kitchen intends or unadorned: no-choice and choice. a nasturtium flower, peppery and papery at the edge, with crunch in the middle. an umbel of yarrow flowers, bitter, green-tasting, yet pure white and sweet-smelling. eating the flowers alone emphasised the differences in their flavours and textures. eating them by hand highlighted their delicacy.

eating the flowers dressed was more curious. the saucer contained a spoonful of pumpkinseed emulsified in its own oil, surrounded by a bright orange sea buckthorn reduction sweetened with honey. the flowers were the only tools at hand to mix the dressing with. combined with a flower and then eaten, the sea buckthorn's intense acidity met the fat from the pumpkinseed, leaving a rich green note in the background and the floral aroma of the honey riding clear and distinct over ... a flower.

just a plate of flowers if you don't pay attention; a discovery, a private joke, a meditation, if you do. the kitchen team had spent a week, maybe more, figuring out what the dressing would be and how to present the flowers.

bright, acid food, needing a light touch with the beverages. the bar poured a flute of "entre ciel et terre" from francoise bedel, a glass of olivier horiot's riceys rouge "en barmont" (2003), and a bottle of noma novel (a belgian strong ale brewed for noma by mikkeller), each a brilliant working contradiction in terms.

everything at noma, food or drink, is brought to you by someone who knows it well. often it is a chef, sometimes even the chef who made it. meeting the people who are cooking for you is usual in a home, and an unusual experience of hospitality in a restaurant. even in a kitchen of enormously competent chefs, this style of service is demanding. it takes tremendous investment of time and energy, not to mention money, by a restaurant and its staff to reliably reproduce the rare and magical experience of eating at the table of a good friend who cooks well and wants to make you happy (and maybe impress you a little as well).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

the right drink at the right time

rendezvous is a gem hidden in plain sight. right there in central square, a restaurant with reasonable prices, creative but unflashy food (more on that to come), and a quiet bar that's always comfortably full but not too full. there are no douchebags. added plus: if you go tuesdays through saturdays at the moment, scott holliday is behind the bar ready to make you what will likely be an excellent drink.

i went there late last thursday (with lucy from voltage, who has Big Plans which cannot yet be Revealed). i felt a cold coming on and was thinking of something with traditional prophylactics—scotch, citrus, something bitter—and an oxidative note. in response, scott came up with what is undoubtedly the best drink i've had so far this year, a drink in the same category as the unjustly obscure classic, the bamboo.

this drink, which appears to have no name, is:
4: la cigarerra manzanilla sherry
1: luxardo triplum triple sec
1: cocchi aperitivo americano
1: fresh lemon juice

combined and stirred with ice, then strained into a cold lowball rinsed with ardbeg.
let's not mince words: this is a great drink. low in alcohol, high in nuance. it has the balance, mild fresh walnut and hazelnut flavours, floral notes, and briny minerality of a bamboo made with manzanilla and a good dry vermouth. it has a more bitter citrus aroma and sweetness from the triple sec, a bit of bite from the cocchi, balancing acid from the lemon, and smoke from the ardbeg. not what i expected but precisely what i wanted.

after a brief email conference, jake (my beverage advisor) and i extended the hypothesis that the drink would be very different and also tasty with rinse of talisker or the right mezcal. i have not yet met a mezcal that i liked, but jake notes that "Del Maguey San Luis Del Rio is like a young Islay malt." clearly, this bears further investigation.

Friday, June 8, 2012

wines for a lot of sri lankan food

note: many people seem to find this page when they're looking for wines to go with sri lankan food. we didn't do such a great job, what with that 16.3% verdelho. better would have been some low-alcohol wines, a little off-dry with good acid: kabinett rieslings (perhaps an urziger wurzgarten), crisp gruner veltliners from austria, and possibly even a perfectly clean chenin from the coteaux du vendomois. northern european rose also would work. it occurs to me that sri lankan food particularly—and indian food generally—are about the only things i wouldn't drink sherry with.

i was going to not write about beverages non-rigorously consumed, but why succumb to this variety of pettifoggery? so.

last night, we went again to biryani park, malden's temple of sri lankan food concealed in back of a grocery store. you know you're close when you pass the giant ice cream cone outside the everett dairy maid, a soft-serve hut that appears to date from at least the 1960s.

prices appear surprisingly high, but the food is honest and good and the meats are carefully sourced (and halal too, if you care about that kind of thing). various reviewers with misplaced priorities grumble about long waits for food. good food takes time; eat with interesting people you like. we had our act together enough that i finally got a chance to see a lamprais IRL (the lampraises sit, tantalising, in a section of the menu headed "24 hour advance notice required"). the chef had just returned late in the afternoon from portland and had come straight from the airport to make it.

but what is a lamprais? wonder no more: at least at biryani park, the fish lamprais is saffron rice, fried spiced potato cutlets, a catfish curry, fried hardboiled egg, a sweet condiment of caramelised red onion and maybe dates, fried eggplant, and fried ash plantains. these items are purportedly baked together in a banana leaf but the cutlets were so crisp that they might have been added after. (ideas do get around: cutlets = frikkadels = frikadeller)

we got other stuff too. a plate of coconut rice with scattered shreds of toasted coconut and green chili, each grain distinct. a bunch of bone-in goat cubes stir-fried in a vinegary, slightly mustardy sauce with curry leaves and whole chilies covered in a pile of raw white onion shavings. a pile of spiced potato, chutneys, nuts, and probably a lot more stuff wrapped up in a crisp rice and semolina dosa was too tasty to analyse and deconstruct. a jaggery-flavoured pudding with candles in it for the birthday girl. a dense, mildly sweet, brilliant pistachio khulfi. but the roti kotthu was the best thing ever: pieces of torn-up roti fried with chicken, mixed vegetable shreds (carrots, onions, etc) and curry leaf, then packed into a bowl and unmoulded for service. not pretty to look at but viscerally satisfying and deeply savoury. it vanished fast.

spice, fat, flavour on the table. what to drink? we surreptitiously consumed a scholium project naucratis (2008; 16.3% alcohol, flabby and green-tasting), a rooster hill gewurtztraminer (2010; off-dry, juicily tropical), and a domain lafond rosé (2010; strawberries, black cherries, exactly what you'd expect and perfect). what with everything else going on, the wines were not the main point. and that, in the end, is ok.

Monday, June 4, 2012

muri-gries, lagrein rosato, 2009

muri-gries lagrein rosato 2009

this was not a remarkable wine, though it was pleasant and not cripplingly expensive. the producer is cantina convento muri-gries, an old benedictine abbey very close to the austrian border. before this, i'd never had a lagrein, which the internet suggests is a tannic and acidic red grape. a rosato (a rosé wine) can be made by crushing red grapes and leaving the pulp and skins floating about for just enough time for some of the skin pigments, aromatics, and other delicious things to transfer to the juice. a rosato of a tannic, acidic red grape is smart: light enough to be refreshing, enough acid and tannin to remain interesting. this appears to be the strategy of the spanish monastrell rosados, or the mourvèdre rosés of bandol (ampelographers classify monastrell and mourvèdre as the same grape variety).

poured fairly cold (around 45F). in the glass, a deepish pink, very clear. didn't smell like much to start, then an unexpected but pleasant fresh mushroom aroma after warming up a little. in the mouth, it was off-dry and extremely crisp, with drying tannins and a fat sort of minerality, like licking a piece of limestone clay. (good party trick.) on the table, there was a large slab of perfectly grilled steelhead salmon accompanied by a bowl of grilled fennel: this was a great pairing. the bowl of grilled anaheim peppers, not so much. at the end of the night, there was still some left in the bottle — perhaps the best indicator of all. i put it out of its misery.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

vinibrato, "envol de la fille," NV

envol de la fille

at the wine bottega, they said: "you like jura reds? you gotta try this one!" still, i was dubious about this $35 bottle of table wine with the mysterious labeling. (vin de france is the relatively new fancy name for table wine, the stuff you quaff with your coq au vin, or whatever. no vintage can be listed on a bottle of vin de france.) i took it home, then forgot about it for about 6 months. last week, cleaning out the basement, it hove back into view. hot day = perfect for beaujolais.

jean-marc brignot is a jura winemaker who apparently now mostly purchases grapes from other regions and vinifies them through vinibrato, his négociant operation. from patchy information found on the interweb, i deduce that brignot generally works with a light touch. according to this source, vinibrato wines will not repeat names across vintages. an interesting approach. the grapes in "envol de la fille" ("flight of the daughter") are grown by cathy and jean-luc gauthier in morgon (an appellation in beaujolais).

upstairs, i popped it open. there was a rush of tiny bubbles, suggesting that fermentation had continued in the bottle. the first sip was at cellar temperature, probably in the low 50s. a pronounced dark sour cherry aroma, with the barnyard in the background (by which, of course, we mean poop). light red with purple lights, light bodied, yet tastes warmish and as if there was more alcohol than the labels claim (11%, the back label says; the front claims 12%).

i let a glass of it sit out for an hour or so. the barn vanished, replaced by camphor and sandalwood. the nose on this wine was extraordinarily powerful. for the longest time, it smelled like the stereotype of asia: the heavy perfume of roses, precious woods, exotick resins (myrrh, mastic), honeysuckle, a mediterranean hillside covered in scrub aromatics on a hot day. eventually, the resinous aromas converged into the scent of a powdery shellac cut with ethanol. was this the ethyl acetate of which wine geeks speak? not, perhaps, entirely pleasant.

on the second day, i started it very cold. the aromas were dramatically different and more austere: strawberry candy (like these morinaga hichews) and fresh-cut cedar. when it warmed up, the nose was less opulent than before, a little quieter. no longer completely distracted by the nose, i began to be able to taste it in the mouth: transparent in flavour, water-sweet like birch or maple sap, with much bright acidity. a few hours later, the cedar and candy had also gone away. no longer funky or resinous, the wine was extraordinarily clean with a bit of sparkle in the mid-palate.

then i forgot about the remaining half-bottle. when i remembered it again, it was the sixth day. i poured it cold, just for kicks, and the nose was back! but this time, powerful without being hot. in fact, it was the essence of sugary cool: blackcurrant leaf, coconut, cilantro (in a good way), fennel seed. in the mouth, the taste of fresh sweet cream and lightly cooked soft wheat. finishing it on the spot was not a problem.

a remarkable wine. and one which makes me wonder: why do i try to drink through whole bottles mere hours after they're opened? envol de la fille was way, way better on the sixth day than on the first. and why do i so often drink reds warm when they change so much as they come up through a range of temperatures? clearly more morgon (and beaujolais) is in order.

Friday, June 1, 2012

domaine brazilier, "tradition," 2010

brazilier tradition 2010

after DRINK RIBERA, DRINK SPAIN! at taberna de haro, i stopped into the wine press across the street to see what there was to see. the selection was divided between unremarkable stuff and some promising options. i picked up a bottle of lagrein rosato from cantina convento muri-gries ($12.99, on which, more later; also see this nyt article on lagrein) and the dry chenin blanc "tradition" from domaine brazilier.

chenin blanc can be grimly ascetic, sweet with no character, or, when done right, really beautiful. in the relatively newly minted coteaux du vendômois AOC, compliant white wines must be made with at least 80% chenin blanc and no more than 20% chardonnay. the brazilier blanc sec is a 100% chenin blanc wine at the good end of that spectrum. made with native yeasts, in the glass it is a pale gold with orange tints. full of acid, but balanced with richness and sufficient residual sugar to taste vinous and delicious.

the bottle label says it has "un nez frais et complexe, avec des arômes de pêche blanche et de poire bien mûre." to this untrained nose, it was not particularly aromatic and had an unsophisticated note even after it warmed up to the recommended service temperature (50 to 54F). however, it is true that the aromas were  light, cool, and fresh, and that in the mouth it had the particular juiciness of a ripe packham's triumph pear (combined with the mild fat sourness of dried apricots). this wine's flavours were less distinct than its sensation in the mouth: a mellow and pleasant tartness, hitting at the top middle of the mouth. the kind of delicious acidity that makes me want to sip and keep on sipping.

i kept it open for 4 days and experienced not much change. i liked it best when i started it out very cold (in a chilled glass) and tasting very dry, acid, and austere, then becoming more full-bodied and balanced as it warmed up—this way of drinking wine is admittedly heterodox. particularly nice with ripe pears and comté. a great deal, especially on sale.
producer: domaine brazilier
name: "tradition"
colour: white
country: france
region: loire (coteaux du vendômois AOC)
grape: chenin blanc
vintage: 2010
price: $11.99 (discounted retail at the wine press)
drunk over: 4 days. resealed with the cork and stored cold.
starting temperature: approx 40F
alcohol: 11-14%

availability: this bottle is imported and distributed in massachusetts by vineyard road (selected by thomas calder) and available for retail at the wine press in brookline. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

jacques puffeney, "M," 2008

puffeney arbois m 2009

in search of a light, refreshing, floral red wine, we split a bottle of this at journeyman. jacques puffeney's jura wines (all from the arbois AOC) are, in my limited experience of them, generally great though often initially inscrutable. where is the alcohol? where is the sweetness? where is the jammy fruit? why's it so sour? if you like jammy, high-alcohol, show-off wines, these are not for you (and, possibly, this blog is not for you either). puffeney's wines repay a slow and contemplative drinking. they often unfold slowly as they warm up and air out; keeping a bottle around for a few days is not a bad idea. they are like the new england of wines.

poulsard is one of the red wine grapes of the jura, thin-skinned and light-bodied. though made "naturally" (native yeasts, minimal sulphur, no fining, no filtering) there is no trace (not the slightest) of funk: this wine was all clarity and transparency. in the glass, a clear pale red with purple lights. plenty of acidity that left the mouth clean, filled with the taste of stone and ripe raspberries, and definitely wanting another sip. and another, and another. some wines taste of cooked fruit; this one was the essence of fresh fruit. the tannins were polite and in the background. light in body but not a lightweight, it more than stood up to seared bluefish, grilled squid, and veal. we fought, politely, over the last pour.

Friday, March 2, 2012


a month ago, i was lucky to drink a glass of birkweiler kastanienbusch riesling from oekonomierat rebholz. the wine smelt of a first-brew high-grown oolong tea (white flowers, green tannins, leaves) and was evanescent but not transient. it stayed around for a while, like a white stone unfolding slowly in many directions. there was too much talking around the table; this wine requires silence and a notebook.

some wines have a power and presence that derives from no apparent source, magical stuff of a lightness that constantly evades capture. it is true, what they say, that civilization is weightless.