Late Night Bling, or I *Heart* SF

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(Above: I started my Friday with a michelada at Nopalito, which is Tecate mixed with tomato, chili de arbol, salt and lime. Yeah, it’s good.)

This post is going up late because I’ve been sick all week. For the record, summer colds suck. And no, I don’t use Zicam.

After gorging ourselves senseless with the Third Degree at Nopalito, we headed over to the Independent to catch Datarock, a fun, dancy band from Norway. The show was great and Datarock had the house dancing wildly for much of the set. The boys in the band got their groove on too, wearing their trademark red track suits (noticeably more blinged out than two years ago when the crew looked like they’d just come from Target).

Here’s a video for what’s probably Datarock’s most well-known song, “Fa Fa Fa”:

Still feeling jazzed after the show, we completed the circle by heading to Nopalito’s big sister, Nopa, where we thought we’d take advantage of the rockin’ cocktail program. Because a fancy rye drink is just what I need at 12.30 in the morning…

Scanning the wine list however led me to Gaston Chiquet’s 1998 Spécial Club Brut. Doing the math for two rounds of cocktails for three people suggested that the Chiquet was a splurge within reach. But really, I don’t care how good a cocktail is: When there’s good Champagne, there’s not much else. And this was pretty epic stuff, with vibrant fruit that felt savory and rich supported by profound mineral depth. Got better with air too. Drink this whenever you get the chance.

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As Peter Liem notes on ChampagneGuide.net, the Chiquets have around 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent meunier and 20 percent pinot noir planted in the Grande Vallée de la Marne, mostly in the villages of Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy and Hautvillers. Interestingly, the family uses no wood in their cellar, and a program using concrete and glass-lined tanks has been in place since the 1950s.

The Spécial Club (shown above) is bottled as part of the Club Trésors de Champagne, a group of independent grower-producers who have organized under a set of guidelines, including a distinctive bottle, to produce what is effectively a prestige cuvée for each member. At Gaston Chiquet, the Special Club bottling typically includes 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir. To learn more about grower-producers like Gaston Chiquet, or most any producer of interest in Champagne, I highly recommend a subscription to ChampagneGuide.net.

Another Datarock song, “Computer Camp Love”:

It’s Good to be Home

Spent this past Saturday — a gloriously sunny afternoon — in Dolores Park enjoying a picnic and a bottle of 1990 Savennières-Roche aux Moines from Domaine aux Moines while playing cards and getting the first sunburn of the year. Lovely wine, although feeling a little soft and worn at the edges, so drink up.

It’s good to be home.

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Above: Picnic treats found at Bi-Rite Market on 18th St., the perfect place to stock up for a long afternoon in a surprisingly uncrowded Dolores Park. (Wine came from my stash.)

If you don’t know this most San Francisco of parks, check out this humorous profile.

Below: Aside from a lively people scene, Dolores Park is notable for the incredible view.

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Building Community

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Above: The new tools of the trade?

One of my favorite aspects about the wine, specialty cocktail and food business is that it builds communities, from casual tasting groups to communal neighborhood gardens. And this is one reason tools like blogging, twitter, Chowhound and (gasp) even Yelp are so well-suited to the food and wine world, or at least to the people who get excited about those worlds. These are the tools that easily bring people together to form new (and hopefully lasting) communities.

A great recent example of creating a food or booze-centric community is San Francisco Cocktail Week, which just wrapped up the other night. I didn’t participate much this year because of deadline pressures, but the event was a success and I’ve heard from many people that this year’s was the best yet. I bring up SF Cocktail Week because in my opinion one of the main reasons San Francisco’s cocktail scene has evolved the way it has is because of the strong community ties among bartenders in this town. As local booze scribe Camper English puts it in his excellent essay, SF Cocktails: A Recent History, published on the SF Cocktail Week website:

What helps San Francisco bartenders stay current and at the top of their game is the fact that most of the top bartenders are members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, visit each others’ venues, share information, value education, and collaborate on projects. We may see a flavor trend (yuzu, smoke) show up in a variety of bars, as we also see techniques (shrubs, fat washing) used across various types of ingredients. Good ideas don’t last long at a single venue in San Francisco- they spread rather quickly.

Recently I was invited to be on a podcast produced by Richie Nakano, aka linecook415. Richie and his friend and fellow cook Corey Nead (and their friend Amy) record an informative, fun and sometimes raucous podcast mostly about food, always about life in food, and sometimes about crocs. The three are all cooks at Nopa, one of San Francisco’s most popular and successful restaurants. I like the podcast – and Richie’s blog – because it’s not only a glimpse into the food community, it’s an invitation to join in the discussion.

I met Richie through blogging but the idea of doing this podcast came about via conversations on twitter between ourselves and Kevin Kelley of the Natural Process Alliance. And before Kevin or I could say ‘natural yeast’, we were sitting in Richie’s kitchen in front of a microphone talking wine, organics, natural wine and the aforementioned crocs. We covered other topics too, but you can listen for those yourselves. It’s a fairly long (and somewhat rambling) recording, so sit back and pour yourself something nice before digging in.

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Above: Action shots!

Click here to listen or download the podcast.

Ramp fever, or some recent blog posts of note

Since we on the West Coast don’t really have ramps, I’ve satisfied my spring ramp fever reading my friend Jonathan Meyer’s delightful food blog, i8ny. After reading his post about making ramp butter, I might just have to smuggle a frozen stick back with me the next time I’m in New York.

And then David McDuff, one of Philly’s resident wine gurus, has a post and recipe up to make pickled ramps. Yum. David has also been consulting with me over buying a new bicycle to replace the one I had stolen recently from my garage. We both agree that it is, in fact, easier to buy Barolo or Burgundy than it is to get a new bike.

*Starting at the end of this week I’ll be traveling to Israel for a friend’s wedding and then New York for Wine & Spirits, so it will be quiet around here. You can always check in with me on twitter.

SF Street Food Meets Terroir

Or, Terroir, welcome to SF street food.

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(Above: An empty taco truck lacking signage is parked in front of Chez Spencer)

Via Inside Scoop, one of the bestest, greatest things ever in the San Francisco Chronicle: Looks like plans are in the works for a Chez Spencer taco truck, erm, make that a frog truck, to park itself across the street from Terroir. Which makes sense; after all, two of Terroir’s owners used to work there.

Within a week or two, look for the Spencer on the Go truck across the street from Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Bar (1116 Folsom St., at Langton) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when visitors can take their plates of skate braised with capers ($8) and frog’s legs with curry ($9) inside the wine bar and order a glass. Katgely aims to keep all prices less than $12 and rotate the menu often.

(Go here for the whole thing)

Exciting news, and just in time for summer too. Sigh, there go my dreams of fitting into my vintage swimsuit…

*Note: If you don’t know Terroir, check out this article I wrote last year for the Chronicle.

(Thanks to Rob for the tip)

The NPA – Keeping Winedrinkers Safe

I have a post up at Wine & Spirits that talks about the Natural Process Alliance, a new project from Kevin Kelley of Salinia Wine Company. Kelley has made a skin-fermented chardonnay and a pinot gris relying only on indigenous yeasts and without using any added sulfur dioxide. The wines are delicious although quite limited in production. Also cool: They challenge the rules of packaging and are shipped in reusable stainless steel canisters.

(If you’re in San Francisco however, you can get the pinot gris now at NOPA where it’s $8 a glass – yum).

Anyway, to learn more about the Natural Process Alliance, head over to Wine & Spirits.

*Alice Feiring has an account of her visit with Kelley when this wine was in its infancy.
*For more about the usage of sulfur dioxide in contemporary California winemaking, check out this article I wrote last year for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Big Bottles

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What can I say? I’m a bit of a size-queen when it comes to magnums (or bigger) of wine.

Large-format bottles age better than 750s, the greater volume making for subtle and slow aging thanks in part to a low ratio of oxygen to wine. Perhaps hindering the desire to age your magnum is the fact that big bottles just look more enticing: Nothing quite says “party” like 1.5- or 3-liters of wine.

Found myself at NOPA this past Sunday where a friend had gathered a group of survivors from the annual Rhône Rangers tasting here in the city. I skipped the tasting myself, shackled as it were to several deadlines that needed immediate attention. Pity, as there were some lovely wines to be tried. (Check out Jon Bonné’s write up here.)

But that’s not to say I wasn’t feeling Rhônish, so I brought along the above magnum of 1999 Clos de Cuminaille Saint-Joseph from Pierre Gaillard to share. I picked this wine up years ago over in the East Bay at North Berkeley Imports, and it’s been stashed away since. Anyway, it tasted great, starting off minty but closed and then loosening up with some partial decanting. It grew more aromatic with air, and after a couple hours showed fresh pepper, dried rose, cranberries and a slightly meaty funk. A minerally beast too, as the vines are planted in decomposed granite soils. Aging beautifully, with several more years ahead of it. Mmm, Syrah.

We raided NOPA’s magnum list for the rest of dinner, starting off with Gaston Chiquet’s 1998 Club Millésimé a.k.a. Special Club (okay, we ordered two 750ml-sized bottles of that because it’s freaking awesome); then the 2005 Privat Riesling from Nigl (precise and focused, even for such a warm year; still a baby); and the 2001 Riserva Montestefano Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco (pictured above, really aromatic and floral at this point in its life, elegant and silky and then quite gripping on the finish; another baby).

* The dinner menu at Nopa is quite good right now (rockin’ cod: thanks Richie!)

Delfina’s Craig Stoll Gives the Finger to Fox News

Juicy.

Apparently Craig Stoll of the James Beard Awarded Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco was scheduled to appear on the Fox News morning show but walked out after hearing what the hosts – presumably quoting disgruntled Yelpers – had to say about his pizza. As reported earlier this month by local magazine 7×7, Stoll & Co. recently made t-shirts quoting negative Yelp reviews, and then gave them to staff to wear during service.

Here’s one of the shirts (via 7×7):

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And now to do something I never thought I’d do: Post a clip from Fox News!

Wine Rumors: SF Restaurants Going Retail

Well, not exactly, but in the course of doing a little field research last night I learned that a hot, newish SF restaurant is planning to develop a wine program where all of their pricing is retail. Yep, retail… no 10% nor even 5% markup, but straight up retail. Signs of the times to be sure, but also a populist approach to restaurant wine pricing that I hope catches on.

In other news…

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One of my favorite East Bay haunts for South Indian food, Vik’s, is moving next month. The new location is just around the corner from the original, and rumor is that it won’t change all that much. I wonder, though, if the move will increase or decrease the competition for street parking with the patrons of nearby Steamworks?

Value For Winegeeks: Restaurant Edition

Who needs a prix-fixe horror show when there’s Friday the 13th?

We decided to bag the traditional Valentine’s Day shitshow celebration this past weekend in favor of the far more interesting (and sinister?) night before, Friday the 13th. There was also a break in northern California’s recent rainy weather, so it seemed like a good idea to walk the length of Valencia Street to one of San Francisco’s better neighborhood eateries, Blue Plate.

Blue Plate was popping, and for a brief second it seemed inconceivable that restaurants in the Bay Area and beyond are suffering so much now, but then again it was the Friday night of Presidents’ Day weekend, with Valentine’s Day thrown in for good measure.  Casual, simple in concept and with a menu that’s easy to execute, not to mention a long track record and loyal clientele, Blue Plate — and others like it — are likely to survive the economic downtown.

That seems more evident with a quick glance at the wine list: Et violà!, it’s Marc Ollivier’s Côt “La Pépiè”.

cotOllivier is sort of the master of Muscadet and this feisty, juicy wine sort of behaves like a red Muscadet might, with cheerful fruit and refreshing acidity. I easily finished the first glass before the first course, and was ready for more. And I know that malbec — aka côt in the Loire Valley — is, like, totally popular these days but this version is hardly the jampot that seems common to Argentina and, increasingly, California. While no secret among winegeeks, La Pépiè — like much of the Louis/Dressner portfolio — seems to hit a magic price point ($14-$16 retail; $28-$30 restaurant list) that makes it sort of the vinous equivalent of a restaurant like Blue Plate: Delicious, affordable and, most importantly, friendly and honest. Qualities to look for no matter what’s going on with the economy.

Happily, too, the label is irresistibly cute.

Super Bowls and Birthdays

Busy with multiple deadlines at the moment so this one’s quick…

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Above: Football? What football? Super Bowl Sunday at the Hog Island oyster farm in Tomales Bay. Taken as things were winding down. FYI – If you fancy oysters in January or February — both ‘r’ months — then skip out on the Super Bowl and head up to Hog Island. We practically had the place to ourselves.

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Above: Diner at NOPA for my birthday, where we drank U Baccan, a single-vineyard pigato from Ligurian producer Bruna. One of my favorite white wines from Italy, and certainly one my two favorite pigatos (the other being Bruna’s Le Russeghine vineyard). It’s incredibly complex, with a powerfully deep mineral expression. It also has that groovy little neolithic man on the label, which just seals the deal.

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Above: the prep area at the wood oven station at NOPA. I think I took this picture because I spent the entire night seated on the opposite side of the glass from that bin full of delicious pancetta. It ain’t a birthday without pancetta!