An Al Pastor Goodbye

Said farewell to San Francisco, for this week at least, with a delicious al pastor flavored send off at El Castellito, which serves up some of the best spicy slow-cooked marinated pork in town. Pictured below.

Off to New York for a week of tasting new releases from Piedmont for Wine & Spirits. Maybe I’ll blog a little more after what’s been a relatively blog free summer.


Pizza on Wheels

All this talk about new style street food carts and taco trucks modified into gourmet street food destinations has me hungry. Also, I’m thinking of these totally bad-ass variations on the mobile wood-burning pizza oven I saw last weekend in Paso Robles.

Check it:


This first pizza trailer is owned by Full of Life Flatbread, and they make delicious pizzas wherever they tow this thing. The colorful tiles are a nice touch.


These next shots are of Rob Hunter’s totally awesome combo pizza oven trailer and kitchen (with taco truck style serving windows, natch). Rob and his wife Jill owned a fantastic restaurant called Pangaea in the Pacific Coast hamlet of Gualala for a few years (pics from a somewhat recent visit). They’ve since closed the restaurant but have continued to cook out of this mobile kitchen. As you can see, it’s a great set up.



Below: Partygoers cram into to the kitchen doorway line-up for a just-fired pie.


Super Bowls and Birthdays

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


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.


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.


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!

Be the Ham and the Ham Will Be Yours

Holiday madness in San Francisco, or my own insanity. Home from a week of tasting Tuscan wines at the W&S New York office; somehow my flight left Newark on Friday following a daylong storm of snow and icy rain. Once 6 hours had passed on the tarmac I began to wonder what people were thinking after that first winter in the Northeast 400 years ago; why, really, stay? I doubt Puritans were that masochistic…

But then I’m from California, inherently weak in the knees and cold in the feet when it comes to things like icy rain.

Speaking of winter, it’s time for ham! My friend Max, a meatmaster of sorts, supplied us with a savory cured ham for Saturday’s holiday fete. His directions for preparation appear following. Kids, do try this at home!

Follow the directions on the label. They are good and I have sometimes fucked up the ham by focusing on the crisp and then drying it out. Always cool to blast it at the very end @ broil to achieve optimum, smoky cranklins of joy and pleasure…should the directions not assuage this need. One thing Jeremy did which was solid was to crosshatch the fat covering over the whole skin side; ending up with 2×2 squares (cut just down to that middle-ground between the lean and the fat). He glazed the son’bitch as well; a unique opportunity to be creative etc. Not sure when he applied the glaze though. Oh yeah…don’t forget to take the beast out of the fridge a few hours before; a soft initial move prior to your imminent scorching attack. Now that I think of it…if you choose to slash, take action straight outta the fridge before before the higher temp renders fat and makes it a sloppy bitch. I am still on the fence on the basting and slashing; I hate the break the sanctity of something after it has been through such long and complicated voyage. Frankly…it is your call and I am certain that if you place both your hands upon the ham, close your eyes and ask it directly for its opinion…your direction will be clear. Be the ham and the ham will be yours.

Sage holiday wisdom…

*Note, some missing directions: the goal is heat the ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Set the oven to around 300 degrees and roast the ham in a shallow roasting pan with a rack for about 2 hours; you’ll want to handle the scoring, etc, mentioned above about an hour or so into the total cooking time.

(Sorry, no pic!)

Delicious Things

“I’m going where there’s no depression…”

Despite the (rather painful) extraction of a wisdom tooth last week, I did manage to drink a few delicious bevvies over the course of these last days. Maybe it’s the hint of desperation and talk of Long Depressions in the air, or perhaps I just couldn’t stomach any more days without drinking good wine or eating something solid (man can only last so long on shakes and soup). Regardless, we’re still here, and there’s still enjoyment to be had in life.

Now that’s mall food: Sea Dog Root Beer and Trumer Pilsner with a chicken and shiitake steamed bun at Out the Door. Charles Phan opened this branch of his legendary Slanted Door restauranta couple years ago in the San Francisco Center, a glorified urban mall. The steamed buns are delicious, and quite yummy with Sea Dog Brewing’s root beer (from Maine) and Trumer Pils, from an Austrian-based brewery that set up shop in Berkeley.

Who needs vicodin when there’s riesling? Throbbing pain be damned, I opened a bottle of 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese from Kerpen for dinner the other night. Nothing quite relaxes tension like good riesling, I say, and this was top notch. From a killer vineyard, this was a good example of ripe-vintage riesling aging gracefully and maintaining balance; the flavors felt poised between slatey minerality, brisk green apple freshness and an outright juiciness (methinks that would be the vintage).

The Kerpen was perfect with this flakey tart Simon made, stuffed with carmelized onions, bacon and green apples (which I coated in bacon fat, natch). No doubt, we’re facing hard times but now I don’t feel so crazy for stockpiling a bunch of wine instead of playing the stock market.

To close, ‘No Depression’ from Uncle Tupelo (whence the quote at the start of this post):

BBQ Quest: Lockhart, Texas

Our first stop for barbeque this morning was Lockhart, where we hit both Smitty’s Market and Kreuze for brisket, shoulder and ribs. And circle sausage, too, which totally kicked ass.

Below, a shot of the smoke pits at Smitty’s which resembled an ironworks more than anything else, and then our feast. Yum!

Coffee Wars and Locavores

(Above: Lemon-pistachio donuts and coffee at Four Barrel)

Three’s a war, right?

It seems that the coffee wars have officially come to San Francisco. The last few years have seen the arrival of Blue Bottle, Ritual and now, Four Barrel (no website yet; tel: 415-252-0800). Blue Bottle began as a roaster based in the East Bay, with two kiosks here in the city, one at the Ferry Plaza farmers market theme-park, and the other tacked on to the front end of a wood shop in Hayes Valley. They’ve since opened their first café-laboratory off Mint Plaza downtown.

Ritual opened deep on Valencia Street in the Mission District in 2005; it’s both a roaster and a popular airy café filled with so many laptops that you could mistake it for someone’s idea of the perfect hi-tech start up (indeed, Flickr got started here).

And then there’s Four Barrel, which is sort of a midway stop between Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley kiosk and the Ritual HQ at the end of Valencia. Stylistically speaking too, it’s somewhere in between. A big space made warm by the hum of conversation, coffee and vinyl LPs affixed to the fall (check the Mad Max soundtrack, natch), there’s a roaster in the back and places to sit up front, as well as a retail counter to take a sack of beans home. There’s food too, and I’d be guilty of Wall Street level greed if I didn’t say it’s worth a trip to Four Barrel just for the lemon-pistachio donut from the new Dynamo Donut.

So San Francisco is developing a local coffee industry that may just rival Seattle’s someday. Or maybe not. In any case, all this talk of localism brings to mind a short article that my friend David Tamarkin wrote over at Time Out Chicago about the ultimate futility of the locavore/localvore movement. (Although I wish he’d taken that stupid name to task.) I get the impression that David wanted to write much more than what he had space for, but it’s a thought-provoking piece all the same.

(Above: Internationally sourced coffee beans for sale at local roaster Four Barrel. Maybe there’s a happy medium for locally and internationally sourced produce? Also, dig that Megadeth typeface!)

As a dedicated lover of things vinous and seeker of delicious things to eat, I’m not about to commit myself to eating and drinking only those items which are sourced in a 50- or 100-mile radius (and I live in a place where such a lifestyle is actually possible). Sorry, generally speaking I prefer cru Beaujolais to California Pinot Noir. And I couldn’t live without a little La Tur in my life. That said, I believe a consciousness of the local bounty and how that produce gets to market is important, to say nothing of what’s in and out of season in your particular region; indeed, eating seasonally might be even more important and effective than eating locally. But wouldn’t the energies and passions of people committed to maintaining a locally-based diet be better devoted elsewhere? Like developing school gardening programs, for instance, or guaranteeing the rights of immigrant farm workers at both artisan and industrial farms?

Julia Child – The Spy!

Wow, this news from the AP totally made my day: It seems that Julia Child was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the World War II era precursor to the CIA. That’s right, the grande dame of American cooking was a spy!

From the article:

Famed chef Julia Child shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world. They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The secret comes out Thursday, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.

(Go here for the full text)

I’m amazed! I’m reminded by this news of Donald and Petie Kladstrup’s highly enjoyable Wine & War, an account of several of France’s leading wine estates during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Worth checking out if you haven’t read it.

Midsummer Hedonism

Like many people in the wine biz, I’m part of a tasting group that meets regularly to sniff, sip, ‘n spit wines. I’m also part of another subgroup – with some of the same people from the main group – where instead of getting together and writing tasting notes that we’ll probably never read again, we cook a delicious dinner and mutually raid our cellars. We hosted the most recent dinner in San Francisco. With a couple days to work (and recover from a massive house party; Advil, natch), Simon and I assembled the menu: fava-pecorino crostini, hand-made fettucini with an earthy porcini-shitake ragù, roast leg of lamb with crispy potatoes and a salad of spicy summer greens, panna cotta with raspberries. Below, the wine spoils:

Apologies for the darkness of the shot; I was a little sauced by that point and not up to the task of adjusting the light settings on the camera. Poor Dampierre, forced to hide in the shadows like that.

The ’99 Giacosa Barbaresco was stunning, and continued to positively evolve over the course of the evening (and it killed with the fresh pasta); the 2001 Paleo, a Bolgheri cabernet franc from Le Macchiole, was supple and elegant, a distinctive expression of cabernet franc that tastes totally Italian. But then you would expect stellar performances from these wines. The shocker was the magnum 1986 Ahlgren Santa Cruz Mountains Semillon that my friend Matthew brought over. Fresh and vibrant, yet showing that semillon honey/waxy character, I found this wine (from Santa Cruz–wtf!?!?) to be just delicious. And because of the large bottle size, we got to drink it throughout the meal. Matthew had bought this recently at the winery, so that probably accounts for its freshness.

*The Santa Cruz Mountains is one of California’s more obscure AVAs, but one that’s totally worth getting to know (You can check out the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association here). I find that I’m constantly surprised by wines from here, and the ’86 Ahlgren Semillon was no exception.

Greatest Food & Wine Pairing Ever (or I *Heart* Seattle)

(Above: Champagne grapes are indeed very cute)

I was in Seattle last week for the Wine & Spirits Hot Picks tasting event, which was held at the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown. Like I did for a similar W&S event held in LA, I participated in a radio show in the days before the tasting (although this time I called in for a live broadcast). Anyway, the host asked me a common question: What’s the greatest food and wine pairing that you’ve ever experienced?

You think I’d have an answer to this one, but no–I just don’t think that way. I mean, there are loads of epic wine and food pairings that come to mind but I don’t really dwell on them. Too many more to look forward to, I guess. Why live in the past?

That said, one pairing immediately came to mind… Two years ago, I was hanging out in Seattle with Peter Liem prior to another W&S event, and we went to Matt’s In The Market for lunch. At the time, Matt’s was a narrow space with a fish counter and a few tables (it has since expanded to double that size). Hot food was cooked on a propane burner in the back; I think there was also a toaster in use. Peter, of course, brought along a bottle from one of his remote North American stashes: Louis Roederer’s 1983 Cristal.

1983, as Peter told me at the time, is considered an off year for Cristal (and Champagne), yet this wine was gorgeous. Better still, we ordered up a couple of fried catfish sandwiches to pair with it. Damn! Absolutely perfect combination…the Champagne was still very fresh at 23 years old, with plenty of zip left in it–bubbles, acidity–to cut through the rich fish and crispy batter. I can still taste it today, two years later. Now that’s bling!

(Above: The catfish at Matt’s is perfectly fried–crispy outer crust, the meat is fluffy and moist–and then generously served as a sandwich with aioli and greens)

I went back to Matt’s on this last trip, but alas, I didn’t have a bottle of ’83 Cristal with me. Matt’s has always had a good wine program, however, and the selection, I’m pleased to report, grew along with the remodel. Catfish sandwich ordered, we asked for a bottle of the delicious ’05 Muscadet Clos des Allées Vieilles Vignes from Luneau-Papin, a Loire Valley producer with total geek cred. Yeah, it kicked ass.

(Above: The marquee at the Paramount Theatre… not only did Wine & Spirits share the upcoming billing with NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, but also Billy Idol!)