Journey to Italy Day Three Continued: Florence

27 05 2010

May 27, 2010 continued

So despite a lack of sleep I managed to get up on time and head off to meet the rest of our group at breakfast at about 8am and then head along in a Mercedes Benz “van” if you could call it that to Chianti Rufina.  There is a lot of diversity within what the consumer may just know as “Chianti” and Chianti has very little to do with the fiasco, or the woven bottle that you would put a colorful candle into.  The wines of Chianti have always had renown, partially due to the fact that this Tuscan wine growing area is very close to Florence, a major area for banking and a traditionally wealthy city.  Chianti Classico, the original area and a separate DOCG, is just one of multiple Chianti regions, for example Chianti Colli Senese (the area near Siena), Chianti Fiorentini (on the hills near Florence) and Chianti Rufina, not to be confused with the brand named Ruffino which is a totally separate thing.  Maybe I am tired…  It’s really not that confusing, it’s just that each of these regions has different characteristics that make the wines taste different so they are kept separate, the concept the French call “terroir”.  We headed out to Rufina which was an easy 30 km drive northeast of Florence, to Castello di Nipozzano which passed hands in 1877 to the noble family of Frescobaldi when Angelo de Frescobaldi wed Leonia Albizi.

First we visited the famed estate vineyards that range in altitude from the Arno River at 250 meters in elevation to the crest of the hill at 500m.  Soils change as you get futher from the river with sand close to the river, ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, calcareous clay mid-slope, great for Merlot and the famed soil of the area, galestro, a schistous compressed clay soil towards the higher elevations, ideal for the picky Sangiovese.

Sangiovese is a difficult grape to grow as many California producers have noticed, due to the fact that it has a lot of vigor, it grows and grows, so rocky soils with less nutrients are ideal for it.  These vineyards are at the foot of the Appenine Mountains that run down the spine of Italy from North to South offering cooling air at night to retain aromatics and finesse in the wines.  We met with winemaker Niccolo D’Afflitto at the vineyards and he also guided us through the cellar explaining how he keeps the pumpovers in the winery under close guard by keeping the system closed and only adding oxygen as needed to retain aromatics.  He said he does not ever want to walk into the winery and smell wine, he would rather save that beautiful smell for the consumer when they open the bottle to enjoy it!

We entered the villa and were met by Leonardo Frescobaldi, the President and tasted through the Mormoreto 2006, 2007 and barrel samples of the 2008 and 2009.  The wines are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot which seems strange until you learn that these grapes were grown on the property for ages.  Due to unfavorable relations between the Frescobaldi family and the Medici some Frescobaldis left Italy for a time and spent time in France.  One of these ancestors was famed for bringing back these grapes in the 1850s along with some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay now planted in the neighboring area of Pomino.  The Colors of the wines were intense hues of magenta and just as Niccolo had suggested the aromatics were astonishing.  Aromas of mulberry, blackcurrant, resinous herbs jump from the glass and despite the Bordeaux varieties have no resemblance to Bordeaux.  Lifted by vibrant acidity and balanced in their oakiness (the Marchesi de Frescobaldi says “If you like vanilla go buy a vanilla ice cream”) these are wines great for a meal.

We left our wines to open up with some more air and took our “van” up to the nearby estate Castello di Pomino.  This area used to be connected to the Chianti Rufina appellation but has no resemblance to it in either soil or climate.  Way back in 1715 it was demarcated as significant wine growing area, and in 1983 was separated from Chianti Rufina.  The Frescobaldi family are the largest landowners and producers in the region, so it is almost a monopole.

The minute you start winding up the hills to reach this region (a mere 15 minutes from Nipozzano) you feel like you are in a different country.  Leonardo Frescobaldi joked with us to be sure we had our passports!  It really did feel more like an alpine region as pines and different vegetation became visible.  Vineyards here sit at higher elevation, 400-750 meters, so different vines are at home here.  It is named after apples, grown here on the gravelly, acidic soils.  Of course with the different microclimate the grapes grown are also distinct including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Moscato.

Most exciting for me was the Vin Santeria, or the room where Vin Santo is produced.  Here they take harvested Chardonnay and Trebbiano grape bunches and hang them from wooden rafters with hooks.  The grapes stay there for about three months, in the fall and winter and most importantly this room is up high and has windows that are opened to allow for breezes, always strong in Pomino, to dry the grapes and also prevent spoilage.  After pressing the juice is put into exile in barrels (Caratelli sigillati) 2/3 filled where it ferments slowly.  They close these barrels with wooden tops and try to forget about them for four or five years (they cannot reopen these to check on the wine.)  When they revisit the wine it has evolved into a coppery toned elixir that is sweet (180 g/l residual sugar) and luscious.  We tasted a Chardonnay that they oak and lees stir to produce Benefizio and also a Pinot Noir out of barrel that had a tart cherry nose and a concentrated core of fruit but was unique to Pinot Noir from other wine regions.

After visiting the newly restored chapel frescoes we jumped back into our “van” and zipped back to Nipozzano where we enjoyed lunch with Marchesi de Frescobaldi and Tiziana Frescobaldi Board Member and Director of Press Relations.  We enjoyed a ricotta puff pastry on a bed of spinach drizzled with pesto, which was perfect with the Pomino Benefizio 2007, Capellini pasta with a simple and delicious tomato basil sauce, with Nipozzano 2007 Chianti Rufina Riserva (90% Sangiovese with the traditional grapes completing the blend) and then a Gallentine en Pollo (stuffed chicken) with rosemary potatoes and cauliflower with Montesodi Riserva Chianti Rufina 2007 (100% Sangiovese).  We finished with an almond cake and Vin Santo.

After saying goodbye to the family we toured the old wine cellar where the family’s ration of wines are stored in anticipation of their use when they are born and then headed back to Florence.

Upon entering the hotel I was met with the effusive smell of jasmine, did a quick change into shorts and FitFlops and hit the city of Florence hard (I only had three hours).  I made a bee line to the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella at 16 Via della Scala   Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world founded by Dominican friars after 1221 who made medications from the herbs grown in their gardens.  Amazingly it has been open to the public since 1612.  For anyone that loves perfume and scent this place is mecca.  When you open the doors you enter a marble corridor and are immediately greeted by an intriguing mix of aromatic essences all of which mingle into a unique scent reminiscent of light top notes of fields of flowers but also incense and heavier aromas.  The main room is gorgeous and impossible to capture on film despite the numerous tourists who are there trying.  It seems almost sacrilege to try to photograph this ancient site and the filtered light gives a very serene calm to the place.  Three rooms house the wares, one for the edible items, one for the home fragrances and accessories and the main room for the essential oils and perfume.  Scent strips are available and you can peruse the list in multiple languages and ask to smell anything you wish.

After enjoying Santa Maria Novella I hoofed around in search of leather goods and found them over at the boar where you can rub its snout.  I ended up walking all the way to Santa Croce and then walked across the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio, focal point of the city, over to Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito and then back across and yes, back to Santa Maria Novella to revisit an aroma and ultimately back to the hotel.

Dinner was at Cibreo where we were treated like royalty (I guess that is what happens when the Frescobaldi family makes your reservation).  Waiters here have no written menu but sit with your table for consultation, many extra dishes were brought to taste.  We drank Luce della Vite, a more modern style wine coming from the Montalcino area  and 2005 Mormoreto.  Dishes were too numerous to mention but the highlights included pickled carrots and zucchini, a flan with meat sauce and parmesan, spicy tomato aspic, a minestrone with amberjack (a fish) that was killer, and my entrée, rabbit in a dark chocolate sauce with spices including cumin and raw hazelnuts.  The dish was so intriguing and made me think of mole from Mexico.  It was truly delicious and made me wonder how these cultures melding created this dish that son of owner Fabio Picchi said has been passed down through his family for generations.

Overall it was a great day, fueled by adrenaline and vibrant sights and smells I never even lagged.  I tried to write when I returned to the room, but fell into a happy slumber and awoke this morning at about 5:25 eager to write and hearing all the glorious birdsong that’s just a bit different than that in the US.  Stepping onto the balcony I got a strong waft of the just extinguished waxy smell of the citronella candles on the cool morning breeze, kind of a mix of summer picnics and church.

Today we leave Florence and head to Umbria.

Cibreo Ristorante Via A. Del Verrocchio, 8 r Florence 055 234 11 00

Santa Maria Novella Via della Scala, 16, Firenze

Journey to Italy Day One, Two and Maybe Three

27 05 2010

May 25-26, 2010

Always one to cut things close, I decided that it would be no problem at all to roll three projects into one the last two weeks of May.  That’s not including a huge tasting of 115 Ribera del Duero wines earlier in the month and multiple other business such as the launch of the SF Chefs 2010 website and ticket sales and a few wine buff commitments.  Overall I knew I was making the month insane for myself but I can’t very often say no and surely I was not going to say no to a trip to Italy to visit Luce, Frescobaldi and Arnaldo Caprai.

So May 18 is really when my crazy journey began.  I packed two suitcases (more like lots of planning and then tossing everything into two bags and hoping for the best)  one which traveled with me and the other that my husband was going to exchange with me later in the week (Southwest doesn’t charge for two bags!  I flew Virgin America to LAX).  I flew into LAX where I picked up a rental car for my journey to the Inland Empire to judge the Los Angeles International Wine Competition (May 18-21), stay the weekend and run the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition (May 23-25).  Both were a blast and filled with lots of partying and great people, and luckily my husband helps me with spirits so I was able to see him again (and exchange bags) before heading off, same day as the end of the competition, to LAX for my flight to Munich/Florence.  I arrived at the airport at 4:30 for a 9 pm flight (way too early in my opinion) and was greeted by the fact that there is very little to do at LAX Int’l terminal.  Had a wedge salad and a beer at the Daily Grill, it was acceptable only because of the double power outlet next to me and a friendly waitress, but otherwise uneventful.  At least LAX has free wireless out there.  In true Chapa fashion more beers were had at the airport bar to allow for plane sleep.

I flew Lufthansa, suspiciously comfortable and easy despite the lack of seat pockets for my stuff.  I watched the Princess and the Frog (made me cry when the firefly died) with my meal, enjoyed some Nero d’Avola/Syrah and dozed off watching Up in the Air.  I found myself rudely awakened by a jerky guy who decided he wanted to wake up the plane by opening his window shade, but luckily another 45 minutes later they were serving breakfast (finished watching the movie, all movies are available at your leisure and can be stopped or fast forwarded which was cool) and we were almost there.  Despite my aisle seat and no neck pillow I awoke all chipper and happy, so of course there would need to be some type of crazy twist right?

Got to Munich, relatively easy deplaning and rechecking and then I walked into their gorgeous terminal complete with luxury cars on display and boutiques, Kiehls, Jo Malone and MAC right when you enter, got some free lotion to revive my dried out body and then went to the pharmacy where they had my favorite shower gel, Korres Basil Lemon, which I have been missing since I forgot to pack it a week ago.  Things were great, I grabbed a Weissbier (ya gotta when you are only in Germany for an hour.)  So things were clearly too good to be true.

My flight was completely cancelled due to equipment failure so they are routing me through Bologna and then taking me on a ground transfer to Florence.  Only adds another three or four hours to the trip, but at this point does that really matter?

I am trying not to let it get me and instead I am taking the opportunity to explore the airport.  Nothing like the smell of the duty free store to refresh you after a long trip, wish I had my perfume books on hand so I could do some investigating.  The good thing about this airport is they may not have wireless but they do have the Allianz Arena, a news lounge open to all passengers where you can visit news sites.  Although I couldn’t get onto my Earthlink webmail, but apparently they think that Facebook and Twitter qualify as “News”.  I was able to connect to my friends/family although at first it tried to bump me off.  The keyboard wasn’t so easy to type on with the y and z interchanged and so while they had Word Press too I opted to write this on my laptop instead.   The also bump you off after about 20 minutes, but there seem to be plenty of terminals.

Another great feature of this airport is multiple free coffee and tea stations!  Although I had vowed to wait until Italy for a coffee, I have to say that automatic machine makes a mean espresso macchiato, so despite the 14 hours of travel I am still relatively awake and hopeful that this is an adventure not a debaucle through Bologna.  See you in Firenze.

May 27, 2010 1:33 AM

Well I finally made it to Florence after more than 25 hours of travel.  I arrived in Bologna around 10:30 and had to wait about an hour for a bus to take us to Florence which took at least an hour.  Of course there was no one waiting so I had to grab a cab and get cash before I made it to my hotel, Grand Hotel Villa Medici, but luckily the hotel was still open (at about 1am) and very friendly and I came up to my room to find a delicious fruit bowl and a bottle of Frescobaldi Bubbles.  I quickly jumped into my bathing suit and ran down to the piscine (pool) and hopped into some pretty cold but invigorating water.  That along with the bubbles is washing all the worries of my travel away, but I have an early day tomorrow so I must crash ASAP.   Grand Hotel Villa Medici was a palace in the 1700s and now as part of SINA Fine Italian Hotels it meshes historical ambiance with contemporary comfort.

New York

1 03 2010

I moved to San Francisco back in 1996 and since then my visits to New York have been infrequent.  I occasionally visit my family who still live in Rye about 45 minutes north of Manhattan by train, but usually once I am there I am held captive by my mother who does not want to share me.  So the rare occasion when I can actually stay in Manhattan and experience the unique feel of what we call “The City” is a real treat.

Recently I visited New York on business and was happy to stay in my favorite hotel, The Hotel on Rivington.  I would have to say that this hotel is not for everyone, but if it suits your sensibilities then you will be a loyal follower and anywhere else will seem really substandard.  What I like about it most is that the rooms (not the bar mind you) are very comfortable and unpretentious.  The furnishings are sleek and modern and the all black bathrooms while a bit trendy offers comfortable elegance.  The beauty of the space is that each room is weirdly different.  I have stayed in rooms where the shower has a clear window facing what appear to be lawn chairs that are set up facing said window.  Upon checking in I noticed this and when I returned to the room that night there was a small party on that rooftop as guys waited for new check ins who were perhaps not as aware as I was (they do offer a privacy screen which I promptly called for.)

The Tempur-pedic mattress and amazing soft and simple white bed linens and fluffy down comforter and pillows captivate you from the minute you check in as a video of sheets being manipulated in many ways that plays behind the front desk.  The bed is just plain sexy, and incredibly comfortable, but be forewarned that sometimes you may not even realize someone is sleeping next to you when you get an elbow to the eye in the middle of the night (I unfortunately know from experience and the black eye from my husband’s elbow in the middle of the night, of course I had to attend a wedding that day).

The best part about the Rivington is that when you leave you are smack dab in the middle of one of New York’s most interesting neighborhoods, the Lower East Side.  This area was settled initially by multiple groups of immigrants and is known for being a hub for American Jews.  For a very long time it seemed separate from other city neighborhoods.  When I was living in Manhattan in the mid 90s no one really came here but now it is the enclave of the hip and young urbanites.  Still you see the local culture melding with the younger people and the amazing thing is that despite the influx of trendiness there is a cohesive style to the area.  Somehow it all works and you find that it’s a great melding of both sensibilities.  Additionally it’s easily accessible to the East Village, SOHO and other fun neighborhoods to visit.

At the Hotel you are steps from Lower East Side culture as you hit the Essex Street Market.  Half of the market stalls remind me of markets I have seen in Mexico, but maybe cleaner.  Just the utilitarian products you would get from unique vendors, a butcher, a fishmonger, a sundries store, it’s amazing to see the locals shopping here for their daily foodstuffs.  Within this group are a few cool foodie places.  Saxelby Cheesemonger, a bakery, Roni Sue’s chocolates (I bought the bacon tea lollipops), a cupcakery and the pinnacle of the market at the far end, Shopsins General Store.  With about 4 counter seats and three two-tops in the restaurant the place is tiny.  They also serve at three additional two-tops in the front of the store.  I must say that I was incredibly intimidated after reading all the yelps.

They call Kenny Shopsin the “real” soup nazi.  But having come from a restaurant background I understand his issues.  It comes down to supply and demand.  He has limited seats and he is putting out an incredibly large and intricate menu and no he doesn’t really need to serve people that bug him.  There are tons of people wanting to eat there, so…  The rules are simple.  Don’t be an asshole, don’t bring more than four people total, don’t be overly touristy, don’t use your cell phone, don’t mess with Kenny or his son, order politely and know what you want and don’t ask a lot of questions.  I had the macaroni and cheese pancakes, maple glazed bacon and an Orange Julius.  I went at 10 on a Thursday and it was quiet with regulars and a few touristy folks (and by touristy I mean NYers who’d never been before).  Kenny is not a man of small stature, and he sits in a chair by the front of the stand basically completely blocking the entrance so he can watch over the whole operation.  He was nice enough to me and when I left and said thanks he said thanks too.  He was chatting up his equipment guy.  There was another guy at the bar and they spoke about politics.  He talked a bit about suck and blow and the difference and there were a lot of F bombs thrown about from Zachary in the kitchen to his dad in the chair.  He said “Jesus Zack, you’re F-in’ going to get us an R rating here!” as two elderly New Yorkers sidled in to a deuce and grinned.  I heard the wife tell her husband, “Now you cannot list every thing on the menu, behave!”, to which he replied “But honey there are seventy-two soups!  Seventy-two soups!”  I cringed when she asked questions about eggs and bread options but server Luke was very polite.  It was sadly extremely uneventful, no tears, no one thrown out, I wanted to return to see they mayhem at lunchtime.  My Orange Julius arrived in an icy silver shake can with a super duper bendy straw that had extra bend to it, fancy!  And it was delicious, frothy and light.  Soon a plate of curled bacon atop some lettuce came sizzling hot followed by my Macaroni and Cheese pancakes, they looked orangey as a thin layer of orange cheese glistened but when you sliced into them the bottoms were like regular pancakes.  It was much more about the cheese pancake combo and the macaroni was in the middle and not really a player except to add girth to the cakes. The top part was lightly crispy like that edge on a grilled cheese that scoots out the side of the bread and the cakes incredibly soft served with both maple syrup and hot sauce.  A decent combo!  The bacon was a bit too hot at first as the maple was almost candied and stuck to my teeth and then they became crispy little rings of pork, almost like pork rinds but meatier.  Really good.  All of this was $25 (I got a half stack of pancakes).  I cannot stop thinking about the hundreds of other amazing options waiting to be discovered there and can’t wait to return.

There are multiple options for food in the area, and just exploring the surrounding streets filled with boutiques and cafes is great.  I recommend a jaunt through Little Italy and Chinatown as well and of course hit your favorite deli before you head home.

Other great places to go:


Essex Street Market 120 Essex Street at Delancey: Multiple Vendors

Roni-Sue’s Chocolates: #24 Essex Street Market

Maple/Bacon Lollipops with fresh brewed smoked tea, and maple syrup, Absinthe chocolates, Buttercrunch and Bacon Buttercrunch, Pig Candy (Chocolate covered bacon), BaCorn (Caramel popcorn with bacon bits and chile pinon nuts)

Katz’s Delicatessen of Houston Street, Inc.: 205 East Houston Street corner of Ludlow 212 254-2246

I picked up a huge Corned Beef on Rye for the flight home with extra pickles (two kinds, I preferred the bright green ones, the others I think were more pickled and had more dill) and the sandwich lasted a good way through my flight.  The overwhelming pickle odor was probably not welcomed by my seat mate but he was already well into four scotches and three beers, so I do not think he noticed.

Russ and Daughters: 179 East Houston Street

If you don’t drop in here to buy bagels for your friends and family then you are heartless.  The bagels are cheap and they even offer ice to keep the cream cheese cold.  I tried not to be tempted by all the kinds of smoked fishes, pickle barrels, amazing looking foods.  Next time I will go there first.

Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy: 211 Grand Street 212 966-6370

While traipsing around Chinatown in the snow I stopped in as I saw the amazing jars of tea from the street.  This traditional Chinese pharmacy offers all sorts of curative products and a large selection of teas.  I was most intrigued by the rolled balls of flowering tea, add them to a clear tea pot or crystal wine glass with hot water and they unfold into beautiful “flowers”.

Economy Candy: 212 254-1531 108 Rivington Street

Remind yourself of all your childhood memories at Economy Candy.  Want candy corn in February?  They have it.  They also have Halvah by the pound, and my favorite, Albert’s Ice Cubes (it’s all about the texture with these soft chocolatey squares) and if you can’t go they sell online.

Ferrara Cafe: 195 Grand Street between Mulberry & Mott

I always thought how funny it is that Chinatown and Little Italy are so close together both in New York and San Francisco!  To get your fix for Italian style pastries to go or eat in head over to Ferrara.  I took a selection of cookies home including the filled apricot cookies dipped in chocolate and rainbow cookies.  Fun to snack on on the flight home.

Vosges Chocolates: 132 Spring Street between Greene & Wooster

If you find yourself in SOHO on a snowy day what better spot than Vosges for a fancy hot chocolate.  La Parisienne (classic), Aztec Elixir (ancho & chipotle chili, cinnamon and vanilla bean with dark chocolate) and Bianca (Australian lemon myrtle, vanilla powder, lavender and white chocolate).  Then drop in to browse one of the coolest stores on the planet, Evolution Science & Art: 120 Spring Street 212 343-1114 full of interesting bones, bugs, butterflies and taxidermy.


WD-50: 50 Clinton Street 212 477-2900


Chef Wylie Dufresne is more than your average celebrity chef.  I have been to the restaurant three times, and each and every time he has been at the helm.  You can see him immediately upon entering the restaurant standing in the doorway of the open kitchen in the back.  Known for his molecular cuisine he rides the line between outrageous and innovative and I have found that he is able to keep grounded.  What I mean is that even though the flavor combinations and the way they are delivered are very unusual the actual dishes are tasty and satisfying.  I enjoy sitting at the bar, and actually decided to eat there alone this time.  In the middle of my meal I was actually really happy that I opted to do so as the food really requires some attention, although it would have been nice to try more things.  I started with an amazing cocktail crafted by barman Tona, called the Lupita.  It was Cazadores silver Tequila, green apple, green tabasco and yuzu, and I noticed him adding a splash of St. Germain elderflower liqueur.  It was really tasty and not overly spicy but definitely had a kick.  For starters I had “cuttlefish, cashew, root beer, watercress”, you will find that most of the menu descriptions are vague such as this, but every server, runner, bartender knows the food expertly and describes it to you in advance if you wish or when they deliver the item.  This was actually cubes of cuttlefish stacked with gelatinous cubes of root beer and dollops of watercress sauce.  I really enjoyed it, but the texture might not be for everyone (I love having Ika sushi, so it suited me even though it was not raw).  Tona knows wine as well as cocktails and suggested I have the Thurnhoff Goldmuskateller from Alto Adige and it was perfect.  Next course was “cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar” an extra sent to me from the tasting menu.  The chicken was wrapped in a breading and the buttermilk-ricotta seemed like potato on top with a tabasco syrup and salty caviar.  It was delicious.  I took another suggestion for the entree, the Kamoizumi Red Maple Sake 2 year namazume (18.5% alcohol mind you) to have with the “scallops, pine needle udon, grapefruit dashi, Chinese broccoli”.  At this point I was waxing poetic and wrote in my notebook, “The pine-infused noodles taste like Christmas, I love it!  It makes me wanna cry or is it being in New York with 18.5% sake and a tequila drink and a wine.  The noodles are everything I hoped they would be.  This dish fulfills all my holiday memories without all the requisite pulling out the tree, cooking, baking, lights, stress, family.”  Seriously delicious and how do you make something taste like pine without crossing the line into cleaning products.  Ah.  By that time I was stuffed, and opted out of dessert sadly (I have heard they are as incredible as the savory courses) but was served a ball of sweetened condensed milk frozen and rolled in chocolate shortbread and a cocoa packet.  It was a gelatinous cocoa packet that when you bit into it was filled with crunchy cocoa pieces.  I can’t wait to return.

Pine Infused Udon

Schiller’s Liquor Bar: 131 Rivington Street 212 260-4555

I arrived in Manhattan at 12:30 on a Sunday night panicking that there would be nothing to eat, but multiple restaurants in the area were open according to Yelp.  I still didn’t believe them and ran over to Schiller’s expecting to have to beg for food, but when I arrived it was bustling.  I had a hangar steak with Bearnaise sauce.  They have a great way to promote the wine selections,  1-Cheap, 2-Decent, 3-Good and the selections were great, but I had a beer.  It has a comfortable atmosphere and tasty food.

Il Buco: 47 Bond Street

I took my friend here and she thought I was taking her on a wild goose chase as we passed all the Bowery restaurant supply stores with piles of old restaurant sinks and such lining the sidewalks.  Even as you approach the restaurant door it seems sketchy and then you are transported into the most gorgeous room.  It feels as if you just walked right into Nonna’s kitchen in the old country.  Farmhouse tables, chairs, mismatched and set in groupings that are not quite traditional.  We had the charcuterie and some amazing rose.  She ordered the Porchetta panini with fennel pollen, come to think of I forgot to taste it because I was so enamored by my gnocchi with lemon butter, and a chiffonade of mint and brussels sprouts.  A great way to prep for an eight hour meeting.

DBGB Kitchen & Bar: 299 Bowery 212 933-5300

Great bar scene and a beautiful dining room.  I haven’t explored the extensive sausage menu, but the food is great and they have an incredible selection of beers including one of my favorites, Hitachino Nest White Beer from Japan on tap.  Seasonal beer offerings are fun as well.

Bar Boulud: 212 595-0303 1900 Broadway at 63rd

If you must be uptown this is a great place to go.  Amazing food, a great prix fixe menu at lunch time, great wines, friendly service.  All that you could hope for.  I had a “juicy” ladies lunch here, so my notes are sketchy but it was great.  The pork rillettes were my favorite.

pork rillettes Bar Boulud

Rayuela: 165 Allen Street 212 253-8840

Great dinner here including cocktails by famed bar chef Junior Merino.  My entree was incredibly memorable, a corn arepa with duck.  Really amazing.

Mercer Kitchen: The Mercer Hotel, 99 Prince Street

After shopping in SOHO hit this trendy and classy restaurant at the Mercer Hotel.  Great food and great selection of wines from the Jean-Georges group Wine Director Bernie Sun.

Spitzer’s Ludlow & Rivington Corner 212 228-0027

Lots of great beers, friendly staff, comfortable bathrooms.  Great beer descriptions and friendly staff will find you your new favorite beer.  I discovered Ithaca Flower Power IPA (8%), I tried it because of the Ithaca/Cornell connection and it was delicious!  Kindly they list the alcohol percentage to prevent you from a hangover, the Samiclaus is 14% whereas the Hitachino a mere 5%.

Pegu Club: 77 West Houston Street

Possibly my favorite Manhattan cocktail bar.  Try the Earl Grey-tini.

Flatiron: 37 West 19th Street 212 727-7741

Ok, my second favorite Manhattan cocktail bar, with ties to Pegu.  Creative drinks but be careful, some pack quite a punch.

The Summit: 133 Avenue C

Really friendly vibe without any attitude.  My friend who is not in the industry suggested we hit this relatively new spot before going to Sing Sing for karaoke (in a room, just the two of us, for THREE hours, does that reflect on how good the drinks were?  Perhaps.)  I was comforted at once when I saw Jill DeGroff’s book on the backbar and even more encouraged when I heard the clink of Kold-Draft ice in the glass.  He had the She Loves Mei She Love Mei Not (Barsol Pisco, muddled edible Ecuadorian rose petals, Szechuan peppercorn infused agave, fresh lemon, egg white) which was delicious and I had the Shu Jam Fizz (DH Krahn gin, apricot jam, fennel infused agave, peach bitters, fresh lemon, soda) which was AMAZING.  We noticed that each drink had an interesting and sometimes seemingly strange ingredient, but they clearly know what they are doing.

Napa Harvest

12 10 2009


Napa Valley in the heat of harvest is something very special.  The last few weeks I have been spending some time in the valley, for the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, and classes for the National Pork Board and last week for Mastering Wine I at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena at the northern end of the Napa Valley.  The valley is absolutely bustling with the excitement of harvest and grapes are not the only thing being harvested!

While fermentations simmer and the threat of a big storm in the Bay Area looms, the last few weeks have been balmy and downright cool, a very unusual harvest, but as I reported to my class last week, it really seems that the grapes know what is best and man just has to be paying enough attention to do the right thing.  I remember being awakened on the day of the Staglin Benefit for Mental Health to the sound of thunder (my WORD!) and raindrops, so unusual for the valley.  I had heard that veraison (the point at which grapes begin to turn color and ripen) had been early, but this was truly unique, to have an overcast cool day for this event had not happened in the nine years I had worked it.  Overall the season was cool and in the last week I heard from many vintners that Brix levels (level of sugar at harvest) are lower than normal but with exceptional maturity.  This means lower alcohols with just as much flavor!  (to read more about why go to  It just goes to show that sometimes the vines have forewarning as to when they should get their fruit ripe and hunker down for winter.  From what I hear many were spooked by the storm warning predicted for Tuesday and have harvested.  For Twitter updates head to @NVGrapegrowers to find out who is harvesting.

But Napa Harvest is not just about grapes!  One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in the valley is to hit the LMR Rutherford Gardens.  Operated by Long Meadow Ranch they are a produce pavilion right in the heart of Rutherford, across the way from Grgich Hills Winery on Highway 29.  While known for great wine and free-range beef the bounty at the gardens is the produce, and although summer is high-season, I love their fall offerings.  They have a newsletter that you can sign up for if you are interested in knowing what is in season in advance, but I prefer to be surprised!  Recently they had amazing nobby potatoes, five varieties of garlic, zucchini, an abundance peppers and possibly the last of amazing heirloom tomatoes.  If you hit the stand at just the right time you may be able to get some eggs!  I was lucky recently and grabbed a set of pullets, small sized eggs, in pastel colors that would put any Easter basket to shame.  And they were $5 a dozen and delicious!  Plus Long Meadow Ranch makes great wine!  They also offer jeep tours of their vineyards and cattle ranches!


Further down valley I make another stop as I turn towards Sonoma onto 121 headed back to San Francisco, Stanly Lane Marketplace.  This country store has amazing coffee, they do a fabulous iced Americano that almost lasts until I drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.  They offer some foods and seasonal crafts from local artisans including adorable gourd art for Halloween.  Its a fun way to break up the drive.  They also sell used barrels and if you are lucky staves and barrel tops, which I am fond of (I make them into lazy susans).  In the same parking lot they have a farm stand offering produce from many Bay Area farms, and are nice enough to specify the origin of every piece of produce on its sign.  In the height of summer they usually have Brentwood corn and nice heirlooms, peaches and nectarines in season.  My favorite time of the year, though, is when they create their incredible field of pumpkins for Halloween.  It is awash in oranges but they also stock multiple heirloom squashes in an array of untraditional shapes and colors, at much cheaper prices than most markets.  Plentiful wheelbarrows are available for rides for the kids and the pumpkins.  Pigs are on view carousing over smashed gourds for the kids to watch (and smell).  This year I was super excited to see that they added a corn and sunflower maze to the scene.  At five o’clock as the sun was exhibiting a much different angle in the sky than usual, it really made it feel like fall.  Hurry!  These places shut down seasonally!

LMR Rutherford Gardens 1796 So. St. Helena Highway Rutherford

Stanly Lane Marketplace 3100 Golden Gate Drive Napa, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 253-7512

D&S Produce Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 480-4479

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9-5pm


Zaré at Fly Trap

28 01 2009

Mention Hoss Zaré to just about anybody and you will hear exactly the same thing, “Hoss is THE nicest guy,” and I couldn’t agree more.

What does that have to do with the food at Zaré at Fly Trap?  Well, in my opinion just about everything.  I believe that you can taste love in food, grandma’s spaghetti sauce was just about the best thing I’d ever tasted even though she was not Italian and there’s something to be said for food that has been labored over for hours and hours.  Hoss takes extreme pleasure in making people happy with his delicious Persian inspired Mediterranean cuisine as well as his warm and personable manner in the front of the house.  He treats you as if you were a guest in his home when you arrive at Zaré at Fly Trap.  I never quite understand how he can manage to be both omnipresent in the front of house while managing the quality of the food expertly.  Everything he does is thoughtful and his demeanor is always caring.  Eating there just makes you feel good.

Some of my favorite dishes are the most simple, for example the Fried Buffalo Mozzarella served with a perfect amount of baby arugula, salty black olives, red peppers and anchovy vinaigrette.  Other dishes are simple in theory but incorporate innovative techniques such as the not to be missed Smoked Trout with cucumber “linguini”, trout roe and dill creme fraiche.  I’m also in love with the Spice-Roasted Bone Marrow served with the most amazing preserved bergamot.  (For those not familiar with bergamot it is the beautiful citrus that scents Earl Grey tea.  It’s rare to find it fresh and made into this delicious candied preserve.)  The preserve is the perfect foil to the succulent marrow especially with a bit of bitter greens and a few flakes of black salt.

Entrees are also delicious, especially the “Drunken” half chicken which truly tastes labored over, and the Grilled Moroccan-style Wild Salmon which has a mixture of sauces including a cucumber raita that meld together for a truly exotic combination.  Marisa Churchill consulted on the fantastic desserts, Reza Esmaili crafts great cocktails and the wine list created by Master Sommelier Chris Blanchard is exciting and value oriented.

At the end of your meal Hoss will even send you home with a bone for your dog.  He’s just that kind of guy.

Zaré at Fly Trap 606 Folsom Street at 2nd San Francisco, CA 94107 

San Francisco Food Nation

3 09 2008

I went by the Slow Food Nation events this weekend just to check it out and see what the deal was.  I had trouble getting in as press (Rebecca Chapa’s life on the D List coming soon), as they were overbooked, but was able to help the spirits folks out as a volunteer on Saturday.  The Slow Food group is near and dear to my heart as they sponsored me and nine other New Yorkers to head to Piedmont, Italy for a twenty-one day stint, back in 1993.  We visited and tasted through the regions best wineries and wrecked havoc on the area, but that’s a story for another time.  They took such great care of us, so I am glad to see them making strides in the U.S.

San Francisco is clearly the right place to hold such an event, we tend to have great consideration for the environment, interest in where our food comes from is almost second nature, so it is not a far stretch to get some avid foodies to an event like this.  It was a hard choice, but I did pull myself away from the SF Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market for a Saturday and headed to Civic Center to check out the free offerings of Slow Food.  Things got off to a bit of a late start, but we were able to stroll around the gorgeous Victory Garden, and we came across my favorite Huarache Loco stand that was already open at 10 am, so we got our Blue Bottle New Orleans Style Iced Coffees (without the lines we normally experience at the Farmer’s Market) and ate our delicious blue corn huaraches.  The stands were a bit random, for example our favorite Happy Girl Kitchen Co., from whom we normally get an amazing heirloom tomato salsa, was only serving pickles.  It seemed to me more an exhibition than a realistic food market, as my friend Marcia at said, there were no eggs to be found.  We found ourselves running off with some corn, a tomato (no basil that I could find) and some great books we picked up at the Point Reyes Books booth.

Then I headed off to Fort Mason to check out the rest of the event.  At the entrance of the pavilion one was immediately struck by a snail made out of bread and the aroma of a clay oven.  Inside the displays were gorgeous, the area was divided into many small sub areas featuring different commodities, honey, pickling, ice cream, charcuterie (I couldn’t even get close), spirits, wine, chocolate, coffee, etc.  Volunteers were not allowed to taste the food, and that was just as well considering there were long lines at most booths, but the displays were stunning.  Possibly the most organized area was Spirits where tasters lined up to try a variety of cocktails and cocktail and spirit folk were on hand to answer questions.  Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s Mexican restaurant helped answer tequila questions.  Well-known SF bar owner Greg Lindgren (Romolo, Rye and Rosewood) was on hand managing the flow and seemed to have it under control.  Another area that seemed very organized and efficient was the beer pavilion.  Outdoors it was breezy but sunny and Dave McLean, brewmaster at Magnolia was on hand to offer tasting advice.  Three beer trucks provided beers from draft, cask or bottle.  He spent some time with us discussing the cost of hops and its effects on small brewers.  Overall it was a great day, highlighted by food, spirits and people who get as excited about them as I do.  Thanks to Carlo Petrini for bringing this movement to the US.

Great Eats at Alemany Flea Market

4 08 2008

The Alemany Flea Market is every Sunday rain or shine (their very good value farmers market is held Saturdays). Although it may seem inundated with used tool salesmen, there are always some great finds too if you look hard enough! Today I longed for some really cool boots (too big!) but ended up with a cool sewing table and antique washboard. Ideally you’d arrive at the market early to get all the deals, but luckily I am a late riser so I got there late, 11am, so by the time I was done with my shopping I was famished. Ok let me be honest, I started eyeing the taco stand before I even started shopping!

So today I tried El Huarache Loco. And it made my day! Although the horchata was weak, I was presented with a huarache asada, an oval shaped tortilla stuffed with a thin layer of black bean, topped with cheese, cilantro, onion, and salsa. Sounded somewhat simple and mundane until I saw the tortilla press and masa lying in wait. And then it arrived! I asked for what ended up being some of the most deliciously spicy red salsa, not quite typical, but really great. The term “tortilla” didn’t do the dish justice as it was amazingly fresh, savory, a bit briny in a great way and filled with just the right amount of black bean. Eat it fast as it gets a bit soggy but it is just amazing. The balance of the flavorings on top was just ideal. I can’t wait to try their pork posole next time!