A Day of Terroir

16 11 2010

I always find it startling when a day seems to develop a theme that comes out of nowhere.  A few weeks ago I had scheduled a big day of events, but I was a bit weary after a long night at the finale to SF Cocktail Week, the Chartreuse karaoke gong show (and not I did not win but I did not get gonged either).  I knew I had a vodka tasting and a wine dinner but sometimes the details of these invitations become a blur (although I do remember that the Mondavi wine event invite was a box of dirt0, so I forgot exactly what the events were really focusing on until I actually showed up!  It sort of hit me unexpectedly that the theme of the day was Terroir or Sense of Place, ironically I was supposed to teach a class about the subject the next week, so it was very apropos.

The concept of terroir is more often reserved for wine tastings so it was very unique to have this presented as a theme by a spirit brand.  Luckily spirits companies are keyed in to the sleeping patterns of spirits pros so the lunch event for Karlsson’s Gold vodka started at 1pm.  When I walked in some of the attendees reminded me of my vocal musings the night prior.  Master Blender Börje Karlsson was on hand to talk about the very unique vodka that he produces.  Vodka can of course be produced from almost anything, wheat, rye, quinoa, potato, grape… and of course each base produces a product that has a unique flavor profile, but the irony is that many producers who chat up the public about the base of their vodka also have a vodka that is distilled multiple times resulting in an almost flavorless product.  Great if you are sipping on a Screwdriver at work and don’t want your boss to smell it on your breath or if you do not like the taste of alcohol, but this may be a reason that I have not been a huge vodka fan.  I do not want to drink just to drink, I am a flavor addict.  Karlsson’s Gold is truly different, it could be said it is a vodka with terroir.

Karlsson’s Gold is made from virgin new potatoes from Sweden’s Cape Bjäre and is distilled only once.  This part of Sweden is famous for their potatoes in fact!  There are seven varieties of potato used to make Karlsson’s gold and much like wine each potato harvest provides different conditions, some years more starch, some less (vintage variation!).  I found it interesting to taste through the range of different potato varieties grown in different locations.  Each was labeled with the region it was from and even the name of the farmer!   There really was a huge difference amongst them, as well as significant vintage variation.  Most people assume that spirits are unchanging and this cannot be further from the truth.  The 2004 Solis was supremely powerful and aromatic, 2005 spicier and 2006 more neutral.  Upon some research I discovered that the 2004 crop was one that matured very quickly and apparently when ripening is fast it creates more complexity and strength in the flavor of the potato.  2005 was a cooler year and resulted in slower ripening giving the 2005 more smoothness.  Who knew!?  The key is taking all these distinct components and blending to produce a product that is consistent, harmonious and delicious.  Karlsson’s Gold is a great amalgamation of the various types of potato and offers a spirit that actually has a lot of flavor.  The beauty is it can be used in cocktails but is also really enjoyable on the rocks with cracked black pepper.  It is truly a testament to the skill of Börje Karlsson.  It was such an interesting event!

Then after a short break to sweat off the booze it was off to Saison in the Mission.

I had never been to Saison, what a perfect location for a tasting about terroir.  Robert Mondavi Winery hosted the event featuring their wines and winemaker Genevieve Janssens.  I am proud to say she actually took my Tasting Terroir class at the Culinary Institute of America once, I am sure she was just reinforcing information she was already familiar with but it was an honor to have her in class.  It just goes to show her dedication to Terroir.

What was most unusual and refreshing about the event is that it took quite a while to get a glass of wine in hand!  We all gathered around the outdoor patio and were immediately struck by a very unique set up of tasting stations featuring not glasses of wine but glasses of soil!  This took taste of place to a whole new dimension.  The idea was inspired by an installation created by Laura Parker who was on hand to guide us through this exploration into soil.  The idea is to smell the soil, taste a food grown on that soil and reflect the relationship between the two of them.  It may seem a little bit strange at first, but anyone who has experienced the outdoors can appreciate the experience if they just let go a bit.  I have vivid memories of my grandparent’s house in West Nanticoke, Pennsylvania and the soft lush smell of the stone walls covered in moss after a rain.  There is something incredibly primal about the smell of dirt, especially if you have ever dug for potatoes on a farm.  So that’s not to say that I immediately recognized the 131 Omni silty clay loam and could blind sniff that dirt versus the 122/123 Coombs Gravelly Loam on which Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard sits, but it was interesting nonetheless.  We tasted a sugar snap pea from by J.E. Perry Farms in Fremont (with that first Omni silty clay loam) with the soil gathered from the same furrow on which the pea was grown.  Soil collected from Bodega Artisan Cheese in Bodega was smelled with a taste of their feta.  It was a really unique way to kick off the evening, then we moved on to some of the Mondavi To Kalon wines, including the famous I Block Fume Blanc.  The To Kalon Vineyard in fact has nine different unique soil types, add in slopes and drainage and the complexity starts to become overwhelming, so we welcomed pairing these with a delicious meal, garden beans and river vegetable, chicken liver mousseline with huckleberry and rosebud was a killer combination with the Robert Mondavi 2008 Pinot Noir, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and 1996 with a rare Sonoma lamb and a tasty summer berry dessert with yuzu ice cream with their sprightly Mostcato d’Oro.

The two events paired seamlessly as did the combinations of spirits, wine, food and friends to create a truly unique day in the dirt.







Trivia Fact: The seven varieties of potato used in Karlsson’s Gold are Solist, Gammel Svensk Röd, Sankta Thora, Princess, Hamlet, Marine and Celine.

Try their signature “Black Gold” 3 oz of Karlsson’s Gold Vodka with fresh cracked black pepper on the rocks.

Trivia Fact: The nine soil types of To Kalon Vineyard are 103 Bale Loam, 0-2% slopes, 104 Bale Clay Loam, 0-2% slopes, 105 Bale Clay Loam 2-8% slopes, 116 Clear Lake Clay, Drained, 122 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 0-2% slopes, 123 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 146 Haire Loam 2-9% slopes, 168 Perkins Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 182 Yolo Loam, 2-5% slopes

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.  http://shopsins.com/shopsiteyellow/shopsiemenu.pdf

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 http://www.roni-sue.com

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 http://www.katzdeli.com

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 http://www.russanddaughters.com

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 http://www.kamwo.com

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 http://www.economycandy.com

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 theevolutionstore.com 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 http://www.schillersny.com

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 http://www.ilbuco.com

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 http://www.rayuelanyc.com

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 flatironlounge.com

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.

Rum, It’s What’s for Dinner!

17 08 2009

I had come off of what was a rather crazy weekend, with less than four hours of sleep a night, and not even because I was partying!  It was SF Chefs. Food. Wine. that kept me awake at night.  The numerous tastings, classes, parties, etc. that I ran but did not necessarily get the chance to enjoy had run me ragged, so I sludged off to a rum dinner after a long long nap in the fog (needless to say I had just managed to move 30 plus cases of wine around before noon!   So I feel I deserved the nap!)

Nothing could have been more soothing than the lilting voice of Master Distiller Joy Spence and her similarly lyrical rums.  We met at Spruce on Sacramento where we enjoyed not one but two celebratory cocktails made by expert H. Ehrmann, also fresh off the SF Chefs Cocktail Trail.  The Royal Aperitif with Honey Syrup and Fresh Lemon and Sparkling Wine and the Appleton-Ting with Lime, Agave Nectar and Ting, what is Ting?  I have no clue and didn’t really care.  It was GOOD.

Dinner was of course delicious and I was surprised at how easy it was to pair rum and rum cocktails with food!  The Appleton Estate Reserve Old Jamaican with fresh lime, Angostura bitters and Champagne paired effortlessly with a summer vegetable salad with avocado Green Goddess dressing and Ricotta Dura.

Roasted Halibut and Moroccan Chicken (thankfully rum guru Martin Cate shared a bite of his chicken with me, I was so envious…) was delicious with the Daiquiri crafted with Demerara Syrup, Lime and Pomm Wonderful Juice, Maraschino Liqueur and Fresh Blackberries.  Finally a decadent dessert was overshadowed by the amazing 12 Year Old Appleton Estate Rum served neat.  Ahh, what a way to finally relax.

A wonderful toast to a great weekend.