"" What's She Eating Now?: 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best Sleeper Restaurant in NYC

It has been a while since I have been surprised in a good way by an off-the-grid restaurant. Even great neighborhood spots usually have hype about what great neighborhood spots they are. Especially in the internet age, if a place is good, news travels fast and becomes common knowledge.

Why is it then, that no one knows about Seasonal? Did you know they earned a Michelin star this year? Have you heard of chefs Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder? Did you know they have solid food that won't break the bank? I sure didn't, until last night.

I have been meaning to go since it opened about a year ago, but 58th between 6th and 7th avenues is a strange no man's land laden with scaffolding that I never seem to find myself in. But alas, good things come to those who wait, apparently whether its due to laziness or not. Seasonal presents a modern take on traditional Austrian cuisine and does so with fresh tasting ingredients and impressive flavor combinations. Texture is also strong suit of the kitchen.

The first starter we tried was a Ziegenkase (Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Seed, Beets,Shallot, Elderflower, $12). This dish was alright. Although beautifully plated, the ratio of goat cheese to the other delicious ingredients was too much. This was the only plate we didn't lick clean. The next starter, Porchiertes Ei (Soft Poached Egg, Lobster, Maitake, Porcini, $15), was outstanding. The egg mixed with the broth it was sitting in was perplexingly both rich and light, and created a natural urge to mix in the lobster and top it off with a perfectly cooked crispy mushroom, which gave this wonderfully complete bite a needed contrasting texture. This dish was worthy of bread sopping towards the end.

We then had the Kalbsbries (veal sweetbread with celery and brussel sprouts, $15). The batter was a little reminiscent of the colonel's secret spice recipe, but there is a reason why people have tried to hijack it over the years. It has a good pepperiness without overpowering the supple sweetbreads and the crust does not crack or separate. The pieces of sweetbread were delicous on their own and even better when mixed with the other elements on the plate including brussel sprout leaves and a mysterious creamy something smeared on the plate with some tiny mushrooms. If you haven't caught on yet, chefs Ban and Frauneder know their way around fungus.

The Schweinebauch, or pork belly ($14) was good, but not as good as some of the other dishes. The pork itself was pretty fatty, even for belly, and the consistency reflected that. The scallion based relish it came with was a lovely burst of acid and fresh onion flavor which helped cut through the pork, but I have had better pork belly elsewhere. We ended our tour through the starters on an up note with the Kartofeelsuppe (Potato Soup, Speck, Taleggio, Dill, $13). The bowl is brought to the table with a solid tubular airy cheese element and some other flourishes sitting in the bottom, and the potato soup is poured on top tableside. It is hearty yet refined and the flavor is rich with potato, not just starch, and also with cheese, which is present in the soup up to but not crossing the point that it would make it heavy. The small bits of speck are a nice surprise when you find them.

We sampled the duck ($29) and the spatzle ($23) from the entree menu. The duck appeared to be prepared sous-vide and both large pieces were perfectly pink, tender and flavorful throughout. The accompanying puree was a little sweet for my taste but had a nice distinct carrot flavor and the black trumpets filled a great supporting role on the plate, if a touch too salty. The spatzle is something else. Everyone has had spatzle, but not everyone has had spatzle like this. Rather than a side dish of dumplings possibly lightly sauteed to create a little crisp, chefs Ban and Frauneder are bold enough to make an entree out of this Austrian staple. The dumplings themselves were cooked to the ideal density where they had a little give but weren't chewey and finely diced zucchini hid amongst them and the generous splash of wild mushrooms. The unifying force in the dish is the buttery cheesey sauce that has a subtle funk, just the right hint to give it punch. You can, of course, get a side of just the plain spaezle ($7), but the entree is one of the best vegetarian mains I can recall having in some time. The restaurant is proud of their desserts, but in my opinion selections from the cheese menu are a better end to this meal.

My only strong knock on Seasonal (aside from the name not working as well in English as in German) is that the decor does not match the menu well. Perhaps the intent was to have equal parts restaurant and weinbar, but Seasonal is clearly all about the food. Although its false sleekness takes away from the atmosphere somewhat, the professional yet friendly service and music, including the likes of The Shins and Postal Service played at moderate volume, help compensate. But why Seasonal is the Sleeper of the Year to me is the chefs' focus on showcasing ingredients in their best light and in harmonious balance between light and heavy, thick and thin, rich and refreshing. Its worth the shuffle past the tourists outside of Jeckyl and Hyde to experience this midtown marvel.

Guten Appetit!

132 West 58th Street (Between 6th and 7th Avenues)
Phone: 212 957 5550
Monday - Saturday: Lunch 12pm-3pm, Dinner 5pm-11pm
Sunday: Dinner 5pm-10pm

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quotation of the Day

Sent in by a reader, I liked this passage from Haruki Murakami's Kafka on The Shore:
Eel is quite a treat. There's something different about it, compared to other food. Certain foods can take the place of others, but as far as I know, nothing can take the place of eel.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Italian Wine: The Grape Unknown

Guest post by friend of the blog and walking wine encyclopedia, Keith Levenberg. This piece is the third in a series of introductions to different wine regions. You can find his knowledge dropping on Germany here and France here.

The most important thing I learned about Italian wine was probably the first thing I ever read about it, in one of those wine-for-dummies kind of books. This book showed a map with all the winegrowing regions of the world shaded in red, which barely amounted to a few freckles on the map even in places synonymous with wine like France. But the whole boot of Italy was red from top to bottom. The text proceeded to note that most wine-producing countries, including France, had a few dozen major grape varieties; in Italy, there are hundreds.

The second most important thing I learned about Italian wine was at a bar in Asti, one of the most inexplicably dreary and depressing towns I’ve ever encountered in a wine region. (The weekly market in the town square of Beaune is a gastronome’s paradise; the weekly market in the town square of Asti featured t-shirts and socks.) Stuck there alone with nothing to do in the twilight zone between lunch and dinner, I sat down at an outdoor table and ordered a glass of Roero Arneis, a refreshing picnic-style white. Before serving the glass, which cost the equivalent of maybe three dollars, the waiter delivered a plate of prosciutto, sausage slices, and cheese, which he proceeded to replenish for as long as I sat there. Even with a cheap glass of arneis in the afternoon, it was simply incomprehensible that I should be drinking wine and have nothing to eat.

The third most important thing I learned about Italian wine was from the chapter titled “Bella Figura—The Italian Love of the Beautiful Gesture” in Matt Kramer’s book about the wines of the boot. Bella figura is the term that describes all those subtle ways Italians show a little style and panache. Kramer writes about how some winemakers will use a fancy label or a heavy bottle to project their bella figura; others will make a bella figura out of their slick modern winemaking (or, contrariwise, out of their intransigent refusal to engage in any slick modern winemaking). The whole idea of the bella figura sounds like another one of those romantic myths hack writers have concocted to make Italy seem so nauseatingly idyllic... and sometimes the idyllic Italy of myth is exactly the image the bella figura is designed to project, like those cheap Chiantis in straw bottles, or the pastoral imagery on a label like Monsanto’s.

Those three things—the head-spinning diversity, the obligatory marriage with food at the table, and the various quirks and flourishes in service of style—tell a big part of the story about Italian wine today. Let’s take a little tour.

The first stop is usually Tuscany or Piedmont, the regions that feature Italy’s most recognizable names (Chianti Classico and the three B’s—Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco). But I’m going to take a detour, because while Barolo and Barbaresco account for many of Italy’s greatest wines, they require bottle age; any Barolo worth drinking tastes like sandpaper until it’s at least fifteen years old. Instead, look north to Gattinara or the Valtellina. The reds there are made from the same grape as Barolo and Barbaresco and are often wrongly assumed to be inferior just because they’re cheaper. But Gattinara was once regarded just as highly, and should be again. The best examples—i.e., Antoniolo’s Osso San Grato and Travaglini’s Riserva—have a suppleness to their texture even when young that Barolos need many years to acquire, and feature the typical flavors of nebbiolo cast in an intense minerality vividly evocative of the volcanic mountain soil in which they’re grown. The Travaglini bottle makes for a striking bella figura, too.

From there, one can go west to the Valle d’Aosta, where producers like Grosjean make beautifully elegant reds from obscure grapes like fumin and familiar ones like pinot noir, or east to Alto Adige and Trentino. Alto Adige might be guilty of a mortal sin in unleashing Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio on the world, but the region and bordering Trentino also produce two of Italy’s most distinctive reds in lagrein and teroldego. The most serious examples have an intensity of fruit that’s almost overwhelming and capable of K.O.’ing many New World heavyweights, but the fruit is augmented by equally intense tarry and smoky flavors that feel so literal it is almost impossible to believe they came from grapes. Try Foradori’s Granato and Abbazia di Novacella’s Lagrein Riserva Praepositus the next time you’re feasting on a brontosaurus.

Other brontosaurus-worthy reds are grown down south in the volcanic mountain soils of Basilicata and Campania, where aglianico makes the kind of wine you could imagine the Marlboro Man drinking. But my favorite wines from that zone are probably the falanghina and piedirosso from La Sibilla, the former a white that tastes like vinified oyster shells and the latter one of my desert-island reds. The flavor is usually so intensely gamey it tastes positively succulent, and its ungrafted vines give it a seamless, graceful mouthfeel that most wines at ten times the price could never even hope to achieve.

Returning to the north and continuing east brings us to Friuli and Brda, which actually straddles the border with Slovenia. If quirky winemaking practices can be made into a bella figura, this might be Ground Zero. Here, you will find producers like Gravner and Radikon, who make “orange” wines—whites fermented on their skins (which, for mysterious reasons, happen to be the perfect wines to drink with sea urchin). Instead of aging his wines in steel vats or oak barrels, Gravner uses open-topped amphorae buried to their necks in the ground. Just as quirky but perhaps more charming is the sparkling wine from Movia that requires you to disgorge it yourself (see below video).

But maybe it’s in Sicily where the guru of oddball winemaking resides. Here is how the J. Peterman-esque retailer Garagiste describes one of Frank Cornelissen’s bottlings: “What started as the fluid from a refermenting compost heap has turned into Frank’s most famous and widely consumed ‘wine,’ the Contadino. A mix of every indigenous old-vine grape he has (red and white), the original Contadino 1 was never intended to be consumed, sampled by journalists by accident as the run-off from his plastic tank of cuttings, branches, soil, leaves and grapes that had fallen off the vine. The tank was supposed to be used for compost, but a group of writers mistakenly opened the spigot on the bottom of the tank and poured the cloudy liquid into stems. This was the ‘ah ha’ moment for Cornelissen—the juice from his compost heap was unlike anything any of them had ever tasted—it was revolutionary in its relation to wine and the rest is history. Fast forward a number of years and the original compost heap formula has been modified but only in terms of cleanliness – the original concept is the same: grapes, twigs, leaves, pieces of bark and volcanic earth all co-mingling in an incredible cauldron of orange/pink liquid that teems with tobacco, cumin, cinnamon, citrus peel and tangerine.”

I think I’ll have to take his word on that one. But if any of the above wines seem confounding and strange, they are practically mainstream compared to some of the eclectica on offer at Santa Monica’s Wine Expo, where maestro Roberto Rogness likes to point out he carries several thousand wines, and only one merlot.

Keith Levenberg blogs about wine and food whenever the mood strikes at http://pickyeaters.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stocking Stuffing

What to get the kitchen geek who has every gadget and unusual condiment under the sun? Always a tough question this time of year. A subscription to What's She Eating Now? is a real bargain at the price of $0, but if you're feeling a little more flush and want to give something in addition, here are three stocking stuffers that may make your food lover forget all about that amazing Wusthof knife someone showed you up with last year. Damn you singing bass.

Cookeys: For the person who truly has everything food, except perhaps cute covers for their keys, this gift is thoughtful and inexpensive. Milk sold separately.

Foodie Fight: Is your sweetie a competitive gourmand? Then perhaps this food trivia board game will fit the bill. Endorsed by Jacques Pepin, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, this game is sure to provide some spirited fun and perhaps provoke a little food trash talking. "Your answer is really sous vide? Remind me to never let you near my immersion circulator."

Salt & Pepper 'Bots: Watch the video. These little guys practically sell themselves. A perfect gift for the couple who likes to sit on opposite ends of a really long dining table.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Persimmon Bread

Dan's mom had been calling every day. "Did you get the package I sent?" But in Romanian. Finally it arrived. A rather large box. As Dan carried it into the apartment, I prayed it was not more sweaters for him with sleeves that are way too short. Somehow my power of positive attraction worked. It was instead a box full of persimmons, which had made their way from a tree in her backyard to us via the slowest shipping option available from the US Postal Service. They needed to be eaten fast.

So fast that I neglected to take photos of this unusual parcel. I did not pass Go, did not collect $200, and went straight for this recipe from David Lebovitz, which had been adapted from James Beard's Beard on Bread, which I then adapted some more (see below). I made alterations less because I doubt David Lebovitz's kitchen prowess, and more because my pantry supply required some substitutions, which I think actually turned out well.

But before we get down to cooking, I think its worth describing what a persimmon is. A persimmon is a fall/winter fruit that primarily grows in two varieties: the Hachiya and the Fuyu. The Hachiya are heart shaped and can only be eaten when they are very ripe and almost squishy. They Fuyu look like a tomato but orange, and with a density closer to a barely ripe nectarine. When ripe one can eat them like an apple, but expect a taste closer to papaya. It is a very complex fruit. Now that we have met the star of this dish, let's bake!

Persimmon Bread, via James Beard via David Lebovitz
Makes two 9-inch loaves

Ingredients (my notes in italics):
  • 3½ cups sifted flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt (I would measure on the generous side here)
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (My nutmeg didn't have the smell I was hoping for so used half nutmeg and half all spice and measured generously)
  • 2 to 2½ cups sugar (I ran out of sugar, gasp!, so used just under 2 cups of white and just under a half cup of brown, maybe 2 1/4 cups total. More sugar makes for greater moisture in addition to more sweetness)
  • 1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature (nothing says holidays like two sticks of butter!)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup Cognac, bourbon or whiskey (I used the remainer of a bottle of Maker's Mark and topped up with a random bottle of Crown Royal I found stashed away. Should I be concerned that Dan is stashing away whino-sized bottles of Canadian whiskey?)
  • 2 cups persimmon puree (Lebovitz recommends the Hachiya variety, I used FuyuThe flavor is slightly less sweet which is why I used a heavy hand with the sugar and they are also smaller so you'll need many more of them to make 2 cups of purreeIf you use Hachiya, they must be very ripe as this type is not edible otherwise. I peeled the Fuyus with a peeler, cut off the tops, quartered, cut out any core-like bits, and pureed with a hand blender)
  • 2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped (I used walnuts which I broke into bits, did not toast)
  • 2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates) (I used apricots which I cut into small pieces)


  •  Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess. 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. (I don't own a sifter so just mixed them together and tapped the bowl a bit
  • Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins. (My well was sort of pitiful, I don't think this bit is critical though as long as you stir thoroughly)
  • Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Storage: Will keep for about a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature. The Persimmon Breads take well to being frozen, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Humor Wednesday Chef Ramsay Style

When I was a kid, I went through a phase where the magazines Cracked, Mad, and the now defunct National Lampoon appealed to me. Truth be told, much of the humor may have been over my head at 11, but I got the lowest common denominator jokes and liked the cartoons and as for my mother, she was just glad I was reading something. These magazines, in due course, got replaced with the Seventeens of the world and ultimately got permanently swapped for the pages of Food & Wine and Saveur. But alas, with this stroke of genius on Cracked's website, my childhood and grown-up worlds collide. Check out the main graphics here but its worth a click through to read the rest. Funny stuff.

Gordon Ramsay's proprietary Kitchen Nightmares formula revealed here:

And how does he come up with the episodes for Hell's Kitchen?

This stuff is right up there with the Little Gordon Ramsay bits. My two favorites below. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Understanding French Wine

Enjoy this guest post by friend of the site, Keith Levenberg. If Keith had a superhero mobile it would be a flying wine fridge which would help him race to the rescue of people about to drink bad wine. Here is what he has to say about France.

Most overviews of French wine break it down by region or grape variety—not a bad place to start, but a little like trying to understand Western classical music by studying the difference between a violin and a viola. Or like the way Casey Stengel explained baseball to the 1962 Mets: “Them are the bases.” The way I see it, understanding the wines of France isn’t really about grasping the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy. It has more to do with a handful of more abstract concepts.

Terroir. — There isn’t a close translation for the word terroir in any other language, because the concept is distinctively French. Taken literally, terroir refers to the influence of site—the soil, the climate, the light, and all of the other factors that make wine from one patch of land taste different from the wine from another patch, even if they are right next to each other. But I think the true essence of the concept is in those definitions that are less technical. The film Mondovino has a scene in which wine importer Neal Rosenthal drives director Jonathan Nossiter through the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. Pointing to the city streets teeming with Hassidim—imagery that could be from any time, but could never be from any place except Brooklyn—Rosenthal remarks, “This is terroir.”

Regardless whether you favor the technical definition or a more spiritual one, some working understanding of the concept is essential to understanding French wine, because it’s how the French themselves understand it. Terroir has been the animating philosophy of French vignerons at least as far back as the Middle Ages. The GrapeRadio podcast records a lecture by Burgundy critic Allen Meadows offering one intriguing theory why (from 08:30):

If you were a Burgundian one thousand years ago, what might you have been like? You would have been, for one thing, exceptionally attentive to your surroundings: the changes of the seasons, birds, animals. . . . And there was another aspect. You were probably, if you were growing wine, at least any significant quantity of wine, a monk. And that is important from a couple of different perspectives. One is that you didn’t have to make a living; in other words, you could shoot for the very highest quality, and you could also pay very close attention to the nuances between wine coming from this vineyard versus wine coming from that vineyard. Why is that important, why is that interesting? The reason is that, being a monk, you would have viewed those differences as a message from God.

And viewing those differences as something holy, the monks aimed to preserve them. To this day, the maps of Burgundy resemble mosaics of the hundreds of sites the monks discovered, and the labels tell you the place, but not the grape. The same holds true through most of France. You don’t drink merlot, you drink Pomerol. You don’t drink syrah, you drink Hermitage. The idea is that the grape variety is supposed to be merely incidental to the expression of the site.

Classification. — Once the French discovered their terroirs, the next thing they became obsessed with was the rather less spiritual pursuit of classifying them. Most famously, in 1855 the Emperor Napoleon III demanded a ranking of the best wines of Bordeaux, resulting in a classification in which the best wines of the Médoc peninsula (plus nearby Haut-Brion, Bordeaux’s most esteemed wine at that time) were ranked in five tiers. Most of those “Grand Cru Classé” chateaux still boast it on their labels. In Burgundy, the vineyards were classified in a slightly less hierarchical scale ranging from Grand Cru vineyards at the top to Premier Cru vineyards just below and then to village- or regional-level wines. Grand Cru sites are also designated in Alsace and Champagne. (Interestingly, it’s generally the small Champagne growers, not the bling-bling brands like Dom Pérignon, whose wines come from Grand Cru land and indicate as much on the label.)

These classifications are still a big deal and there is an enormous official bureaucracy charged with overseeing them, as if the French government doesn’t have more important things to worry about. But the thing is, most of the classifications, even the 154-year-old one in Bordeaux, remain a fairly reliable guide to potential quality. The term Grand Cru isn’t just marketing puffery; usually, it really means something. Even so, there is a special joy of discovery in finding the exceptions to the rule, like in this YouTube documentary of a blind tasting in which a group of experienced tasters ranked a lowly unclassified $20 Bordeaux ahead of all of the first growths costing upwards of a thousand dollars a bottle. Of course, sometimes there is a catch....

Spoofulation. — Sometimes it’s the diamonds in the rough that upset the expectations associated with terroir and classification. But sometimes it’s the cubic zirconium. And the wine that awes the senses on first impression is revealed to be a fraud, doctored in the winery to make an impact but ultimately offering none of the satisfaction of the real thing. Those are the wines of spoofulation. Typical techniques include letting the grapes hang on the vine to the point of shriveling (so the resulting juice tastes thick and jammy), using reverse osmosis or a spinning cone to remove the inevitable excess alcohol or to concentrate even further by removing water, and relying on new, toasty barrels to add a sweet mocha flavor—a non-sequitur of a taste that can always be counted on to create the illusion of complexity. The essences of spoofulation are artifice and exaggeration. The difference between real wine and spoofy wine is precisely analogous to the difference between Audrey Hepburn and Pamela Anderson, or between Let it Be...Naked and the original version Phil Spector abused with his “Wall of Sound” production. Spicy tuna rolls are spoof sushi. Barry Bonds is a spoof hitter. Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, and 3 and the so-called “Special Editions” are spoof movies.

Spoofulation has spread like a cancer through some of France’s most famous regions. Over the last decade in Bordeaux, classically made wines have become the exception to the rule—and like a junkie who keeps needing more and more to satisfy his fix, wines that once were only subtly manipulated are now cartoonishly so. But there are reassuring signs that the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. The excommunication of Robert Parker from Burgundy and the emergence of Meadows as the most influential critical authority on the region has resulted in a virtual renaissance of classic, old-school winemaking there. Specialty importers like Rosenthal, Louis/Dressner, and Jenny & François continue to expand their portfolios of natural wines from places spoofulation never touched, like the Loire Valley and the Jura. You can visit shops like Chambers Street Wines (the wine equivalent of the record store in High Fidelity), tell them you’ve had it with spoofy wines, and with a wink and a nod they will show you the real France.

Keith Levenberg blogs about wine and food whenever the mood strikes at http://pickyeaters.blogspot.com. 

Thanksgiving Post Script

It seems "As American as apple pie" is a bit of a misnomer, at least on Thanksgiving. Check out this neat graphic courtesy of The New York Times that shows by state what everyone ate on Turkey Day, or apparently in the Northeast, Not-Turkey Day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Learning German Wine

A guest post by friend of the site and wine buff, Keith Levenberg. This piece is the first in a series of introductions to wines from different regions. Keith's post on French wines will appear next Monday.

You have to feel a little bit sorry for the Germans. Elsewhere they can make oceans of boring wines that sell themselves with a simple word like “Chardonnay” or “Chablis” on the label, while German producers need to convince customers to wrap their heads around a name like “Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube Riesling Spätlese.”

But German rieslings were once some of the most sought-after wines in the world. (Note the wine list at the right from a Boston restaurant dated 1851, where several Germans sell for the same two dollars as “Chateau Lafitte,” whose 2008 vintage runs over $500 on pre-arrival.) A pair of world wars against their main export market rather softened demand, and today even the best German wines sell in the $20-$40 range. What makes them so great is their ability simultaneously to appeal to the visceral craving for something just-plain delicious, while still having a serious side that inspires contemplation. Plenty of wines do one or the other; not many pull off both.

As a result, one gets the sense that German wine drinkers seem to be having a lot more fun than everyone else. Here is the Wine Spectator’s tasting note, in the usual tiresome format, on a white Burgundy from the esteemed Domaine Ramonet: “A supple white, exuding spice notes of cinnamon, clove and vanilla, with grapefruit and peach flavors. Good acidity keeps this bright and focused. Drink now through 2015.” And here is how German-wine importer Terry Theise describes his 2008 Muller-Catoir Haardter Herzog Rieslaner Spätlese: “This variety, when it’s good, brings you to the last frontier of language. Martin mentions eucalyptus, and there are aspects of grain, lemon-balm, orchid and talc—or none of these, or all of them and many more besides. . . . The complexity I’m sure is illegal. Tantric, esoteric, endless finish. Look, I can try to explain the way great Rieslaner seems to seize you, the way it clearly blasts you with more intricacy than your palate—your poor palate—can withstand, the insane stiletto precision, the way it swaggers like some alpha Riesling that will boss your palate around while simultaneously conveying it to an indescribable bliss. . . .” Which wine would you rather drink? Which one of those guys would you rather drink with?

So, get to know Germany. (Theise's beautifully written catalogs are a great place to start.) The labels needn’t be daunting. They cram in a lot of data—but that means all the information you need is right there on the label. In my example up top, “Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube” tells you the wine comes from the Kupfergrube vineyard in the village of Schlossböckelheim, and “Spätlese” is one of several prädikats that indicate how ripe the grapes were harvested, which is important mainly because it’s a good proxy for how dense and sweet the wine is.

Kabinetts are picked early, yielding a lean fruit profile with racy acidity and a light touch of sweetness. Spätlese indicates a later harvest, producing a richer and usually sweeter wine that should still retain a lot of the energy of a kabinett. Auslese wines are harvested later still, and range from spätlese lookalikes to borderline dessert wines. Those locked into hierarchical habits of thought tend to assume auslese is always better than spätlese and spätlese is always better than kabinett, but tasting multiple prädikats from the same site and producer can prove that bigger isn’t always better. Leaving the grapes to hang longer on the vine adds depth and richness, but that sometimes comes at the expense of the acidity and fresh fruit that keep the earlier-harvested renditions vibrant and nimble. The prädikats may also be modified by the terms trocken, halbtrocken, or feinherb. Trocken means the wine tastes bone-dry; feinherb or halbtrocken half-dry. Somewhat confusing matters is that many trockens are now instead called Großes Gewächs, meaning “great growth” and reserved for dry wines from the best vineyard sites. The confusing part is that none actually say Großes Gewächs on the label; the indication it’s a “GG” is a little wingding of a grape-bunch buried like the Masonic symbols in a dollar bill.

Both the sweeter styles and drier styles have their place. A little sweetness helps restrain the heat in a spicy dish, which is why the conventional wisdom has riesling as the natural companion to Thai or Chinese food. I’ve found that somewhat misguided, though, since the grape’s high acidity can exacerbate the very sting the sugar was intended to moderate. It’s also silly to consign these wines to such niches, since they perfectly complement all sorts of meals that don’t constitutionally demand a sweet wine—a basic roast chicken, for example. Trockens and GGs are nearly as flexible but shouldn’t be opened whenever searing acidity is going to be a problem.

That searing acidity has made Großes Gewächs a pretty hip genre, since they’re the polar opposite of the fat, soupy wines that win mainstream acclaim these days. Going into a store like Crush (always on the cutting edge of wine trends) and striking up a chat about their GG selection will get their attention as quickly as if you’d played the Wayne's World "May I help you?" riff in the guitar shop.

Keith Levenberg blogs about wine and food whenever the mood strikes at http://pickyeaters.blogspot.com.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Boss of the Year

Courtesy of WaiterRant via Gawker, take a gander at the below email from Meatpacking restaurant owner Vadim Ponorovsky of Paradou to his staff. This makes working for Ebenezer Scrooge look like a cake walk. In fact, it makes my former boss almost look not so bad. I said, "almost" folks, let's not get crazy here.

I make it a practice every night to say out loud three things I am thankful for that day and find it helps maintain a positive outlook. I recommend this exercise to anyone and if you need a kick start, you can use, "Thank you sweet Jesus that I don't work for Vadim Ponorovsky," as your first one. Unless you do, in which case you may just be SOL.
To All,
Please read this email carefully. This is the last time we will be discussing this.
This weekend, saturday and sunday we had 451 customers. Guess how many emails we collected? 60? 80? 40? No. None of those. We, or more acurately you, collected 2 emails. Thats less than half of one percent. 2 fucking emails.
WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ASSHOLES?!?!?! How many times do we have to tell you how important it is that you collect emails. Everytime we have a slow night and you make no money and you sit there bitching about how you make no money, remember its because youre fucking lazy motherfuckers. YOU SHOULD ALL BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY!!!!! ALL OF YOU, INCLUDING THE HOSTS!!!!
Let me guess, youre probably sitting there saying "Vadim is such a fucking asshole. How dare he speak to me like this. I dont need this." Youre right, you dont, so why dont you get the fuck out. Any and all of you.
Youre probably sitting there saying "How dare he speak to me like this. How dare he not have respect for me". Youre right there also. I have absolutely no respect for any of you. Why? Because every fucking day, all of you continue to show that you have absolutely no respect for me or Alex. So if you dont respect us enough to do the little that we ask you to do, then GET THE FUCK OUT YOU FUCKING LAZY DISRESPECTFUL ASSHOLES!!!!!
Effective immediately, any server or host who fails to collect at least 20 emails per week, will be fined $100. Anyone failing to collect at least 20 emails for two weeks in a month will be fired immediately. No matter what. No matter who you are.
You dont want to do your job, you dont want to do what we ask, you dont belong at Paradou. Go find another place to work.
How dare you disrespect Alex and me this way. How dare you completely ignore what we ask of you time after time after time.
I am sick of all this shit, you bunch of fucking children. This is what I have to deal with at 6AM?!?!? I wouldnt tolerate this from my 13 year old, and Im sure as shit not going to tolerate it from any of you assholes.
You give no respect, you get 10 times back.
This site is nothing if not fair and balanced so if you want to read Ponorovsky's retorts you can click here and here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Strange Pairing Friday

Anyone else find something strange about this?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hitler, or Just Ronald McDonald?

Apparently the theme of the week is fast food. According to Slashfood, a group called Corporate Accountability International (CAI) is waging war on Ronald McDonald and seeking to push him into 'retirement.' It seems that CAI is convinced that Mr. McDonald is a Trojan horse, a smiling clown who loves children on the outside, on the inside, a nefarious trickster hell bent on making youngsters the world over fat. If he gives them Diabetes, all the better.

Now this puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to defend one of my least favorite things, a clown. Let's put aside Ronald's role in helping sick kids, promoting child literacy, and sponsoring play spaces, the fact of the matter is the clown doesn't make anyone eat anything. CAI has put up a Where's Ronald page on its site to collect sitings of Ronald McDonald to prove the contrary. But the mere presence of a live Ronald McDonald at an event or in a McDonald's location does not betray a plot to plump up anybody. I think CAI would be hard pressed to find a video of Ronald McDonald lingering near the slide saying, "Pst... hey kid, I'll make you a balloon animal if you get your mom to buy you a happy meal and you eat the whole thing."

Surely CAI would claim that is because the clown's tactics are more subtle, more sly. But this all misses the point. The point is Ronald McDonald does not control what anyone's kids eat. Parents do, or at least should. I will not grandstand and say that because they now offer apple slices as a Happy Meal component that McDonald's is healthy. It's not. But that is why parents should keep their kids from eating it or at least restrict it to a once in a while indulgence.

This whole silly episode actually reminds of one of my favorite Chris Rock routines. I will replace Rock's chosen word with "parents" for illustrative purposes:
"You know the worst thing about [parents]? [Parents] always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A [parent] will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A [parent] will say some shit like, 'I take care of my kids.' You're supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? 'I ain't never been to jail!' What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!"
Parents, like the man said, you're supposed to take care of your kids. That includes watching out for what they eat, keeping an eye on their fitness and being in charge of their general well being. And you shouldn't expect a cookie, from McDonaldland or elsewhere, for doing so-- even if you have to contend with a whiny child who for some reason is inspired in his choice of dining fare by Ronald McDonald. And CAI, don't assume all parents are too dumb to realize McDonald's isn't a healthy habitual meal choice. The parents, who hopefully are also adults, should be calling the shots here. There are plenty of requests-- even begging, crying, screaming requests-- parents deny kids all the time for their own good. That third Big Mac of the week should be no different.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fast Food Made Easy

Are you an engineering type craving fast food but having trouble deciding where to go? Have you ever said something like this to yourself: "I am hungry, on the east coast, have more than $3, and am high as a kite, where should I go? Damn, if only I had made a handy decision tree before I got f*&ked up." Well, fret no more my slide-rule toting friends. Eating the Road has compiled this flow chart to help you navigate even the most challenging of fast food dilemmas. Stay tuned for a graphic which determines if you will need a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, tropical disease specialist or priest after ingesting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

TGIF Humor

This photo was sent in courtesy of a reader.

Suggested caption: Spanish calling card, or sea urchin lovers chat line? Awesome. Keep 'em coming. Who knows, your camera phone photography might just make you famous. Well, at least famous, if briefly, to a bunch of giant food nerds. TGIF!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My New Favorite Soy Superhero

I can't get this catchy jingle out of my head but at least I know what I may make Dan be next Halloween.

Also loving how it protects the identity of these shrimp tempura eaters. Enjoy this must watch video!

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Well Does Saveur Know You, Part Deux

Saveur is at it again. Have you been wondering what kind of oenophile you are? It is unlikely this quiz will help, but who doesn't like a quick online study break? I admittedly began to worry when Q1 omitted "Wine Shop" as an option for where one buys most of his wine, but in the name of procrastination, I soldiered on, as should you.

(Note: I did not select "B. Auction" as the answer to this question, this screen shot tells tales)

While I think Saveur's questions were more answerable than last time around, they yielded more far-fetched results, at least for me, "The Explorer."
  • You consider wine a living thing, and speak reverently about it "soul." I have been known to comment on a wine's "personality," but wines that call for reverential musings about their souls?  To the extent such things exist, they are probably out of my price range. 
  • You once took a break from college to work the Oregon pinot noir harvest. No, but in retrospect that would have been a better way to fulfill a science requirement than, "Do Animals Think?", a class, as I remember it, largely devoted to how lobsters feel about current events.
  • Three years ago you trekked across Ethiopia in search of the new African wine frontier. Um, really? I would like to meet the person who read this aspect of his Explorer profile and said to himself, "Oh my gosh, how did they know?"
  • U.S. Customs started a file on you after you were caught smuggling rare vines from Navarra home in your suitcase. This is perhaps the most off-base. I would never get caught.
So take the quiz and come back and let us know in the comments how well Saveur knows you this time. Don't worry, given the subject matter I think the probability is low that you will discover the embarrassing fact that 17% of you loves Rachael Ray.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween's Best Costumes

Dan and I thought we had good costumes being General Tso and The Most Interesting Man in the World but Times food writer Amanda Hesser's kids blew us away. Check them out here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

5 "Candies" I Hope You Don't Get in Your Treat Basket

Halloween is upon us and while many adults get excited about going out and seeing the costumes (which as we grow older inevitably get less clever and more slutty), I still get excited about the candy. Every opportunity to collect little sugary treats widens my eyes and I hope hard as I peer into the bowl that it contains bite size Snickers. And if not that, then at least mini Kit-Kats. Those are my two favorite Halloween confections. I hope just as hard not to get some of the infamous duds. You know, those candies that you were as excited to get as a child as a urine sample. So I hope by laying them out here it will put a Halloween hex out there and keep them out of your Trick or Treat future.

I think it goes without saying that we all hope to not get someone's leftover bachelorette party candy. This is a family website so I'll spare the details of the various edible anatomical rings, necklaces and suckers that usually go hand in hand with finding the man of your dreams. But I will provide you a photo and brief description of the other top 5 offenders so you can easily recognize them as rogue "candy" if you see them and demand a suitable replacement treat. 

#1) Dad's Root Beer Barrels. Whoever thought to call this candy, or even flavored like root beer, is one twisted son of a bitch. This sucking candy will not only leave your tongue black, it will also turn it numb to the point that you cannot taste the much more delicious candy you have worked hard to collect. If you catch this fish, throw it back.

#2) Circus Peanuts. When I ask people what scares them most, the most popular response is "clowns." You know who eats circus peanuts? Clowns. You want to go to sleep with a demented remix of the Ringling Brothers theme in your head? Then eat these. Otherwise skip these freakish little things.

#3) The Candy Hamburger. This is just gross for fairly obvious reasons. What about a candy roast pork bun? Or a candy beef empanada? Not appealing to you? Let's leave the meat to the savory folks and everything will be OK.

#4) Juicyfruit Gum. While in the same kingdom, gum does not even share the same phylum with candy. This is not an acceptable Halloween treat. If you're going to ruin your dental work at least do it on something you can swallow and won't get stuck to a pair of shoes, or the wig from your Rapunzel costume.

#5) Raisins or an Apple. Truth be told when I was little I didn't mind the raisins that much, though I was completely misguided and should have. I was, however, always sensible enough to know that a mealy red delicious apple was not adequate compensation for climbing a flight of brownstone steps in roller skates and looking completely adorable. Thinking back on it, it is possible the Garden of Eden story is actually the first known Halloween parable, and look what a mess eating that apple got us into.

Happy Halloween, readers. I bid you good candy, a whole reusable green shopping bag full!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Airport Dining Worth Flying For

A guest post by friend of the blog, Eddie Jacobs. Without further ado...
I'd like to thank the humble editor for giving me a tiny bit of real estate on this blog. I am someone who travels for pleasure quite frequently and when I travel I like to eat. I choose destinations for a variety of reasons but none more important than exotic (or not exotic) foods and dining experiences. I have fond memories from great trips with friends and for one reason or another they all seem to take place at a table or in some way in front of a meal. Butter Chicken in Delhi after 24 hours of travel, tasty street noodles in Bangkok after a tuk-tuk ride gone wrong, a Melon's burger on just about any trip back home, and so on. That said, I find it almost frustrating how difficult it is to get a decent meal while in transit.
Why is it that TCBY, a failure in nearly every strip mall, has had a rebirth in airports nationwide? Sbarro and Chili's rake in the bucks. And perhaps the most egregious airport dining option, Famiglia Pizzeria at Newark Airport, pounds that cash register as it besmirches the good image of New York pizza for all. While airport dining is a challenge, and one that seldom comes cheap ($4 for bottled Dasani water, really?), I am submitting this brief list of restaurants and airport dishes that are hidden gems in a sea of overpriced disappointing options. If I can sway just one person in the right direction I will feel this effort was well worth it.

But first, a disclaimer or two. With the exception of #5 on the list, all are in frequently traveled US domestic airports. Also, I ignore all educated tips that advise travelers to refrain from greasy foods or alcohol. This, of course, is a meal recommendation, not lifestyle advice. Here we go:

#5) Bangkok Airways Finger Sandwiches, Bangkok Airways Lounge, Thailand
Prior to being diagnosed with Celiac's disease I could eat a sandwich or two. Come to think of eat, it may have been the 12 finger sandwich lunch that ultimately caused my gluten allergy. Regardless, they were very tasty. Here's the skinny: with the purchase of ANY ticket on Bangkok air you are granted entrance to the first-class lounge where unlimited gratis finger sandwiches (cucumber with cheese as well as a smoked salmon sandwich) can be enjoyed and washed down with orange (Tang-ish) drink and popcorn.

#4) Figs, Laguardia Airport, American Airlines Terminal
Todd English=failure in Manhattan. Todd English=Magic at Laguardia. Perhaps it's the lack of decent options at Laguardia (a Wendy's that has a 40 minute wait, always) but "Olivia's Chicken Salad," grilled chicken over mesclun greens followed by white bean soup, was a heck of a pre-flight meal. Not an awful place to watch sports, either, should you find yourself in need of a place to post-up for pre-flight viewing. 

#3) Legal Seafoods, Logan Airport, Boston
Say what you want about Legal's, it's pretty decent for airport food. The lobster salad is fresh, the bloody marys are damn good and the clam chowder is dependable. A rare concession from a New Yorker, but something good has come out of Boston.

#2) Phillips Seafood, Charlotte Airport, Concourse C/Islip Airport, Long Island
Two airport seafood restaurants in a row? Has he lost it? Phillips makes a whale of a crab cake (no whale), and the crab chowder is really solid too. 

#1) Paschal's Restaurant, Hartsfield Airport, Atlanta
Paschal's is an oasis amongst the crowded halls of AirTran's terminal in Atlanta. Blackeyed peas, yams, cornbread, collards, fried and baked chicken, sweet tea, and the best peach cobbler I've ever had. Great service. This was an easy choice. It seems like every flight goes through Atlanta and the food options are limited. Paschal's is the way to go. 

Eddie Jacobs is a native New Yorker and a fan of cuisines from around the world, so long as they don't contain toxic glutens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hay Day

This may be lost on you city kids, but courtesy of Planet Oddity here are some fun things you can do with a lot of free time and some hay (that's the dry baled stuff livestock eat). Click through to see them all. Come back to comment and let us know which is your favorite!