Archive for February, 2009

img_1030 This is a Gamay from Beaujolais made from vines that are over 80 years old. I don’t know if anyone else even carries this except for Chambers Street Wines in New York and Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, so it might be a little bit difficult to locate, but I would certainly recommend it if you can find some. I thought this was an absolute smasher.

Vinified Burgundian style in barrel with little to no sulfur, then bottled unfiltered, this is grown in what is considered one of the top granite soils in the region.

A cloud of ruby red in the glass. A mashup of violets and peppered twizzler — with a hint of watercress and some dank basement funk on the nose. Lush, ripe strawberry and raspberry dominate on the palate with some rhubarb and rose petal. Great purity of fruit and underlying minerality on the finish. Soft, yet solid acidity and impeccable balance. Very impressive and certainly a contender for top Gamay of the year. 13% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

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img_1035I remember going to Unti some 6-7 years ago. I thought it was a charming little place. No frills with a folding table set up next to fermenting tanks and a host of gnats for company. The people were  genuine and sincere and a number of their wines really resonated with me. I still have a few bottles from that trip to Unti tucked away.

I was interested to read in their Fall newsletter about the introduction of a white wine into their portfolio. In 2004, they planted an experimental block (only 800 vines) of Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and Vermentino and the 2007 marked the first white wine release. TheCuvée Blanc is a blend of 53% Grenache Blanc, 24% Vermentino and 23% Picpoul. Only 98 cases were produced.

Very pale yellow in color. Aromatics of green apple and lemon peel. Lemon and key lime citrus with some apple on the palate. Seemed to lack richness, acidity and character.  I am an Unti fan, so pains me to say that I thought this would have been acceptable at $7 or $8 dollars a bottle, but especially disappointing at $24.

For a California white Rhône blend, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006 is a much better option and also priced at $17-$19 a bottle.

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2009 Update
As I have written before, I am beginning to wonder about going back to places where I have experienced some of my favorite meals. A return to a quintessential and forever memorable food experience. There is always that little piece of hope that it can be replicated. It is the classic setup for disappointment…yet, you keep going back, again and again — sometimes there a glimpses into that past magic, but I am not sure they can ever be replicated. Each experience is unique, which makes those memorable experiences even more treasured.I was going to NYC for work, and knew it was time for a visit to Momofuku.

I stopped at Astor Wine and spirits on my walk from my hotel — and ended up at Momofuku around 7:30 for dinner — there was a wait but it didn’t seem too bad. The hostess was also very nice and attentive — offering to bring me a beer while I waited, though it was a $14 beer (the same beer I have had in other restaurants for $7-8).I ordered the pork buns — still amazing, to die for, delicious — everyone should have a pork bun at Momofuku in their life — it is a treasured food experience that should be on everyone’s short list of food to-do’s.

For the main, I went with the special duck ramen. While I was waiting, I saw other bowls and it appeared that portion sizes were as bit smaller than my last visit which caused a little concern. When my duck ramen arrived, it was indeed a less than generous portion — though the actual serving of duck was more than generous. The disappointment was that the noodles were not ramen noodles, but closer to a parpadelle — and left quite a bit to be desired.  The duck was delicious as was the broth — but you can’t have a great bowl of ramen without a good noodle.

I also didn’t pay much attention to price until the bill arrived. The duck ramen was $21 — granted I would not have cared had it hit the mark…but almost $50 for a bowl of ramen, pork buns, a beer and tip seemed a little expensive — and it didn’t win my heart and soul as my previous visit did. Still, I expect I will return to try and recreate that magical Momofuku experience from last year.

A few weeks later I went to Menkui Tei and ordered the Tan-Tan Ramen (shoyu ramen with spicy ground pork — loved the broth and the noodles) and the gyoza. Both were delicious. While it didn’t cast a spell like my first trip to Momofuku last year, it was a very fulfilling and comforting meal that only put me back $17 for a bowl of ramen, gyoza and a diet coke.

Original post from 2008
Whenever I hear someone talk about an upcoming trip to New York, I interject myself — begging and pleading that he or she go to Momofuku or one of David Chang’s other restaurants. I can’t help myself, I try to remain silent but am usually overcome with my enthusiasm.

I accept the fact that their initial reaction might focus on my perceived strange behavior and obsession with Momofuku. They will soon understand if they make the trip. I envision a little smile and a nod of the head to acknowledge that I had my reasons for insisting they seek out the noodle bar and all of its delights.

I first ate at Momofuku in January of 2007. I had been researching Ramen places in New York City. It turned out to be not only the best ramen of the trip, but the best food and highlight of the trip.

Chang describes Momofuku as the anti-restaurant (see video for more). It was a very small space. At the back bar there were probably a dozen stools, all with a front row seat overlooking the “kitchen” — not more than 3 feet by 8 feet with 4-5 people creating each dish while continually bumping elbows. They also washed dishes in the space as well. It was worth the trip just to watch the kitchen at work.

The Momofuku combo ramen was delicious (noodles and broth, Berkshire pork belly and shoulder, poached egg, greens, fish cake and scallions). The egg was close to perfect. It is a bath-cooked egg, or onsen tamago, as it’s called in Japan. This is an egg poached in a water bath for a long time at low temperature (about 140 degrees). The white was so tender and the yolk supersoft, adding an extra layer of creaminess and richness to the ramen.

Chang’s ramen is made with a Tonkotsu broth. It is obvious why he chose this type of ramen borth as ton means pig and kotsu means bone (he certainly isn’t going to make his broth from miso). He smashes pig bones, throws them into a pot of water with seasonings like kombu (kelp), iriko, bonito flakes, onion and dried mushrooms — and then he cooks it, and cooks it and cooks it.

The noodles might have been the only component in need of a little attention, they seemed to lack a bit of bounce, but the pork…oh my, the pork.

Pork seems to be the centerpiece of many of David Chang’s dishes — that one ingredient that really shines and also lends itself to bringing out the best in all of the other ingredients to make the final dish something very memorable. Only one item on the menu either did not have pork or was not cooked in pork fat, leaving vegetarians with a single option.

We also had the brussel sprouts with pork and kimchi. I used to love to make brussel sprouts — and I thought I made them pretty well. I have tried to recreate Momofuku’s take on brussel sprouts, but my attempts always seem to fall short and I don’t make brussel sprouts as often as I used to.

David Chang’s pork buns are now famous. His take on shrimp and grits was very impressive. Everything that came out of the kitchen was so beautifully prepared. The food was quite simple but prepared with great skill and care. It was really some of the most comforting food I have ever had. Today, it seems as though everyone has heard of David Chang. Momofuku has moved to a larger space and he has opened another restaurant. Some people have told me that success has taken its toll.

David Asimov of the NYT, The Pour had a less than ideal food experience at one of David Chang’s establishments. You can read the article on David’s blog (which is definitely worth reading on a regular basis). I have heard from others that Momofuku isn’t what it was. He certainly could be a victim of his own success. Growing demand, expansion in size and number of restaurants, etc. may have come with a cost. But I dream of returning to Momofuku in the near future.

The New Yorker’s take is spot on in my opinion, “Momofuku bills itself as a noodle bar, which seems a bit like calling Le Bernardin a crab shack.” I also read on another food blog that Momofuku may currently be the best value of any restaurant in New York in its ratio of culinary creativity to cost. I can’t speak for all of the restaurants in New York, but I got as much pleasure per dollar for my meal at Momofuku as any other restaurant I have visited.

Regardless of what happens on my next visit, my first visit will always be on my short list of best food experiences and is something I will never forget — and it doesn’t even a have a wine list or a single wine by the glass.

Great video tour of Momofuku with commentary by David Chang.

171 First ave | btwn 10th & 11th
New York, New York 10003

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img_1025The Granbazán winery is located in Tremoedo, near Pontevedra. This estate, of Albariño vines trained over high arbours, on granite soils, is the prime source of fruit. Nevertheless, Agro de Bazan also has contracts with 300 local smallholdings. The stalwarts of the range of wines that result are the two straight cuvées of Rias Baixas, curiously distinguished only by the color of the bottle. The amber bottle is contains the wine from free-run juice, from the oldest vines, whereas the green bottle includes some press wine.

The green cuvée is a deep, rich and almost dark golden straw in color. On the nose, poached pear and spices, canned fruit salad, fresh cut grass and citrus. On the palate, a pronounced flavor profile with a bit of a bite — apple, citrus and a touch of quinine, white pepper and bayleaf. Quite weighty, acidic with very steely minerality.

I thought the Granbazán Ambar was a bit more neutral and refined, this was just a bit much for me to drink alone, but would be quite good with a rich Indian dish — whereas the Ambar might pair better for Asian fare (including sushi) and would certainly be the better choice to stand alone as well. I think I bought this on sale for about $15, about $7 a bottle less than the Ambar. This was good, but did not impress me nearly as much as the Ambar.

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img_1008This wine is a blend of 80 percent Marsanne (structure and length) and 20 percent Roussanne (roundness and aromatics) from vines that average 40 years in age. Long before it was sold as Saint Joseph, the wine from this renowned parcel was sold as Vin des Oliviers. The wine is produced by brothers Pierre and Jean Gonon, who work their 9 hectares of vines situated around Mauves, Tournon and St Jean de Muzols, birthplace of the appellation St Joseph.

The soils are fertilized only with their own composts and plowed for aeration. Only natural treatments are used in the vineyard and yields are kept very low by short pruning and green harvesting in July. Grapes are harvested only by hand and fermentation takes place only in the presence of indigenous yeasts. The brothers don’t follow the current trend toward single vineyard bottlings at the expense of the “entry level” cuvées, instead the Gonon brothers uphold the best virtues of the appellation system and draw from all of their historic parcels, each lending a distinct character, to craft only a single white and a single red Saint Joseph cuvée.

Production of the Pierre Gonon Blanc is about 900 cases. It is golden straw in color. Apple, apricot, lemon peel and cut hay on the nose. Stone fruits, pomelo grapefruit, almond and a touch of tangerine and fennel. Stoney minerality, creamy, rich and a bit fat — unctuous with beautiful glycerin-viscosity. Well-balanced with soft but lingering acidity and a prolonged finish. The richness and lowish acidity help make this age gracefully and have been put in the same class as the rich styled White Burgundies from the Côtes de Beaune. At $30 a bottle, this wine is not inexpensive especially given the current economic situation. But it is a lot wine for the money and a really lovely bottle of wine. The last white wine I enjoyed this much was the Pierre Gaillard Condrieu.

I purchased this wine from Chambers Street Wines. They focus on organic, natural and biodynamic wines. I have been a long time fan and ordered from them on a fairly regular basis over the last few years. Since I was in New York, I figured it was worth a visit to their store. Chambers Street may have the largest inventory of Louis/Dressner Selections in the United States, so that alone is worth the trip. They also have some hard to find small producers — and they obviously take a lot of care in selecting which wines they carry. They carry a hard to find producer from the Rhône — Domaine Richaud. Always a good supply of wines from Catherine & Pierre Breton, Pierre Gonon, Sylvie Esmonin…and the list goes on.

I really enjoyed visiting the store and chatting with John, one of their wine merchants. He spent a good 30-40 minutes with me. He was friendly, helpful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable — and I greatly appreciated the attention. A great store and a great wine, true highlights from my week.

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img_0996I have written about Sean Thackrey and his wines before. Thackery did not get a degree in viticulture or enology, he studied art history. His wines are made with his intuition, what his palate tells him and tips from his collection of ancient oenological texts (the world’s largest such collection in his opinion).

He has been making wine in a Bolinas eucalyptus grove for more than 20 years. His operation is quite small (3,000-5,000 cases annually), only recently adding a forklift and a bottling line. He didn’t learn how to make wine by going to UC Davis — and has both feet firmly planted in the art, only sticking his toe into the science (but understands it does have its place in the process).

Thackrey says that each time he gets back from harvest, he turns off the engine, opens the cab, and looks back at the truckbed stacked with grapes, tons of them, in hundreds of boxes. He just looks; and after a very particular moment of silence, says to myself, “OK, Sean, there it is. Do something.”

The first thing he does first is very interesting. After the grapes are picked, he lets them sit and “rest” at least 24 hours outside his home, a technique that one UC Davis professor says nobody else does today. Thackrey says the idea goes back at least to the Greek poet Hesiod’s book “Works and Days” (circa 700 B.C.).

Thackrey suggests that this technique adds complexity to his wines. Some people disagree. Steve Edmunds calls it “total BS” — claiming that there are many ways to create complexity — not watering the grapes, for example, or using certain types of oak — but Edmunds doesn’t think resting is one of them. “Thackrey is a great storyteller,” he says, “but I seriously doubt whether he could prove any direct benefit.”

Thackrey is working on the debut of the Big Dipper, a California red that will be produced on a larger scale and sold at a much more affordable price than his signature wines. Soon after, he will to release a rosé called Fifi. These releases, some of the first produced outside his own backyard, mark a departure for the keep-everything-close winemaker. The move could either brand him as a sellout among his devoted fans or gain him the widespread recogni­tion he has skillfully managed to avoid.

Thackrey also retired his Pleiades Old Vine Red — at least for the time being — so Pleiades XVI is the last release, at least for a while.

The 2003 Aquila Sangiovese offers aromatics of cherry, baked rhubarb, menthol and rubber. On the palate, prominent notes of sour cherry with currant, plum and some gamey, herb (bayleaf) and leather notes. Medium weight with vibrant acidity. 15.2% alcohol, but no signs of heat.

A solid core of sour cherry — but lots of complexity around the edges and very Thackrey-like in that it continued to evolve over the course of the next 24 hours — and probably showed better on the second day.

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img_0974l’Engoulevent is a Yannick word, referring to a bird that flies open-mouthed through the air eating insects. This wine is also from the Saint Chinian area in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.The 2006 is 45% Grenache, 35% Carignan, 15% Syrah and 5% Cinsault. 20% of it is aged in one and two year French oak.

Aromatic notes of blackberry, cassis with some resin, pine and rubber on the nose. Ripe and meaty fruit with some darker fruit componets of black cherry, raspberry and plum with prominent herbaceous, black licorice and smoky mineral notes. Also some funky green vegetables that made me think I might be drinking a Cabernet Franc.

14% alcohol. Imported by Hand Picked Selections — and soon to be imported by Louis/Dressner Selections. I liked this, but I would opt for a Breton Chinon Beaumont, a wine I enjoyed more and priced at about $10 less a bottle. For a little more money, I would give a nod to Yannick Pelletier’s Coccigrues over this wine.

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