rose walk green ice photo 1BodyStories’ production of rose walk green ice explores relationships in a myriad of forms, from one’s intimacy with the private self, to the public, with society as a mirror, judge and witness, and also to familial bonds, romantic attachments and friendships. The piece opened with spectators in chairs on stage, lending weight to the outer shell of our lives, as they would be representing those we surround ourselves with, and those that surround us.

rose walk green ice 1The dancers spoke to two specific audiences, those seated close-by and others at more of a distance, with constellations of sharp movement, layers of bodies tightly woven in a confined space, and a tension that started (purposefully) mechanically and slowly softened. An initial transition from gestures more fitting of a robot race, and then seamlessly morphing into the organic shapes of our shared humanity, from technology to psychology, set the tone for a piece about us. All of us.

rose walk green ice 2A mirrored floor set into a large swathe of the space provided pure poetry as the dancers’ were twinned with colored, fluid reflections. The themes of needing space, taking space and sharing space were explored through single dancers moving through wooden boards shaped into ‘homes’ that they entered and exited, closed in on themselves and then let out into the greater world, taking solace and comfort and then rejoining the collective with renewed energy.

rose walk green ice in houseBodyStories is known for taking audiences on emotional journeys, and rose walk green ice took this to the next level, with a narrative that was part feeling and part story, not unlike the mental voyage of a great jazz piece. The musical accompaniment of guitar, piano and digitally-mastered, ethereal sounds added to the space-age/stone-age quality, and when I say stone-age, I am referring to the evermore dynamics of what it means to be human, to be a self with others in the world. rose walk green ice is a vision of who we are and where we are going, and the importance of reflection and dissection in our modern culture.

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The Snowflake was a roadside ice cream and hamburger joint I used to go to after little league games in East Hampton in the late eighties. They did soft serve and had a giant bucket of ice cream that was probably 10 scoops and a million calories.  The menu was written behind the counter marquee-style, with these movable black letters on a white plastic backboard.   It was small town and no nonsense.  Hill Country Chicken, in the heart of Flatiron, has this same down home charm; only they peddle in fried goodness from the deep south.  And do they ever!

The ability to instantly illicit a childhood memory, from another part of the country no less, with a totally different cultural lexicon, is no small feat.  Hill Country has nailed it, and despite the obvious pretence – we are in Manhattan after all, and there is no apron-clad grandma back in the kitchen patting down breasts with flour, just college kids with cool haircuts, but somehow it works.

The workers serving up the perfectly fried chicken wear t-shirts that say “Give Piece a Chance”.  So I did – two pieces to be exact.  I got the traditional drumstick and thigh with roasted corn salad and a buttermilk biscuit.  There’s another choice for the chicken: ‘Mama Els’, which is skinless and rolled in crushed crackers. The kind of cooking that uses whatever is lying around, the sustainable, responsible and economical way to prepare food, which is older than time, has become properly codified and memorialized in the cracker version. No bread crumbs? No problem.  Hence a recipe is born.

Marc Glosserman, an honorary Texan from DC, dreamed up the chicken joint after summers spent in the cradle of barbecue and exceptional southern  home cooks, some of whom were in his family.  There was a corporate career in between, but his heart has always been close to his stomach.

They sprinkled a sweet and fiery spice mixture on top for good measure and served up the crispness with an oversize southern biscuit.  If I didn’t need to run back to work for a conference call, I would’ve devoured it all, right there and then, with finger-licking tenacity, framed by their  vintage twee floral wallpaper and 50’s-style star lights.

Back at the ranch (read: New York office building), I hunkered down over the chicken.  The crispness is balanced by soft, supple meat, which has benefited from its buttermilk marinade bath soak.  A trip to the spa is always a good idea.  The salad had blistered kernels of corn, a vinegar kick and unexpected spice.  I slathered honey on my biscuit, bringing back to mind Long Island summers when Carolina friends would come up north, recreating that southern staple on Sunday mornings after church.

Verdict:  If you’re looking for fried chicken at lunchtime in midtown, this is the spot.  It’s fresh, natural, never frozen, hormone-free, so you don’t to feel guilty about that.  The fact that it’s fried – well, I can’t help with that.  The biscuits are so big, they can be shared – unless you’re a very hungry bird (pun intended).


Sardinians tell you they’re going to Italy when they leave the island for the mainland.  You, wise traveler, have actually flown to Italy, and have a cute little stamp in your passport to prove it.  You probably flew into Naples or Rome and then took the  one-hour flight over the luscious blue-green coastline to arrive in Sardinia, an island so magical that its Bronze Age structures, ‘nuraghi’, remain mysteries to this day.  So why don’t Sardinians think they’re in Italy already?  You just might have to visit the tropical Mediterranean isle to see for yourself.  With candy-colored beaches in pinks, whites and oranges, succulent ‘maialetto’ piglet roast on a spit and just-caught fish on the menu; the struggle is real and often otherworldly.  It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.

Porto Cervo is the undisputed capital of Sardinian chic, located on the island’s northeastern tip.  The nightlife is renowned, and yachts bring in fresh crops of party goers every week in July and August.  Flavio Briatore, the graying millionaire playboy most famously coupled off with Naomi Campbell, owns the club Billionaire, and every Euro summer cliché can be found behind its velvet rope, with priceless people watching.

 

The antidote to dancing until sunrise is to wake up early and explore the island by boat.  Rent a ‘gommone’, a rubber boat with an outboard motor, to explore Isola della Maddalena, island of an island, and home to Spiaggia Rosa (one of the world’s most famous pink beaches).  Wind carved rock formations and dry green vegetation end in crystal clear turquoise waters and petite curved beaches that are only reachable by water.

If you fancy a cocktail with your sunset, Phi Beach is the perfect solution.  With Balearic beats on heavy rotation, plates of local meats and cheeses and local wine and cocktails, you can watch the spectacle from the comfort of your waterfront bed.  The crowd is well heeled, yet casual, think loafers with no socks, crisp white linens, bright colored dresses and chatter in a smattering of European languages.  After the sun goes down, it becomes an open air club with bottle service and a DJ pouring house music into the nearby sea.

fish-baked-in-salt-crustThe Clipper is an unassuming family restaurant that does a serious whole sea bass crusted in sea salt.  Unlike Phi Beach, you go for the food and leave the fashion behind.  Their tuna tartar was so fresh that I had to ask when it was caught.  “Today!”, the waiter told me, almost exasperated that I had suggested otherwise.  Accompanied by Vermentino di Gallura, the island’s crisp white, the flavors of the sea mingle with the wine’s distinct minerality, characteristic of the region, creating the perfect storm of taste.

image (7)A visit to Sardinia would be incomplete without trying the island’s most famous dessert, seadas.  Seadas are pecorino cheese-filled ravioli that have been fried and drizzled with local honey.  They are divine pillows of lactic bliss made with fine dough, absolutely zero grease and a final note of fragrant sweetness on the tongue.  Life should always be this good.

 

No slouches in the shepherding department, Sardinians practically invented pecorino as we know it. They have traditionally been more a mountain and land folk rather than seafaring, partly due to the invasions that kept them retreating to – and settling in- the interior.  In fact, Tuscan pecorino has a lot to thank Sardinian cheese makers for having taught them the craft.  And any visitor has a lot to thank for the nuttiness and richness of the cheese itself, product of the wild local grasses the sheep graze upon.

There can be no cheese without wine, and Cantine Surrau has northern Sardinia’s answer to the ultimate vineyard experience.  A modern, sun filled tasting room with floor to ceiling windows that frame the countryside, friendly and knowledgeable staff and gorgeous wines make you feel quickly at home.  I sampled Vermentino, Vermentino Late Harvest and Cannonau, the dark jewel in the island’s oenological crown.  Cannonau is the grape otherwise known as Granache in France or Garnacha in Spain.  Cultivated in Sardinia for centuries, it takes on a very earthy, cherry-plum and balsamic quality here.  The soil in the region is predominantly granite sand and clay, and is blessed with a clean Mistral wind that cools off the grapes in the summer months .  The assistant manager, Antonello, was ready with a smile, an in-depth explanation, and tips on here to go for live music after dinner (Lord Nelson in the Porto Cervo Marina, overlooking the boats, with a loose, casual pub vibe).

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The telluric energy of Sardinia has long been exalted, and for those cosmically inclined, Valle della Luna is one of the best places to feel its famously good vibrations.  A national park on the northwestern tip, it boasts gigantic rock formations that resemble a lunar landscape, hence the name, which in English means Valley of the Moon.  Completely untouched and undeveloped, save the flip flopped feet that trek to its lagoons, there is an otherworldly peace there that can only be experienced to be believed.

With stunning beaches, gorgeous food and wine and all around good vibes, Sardinia really does love you back.  But don’t take my word for it.  Seeing really is believing. Ciao for now!


Go to Dubai for the smart, chatty waitress from San Francisco at Firebird, the new Michael Mina diner in the Four Season’s Hotel.  If she’s not there, you can still have a killer burger and say you did.  When you’re done, head outside and tap into your inner Jetson and marvel at the space age skyscrapers.  The city is an architects’ wet dream. And it can be yours, too.  Here are a few things that Dubai wants you to do. Really.

Take the subway to Dubai Marina. Yes, I said take the subway.  It’s actually an overground monorail. Imagine the city is a giant airport, and you need to move from terminal to terminal, except you are changing neighborhoods.  Taxis aren’t that expensive, but it’s an experience. If you’re a woman, go to the women’s car and watch families get onto the train (I’m a New Yorker, sorry, we call them trains), and separate by gender and sometimes stand on the opposite side of two cars, one step away from each other. It’s what they call a cultural experience.  And it costs about two dollars, depending on the current exchange rate.

Once you arrive at Dubai Marina, head to Fume’ Neighborhood Eatery, on Pier 7, Level 1 Marina.  It’s not a French restaurant. The globe-on-your-plate fusion concept goes a long way, and it’s far from gimmicky.  An open kitchen, green and white bottles hanging from the walls, the city’s signature ‘ladies night’ (free wine!) and killer pate’ made for one happy Sarah.  Even if that’s not your name, it’s a good time. Plus there’s a club on the top floor so you’ve got great people watching in the elevator on the way up and down.  Did I mention you can stick your face in a hole on a painted wooden slab that says ‘We Are Having a Fumazing Time!’?  Come on, people.  Fumazeballs.

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Next stop:  Point Zero Floatation Center.  Now we’re really going to the moon and back.  To follow on our futuristic theme, I recommend you bite the bullet and visit Dubai’s first floatation center.  It’s not what you think. It’s not a zero-gravity, mind-altering experience.  You get your own pod, which is in itself a trip, and it’s filled with heavily salted water.  The minerals in the salt do wonders for your body, but here’s the real wow factor: you will fall asleep in the water.  The pod closes and you are in complete darkness, floating in warm water with ear plugs. It’s pretty close to sensory deprivation, with a plastic pillow and the option for a ‘star effect’ on the lid of the pod.  I went for all black, to really feel it.  Jet lagged and a bit burnt around the edges, this guinea pig can happily report that the real floating happens after the 40 minutes are up.  I felt like a million bucks, and all the anxiety I had before (what will it be like, is this a waste of money, why is this woman talking so slowly), melted away as I walked above the air back to the reception area, where a beautiful fresh mint tea was waiting for me in this trendy glass pot.  I was told afterwards that floatation for 40 minutes is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep, even if you don’t pass out (which I did). No wonder.  Do it.  You won’t regret it.

Back to food … Firebird is an eatery that brings all the best of American diner food to Dubai, with sleek, chrome, leather and tile interior, exceptional service, spicy Bloody Mary’s and great burgers.  Just don’t ask for them rare unless you really, really want rare.  I found that refreshing, actually, because usually unless you’re in France, rare can be a misnomer.  Here, they mean it.  The burgers come with duck fat fries, themselves a magical algorithm of pillowy and crisp. I got the “All American” (hey, when abroad …) with gouda, romaine and onion marmalade. It was mouthwatering, from the quality of the beef to the perfectly toasted brioche bun.  And the waitress was pretty right on.

It may not be Paris or Milan, but Dubai has fashion that turns the globe from the other direction, with jet setting types just the same. I mingled with an editor from Italian Vogue and met a designer from Iran, and that enough is worth a trip to the Dubai Design District. They have events all the time, just check their website. I caught Fashion Forward Dubai, with two runway shows, pop up shops abound, neon art installations and a jamming, open-air after party.  The crowd was part Euro, part Middle Eastern and the mix was just right. If you want to see a more intellectual, artsy Dubai you didn’t know existed, this is the spot.

Happy Dubai-ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 7.43.14 PMSomewhere in Bavaria, a giant sleeps.  He’s been up for three days straight, and let’s face it, he can’t keep his eyes open.  This man, oversized in terms of his wine culture, and not in such pedestrian measures as height or weight, is Pascal Mehrtens.  He resides in the elegant medieval city of Regensburg, one hundred kilometers from Munich, its muscly big brother.  It was here on a dark January eve that Weinsinn – Germany’s Best Wine Party, was formally launched, and Pascal didn’t sleep a wink.

12662731_10153822140727674_2202146443528278685_nFor a man who eats, drinks and breathes wine, a German and French background offering him entrance to two of the world’s most important wine producing nations, the world of wine needed to be shaken up, and he knew just the party to do it: Weinsinn Die Party.

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The evening was hosted at the Prufeninger Schlossgarten, a 12th century beer garden helmed by Axel Franke, a true manager with a command over his crew more akin to a sea captain than the land baron he poses as.  His gray ponytail moved swiftly from kitchen to bar to dining room, as he checked that everything was in place for the guests about to arrive, and he smiled generously in the midst of his business.

For aficionados of German and Austrian wines, the names Weebmuller, Goldenits, Potzinger, Hofling and Hebenstreit may be familiar enough.  But to have the actual winemakers at your party, to present the vintages themselves?  Now, that my friends is a wine geek’s wet dream.  And yours truly got to interview them, which was a hoot.

12604692_10153822140657674_4816189755324652822_oTo the mitteleuropeaische wines, add Italian, French, Slovenian, Portuguese, Spanish, Australian, New Zealander, Chilean and Argentine, 75 in total, and you definitely have a party.  Pascal curated champagnes, reds, whites and dessert wines, to offer his guests, as well, to flow with each part of the event.  And this was not an ordinary wine pairing dinner, you know the ones with yawning shrimp and Prosecco duets followed by coupled Chardonnay and salmon fishcakes.

The buffet was turned inside out, with guests welcomed into the kitchen as the main course was being prepared, appetizers laid out in a generous buffet that snaked around the chefs as they busied about their work.  Trout carpaccio with the closest shave of chervil and baby arugula was offered next to fluffy clouds of deviled eggs, nearly angelic in their lightness.  And the wines …

 

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Weegmuller’s Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2002 Pfalz, a snap-crackle-pop of a wine, almost crunchy in its freshness, showed itself to be a perfect combination to the deviled eggs, from their high, billowing perch they were brought down to the ground with hints of Sicilian lemon and apricot on the palate.  Gabrielle Weegmuller, or Gaby as she is known to friends and colleagues, was on hand to offer information about her family’s vineyard, the oldest in the Pfalz, with 325 years of history under its belt.

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Gorgeous meats that only a Bavarian feast can muster were treated to the finesse of Richard Goldenit’s Zweigelt 2010 (for those uninitiated to Austrian’s workhorse red, this is a cross between St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch).  It is unusual that this grape offers any standout performances, but in Goldenit’s case, it surprised me.  The fleshy cherry and Kirsch nose gave way to more fruit on the palate, with a very earthy, long finish.  It spoke of the medieval history that southern Germany shares with Austria, and my mind kept flashing a scene in a forest just after the rain.

It was that kind of party, where imagination runs wild and the atmosphere and food and wine more than help. Pascal had set up a big screen in the dining room with a loop of documentaries and short films about wine, including some the vineyards being presented.  The fluidity with which he mixed mediums, from the kitchen party buffet to the flash of wine media accompanying the dinner, was authentic, purposeful and most of all, fun.

After dessert there was a rocking band playing a mix of covers and their own songs, and of course, more bottles to discover, Pascal looking quite pleased and the winemakers shaking a tail feather.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you wine people can’t dance.  Pascal packed a punch that would’ve gone all night, if it wasn’t for the Prufeninger Schlossgarten’s curfew.  Bravo to the team for showing the eno-gastronomic set that you can shake things up at a pairing event, and enjoy a whole lot more than a glass with your wine.  Very rock and roll.  So thank you for the magic, Pascal.

 


passion_on_the_vine[1] Sergio Esposito’s description of Luca Maroni in his book  Passion on the Vine paints the picture of a man who is part statistician and part sorcerer, tasting literally in the dark and able to rattle off a complex analysis delivered as numbers and letters.  We are talking about a true wine scholar whose website contains more than a million food pairings, and who has tasted over 260,000 wines since 1988.  I would certainly like to see him go head to head with Robert Parker, whose methods look refreshingly streamlined in comparison. Perhaps each man properly represents their country, on the one hand straightforward and unapologetic, namely Parker/America, and the other a labyrinth of codes, i.e. Maroni/Italy. maroni-500x333[1]   As soon as I heard that Maroni’s picks of the year would be part of a tasting at the beautiful Borgo Santo Spirito, I jumped at the chance to meet the producers he deemed worthy, and of course to sample the winning wares. As I methodically tasted from south to north (don’t ask, there is no technically sound explanation, I just have a penchant for northern wines and so save the biased best for last), I made my way to Sicily. With very little expectations, I came upon a Maroni pick from Licata, a town on the island’s southern, African-facing coast in the province of Agrigento. The Vineyard, Baglio di Cristo di Campobello, turns out an unexpectedly elegant Syrah, a contender from a region very much in the shadow of its neighbors, namely Marsala and Vittoria. The winemaker explained that the grapes produced there  were traditionally sold off to other vineyards, and that their produzione propria or on-premises vinification and bottling, was a relatively recent development. image   Located on four hectares just a few kilometers from the sea, the Baglio folks have produced a sincere and pleasantly sapid Syrah with great minerality, spicy fruits and just enough persistence to pair easily with lighter meat dishes. I would be careful about matching wild game, but a braised pork loin with rosemary mashed potatoes would certainly do it justice.  The grapes are cultivated at between 230 and 270 meters above sea level, picked by hand and aged in oak for a period of eight months.

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In Puglia, Erminio Campa’s black and gold bottle caught my eye. Their winning wine, Li Cameli 2012, takes the name of one of the contradas in the region, the other being Li Janni.  I had no idea what I was in for, and their 100% Primitivo di Manduria blew me away.  Its dark and stormy ruby red color is a lovely vest for a heady nose of liquorice and red currant, cherry marmalade and balsamic notes.  I couldn’t stop sniffing, and barely got it into my mouth.  This is certainly what I call a pillow wine, because its fragrance is so enticing that it makes me want to curl up on a couch with it.  Plowing ahead, I took a sip.  The fruit kept on giving, and its minerality shone through.  The persistence is what really caught me – this Primitivo went on forever, giving as much in layers as the nose, evolving on the finish long after the last drop had been swallowed, providing luscious chapters of information about its forty-year-old, bush-vine trained, clay-rich background, turning on the fruit to high volume and ending with a balsamic baritone.

Nonno (or Grandpa) Francesco was the first to till the land, and Erminio and his two brothers have brought the vineyard forward for the world’s drinking pleasure (grazie, Nonno!).  The best pairing, a true example of genus loci?  None other than Braciole, a traditional Apulian dish.  It consists of carne (meat) rolled up in capers, cherry tomatoes and bay leaves and then roasted.  While they typically use horsemeat, the dressage rider in me cannot condone using man’s other best friend in the kitchen. I would substitute veal or beef.  No doubt that after a shared bottle of Li Cameli (between two people for real wine lovers, of course), the intoxicating waves of berry lusciousness following each sip will bring out the earthiness of the dish.

susumaniello

The tongue-twisting name of Susumaniello, an autochthonous grape from the Brindisi area of Apulia, comes from its productivity in the first 10-15 years of cultivation.  The expression ‘carico come un somarello’, which means ‘strong as a donkey’.  How one goes linguistically from ‘somarello’ to ‘susumaniello’ is beyond me, a non-native speaker who has spent little time in Apulia.  The answer is  usually one word: dialect.  If you don’t live in the region, it’s better to just nod and smile.  I found an equally friendly producer from Cantine Due Palme, one of two vineyards to vinify Susumaniello as a monovarietal.  Its humble beginnings as a grape used to cut other more established wines is finally being shed by these heroic winemakers.  They have rightly noticed something special in its rustic, earthy personality, certainly worth exploring on its own.

While it’s still a bit hot on the nose, in the mouth Susumaniello stands out for its spunk, truly wild, untamed and full-bodied, refreshingly misbehaved and full of promise.  This is a wine – and grape – to watch, and I look forward to tasting it in a few years to see how it has mellowed out and matured. This rambunctious teenager, in my opinion, has a bright future ahead of him!

 


imageIf we mark two points on the boot-shaped map of Italy, Trentino and Sicily namely, we arrive dangerously high up on the calf and then tumble down to the tip of the foot.

These two regions may be a thousand miles apart (well, as the crow flies, it’s 951 to be exact), yet they share a distinct sense of identity that is separate from the rest of the country. It is apparent both in their respective dialects and winemaking traditions.

imageTheresa Eccher is an intriguing winery with vineyards in both places. Since 2011, it has been resurrecting a family business that dates back to 1810. Now, before we jump to 2014, a bit of history on the family: Theresa was born when the valleys carved by the Noce River were under the domination of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef. Her grandfather, Lorenz, was an innkeeper-turned-winemaker, who naturally chose the Revo’ region for his vines. Today the area turns out a rather smart Groppello, with reduced yields, boutique production and high quality.

The Eccher dynasty lives on thanks to the efforts of Theresa’s granddaughter Daniela, along with her husband Andrea Panozzo. As destiny would have it, Sicily would be included in their winemaking agenda, thanks to Andrea’s time spent there as a journalist and writer.

2011 was the first year of production of three iconic wines from the family, representing not only Sicily and Trentino, but also Veneto, with a fine example of Prosecco from Valdobbiadene to round out the offering with a dry and seductive bubbly.

imageFrom Sicily, Daniela and Andrea have chosen the autochthonous grapes Nerello Mascalese (98%) and Nerello Cappuccio (2%) for their Etna Rosso DOC ‘Altero’. Hailing from Catania, Mascalese is alberello (or bush vine) trained.

One of the oldest forms of cultivation, widespread on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria for the Zibibbo grape (also known as Moscato), the alberello method is used to ventilate while allowing equal lashings of sun to hit the grapes in places with hot, arid climates. From Trentino, Eccher has done an elegant job with the grape Marzemino, mentioned in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni with the famous line, “Verso il vino! Eccellente Marzemino!” Grown along the east bank of the Adige River in Isera, Marzemino produces a wine with a fruity and floral bouquet.

imageLet us delve first into the Etna Rosso DOC. The vines can be found on the north side of Etna, towering at 700-900 meters. The elevation, combined with a volcanic terroir that has a welcome bit of sand, creates a wine that has the bones of a ox and the grace and balance of a ballerina. The Ecchers have named their wine Altero, a word that means dignified, high or elevated. It presents itself in a luxurious, velvety red vest with notes of cherry, raspberry and balsam on the nose, with just a whisper of tobacco. In the mouth, it has a finesse reminiscent of a young Burgundy, tender and smooth, with a touch of wood tannin balanced by fresh fruit. I would pair this wine with aged Sardinian Pecorino and pane carasau (flatbread), an island-to-island matching! Alternatively, go for a dish of veal medallions  in a tomato and olive sauce.

imageThe second wine, Marzemino Superiore, is produced in Isera, closer to the Eccher family’s history in geographic terms, nestled in the Vallagarina, the southern part of the Adige River Valley.  In this dark, basalt-rich terrain, the Marzemino grape expresses its full bouquet and structure.  A region rich in volcanic tuft and basaltic rock, its climate is less forgiving. Winter freezes and spring winds add to the difficulty of cultivating a grape by nature more generous in quality than quantity.

image Despite its fickle constitution and treacherous growing conditions, when mastered Marzemino is the true black beauty of Trentino. These dark blue-hinted, thick-skinned grapes produce a wine that is the region’s answer to Pinot Noir. It presents itself in a vivacious, ruby red vest, with violet and black currant on the nose. The fruit returns on the palate, with wild strawberry and plum to top it off. Pair this wine with wild mushroom sauce (go light on the cream!) and penne pasta, or sublime chanterelle risotto for those crisp fall evenings.


firstphotoOn the eve of the Epiphany, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, I decided to host a bite-size revelation: the making of my first cheese.  While some little girls dream about their wedding day, I instead fantasized about curds and whey.  Lo and behold, I am thirty-something and not yet hitched, but have learned to make a mean cheesecake and proper ravioli.  Today, to honor the incarnation of God into man, a transformation from heaven to earth, I’d like to think that I have reversed the process, from milk, lemon and salt I manifested the equally divine Italian ricotta, fitting as I live in Rome, the city of the Church, in the country of damn good cheese.

secondphotoRicotta was likely an historical accident.  I imagine a housewife from ancient Roman times spilling a bit of vinegar or lemon juice into milk heating on the stove.  Certainly she would not have thrown away the baby with the bathwater, for we are talking about times in which every scrap of food was used for necessity’s sake. Thank God for the poor, for not only will they inherit the earth, but we have inherited their recipes.  Now, a few facts: ricotta is not a cheese, but rather a cheese curd, and its earliest mentions are from Sicily.  In Sicilian dialect, it is known as zammataru.

thirdphotobetterArmed with a bit of background, a liter of fresh milk, a Sicilian lemon and some sea salt, I proceeded to make the so-called cheese curd.  It all felt a bit more Mother Hubbard than Julia Child, but never mind, I was conquering the first step to becoming a bonafide dairy queen, one spoiled vat of milk at a time.

The first step is to heat the milk on the stove with half a teaspoon of salt.  Be sure to keep it on a fairly low heat, as you want to stop cooking the liquid just before it reaches the boiling point.

fourthphotoAs bubbles and froth start to appear, you are on your way.  The opacity of milk can blur the lines between frothing and boiling, so do pay attention.  Cheesemaking, like baking, is less improvisation and more science and temperatures do matter.  You don’t want the milk to turn, and there is a delicate balance to reach which can be incidentally quite Zen.  A watched pot that never boils can in fact be a blessing in disguise!

fifthphotoOnce the milk has nearly boiled, take it off the flame and add two heaping tablespoons of lemon.  You can substitute apple cider vinegar, but I prefer lemon as it feels fresher and lighter.  Wait fifteen minutes and watch the curds form and separate from the whey (curds are solids and whey is the liquid, from which you can make a second, skim-milk ricotta).  You are now ready to do some more waiting.  Rome was not built in a day, and patience is the key here.

seventhphotoPlace a colander on top of a large bowl and place either a cheesecloth or dish towel on top.  The fabric should be thin enough to let liquid through, so it is best to avoid terrycloth.  Take a soup ladle and transfer the curds to the colander, followed by the rest of the liquid.  Let the mixture sit for up to an hour – the longer it sits, the better your cheese will be.  What we want is for all of the separation to occur naturally.  Nothing can be forced, and you will be rewarded by gorgeous, fluffy ricotta cheese.

eighthphotoYour fresh ricotta should be cooled to room temperature and placed in the refrigerator where it will keep for 48 hours.  It is best eaten fresh , but if you are making ravioli, be advised to freeze it immediately as the cheese can otherwise spoil the batch.  Enjoy your ricotta with honey and figs, treat it as you would yogurt, dollop on pancakes for extra richness or spread on toast with nutmeg and cinnamon.


49, rue de Turenne (nearest Metro: Chemin Vert)

After a time of boot-weary traipsing around the Marais in the nimble hours that stretch into evening, Caroline and I happened upon the Cafe des Musees and decided to hang our hats for supper.  We had passed mediocre establishments, faux bistrots aimed at American tourists, and as it was early we were hedging our bets.  Parisians dine at nineish, and it was just seven-thirty.  Many of the hot spots weren’t even warm yet, and there wasn’t an opportunity in sight to find a safe, buzzy restaurant, its prowess measured in full tables and bustling waiters.

The foyer of Cafe des Musees was relaxed and enticing, with a open kitchen that somehow churns out delicate dishes of Limousin veal stew, leg of duck cooked in Luberon wine and other provincial classics in a space no larger than a walk-in closet.  Customers milled about, treating the waiting area as a bar, sipping impossibly small glasses of Burgundy and somehow appearing as if they aren’t waiting for anything at all.

The maitre’d hung over his reservation bible and eyed me cautiously.  I was not one to mince favors, and had long since lost any sense embarassment for my accent in French. I was a foreigner who demanded equality, and for all the arrogance the French appear to possess, there is respect given to those who refuse to defer to their pride.

“Table for two, please.” I didn’t ask.  Presumption will get you everywhere.   “Mmmm, it could be forty minutes,” he retorted.

“We’ll wait,” I said, removing my hat and unbottoning the top button on my coat, settling in for a cold war that would ideally end in a hot meal and a chance to smirk at the garcon as I eventually waltzed to the table.  He sensed my persistence and whispered something to a minion, who promptly whisked us into the dining room.

We were greeted by a dashing young man, tall, wispy, dark and eager to please.  He recommended the warm girolles salad to start, a true expression of the autumn season.  Also known as the Golden Chanterelle, the girolle hails from Burgundy and is one of the most prized wild mushrooms.  When heated, it gives off rich, earthy tones of apricot and anise.  They are finicky, and can get a touch rubbery if cooked too quickly, but Cafe des Musees gets it just right, respecting their texture with a touch of satisfying chewiness.

To follow, we sampled a flaky potato pie, or parmentier, updated with pheasantA guest star on the menu, this version of the dish appears in the late fall and winter months, replacing the usual ground beef.  Shepherd’s Pie is a poor, bastard cousin of this reigning provincial concoction, proving once again that the French can raise the humble potato to princely status.

The parmentier is served with a top coat of potato, pastry and cream, browned on top in wisped, nutmeg-laced clouds, almost too good to eat.   However did they do it in that cupboard by the entrance known as the kitchen?  We knew it would be piping hot underneath that layer of aesthetic excellence, and promptly pierced and lashed and poked until steam came billowing out, and with it a warm aroma of wild game, juniper berry and cooked cream.  The mind settled, the appetite whet, we tucked into succulent, tender strips of pheasant and even softer potato.  This was certainly heaven on a plate.

My advice is to arrive between seven and seven-thirty, look the waiter straight in the eye, and learn to say all that you need to say in French with confidence, even if you have to repeat the same two or three phrases until he finally gives in.  It will be well worth the effort.


The anticipation had been building for weeks … acorn-fed duck was soon to arrive from Spain, where it would be unleashed at key London venues by the Spanish food importer Brindisa.  The king of Iberico charcuterie, Brindisa had long since dazzled the capital’s gastro-scene with its acorn-fed pork charcuterie.  Their Iberica Bellota Ham on the Bone goes for a cool £360.   Duck, however, is not known as an especially Spanish food, nor is it recognised for eating acorns.  Brindisa, long the arbiters of the latest Iberian food delight and educators of what makes mouths water in that part of the Med, are decidedly the first to market on the acorn-fed duck.

Proof that you are what you eat, these ducks migrate from southern France to Spain and spend the last months of their life eating acorns, which makes all the difference in their taste and in the tenderness of their meat.  Tapas Brindisa Soho does a simple and honest preparation of the duck, with quarter-inch-thick slices of duck breast served rare with cubed pear.  The earthiness of the meat speaks of autumn, its lipid succulence checked by a warm, forestal, nutty flavour no doubt imparted by the acorn.

When in Spain, or at least when in Soho eating Spanish duck, the wine should be a geographical fit as well.  While Brindisa focuses its imports strictly on food, save for the occasional ham stand and paella pan, its sommelier has a trick or two up his sleeve. He paired the dish with Cillar De Sillos Vina de Amalio 2007.  Its complexity, fruitiness and balanced oak flavour are a perfect match to the duck’s rustic tones, and fine tannins and a long persistence bring out light, buttery notes in the meat.

Amelia Aragón García and her brothers Roberto and Oscár produce wines in the Ribera del Douro region under the Cillar De Silos label.   Their philosophy is to make wines that show the typicity of their old vines, many of which are over 60 years of age . Each wine is aged in an expansive underground cellar that dates back to the 16th Century.

I would highly recommend a special journey to Soho to partake of the acorn-fed duck offering from Tapas Brindisa.  For lovers of game, the wild flavour of this duck will surely satisfy, while its fat content provides a lovely flavour that bursts in the mouth in a nod to seasonal bounty: acorns falling from trees, leaves turning colours and birds coming home to roost, and of course –  to be roasted.  Enjoy!