please pass the meat marshmallows: eleven madison park, nyc.

Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

Foams and gels—we’re not talking hair salons.  We’re talking Eleven Madison Park Restaurant.  The site of the grandest dinner I have ever experienced in New York City.  Ask most foodies, and this is the height of culinary imagination in the city.

I was given the rare opportunity to revel in its excellence, because Jonathan and I were out with a sponsor for his team, the founder of ChipotleSteve Ells—along with a few other intriguing individuals.  A trained culinary chef, Ells was a delight to share such an exquisite meal with, as he and I continuously looked to one another, like two kids in a playhouse, each anxious to see the other’s reaction to every thoughtful, elaborate course.

I was in charge of the wine—a job I gratefully shared with the restaurant’s magnificent sommelier John Regan.  While sipping on some Champagne, I told him what I was envisioning to complement our various dishes, mentioned some producers I love (all quite traditional and terroir-driven) and then turned it over to him, hoping he would come up with some producers I had not yet introduced to my palate.  No matter how much each passing year allows me to learn about food and wine, a critical piece of advice a colleague once taught me was to open my mind to another professional’s suggestions—especially one that you know without a doubt is more experienced than you.  It’s the only way to truly improve your own skills.  And so, Regan and I teamed up to make for some memorable pairings.

We began with one I do actually know quite well.  One that I know, sadly, will not be for much longer.  We opened the 2005 Ferret ‘Les Mentrieres’ Pouilly-Fuisse.  This is a producer I have mentioned before.  A producer that inspired recognition of this region to Americans.  A producer that had to sell its old, traditional vineyards to Louis Jadot— a negociant primarily, albeit well-respected.  Come 2007 vintage, it won’t wear the marking of Ferret inside the bottle anymore, although I believe the actual label still will.

And so, as I have done ever since learning of this news, I lingered in every sip, as did those at the table.  Everyone seemed to rave over this one the most—its complex nose of hazelnut, minerals and autumn spice.  It was impressively balanced and flexibly with so many foods that falling on our plates.  It was also the least expensive of the wines that evening (probably $35-50 retail).  It was a steal, and there is little left (wink: let me know if you need some!).

We were given a menu of about 16 words, ranging from ‘white truffles’ and ‘lobster’ to ‘cauliflower’ and ‘pork’.  We were to pick four, inform the server of any allergies or dislikes, and let the show begin.  They proceeded to custom design our meal.  But before those courses even started, we had an hour-long parade of ‘surprises’—fanciful bites of gastronomic genius.  From marshmallows in beef fat and poached eggs in egg cream with white truffles, to brioche with a celery root leek soup and scallops in a shell, this names just a few of the treats that were lavished upon us.  Thankfully the chef was a huge cycling fan, so he gave us a couple extra winks that night.

We moved into a 2004 Chateau Grillet Viognier—a wine that I was instructed to first remove my concept of what Viognier was in order to understand it.  Believe it or not, this is the only appellation in all of France that is defined by one single winery!  Fascinating.  A viscous body clung to the sides of the glass with every swirl, this Viognier sung a melody of white flowers, tangerine, white peach (not extracted, sappy stone fruit), and a touch of agave honey (not the richness of a clover honey).  The balance was kept in check, though the alcohol came through a bit as it neared room temperature.  The most impressionable aspect for me was the rainwater minerality that found its place on my palate.  Returning to the nose, it surfaced.  It was a truly incredible wine—a decent complement to our languestine (lobster thing) as well as the tortellini with white truffles.

The best pairing, however, with the beloved white truffle dish was the 1990 Roty Gevrey-Chambertain.  Really drinking beautifully right now, a smattering of spices are the first striking aspect of its personality.  That’s one of my favorite traits of this more forceful appellation for red burgundy in Cote d’Nuit.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove are just a few you might discover.  And the cherry fruit is so outlined.  Savory herbs elbowed their way in, but they weren’t as distinct.  Surprisingly, some rhubarb and strawberries found their way on the palate.  And sandalwood.  So good.  The acidity was more than noteworthy.  It was a good reminder to me that there is a reason people fall so hard for this Pinot Noir mecca of the wine world.

It lent itself nicely to the next transition: the southern Rhone with the 2000 Mont Olivet Cuvee du Pape Chateauneuf du Pape.  Not wanting to know anyone at first, it took a more than a few swirls and a double decant to get it to start talking.  In the meantime, we were given a tour of Eleven Madison’s impeccable kitchen.  It was huge!  Everyone tended to their individual tasks of shaving egg shell tops or reconstructing baby peas, while we were given a demonstration.  They made for us a rum drink with nitrous oxide ice cream and passion fruit.  It was a much needed palate cleanser, but it sent me back to the table with a little wobble in the knees.

One deep breath later, I was bracing myself for the main course: honey glazed duck made fresh and prepared tableside.  It was the ideal compliment to our red Rhone.  Essences of lavender, fennel, balsam fir, and black pepper snuggled into the fatty, savory folds of the fatty duck.

I savored each bite, but with a shaky hand, I took my last, and threw in the towel.  I just couldn’t finish it!  And I ran a marathon the day before.  I was disappointed in myself.  But looking around the table, I saw I was not alone.

But that wasn’t it!  Nope, we still had the fromage course.  I fear I not only don’t remember what the cheeses were, I was too lazy and full to write anymore.

What followed is a blur of cognac, cookies, truffles and a frozen chocolate banana lollipop.  There was more.  I just know it.  But I was disabled with temporary delusion.

As I walked away, hand on my tummy, I would like to say that the mark of a great restaurant is one that knows how to fill each and every customer just right—that you are neither full or hungry, rather perfectly sated, wanting more… But I can’t.  At a place like Eleven Madison, you sadistically just want to see more and more courses.  It’s where foody fanatics go to enrich their own culinary imagination.  It may not be for everyone (my God, my father probably can’t even make it through this blog entry let alone a dinner here), but for those who want to be taken on a memorable, moveable feast, start saving now for your next New York visit.

Needless to say, I got a glimpse of heaven.  Trust me…it’s worth adding an extra prayer to your daily regime.

exhale: mission accomplished, or how the nyc marathon beat me up.

Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Travel

On my plane ride to NY, I got to talking with this woman.  She was young, had three children, and was a full time nurse in Colorado.  Not before long, I learned that her reason for traveling to NY wasn’t for shopping, plays or marathons.  She was going to NY to attend a conference on lymphoma.  Her father just found out he was stage 4 of a very rare form.  As she spoke, I was struck by her strength and positivity.

I relayed to her a few bruised apples from my family tree as well.  I forgot how nice it was to occasionally open up to a perfect stranger.  Sometimes, you surprise yourself at how honest it can make you.

We landed, and after we wedged ourselves in the crowded, impatient aisle to leave, she removed a bracelet and gave it to me for good luck in the race.  It said: positivity.  It hardly seemed I was the one who needed that bracelet after our conversation. But I was touched.  I didn’t realize just how much I was actually going to need to focus on that 10-letter word come Sunday.

Sunday morning was gorgeous.  It was sunny, clear skies and full of hope.  My boyfriend not only got me to the ferry, he rode along with me to Staten Island and saw to it there were no problems with transportation to the start.  All went smoothly.  It wasn’t a problem that I arrived considerably past my assigned ferry time.  There were just too many people to keep track of, which was what I was hoping.  I was well-rested and ready to take on the challenge of running the city.

Although I knew the cool weather would be perfect for running, it began to really sink into my bones an hour into waiting.  Teeth chattering a bit, I sipped on some hot water and found myself a sunny spot to sit.

It was finally time to line up.  The adrenaline was starting to kick in—I was saturated with momentum.  The gun sounded (or something of the sort), and we were off!  Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the feeling of running across the Verrazano Bridge, knowing you are one of almost 45,000 on the road fighting individually to get to that finish line.

The first couple miles were a little rough on the balls of my feet.  In fact, it truly felt like hard balls, rocks even, were strapped the bottom of my shoes.  I was terribly chilled, but I tried not to focus on it.  I knew I’d be warm quite soon.

As we descended into Brooklyn, my excitement grew.  People lined the streets—Mexicans, storekeepers, those in drag, those with boom boxes, independent bands, Hasidic Jews, little tots hoping for a high five, friends, lovers, family, Polish folk…it was intoxicating to feel the city come together like that.

By mile 6 or 7, I began to feel it in my legs…already.  I knew then this was going to be tough.  Never had the ship started to sink that early in any of my training runs!  What was happening to me?  That was all I could ponder.  Something was wrong.  I had a decision to make, and it took all of a few milliseconds to decide that I trained to long to walk now.  I would not only finish, but I would fight to the end to not stop and walk.

And so on I jogged.

By mile 10, acid reflux kicked in.  I thought I might puke, knowing that would give me no choice but to quit.  Please don’t vomit, please don’t vomit (!) was all I could think.  I didn’t.

By mile 17, I saw Jonathan (my guy), and I looked at him with a kind of desperation in my wide eyes—Where is the powerade goo station??  Mile 18, he reminded me, secretly afraid I might bonk before he saw me next at mile 24.

But I made it to him.  After a few packs of sugary goo, my spirits lifted a bit.  I would finish it.  I knew it!

And I did.  At 24, Jonathan ran with me for about a half mile in his dress shoes, offering an array of sugary foods, but I couldn’t eat anymore at that point.  I was conscious of that positivity bracelet on my wrist with each and every mile.  My hopes were high, and there was even a slight spring in my step. In hindsight, I know, my adrenaline was in full force.

I crossed that finish line and couldn’t care less that I finished about 20 minutes later than my last marathon.  So, I didn’t meet my ‘goals.’  Like life, I had to recalibrate what that really meant halfway through the race.  It was certainly no longer getting a sub-4 hour time.  I would gladly take 4 hours and 48 minutes if it meant I didn’t give up completely or even slow down to walk (I don’t know how people can do that, actually.  I would surely hit a wall!).

It’s Tuesday now.  I can still scarcely get out of bed, and I look like an old lady hobbling from one place to the next.  My body has never been put through such a great amount of pain. I had to laugh a little seeing a girl today who was about my age walking down the street with the same constipated half-step shuffle that I have.  There was no doubt in my mind that she too had given it her all a couple days ago

And so, it’s hard to really complain when you know it was such an incredible experience.  Every wincing step I take is met with a little inside smile just knowing I pushed on and finished the New York Marathon.

inhale: the eve of the nyc marathon

Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Travel

It is often said that a marathon is designed for those who have a strong will.  That moreso than physical endurance, it is the mental tenacity of the runner that gets them just past 26 miles.

In my lifetime, I have managed to finish a masters degree, quit smoking and stop biting my fingernails.  For the latter two, I set the date, smoked my last cig, chomped my last nail, and it was done.  Forever.

I may be in the slow poke wave for tomorrow’s New York City Marathon, but I can honestly say I have the mental ardor to compete.  Hopefully it will be enough with proper training.

I have completed one marathon in my life and although that makes me no expert, I have a vague idea what to expect tomorrow—the rush of excitement that comes with the sound of the starting gun, the seemingly never-ending strife found between miles 18 and 23, the brief moment of blame directed towards the Brits who just had to extend the historically 25 mile race to 26.2, so the 2008 Olympic finish would be at the base of the Royal Box.  And then the elation that rises when you realize you somehow didn’t die!   You MADE it! (God, I hope I make it!)

When people ask how I’m feeing about the NYM—Are you ready? Are you nervous?—I’m conflicted. Yes, in a way I am ready.  I’ve done the miles, seen the masseuse, checked in with the chiro, allowed time for recovery, mapped out the race day nutrition plan for before, during and after the race.

But deep down, I’m terrified.

There are factors I just don’t (and won’t) know.  Like anything else when it comes to New York, the challenge for me seems to be found less in the act of actually running the marathon (or working or school or… fill in the blank).  The battle, as was the case when I lived in NY for a couple years, is with the city itself.

For a winemaker, the uncontrollable element will always be the weather.  An early frost, a hailstorm, a drought or excessive rain can take them out.  On the flip side, a blessed vintage brings great success.  In fact, it may be the reason a small winery is first recognized (bigger name wineries, particularly in places like Bordeaux, tend to sky rocket the pricing during golden vintages, whereas lesser known wineries can offer fantastic values).

Like any marathon, weather plays its unpredictable role, especially November in New York.  You check it off the list of things you cannot control and move forward.  But with NY, that list goes on…

We’ll start with pre-race meals.  They say two days before the race is actually the most important for ‘carb-loading.’ Conveniently on a plane for the duration of that meal time, I decided lunch would mark the ceremony at home with pasta and veggies.  My lovely dinner would be a clif bar, apple, pretzels and water. Luckily, I wasn’t hungry, though, and my boyfriend had pomodoro waiting at the hotel.  I certainly loaded on the carbs yesterday.

New York may be home to some of the best restaurants in the world, but that’s little help when you are neurotically wondering what ingredients compose each menu item the night before.  You must strategize and find someone in the city who still has a working stove/oven (one that hasn’t been transformed into a second closet for sweaters).  Then, invite yourself to a pasta party in your honor. Really great pre-race vibes and home cooked food!  That’s what I will be doing in a few hours (thanks Ava and Finch!  PS-  Heard there’s a magnum of Chianti?  I can’t pass up a glass…)

All week I have tried to prepare for the time change—a detail one normally may not take into consideration until you learn you are to board a ferry at 6 am for Staten Island, where you will be dropped off for nearly 5 hours to wait in the sub-freezing cold.  My boyfriend bought me a one-piece argyle flannel footy outfit for the occasion.

Sure, there are numerous teeny details that cumulatively freak me out about tomorrow (will I wake up on time?  Will I have everything I need?), but I am extremely grateful about one thing: it’s time to switch the clocks back tonight!  Genius whoever thought of that.

Another note of gratitude goes to google.  All kinds of tips fell from the search field.  The most important in my book?  BRING TOILET PAPER TO THE START!  That savior in disguise runs out pretty darn fast.  There were many more tips, but the point is clear: nothing is simple in NY.  Along the route, there may be thousands of potties lined up, but rumor has it the lines are over 20 minutes long.  Just getting to the start is a hassle, fueling with hours til go-time, etc…

When I lived here, I’d pack a water bottle, heels to change into after class, a coat, library books, cab fare, metro card, school ID, and so on… I’d step into the street, armored in anticipation, travel 3 subway lines down to NYU and realize 4 hours after leaving my apt on 110th and Amsterdam that, inevitably, I had forgotten my umbrella. And so I’d get soaked as I ran from one awning to the next on 8th and Broadway.  If I could get through a day—slowly climbing each stair to my fourth story apt holding grocery bags, backpack, book tote and shopping bags in hand—dry and in one piece, I knew I had won that day’s battle with the city.

And so, I return to my nemesis, the keeper of my heart, to run its many boroughs.  To feel its diversity, its range of sound, its incomparable energy.  To allow its pulse to set my pace.  I’ll let go of the fact that I hate my running shoes that have injured my left leg as a whole, that I have to wake up around 4am Denver time, and I will arrive as fully armored as I can with my peanut butter and banana sandwich, inhaler and toilet paper in hand to brave the ultimate battle of running through this grand city.  And it will be incredible (as will be the many restaurants in mind for post-race recovery).  Stay tuned for final results and reviews of some of the city’s best places to wine and dine.

what to pair with marathon training?

food pairing, Italian Wine, Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Blog

As some of you know, I am nearing the end of training for the New York Marathon on November 7th.  This week marks the last gruelish of runs (21 miles)—three weeks from the big day.

Training has been rough.  I still haven’t found the right shoes, since my favorite kind no longer exists.  I have been fighting with allergies and asthma for the first time in my life (thank you Albuterol and my chiropractic brother’s magic pill supplements—if you live around the twin cities, check him out: Chaska Lakes Chiropractic).  And finally, I just can’t stand thinking about my ‘self’ so damn much.  Every cough, ache and bout of fatigue has me worried every day that I won’t do well on my long run, and then what?  Knowing full well I am far from competitive material, a marathon brings out your most competitive self, even if directed at no one but you.  Goals suddenly manifest, whether the intent was to keep it light and fun or not.  The closer you get to the start line, the more invested you become.  The more every sniffle and sneeze worries you.

Some things you cannot control, like the weather on race day.  Other things, you can, such as nutrition, hydration and recovery.

Personally, one of my favorite parts throughout this whole process has been the pre-run dinner.  I have learned that the best way to prep for these never-ending runs (and they are… I may never stop to walk, but I give new meaning to ‘casual stride’) is to make a delicious, simple meal paired with the perfect wine (oh, hell yes…I still have a healthy glass the night before my long runs—isn’t it actually sacrilege to eat pasta without the accompaniment of wine?).

This year, I have created a little tradition to make a clean, pure pomodoro sauce on the eve of runs over 10 miles long.  Not to get too symbolic here, but there was a little more logic beyond the mere carb-load aspect of this dish.  Pomodoro may be the simplest preparation of tomatoes in sauce form.  I love uncomplicated, unadorned recipes like that.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional duck three ways as well.  But simplicity—minimalism—has its own appeal to me.  I discovered this interest in high school, drawn to Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian paintings.  I find I am compelled to the same purity in winemaking.  Growers who take it back to traditional methods—who try to get by without machines, pesticides and gadgets.  Finally, to get to the point already, it is for this reason—simplicity—that I am so into running.  I love all kinds of sports from rock climbing to kayaks, cycling to volleyball.  Running, however, only requires shoes, mental endurance and perhaps an ipod shuffle.  You can run anywhere, anytime, and any season.

And so, with purpose, I eat pomodoro.

First, I grab fresh pasta, a head of garlic, a bunch of basil and the highest grade imported chopped tomatoes (San Marzano or Pomi, for example).  Note: Chopped. Not crushed or diced.  If no chopped option, buy the best whole tomatoes you can and clumsily chop them yourself).  I also like to carb it up a step further and bathe some fresh sliced boule in a layer of butter and garlic for the side.  Just throw it in a preheated oven at 375 for about 10 minutes.

To make a classic pomodoro, cover a heated pan with good olive oil over medium heat.  Add 3-4 cloves of finely sliced (not chopped) garlic to the oil until they become quite soft (maybe 5 minutes).  Try not to brown them, unless you are a fan of ‘fire-roasted’ flavors in your sauce.  After the garlic is softened, add the tomatoes, a liberal dose of red crushed pepper and some salt (you can add more later to taste once the sauce is more evolved.  Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes before you add anything else.

After it’s had some time to become, add some chopped basil (I don’t know—a couple tablespoons?).  Add salt, pepper and more red crushed to taste.  Let simmer a few minutes longer while you boil up the pasta and bake the garlic toast.  Serve with some fresh sliced basil.

Oh yes, and for the wine.  It is my humble opinion that a simple, rustic Italian dish be paired with a traditional Italian wine.  Sure, you could revel in Brunello and Barolo, but remember, if this is for training, you shouldn’t have too much vino the night before an important run.  That’s why I reach for the Chianti.  Not only is it considerably less expensive than some other Italian options, but it truly is a perfect match in acidity, weight and fruit to tomato sauce.  Particularly, I find that younger Chiantis that show a bit more fruit and a little less oak tend to shine when singing a duet with spaghetti.

It’s not the most imaginative pairing, but my God it is good.

A few I love to sell:

-2007 Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti


-2006 San Felice Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggerino Chianti Classico


-2007 Cavallina Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico


-2005 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico.

So wish me luck.  After this Sunday, it’s a lot of rest, a lot of recovery… and a bit of wine for my spirit.