Love, New York and a one night stand.

food pairing, Lopez de Heredia, NYC, Spanish Wine, Wine Blog

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to kid about how Sutter Home White Zin was the wine that started this great love affair. But it’s not really true. No, White Zin–along with just about every other wine I indiscriminately placed in the cart– was just that wine I had late night rendezvous with, the one that looked ‘good enough’ when my beer goggles were fully in place. The cheap, available vino that made me feel temporarily good (if I plugged my nose) and absolutely awful the next day. It was just something that tasted better than beer and liquor, to be honest.

It wasn’t until I was well into undergrad, maybe twenty years old, that it was less about getting loaded with my friends (a very brief phase thankfully) and more about appreciating wine itself. And as I got more into cooking, wine pairing naturally became a great hobby. I met a few wines with great personalities, but seldom went out with the same one twice. I was a player. I wanted to know them all! It seemed silly to grab the same wine when there were thousands out there. I still feel this way. I had never taken a formal wine class, but I would pore over the labels, note which I liked more than others and flip through a Speculator if I was at a magazine rack. It was just so much information. Navigation was daunting. How does one ever really get into this?

Then one evening, in our teeny apartment for four (I literally slept in the closetless family room for a year and a half…for $1k a month), we crammed about twenty people inside to listen to our friend discuss Spanish wines. He worked a Sherry-Lehmann, a well respected shop in the city. I could scarcely follow his instruction, but I could tell I was way more interested than the other twenty-somethings. As they slugged down their garnachas and albarinos, I struggled to fight the urge to grab my notebook. I sipped slowly, so as to really understand the nuances he described. And for the first time, it honestly made a little bit of sense. The subregions, soils and styles were just a lot to take in all at once. The wines became a blur, and the night took on the jovial, antique hue of a lifelong memory.

It was this night that I was introduced to Lopez de Heredia–the whites and reds, various vintages and vineyards. I had absolutely no clue what I was sipping. It was unlike anything I had ever had. I was not familiar with aged wines, let alone one that was simply dripping with terroir and history. I was enamored… It was the first wine that proved my one night stand theory for wine wrong, for it became true love for life. I have enjoyed Lopez many times since then. Those wines may be the reason I fell so hard for this career in the first place. Wine is so mysterious, so enchanting and so utterly dynamic in its geographical versatility, personality and overall capacity for prose.

So what is the point, anyhow? The topic of true love from a one night stand is very relevant for me as I board this plane to New York City for the weekend to celebrate two dear friends as they embark on that fabulously challenging journey called Marriage. I lived with one, I worked with the other. I introduced the two one hazy pub crawl kind of a night. The next day, he was making coffee in my kitchen. I smiled politely, went back to bed and proceeded to text my friend: wtf? Several months later, they shacked up. About a year later, they were engaged. And now, I get to witness one of the more curious miracles ever: how the one night stand became a vow for lifelong love.

This weekend is particularly special to me, as I return to the City that parallel miracles have happened for me. It was the scene of my first love: New York City itself. I had never stepped foot on NYC until I moved there. It was the place that brought me to my first sip of Lopez, still my favorite wines in the world. It was here that I had my first date with Jonathan… two years ago, hand in hand and all smiles as we bopped around the Village (I know what you’re thinking…and no, don’t draw TOO many parallels. Dirty minds. Shame…). It was here I shrugged so much of my girlish naivety, shed some tears but ultimately crafted my adult sensibilities and armour.

I am returning to a place so familiar. A place that is so inextricably linked to my person. I am returning to me for a few days. The place where I got to know her best. And luckily, a place that let me take the important parts of her with me when I left.

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Digging through the archives: New York…with a kid.

NYC, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

Scrolling through old emails, I was aghast to find a perfectly prepared blog I never submitted from April. For a moment, I thought ‘Nah, no one will want to read this now.’ But it’s New York…with a kid… Back when I was looking for things to do, there wasn’t enough interesting literature out there that inspired interesting itineraries. And so, this blog has escaped the chopping block and become a diary entry of sorts.

April 1, 2011

I always imagined I would be learning to change a diaper and trouble shoot night screams before I would be traveling with a ten-year-old. Life’s funny like that, throwing you scenarios out of expected order. These past five days in my favorite city in the world made me look at New York in a completely different light. I saw it through his eyes. It wasn’t about crossing off restaurants and wine bars on my tick list this time. Rather, it was about keeping the energy and enthusiasm level up so that my boyfriend’s kiddo will be inclined to return to this magical concrete playground in the future.

March 28, 2011

It was the ideal place to meet my guy, since he’s been working in Europe the past month. We’d fly a few hours, and so would he. I did my research and armored myself with a limitless list of things to do, hoping just a few would appeal to this modern day ‘tween–a child of the ipod generation who naturally thinks of skiing as a wii game (did I mention we live in Colorado). But I wasn’t altogether unrealistic. You can’t fight the inevitable. The carry on was loaded with movies (Ghostbusters and Big, of course), a mini-dvd player, 3 books: Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield and Captain Underpants, emergency snacks (and sugar), Juicy Fruit and he brought an ipod touch from his mom’s house. I learned all about the ever-addicting Angry Birds this country is obsessed with playing (I had no idea!).
The flight was a breeze with our bag of goodies, and we flagged down a cab to get into the city. We pulled up to the Gansevoort Hotel in the meatpacking district to check into our lodgings. This was one of a few hotels with an all-season swimming pool. Unfortunately… it was in wide open air on the windy rooftop. ‘Heated’ meant not freezing. Lukewarm to the touch, it was hardly appealing in the 35 degree weather. Next time, when spending that kind of money for a pool, we may as well just do the Trump Tower. Or, save money and say screw the pool.
What follows is a sketch of what we did each day, followed by a list of great activities I wish we would have done. But kids (and adults) get worn out quicker than they’d like, so I’ll just keep’m on the NYC list for next time…
Day 1, still March 28th:
After a long travel morning, we got in around 2p. Once we settled in, we walked up the block for a slice. Something about NY pizza. Why is it so good? They say it’s the water that makes the crust so perfectly crisp. But I have never quite figured it out. We then hopped in a cab and headed to Central park. We walk from the west side to the east along the bottom, read sculpture signs, checked out the ponds and stared up at the trees. I learned a bit about the history beforehand so I could teach him a bit about its personality. He really loved this quiet space, already a bit overwhelmed by the pulsating beat that surrounded us. When we poked our heads out, we were a few steps from the famous FAO Schwarz. He was impressed for sure, but alas, they had no Wii games, so we had to move on to the Rockefeller Plaza for Nintendo World. While we were there, we checked out a figure skating competition as well as the Lego store where we finally invested in a few Ninjago pieces–a really fun, interactive new Lego series.
After a dreadful dinner (for the kid, not us) at Pastis across from our hotel, we treated him to what became the highlight of his trip: the $19 dessert buffet at the Marriott Marquis lounge in Times Square. High above the city, we slowly turned 360 degrees over the course of an hour and pointed out all the classic skyscrapers of NYC. I actually saw a memory being formed as I watched his curious eyes. I related to the impression that was being etched into his senses. I remember the first moment I understood the magic of this place. It was actually in a borough: Brooklyn. I was trotting back from the subway in Williamsburg to my little shack of a room in the Greenpoint YMCA. There were blankets strewn about the park, and people of all shapes, sizes, colors and accents watching Independence Day–even outdated four years ago. I plopped down with my Thai food and ‘3 Buck Chuck’ (note: I was a grad student living at the YMCA, thank you very much), and took it all in knowing I would remember it forever.
Day 2, March 29th:
Jetlag was kicking in as we dragged ourselves out of bed at 9:30a (7:30 Denver). We had some room service, because it’s so fun, and set out to see the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum at Pier 86.

It took a few hours, and we needed something light and fun to follow. We broke down and agreed to Dave & Busters. One less than gourmet–I mean, scrumptious, perfectly circular– Sysco burger with fries later, we were racing cars and shooting down aliens. My epicurean boyfriend was a less than thrilled, but I didn’t care. It was even difficult for him not to get on board with Busters by the end of the games. His kid wore a big old smile. Chain establishment or not, D&B was familiar to him in a land of strange new places and faces.
That evening was a comfortable Italian dinner at Gennaro‘s on the Upper West at Amsterdam. A little warning and a couple things to keep a boy occupied allowed for an awesome night with old friends. The ride home, however, was a little unsettling, as the driver seemed to be the long lost twin of Bin Laden in child’s eyes. NYC only made it more unnerving. We did not cut the cab ride short, however. It became instead the source of an important conversation regarding diversity, assumptions and living in a world that for children his age has never been without a very real trace of terror. He was a perfectly kind driver (who even stopped the meter a few blocks early!).  We could only imagine what it felt like to be him in the shadows of a broken city, misunderstood and alienated.

Day 3, March 30th:
The next day was the Guggenheim and a tour of the Wall Street Journal offices. The former had a superb display of cubism on exhibition–a great introduction to Picasso, Gauguin and Mondrian to name a few that were featured. As for the Wall Street Journal, it was really something to see how modern technology has changed the world of print.

Day 4/5, March 31-April 1
Day four and five really threw a wrench in the plans. It was rainy, cold and hard to motivate. But we pulled it together and trekked out to Queens to see the Museum of the Moving Image–the perfect kind of museum for today’s kid. There were interactive stop-motion video stations, make your own flip book, audio ad-lib tutorials with clips from the Simpsons and an old school arcade with Frogger, Pac Man and Space Invaders. I even found myself hooked once again to my old Sega favorite: Sonic the Hedgehog.
We spent a lazy afternoon near the hotel before heading back uptown to catch the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie followed by the ever-famous Shake Shack for a burger and malt. The down time and mellow pace of the day was what we needed after a week of nonstop stimulus.
On the final day, before the plane home, we squeezed in a couple more visits to the Mac and Lego store. I needed one more slice as well. Before we knew it, we were standing in line at security, eyes glazed and thinking about our trip.
What would I have done differently? Nothing. But I would like to think I could have squeezed in a few more activities, such as the following:
-Rent bikes and ride around Central Park–visit ponds, the Castle, the boathouse…
-The actual Ghostbuster tour, not just randomly spotting them in a cab. The 1 Train will get you to just about every spot, give or take a couple blocks, such as Columbia University, their work station, Public Library, Central Park West apartment building, Tavern on the Green, etc.
-Egyptian stuff at the Met.
-Restaurants: Peanut Butter & Co., Max Brenner, Serendipity, Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Rice to Riches, Dim Sum in Chinatown
-Wall Street/World Trade Center Memorial
-St. Johns Cathedral

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.

sex (albeit, good sex) with a condom: peasant restaurant, nyc.

NYC, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

After allowing myself to zone out for a couple hours and catch up on some Iron Chef episodes, my boyfriend peeled my wounded marathon self out of bed and half carried me to dinner.  He insisted that room service would be fine if I wasn’t in the mood to go out, to which I promptly replied that although I may have had an injured body, I didn’t have an injured spirit.  I was in NYC, and there was too little time not to check out as much as we could.

I had an abnormal craving for meat.  Red meat. Rustic, cozy, hearty fare.   He offered up Peasant in the village, and it sounded perfect.

And it was…almost.

We walked into this cute, cozy eatery—candles everywhere, worn down creaky hardwood floors, cauldrons and cast-iron skillets dangling from the open air brick-trimmed kitchen, and heaping bowls of olives on the table to greet us(my favorite!).  As I limped to the table, I knew this would hit the spot!

And it did…almost.

I started with a bit of burrata, one of my favorite cheeses—much like fresh mozzarella, but softer.  And then I had the fancy equivalent of potroast, otherwise known as Ossobuco—a traditional dish of slow roasted meat with broth, stewed vegetables, sometimes tomatoes (though mine did not) over a bed of risotto.  All in all, compounded with excellent conversation, lovely classical music in the background, a race that was over and a warm, homestyle meal in my tummy, this was everything I could have ever hoped for on the night of my celebration dinner.

Well…almost.

My guy wanted to order me a fantastic bottle of wine for the occasion.  I pleaded with him to save it for later in the week, as it may be wasted on my off-kilter taste buds anyway.  But he was so eager to make this a memorable night.  He knew my weakness for the ultra-traditional Giacosa, so although I ordered some nondescript $80 Barolo from 03 (a hot, off vintage), he changed it and went for the 01 Giacosa Barbaresco anyway (2001 was a stellar vintage for this little piece of Piemonte–Barbaresco).

The waiter presented the bottle, and my excitement started to rise.  I could already smell the roses and tar, the sweet spices, the unmistakable terroir.  So entranced was I, I failed to notice that he hadn’t replaced our shoddy little sippers at the table with proper stemware until the cork was released.  I didn’t want to correct him just yet, hoping he might notice, so I tasted from the white wine glass.  After confirming that it was, indeed, flawless, I finally made mention of the stems.  ‘Do you by chance have some red wine glasses we could use for this wine?’ I asked politely.  “Sorry,” he responded, “We don’t.”

Jonathan and I looked at the small little glasses that I doubted were even crystal let alone large enough to allow this Barbaresco to breath.  We then glanced up at one another, cursed ourselves for a moment for not settling for the Barolo and acknowledged that there was nothing we could do about it.

Okay fine, I get it.  The place is called Peasant.  God forbid they slip in some proper glassware, though, when a fine bottle of wine demands it.  The thing is, if I were the sommelier at this restaurant, I would never put a bottle of wine like that on the menu.  In an attempt to preserve some notion of ‘peasant’ simplicity (forget the fact that these are NOT peasant prices), the wine director compromised the integrity of a wine like Giacosa.  And for what?

Searching for insight, my nose was exhausted within minutes as it struggled to identify even the expected aromas from the suffocating liquid.  I couldn’t get through.  I couldn’t really feel its story.  It was muted, muffled…misunderstood.  I could tell by its structure—its tannin, flavors, acidity and length—that it was exactly what I wanted.  But I couldn’t know it fully.  It was draped with austerity, shielded with a translucent sheet, capped as a condom.  I could get close to it, but I couldn’t really have it.

I was frustrated.  Actually, I was even a little mad.  Who would do this to a wine like Giacosa?  Stick with simple wine, or allow one of more complexity to achieve its fullest potential.

To me, the sign of a good sommelier is not just one who can spout on about regions, producers and vintages at any given moment, it is someone who has can design a wine list that fits the restaurant.  Obviously in a place like Peasant, where the food may be rustic but the prices compete with the top New York restaurants, a wine director may not want to restrict the list to simple ‘peasant’ table wines.  It would surely dissuade some foodies from flocking.  That said, if a wine buyer has any respect at all for a wine that has been patiently waiting for within the bottle, one would assume he/she would similarly respect its entrance into the world by giving it a place to breath, stretch out and serve its purpose to enlighten.  Fine, go ahead, and use the crummy glasses for wines that don’t otherwise need the oxygen, but keep some reserve glasses to the side for the higher caliber wines.   I guess I know now that I will never make the same mistake twice.

And so, to end my sentimental diatribe on a sweeter, softer note, my almost perfect night at Peasant ended with a sensational bread pudding.  I propelled me to refocus on the positives and acknowledge that it truly was a lovely little restaurant.

But next time, no condom.  I’m no stranger to its flaws.  I will accept Peasant as is… and order Montepulciano.

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.

not-so-soul food? an evening at restaurant daniel.

food pairing, NYC, Wine Travel

The day had arrived.  I was going to Restaurant Daniel on New York’s upper east side, one of four three-star Michelin eateries in the big city, not to mention the recipient of the oh-so-coveted four-star New York Times rating.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a foodie or not… dining at Daniel is a pretty big deal.  And I was lucky enough to have the chance to go.

And so I went.

And I was… taken by surprise.

Disappointed is far too harsh a word, for that is not what I felt.  Rather, each $5 bite and $10 sip propelled me to think long and hard about the cost of culinary excellence.  Furthermore, it challenged me to sketch out my own dining ideal and put it up against such a revered restaurant as Daniel.

To begin, Restaurant Daniel is not my dining ideal.

Ushered by two servers to our seats, my boyfriend and I were given instructions on dining at Daniel.  They began, “Have you dined at Daniel?  No?  Then there are a few things you might want to know before we begin…” For example, “Please notify us if the pillow on the seat between you two would benefit from being removed.  We want you to be comfortable.”

Comfortable.  Comfort.  Hmmm… these are not exactly the words I would use to describe Daniel.

The angular note about the pillow alone seemed to preface the ‘event,’ also known as dinner, quite appropriately for what followed.  What struck me at first was the silence.  No music played.  All that could be heard was the fast shuffling of feet that belonged to what seemed like dozens of servers who were continuously crossing one another back and forth—though, eating an early five o’clock supper before the opera, only a few tables were occupied.  In the faint distance there was some quiet chatter, though it seemed largely related to business.  The few couples that peppered the room were quite silent, wearing rather tired, listless stares on their faces.

The food was divine.  The wine was fairly priced (an amiable 2001 Bosquet des Papes at $90 befriended our meal).  But when you are paying top dollar, even that isn’t enough.

The thing is, dining at Daniel, it felt as though many working there had finally ‘made it’—they had reached the apex of their career.  What it seemed to lack, though, whether by consequence or mere coincidence, was gravity– that silent fuzzy ingredient that communicates everyone was part and parcel of Daniel, passionately maintaining its raison d’arte.  Rather, it seemed as though they were more or less there because it was Daniel.  Maybe it was even fellow diners that exuded that notion.  I understand that is possibly unfair, it may have simply been the time of day, the servers we encountered, the mood I was in, my inflated expectations.  Nonetheless, as a highly rated, highly priced experience, shouldn’t it be nearly flawless from food to wine to service to ambience?   Isn’t that the point of ‘arbitrary’ restaurant guides, anyway?  A faint, approximation of estimating the standard of a restaurant before dropping beaucoup bucks?

Every perfectly prepared bite of slowly baked dover sole I consumed felt a little empty.  I couldn’t taste the purpose.  I was not at ease, nor was I intellectually stimulated.  I was doted on perhaps a little too much, as a little fleet of five tended to our table, always within earshot, making an intimate conversation impossible, which, in my opinion, is the foundation of any memorable meal.

In the air hung awkwardly even proportions of invasive detachment, zealous impassion, insidious restraint, and non-intuitive book-smart brilliance.  They could carry food and wine questions full term without conveying the pregnant aire of unadulterated enthusiasm that fills the void between knowing…and knowing.

So ultimately, a restaurant such as this begs the question: what dining experience is worth hundreds of dollars to you?  Are there any that make the cut?  That you would do again?  What does it look like?  Is there a hierarchy of importance?  Food, then wine, then service?  Ambience, then wine, then food?  Expediency, then service, then cost?

For me, I realized it looks something like this: wine, company, food, ambience, conversation, music and service—all quite similar in proportions.  A good restaurant, in the end, is like well-balanced wine.  When all the tannins, acid, fruit, and oak harmonize, each complimenting the other, the effect is riveting—spellbinding, really.

It’s difficult for me to criticize.  Especially when a restaurant is so praised by close friends and co-workers.  And, to be clear, the food and drink is certainly not where my criticism falls.  They say, though, that the mark of a good chef, is he or she who leaves one in want of more.  But at the end of the day, whether in a bad economy or not, an expensive meal is merely expensive if it leaves you in want of more of the inedible parts, which are as crucial as the salt and pepper that pulls the dish together.

I know people who find Daniel to be the end-all, be-all.  And for good reason.  This is clearly subjective.  So what about you?  What’s your dining ideal?  What was worth it?  What wasn’t worth it?

red beaumes de venise?

french wine, Kermit Lynch, NYC, Wine Travel

During my stay in New York, a few days ago, a group of us headed over to Greenwich Village to share a meal at Mas (farmhouse), a French American restaurant that carried the weight of many well-sung accolades from friends both local and back in Denver.  Was it deserving of such high acclaim?  In a word: undoubtedly.

Mas was quite the experience.  Not only do they present those dining with an interchangeable, flexible three or six-course tasting menu option, they also encourage the customized ‘Chef tasting menu’ for those who trust the direction of an incredible chef…for those who revel in the element of surprise.  We all simply voiced our likes, dislikes, allergies, and preferences… and voilá!  Within minutes the six courses began, each reflective of our personal tastes.  For someone who can never decide on what to get, I was in heaven.

Pairing a meal with such variety and mystery is nearly impossible.  So the key here, much like Thanksgiving, is higher acid and lower tannins.  That way, if presented with game, poultry, fish, or squash, one has the greatest possible potential for a decent or even excellent food and wine marriage.

The night was painted with 1er Cru Chablis, 1er Cru Morey St. Denis, and a rather interesting 2001 Crozes-Hermitage.  The wine that took us all by surprise, though, and wore the most modest price tag, was the red wine we drank from Beaumes de Venise in the Rhone Valley: the 2005 Domaine de Durban Cru Beaumes de Venise Cuvee Prestige.

When I first saw this wine under ‘Reds by the Bottle,’ I was actually confused.  Beaumes de Venise is renowned for its sweet white dessert wines (vin doux naturels) that are made from the Muscat grape.  Although Durban makes these sweet fortified wines, they are one of the few producers that are consistently recognized for producing some of the only ageworthy, thought-provoking reds in this region that sits at the base of the famed Dentelles de Montmirail, a jagged chain of mountains in Vaucluse that are distinctive for their teeth-like structure.  The Durban vineyards have been cultivated as such since 1156, though the 1960’s brought the Leydier family to control them and consequently higher acclaim.

The Cuvee Prestige is comprised of 75% Grenache (giving it the bright red cherry nose), 20% Syrah (for added structure and peppery spice), and 5% Mourvedre (just enough to shed a trace of garrigue and savory spices in the blend).  Many at the table commented on its singularity—they couldn’t quite compare it to anything else.  I had to agree.  Though it couldn’t hide its Rhone Valley birthmark, it was… in a field of its own.  And that made it intriguing for us all.

So check this wine out if you have a chance.  And, if you’re in New York, put Mas on your must-do list of restaurants.  It’s for serious foodies, without all the pretense.