TASTEBUD

SO MUCH TO TASTE. SO LITTLE TIME.

Reel Food

 

Molto Sirio

Molto Sirio

It’s a rare film about haute cuisine that manages to come down to Earth and stir deep emotions, too; Big Night is an easy exception, but there are many more misses than hits in the ouevre. And great documentaries about food are rarer still. So I was pleased to see the excellent documentary LE CIRQUE: A TABLE IN HEAVEN on the schedule for HBO on Monday, December 29th. Completed in 2006, the film, which debuted at IFC’s Stranger Than Fiction series in April of 2007, documents the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again of restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his famed eatery, Le Cirque, once the most celebrated restaurant in New York. Catering to celebrities, Presidents, and, famously—thanks to Sirio’s legendary hospitality—seemingly anyone who walked in the door, Le Cirque became a symbol of the good life, dreams achieved, abbondanza.

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Bacon and Whiskey: An Ode.

Who doesn’t love them? Here’s a gem by my old friend Kristy Athens, which, among other things, explains the range of bacon ordering doneness, from limp to “cook the sh*t out of it.” We used to be in a writing group together, which mainly consisted of eating and drinking for hours and hours with a few similarly-inclined pals, which is why I love this clip. Move over Scorsese, now there’s something meatier.

A Toast To Thirst

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This week’s New Yorker features an unexpected treat by staff writer Burkhard Bilger. Call it the Barack Obama of beer articles: a ten-page analysis of the craft beer industry—and one of its provocateurs, Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head Brewery—that sucker punches conventional wisdom. There’s much to savor here, with passages such as the following:

“Calagione strapped on a pair of safety glasses and peered into the oak and hickory embers. “If there are no second-degree burns, I’ll call this a success,” he said. Then he heaved in a rock, sending up a shower of sparks. “Let me know if they start to explode,” he told one of the cooks.”

Bilger’s description of Calagione’s unorthodox brewing methods, including the use of Palo Santo (a rare, aromatic Uruguayan wood three times harder than oak) to ferment a burly stout is riveting—and brings back a lot of fond journalistic memories.

My oft-beer-writing-partner-in-crime Seth Fletcher and I wrote about Calagione’s use of Palo Santo in the October issue of Men’s Journal in which we named the resulting beer one of the best in America, only after tasting it with Calagione while huddled at the tiny copper-topped bar of Dieu De Ciel, a brewpub in Montreal’s Plateau district. We’d ventured up for the Mondiale Du La Biere Festival, and arranged to meet Calagione, well armed with samples—including the Palo Santo-aged beer. Another interesting passage for me was Bilger’s on-site interview with Brasserie D’Orval brewmaster Jean Marie Rock, who I met, too, in 1997 while in Belgium on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship doing research that would become the basis of my first published article, from the (now defunct) Brewing Techniques magazine (and an award-winner). 

A toast to Burkhard, Sam, and beer drinkers everywhere who’ve been calling for full respect of the good stuff for a long time. I’ve got to sign off now, or I’ll be late for a tasting at Gramercy Tavern. On the menu? Beer, of course.

Sardinian Red [Instant Cred]

A positive side effect of the big, bad economic slowdown is a greater focus on value when it comes to wine. Most of us aren’t in the market for first-growth Bordeaux, anyway, right? On the cheap side, anyone can throw down $5 for a flabby syrah at Trader Joe’s, but it takes a little more creativity to really score a wine worth talking about. On that note, the good people over at Tasting Table point out a great deal on a Sardinian wine I heartily second: Argiolas Perdera, a robust red made with monica grapes, an ancient varietal found only on the Mediterranean isle that’s similar to Côtes du Rhône. And it’s only $15 bucks. I visited Argiolas during this year’s harvest for a day, touring the winery with a member of the Argiolas family, and managed to get lost in the cellar, of course. Bring one home for turkey day.

Here, some out takes from my too-short visit to Sardinia’s most noted producer, including crates of just-picked nasco, a white varietal that’s also unique to Sardinia.

The Shopsin Doctrine

Kenny Shopsin’s is a New York Institution; his 900-menu-item eatery, like the man and his city, is at once dauntingly big, brilliant, confusing, big-hearted, hard-edged, and singular. On my first visit, in addition to a sandwich that made me grin ear-to-ear, I had a conversation with Kenny and a friend that covered intricacies of Italian culture, the politics of my birthplace of Portland, Oregon and the love-it, hate-it, can’t-kick-the-habit-of-living-here New York jones that any seasoned local gets after venturing beyond a day’s drive of the Big Apple. Kenny’d decided he liked us, apparently (others aren’t so lucky) and we wiled away a memorable hour chatting during a heavy spring rainstorm. Now Kenny’s got his own book, capturing some of the man’s viewpoints: EAT ME: THE FOOD AND PHILOSOPHY OF KENNY SHOPSIN is out now, and I look forward to picking up a copy. But not as much as going back to Kenny’s place.

RELATED: VIDEO – Kenny shows Conan O’Brien on LATE NIGHT exactly how to make a Conan Burger, among other things. Disappointingly, the NBC censors did not have to work very hard on this one.

ALSO: Here’s Calvin Trillin’s profile of Kenny in The New Yorker.

Beers to Live By

The sky may be falling on Wall Street, but we’ll always have beer. It makes us happy; it’s inexpensive; it’s readily available. What’s not to like? And fall is an especially good time to drink it. The Great American Beer Festival is in just a few weeks; the traditional Oktoberfest in Munich started just two days ago—and will go for another 13—but there are plenty of reasons raise a glass of beer right now, and close to home instead.

For the last five years I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to join my friend Seth Fletcher in rating the best beers in the land (or sometimes the world) for MEN’S JOURNAL, a somber task we approach with monkish restraint (OK, we enjoy it mightily, but if we actually finished the hundreds of bottles we sample each summer the story would never happen. Much returns to Earth from whence it came. And we have notebooks, piles of them. We swear.)

This year’s list is on newsstands now, and this time, the premise was deceptively simple: if you like ‘X’ mass beer, try ‘Y’ craft variation. Are you a Guinness drinker? Then try Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, available in 19 states and counting. With an eye toward America’s smallest, most artisanal craft brewers—some with only a handful of employees—we dedicated ourselves to coming up with a list of exceptional American (and in one case, Quebecois) craft beers that are a bit harder to find, but so worth the effort. Many of these beers are available in NYC, on tap or in bottles at bars like The Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, DBA, Against The Grain, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, the Brazen Head, and more. There’s also a mini-profile of beer provocateur Vinnie Cilurzo (of California’s Russian River Brewing Company). Enjoy!

RELATED:

– Our previous offerings: 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

– The hard-to-please imbibers online at BeerAdvocate.com discuss our picks (via http://www.beeradvocate.com)(cheers, guys).

– Photo album: Outtakes from my 12 month tour through 14 countries, 59 breweries, and 330 beers on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 1996-7.

– Interesting piece by Nick Kulish on the German beer scene today (NYT).

Reading For The (Self-Administered) Apocalypse

Everyone has a preferred hangover helper (mine’s a steaming hot spicy bowl of pho noodle soup, aspirin, and ‘Rushmore‘). Others go for hair-of-the-dog, spa treatments, cheeseburgers, or, hell, all three at once. But such methods fail, a story in today’s Times points out, to address symptoms beyond the usual nausea and exhaustion—the much worse ones based in existential darkness, self-loathing, and regret. To a certain sort, such side effects from revelry require more than folk remedies (see Joan Acocella’s recent gem in The New Yorker, A Few Too Many) they require a good long read. One that takes you to a deeper, more despondent place, in fact, so your return to personhood can be felt even more satisfyingly. Enter ‘EVERYDAY DRINKING: The Distilled Kingsley Amis’ (Bloomsbury).  Three of his long out-of-print books on the art of drinking have been compiled into a single volume with the added kick of an introduction by another legendary prude, Christopher Hitchens. Here’s a few choice excerpts thanks to Dwight Garner’s review, the first on diets:

“The first, indeed the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree.” On why serious drinkers should own a separate refrigerator for their implements: “Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.” On the benefits of sangria: “You can drink a lot of it without falling down.”

See you at the bar, friends.

EVERYDAY DRINKING

The Distilled Kingsley Amis

By Kingsley Amis

302 pages. Bloomsbury. $19.99.