Thursday, November 20, 2014

the magic is back


a bottle of frank cornelissen's contadino 4 from the 2006 vintage opened in new orleans in 2012 was one of my first conversion wines: a bottle that changed my mind about what we should drink and why we should drink it. ashy, fizzing, the colour of rhubarb stems, the scent of ripe crushed raspberries and cider, the flavour of basalt and cinders. it was a magic bottle, and each case of contadino would have, if you were very fortunate, a single magic bottle. (often it would have no magic bottles but many undrinkably acetic ones.) nonetheless, i lavished hard-earned doubloons on more contadino from various later vintages hoping to replicate that first experience. no luck. with each successive vintage, contadino remained a crazy patchwork long-macerated blend of red and white grapes but slowly became more extracted and stable. reliably tasty; no longer a catalogue of wine flaws with the potential to be confusingly and improbably delicious.

but the magic is back with last night's bottle of cornelissen's susucaru 6 (vintage 2013)—one of a pair which traveled from etna to cambridge ma to london, to be opened on the spur of the moment at the remedy. the other bottle was undrinkable but i drank it anyway. vive la variance.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

a philosophy of practice

the bear pond espresso technique:
  1. Pure water must flow equally through the total espresso bean. 
  2. Like water, coffee beans are natural resources and must not be wasted. 
  3. Like the mind, equipment can be dimmed, so all equipment must be cleaned until like new.
[found at kauffman mercantile; also see no. 8 bear pond]

Thursday, November 13, 2014



faggots, with prunes, turnips, and turnip greens. a very small, crisp-crusted duck and orange pie with a fine tangle of pickled red cabbage. cauliflower and nutmeg croquettes. potato soup with small cubes of eel. buttermilk pudding with a dark gingersnap and poached quince.

while the prospect of winding over to bermondsey is grim on the one hand, on the other i leap at any opportunity to have a meeting at 40 maltby street, one of the early examples of a stream of london retail innovation whose kitchen—run by steve williams—turns out gentle, confident plates of nearly perfect restraint, proportion, and execution.

as you can see, this was not a grouse.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

sous les pavés, la vigne

the remains of the day

started in paris and now has sprouted an offshoot in lyon—which is like a smaller, much less crowded, prettier, cleaner paris, with more cream added. about 40 producers, which is just the right size to explore deeply over the course of two days. many were indifferent, some were good, but only a few were surprising. considering lyon's location, there was an inexplicable and regrettable absence of vignerons from the jura and savoie at this exposition.

sebastien poly's "damianu" (an unsulphured biodynamic old-vine sciaccarellu) was pure, bright, and lively with a hint of earth—it changed my mind about wine from corsica. and massimo coletti's "l'innominato" (an experimental undisgorged metodo classico made not from glera but a blend of manzoni rosso and manzoni bianco) was precise, crisp, and creamy—if more sparkling wine from the veneto tasted like this, i would like more sparkling wine from the veneto.

Thursday, October 9, 2014



at samovar's new bar on valencia street, tea is made in gleaming glass and milled steel. the lure of control through shiny techno-nerdery may finally nudge tea into the world of the technologically obsessive consumer. but the best tea will always be made by hand from leaves selected with discernment and with an attention to how each brew changes from moment to moment—an approach which did not help hayes valley's modern tea stay afloat and open.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

sébastien gaudard

at the shop on martyrs, the non-traditional croissants are different every day—which is not necessarily a good thing. they can be extremely flat or stand fairly tall, a bit underbaked or perfect. the inside is almost always moister than the norm, not overtly buttery, and a little sweeter than usual. they appear to have a very thin apricot glaze or, at any rate, something slightly sticky and sweet on top. when baked right, they are mysteriously delicious.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

canard à la presse


as the GMO debacle demonstrates, pockets of resistance are essential when the crowd embraces novelty and turns on what is tested and true. otto's rigid adherence to tradition may seem at first a manifestation of luddite tendencies but in truth represents careful observation of what is enjoyable, satisfying, and good. burgundy* and an antique silver duck press from christofle in the style of the tour d'argent are not necessary for this preparation but sure are nice. on the other hand, properly souffléed potatoes are an entirely different story. the crunch of the carcass yielding under the turn of the screw—and the gurgle of the mingled marrow and blood streaming into the jug that awaits—may make this experience unsuitable for vegetarians.

* lamy, st aubin "derrière chez edouard" 2009; bachelet-monnot maranges "la fussière" 2010; buisson, st-romain "sous roche" 2009. all still tight and crunchy but nice regardless.

Monday, July 28, 2014

wine nerd pals

on the edgware road at the end

one for the books: a hot, dry, london afternoon spent hydrating assiduously with fellow wine nerds under the umbrellas in the back garden at kandoo on the edgware road. lunch can stretch effortlessly over seven hours when there are many things to eat and drink* and much to discuss.

* j. lassalle, blanc de blancs brut 2002; cedric flaction, païen 2010; immich-batterieberg, escheburg 2012; schloss neuweier, goldener loch GG 2012; clos de la marechale, NSG 2010 and 2011; ch. grand-puy-lacoste, pauillac 1988; casa pardet, tempranillo reserva 1995; julien frémont, pur pom 2009; cold-brewed assam tea.

Monday, July 7, 2014

fools are a dime a dozen

st john bread and wine

but a good fool is hard to find. the english demotic dessert tradition ("pudding"), which flourishes at st john bread and wine, is characterized by many things, not the least of which is a close attention to humble components with textures which must be finely judged in production: fools, jellies, junkets, trifles, possets, custards, creams, and such.

above, walnut cream with blueberries, cherry jelly with lemon sables (partly occluded), and strawberry trifle with toasted almond flakes. this is not french pastry—nor should it be.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

day and night

10 greek le mont 2009 a smear cialla bianco 2001 chamois du paradis 2010 savagnin 2001

at 10 greek street, we looked in luke's leatherbound book of monthly beverage specials to accompany several impeccably cooked plates of simple food. in such a situation, four hours passed quickly. also note the intelligent and fuss-free container for condiments, menus, and table settings. later that day—much, much later—some decisions were made by others which i approved of completely.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

a secret ingredient


the bartender leaned over and said:
"el queso fresco en mi tarta de cuatro quesos es muy, muy secreto—pero te dire que: filadelfia."
this was one of the many attractions of hondarribia.

Thursday, June 12, 2014



the core of the kitchen is a large woodpile (sheltered but open to the elements, and featuring an extensive chainsaw collection), a pair of furnaces for producing embers, and a bank of asadors on which nearly everything the kitchen produces is cooked. under the asadors, a collection of kitchen equipment not normally associated with the application of direct or indirect heat: fine mesh strainers that allow smoke-laden air and radiant heat to pass to the ingredients contained within, and a caviar grill hacked together from a cut-up pot and a spatter guard.

the gambas were peerless, and what a good idea it is to heat the custard for an ice cream gently at the mouth of a smoky furnace before spinning it.

asador etxebarri
plaza de san juan, 1
atxondo, spain

Saturday, May 31, 2014

un croissant, un chien, et deux cuisiniers

59 rds

now that visits to paris are dominated by a burgeoning research project on natural wine tacit knowledge networks, it is tough to find time to give laminated dough products the detailed examination they deserve—unless the opportunity for a drive-by shooting presents itself. after coffee, emperor norton and their over-affectionate but touchably soft mutt brought me to 59 RdS (at 59 rue de saintonge), whose croissant was Extremely Good. savoury but not salty, it did not self-eviscerate when pulled apart and was appropriately bronzed. however, the crust was neither crisp nor tender (instead, fairly workmanlike), and the crumb—while open and uniform—was custardy and bready in places due to many collapsed laminations. very creditable, one of the best in years, and with a unique savour, but not at the level of the croissants from the obsessives at the tokyo manufactory of eric kayser, at least a few years ago. (the same kayser whose paris shops are now, to put it charitably, not worthwhile.)

Monday, May 19, 2014



a special edition weinland gummi pack for the homeland of haribo. the mosel, rightly, is pale and transparent, while the rhein is appropriately yellow. but the landwein of main are nothing like the pure wines of the saar, yet the saar gummi and the main gummi look and taste identical. this special edition gummi pack raises more questions than it answers.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

a book by its cover

le grolle 2011/12

read the label, know the wine. it is hard to acquire the skill and wisdom necessary to work with the material while resisting the temptation to do or add more—and still make good, good-humoured wine. in a different domain, james krenov comes to mind.

"Produced without harming man or the land. I develop my wine with the grapes, by observing and understanding nature."

this is what the industrial wine complex does with such a winemaker.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

apples and pears


day one.

"so. you will have the pear or the apple?"
"with the calvados. the pear or the apple?"
"the apple?"
"no, the pear is very special. you will have the pear."
"just as you say."

some time passes.

"how do you like it?"
"it's great. sweet but the sour cream gives balance. it is like a tarte tatin made with a treacle pudding sponge instead of the usual pastry. do you make it?"
"ah, no no no. my mother makes all the tarts. one day someone gave us a big bag of pears from their tree and it was too much to eat. they were all going soft. so she tried this thing and that thing to use them up and then she came up with this masterpiece. i think she blanches the pears in some alcohol and then there is brown sugar and she puts the paper on it and then takes the paper off. when it is baking, you know? but it is a secret, the receipt. she will not tell any of us. one time, she was in a very bad accident and had to go to the intensive care. she woke up and the first thing she said to me—i was there with my sister—was 'you must write down the recipe or else if i die there will be no more tart.' so we found some paper and were getting ready to write it down when the doctor comes in. 'what are you doing?' he asks. so we tell him we're writing down the pear tart recipe in case mother dies and he says 'she's not dying, you idiots.'"

day two.

"so your mother makes all the tarts and pies?"
"oh yes. she also makes the apple pie which all the tourists like because how can you come to amsterdam and not eat apple pie? except for the cheesecake. it is a new york style cheesecake. this guy used to work for a bank nearby and he came here for lunch every day. then he retired early and moved to the country but he came in two, three times a week to have lunch with his cronies. at first it was like 'while you're down in the basement, can you bring us up some tomatoes?' and then it was 'can you cut the tomatoes before you bring them up?' now he works here one day a week and he makes cheesecake. he brings a suitcase full of dessert with him on the train."
"maybe i'll try the apple pie this time."

day three.

"i'll have a beer and a slice of the pear tart, please."
"so. you like the pear more than the apple?"
"the apple pie is good but the pear tart is excellent. do you run out of it every day?"
"my mother hates it when we run out of the pear tart. because then she has to bake more of it. she lives in a house in my garden and i have, i have—what is the word for this?"
[from the kitchen, the smallest one in amsterdam:] "the word is 'enslaved.'"
"thank you. i have enslaved her. she says it is bullshit. '73 years old and i bake five days a week. what kind of retirement is that?' she says. it is true. i tell her this is an active retirement."

van kerkwijk
nes 41, amsterdam

Sunday, March 30, 2014


bread sacks
carrer del baluart, 38.

baluard—just a few blocks from the sea in barceloneta—is one of the few places in barcelona at which good bread may be found. at 7.15am, the shop is full of people buying bread and pastry, the shop van is stuffed with sacks of bread.

Friday, March 28, 2014


recuit de vaca

not a cheese but a traditional curd dairy product of catalonia. fresh, unsalted whole cow or goat milk is coagulated with vegetable rennet derived from cardoon flowers (C. cardunculus) dried and crushed in water in a warm mortar, the curd then partly drained in a rag pulp sheet that serves as a packaging material. note the patterning on the surface of this specimen of recuit de vaca from granja armengol—the result of the rag wrapper. the pressed curd is moist, dense, and finely textured, perfectly sweet and intensely delicious. clotet, mestres, and ponsati are the authors of an article titled "la problemàtica dels formatges de xerigot a catalunya" ("the problem of catalan whey cheeses")—worthwhile for those seeking clarity in the matter of coagulated dairy products.

Monday, March 17, 2014

some exceptions

to five months of mostly unmemorable beverages.*



rouge; 80% carignan 20% grenache noir

carema 2010

* neither a comprehensive nor an ordered listing. japan was the anomaly: a mostly unnavigable sea of delicious and drinkable novelty. ultra-low-alcohol cocktails that abandon the bitters model of flavouring in favour of amino acid savouriness, a profusion of what might be thought of as low-intervention terroir sakes, an entire world of umeshu.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

nowhere to hide


each grain of rice intact, each piece of meat lightly cooked, the gently beaten egg barely set—oyakodon such as this is simple, yet nearly impossible to find.
Understanding evolves through three phases: simplistic, complex, and profoundly simple.
william schutz, profound simplicity.
[with thanks to dw, reliable guide to the otherwise unheralded gems of tokyo.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014



a cold, wet day spent walking around a wind-swept island prepares you well for large quantities of starch. immediately after landfall in takamatsu—udon capital of an udon-obsessed prefecture—we made for tsurumaru, the first of three udon specialists and a tiny, fairly seedy shop near the port where the tables turned every 7 minutes. skip the oden, go for the udon: handmade before your eyes (if you're facing the right direction), briefly and precisely cooked, served in dashi with a scatter of scallions. the dashi is strongly flavoured from dried sardines and mackerel, so this is not a retiring wallflower bowl of soup. the usual add-ins are available but only the poorly executed noodle needs to hide beneath a veil of garnish.

Monday, February 24, 2014

the convention


we made a pitstop in osaka for the express purpose of attending the 8th annual international umeshu convention (there were a few representatives from china). there is more umeshu out there than you might imagine and a very small fraction of it is remarkable.

Friday, February 21, 2014

the hardware store

singapore has become a bubbling fountain of money looking for places to be spent*, so third wave cafes are now popping up like mushrooms after the rain. chye seng huat hardware is a roaster-cafe by the people behind papa palheta and loysel's toy. the buildout is marvelous to a fault: it is as if they have lifted a san francisco cafe complete with plaid-clad hipsters out of its tech money-funded cocoon and into the tropics. the signs of being in singapore are there, but they are few in number.


* while the 1% live "world-class lives," city infrastructure is at or beyond capacity and there is a palpable feeling of unease and discontent among everyone else. is it a good idea to have almost 7 million people living on this island by 2020?