Wine wine wine!

Many years ago, I got to have my first taste of organized alcohol tasting.  Thanks to RIT’s Hospitality Program and the wonderfulness of free credits, I had the opportunity to take many classes showing me the beauty of food and wine.  This was something I was already deeply passionate about, but it’s so hard to make the strides that can be made in a class room with an educator that knows their stuff.  While it started with Eric Wendorff, the executive chef for Wegmans teaching Foods of the World, it truly took off for me during Food and Wine Pairing with Holly Howell and Wines of the World I with Lorraine Hems.

There’s a discussion about catching ‘the wine bug’.  It’s something that happens to some individuals when they start drinking and learning about wine, it inflicts it’s carry with unbridled passion, questionable decision making over how many bottles they taste, and a curiosity that’s claimed 8 of 9 lives for most felines.  Wine lovers, especially the more prolific ones, usually seem to be an odd breed of people, especially the great ones like Oz Clarke or Gary Vaynerchuk.  When it gets a chef, you can end up with people like Stephen Asprinio from Top Chef.

I have many friends who have picked up their ‘bugs’ as well.  My friends Jeff and Kevin love beer with more gusto than anyone I know, and I’m waiting for their brewery.  Some of my friends have found a way to make cupcakes that blow my minds, and probably could inspire a fairly successful bakery. I picked up a ‘whiskey affliction’ a ways back.  Everyone has their poison, and for these people, to paraphrase Jerry Garcia, ‘Too much of anything is just enough.’

For me, wine has the honor of become one of those dubious things, enriching  my life, but also challenge me daily to seeking new and exciting experience.  If I have a philosophy, it’s been ‘Try everything once!’.  This philosophy is unfortunately somewhat problematic.

This is kind of a compound issue, and it’s been growing for a while.

  1. Living at home: My parents do not share this philosophy.  They are the school of thought, “If we drink Blackstone Merlot [and no offense to Blackstone], we can get it for $5 a bottle with mail in rebate!”  This is of course wonderful, if you would like to drink Blackstone daily for months on end — I don’t.
  2. Extreme singular wine tasting, or palate burnout: I would like to think that I am able to taste and taste and taste, and not have effect me.  Unfortunately as I learned in Australia, after 30 wines I can barely make astute observations.  If I would like to taste wine in a judging capacity in the future,  I am going to need to work on my tasting, writing, and diversity of experiences.  This compounds with the tasting the same wine over and over, especially recently, I feel my palate has gotten in a rut.
  3. Try everything is nice, but I want to share!: I love the idea of trying everything, but if you can’t share the passion, then what’s the point.  I want to be able to put out more helpful information about wine, and get more of the people I know, or don’t know (yet) to try more wine!  It’s a great social experience, and it builds, “Hey, I tried that wine at your place, have you tried…”.  Who doesn’t want that kind of feedback.   Then there’s the old, “I need to find a wine for [event], what do you think?”  It’s great to have the background and experience to help people make these decisions.

So with this in mind, I will be attempting to share what I’ve learned with the net, and with my buddy Greg.  We’ll be posting results on: http://www.firstpourwine.com/

Feel free to give feedback, we look forward to hearing it!

Still here?

For those of you playing the home version, I’ve been sitting home for more or less the past 5 months.  In that time I’ve learned that there are certain unalienable truths to life at home.  First, and foremost, that it really does suck as much as you thought it did in high school.

Perhaps that’s being some what unfair.  After all, at home you (usually) don’t pay rent.  The furniture is usually comfortable, and plentiful.  The neighbors don’t stay up until odd hours of the night playing their newest techno track and discussing which weed is the sickest though walls that you swear should be twice as thick for building this size.

Most people that move back home still have some sense of freedom.  They’re allowed out generally till whenever they want, and can where they want, see who they want, and do whatever they please, so long as they don’t crash the car or end up in prison.  The same crap that high school allowed.

Unfortunately, some other nice parts of high school also came back:

  • Not your house, not your rules. = Your ass is grass and I’m gonna smoke it again.
  • While you’re at it, keep your friends to a reasonable number  = No parties.
  • House guests that are over night are going to be a) awkward or b) unwelcome = No girls allowed overnight OR Don’t get drunk and crash here. [This really means don't get drunk here.]
  • There will be questions if you’ve applied for a job today.  = Did you do your homework
  • Did you get an interview?  = Are your test grades back.
  • I think you should make some changes in your resume = You’re still here?
  • Are you drinking again? = This is just one of many judgments about your life style your parents will disagree with.
  • The internet will probably be less stable = Seriously, while I was writing this, I lost internet.

This is not a trend that’s a good thing after college.   None of this even gets into the mind rot that occurs from sitting around.  However, when you say, want to throw a wine party to get back into the swing of things, this creates a hugely irritating set of circumstances that are hard to change.  This isn’t different from college where you had to respect everyones wishes about sharing your domicile, but even small gatherings get harder when you don’t even ‘rent’ the space.

Ultimately, it’s just one more frustration.  Back to the drawing board. [I still gotta buy one of these, and they're freaking expensive.]

Things I’ve learned from Top Chef All Stars

Every season of Top Chef, I draw all sorts of inspiration from watching the chefs’ creativity, and this season was by far one of the best.  While for us home viewers we have to do without the tastes, smells, and liquid nitrogen, we do get access into some of the inner workings of the mad-cap minds that are the movers and shakers of the younger chefs.  So, without further ado, first and foremost;

Congratulations to Richard Blais!

Things I’ve learned:

1. In terms of making a dish, I am not particularly focused on the composition.  Time and time again my dishes have been lacking in the ability to bring their components to work together.  I must work on this.

2.  My contemplation of wine with food probably has a similar problem.  I need to taste more wines more frequently to understand the main high points and the subtleties better, and match them more completely to dishes.

3.  I’m still a food addict, and I should either get around to that cooking / food blog, or get in a kitchen ASAP.  Now where are those reservation for Le Cordon Bleu in London?

4.  I used to love Marcel, but now I understand what it is about him that makes him such an unlovable ponce.  Technique without comradere is rubbish.

5.  Everyone has their own palate, balance is key.  This is very easy to forget but so critical.

The reunion special was also great fun, but I was sad to see Fabio miss fan favorite.  Fortunately, Top Chef Masters is now starting, so even more fun to be had, but Curtis Stone needs to warm up.  The whole thing is kind of feeling half-baked (needs some flame! passion!) with him at the moment.

Sinuses, sinuses, go away!

My weekend in Rochester was absolutely fantastic! Aside from having a great time at the career fair, there was also plenty of food and wine fueled shenanigans with the most awesome friends in the world, all with a little bit of Magic the Gathering mixed in.  Who knew duck faces, pong, sushi, and a bass guitar could make such an incredible evening.  Now where is my shirt.  Oh right, the kitchen.

With all this fun though, of course karma has to spin the wheel around and give me a nice conch for my trouble.  Aside from an amazingly dull ride back along I-90 (which isn’t new), I have some kind of sickness between my jaw screaming at me, and my sinuses giving my adenoids a kick in the uvula.  Overall, I rate the experience a dull pain in the ass, trending toward slight fever.  Of course, the seasons have basically gone and kicked into spring, so this whole thing could be allergies, but ultimately it’s making me very lethargic and irritable.  If I hadn’t cut back on the drinking, well the joke is too easy to make, and I don’t feel like getting booed off stage.

Really all I have for the moment, I’m just too tired to really get into anything more complicated, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on, and hopefully I can elaborate on more of it soon!

California Rollin: Chef Justo’s Vacation

Earlier this season on Top Chef: All Stars, there was a challenge at Le Bernardin involving cleaning and portioning fish.  Anthony Bourdain, introduced Chef Justo Thomas, who can break down fish at god like speed, and with amazing quality.  When Justo goes on vacation it takes 3 trained sous chefs to do what Justo does in a day.  Le Bernardin is one of the most exclusive and highest quality restaurants in the world, so as Bourdain put it, ‘…one missed scale, and it could turn into a “it used to be good” situation’.  Of course, this is a CNN moment for a world class restaurant like Le Bernardin, which is something that a restaurant with prices like it’s just can’t handle.

Most restaurants don’t have this problem.  Bad meals happen, and they do their best to make it right when they do have an issue.  In general, when you consider how many people eat out and the complexity of catering to all their demands, it’s amazing more restaurants don’t get it wrong.   People generally give an appropriate amount of leeway based on price, setting, and how often they go to the place.  For example, if the Manhattan 4 star restaurant screws up you’re gonna tell people just what you think of them.  (Gordon Ramsay, I love you, you’re fantastic, but we need to talk about your London in NYC and my meal there.)  If your local McDonald’s  or the diner you’ve been going to for years screws up, you’re going to be upset, maybe mention it, but you’re probably going to go back.

For years I’ve been going to California Rollin in Rochester, NY at their Village Gate location.  The restaurant indeed did have a lot of buzz when I first got to RIT,  and indeed, it was good.  The flavors of the fish were clean and crisp, the tobiko popped in a wonderful salty fishy way on your tongue, and the wasabi was sinus clearingly delicious.   Even the tea was nice.  Back then they had fish tanks.

For a while, I considered it the best sushi I had had in upstate New York.  It was certainly one of my favorite restaurants in Rochester.  Over the years little changes started happening.  Some of the changes were just a necessity of the situation with the economy,  such as prices rising on nigiri night from $1 to $1.25 a piece, (a similar dollar increase happened on all you can eat Wednesday).  The fish tanks had less and less fish, until they were eventually gone.  The sushi seemed to get a little less fresh.  Piranha,  a rival sushi joint opened with Cali Rollin ex-employees, and regional sushi got better. The service, which had never been particularly stellar, got worse too.

This is generally a very bad sign in a place that makes a living selling raw fish.

Today, I was in the mood for sushi, and given I’m not in Rochester as much as I used to be, I thought I’d give it another go.  They usually have a lunch special of 3 rolls + miso soup for $14.99.  Fair enough, the price was kind of high, (I’ve had cheaper sushi lunch deals in Manhattan for the same deal), but this is supposed to be quality sushi for the area.  As usual, the restaurant was some what full, and I took a seat at the bar, where I promptly receive a menu and a hot towel.

Normally, this is where I’d also receive an order form.  No worries though, this menu was shiny and new, and recently printed, ‘they’re making improvements’ I thought to myself!  The menu was pretty much identical to the old menus, and by the time I got through it, I had finally received an order form.  I picked 3 rolls, a raw roll, a cooked, and a tempura roll, and waited some more.  When the 3rd different waitress I had had picked up my order, she asked if I’d like some Seafood Bisque which is  free on Fridays.  Free Bisque?  Sign me up!

This was a mistake.

Things that are worrisome in a sushi restaurant:

  • Empty raw fish house.
  • Any discount on a Monday.
  • Any form of free soup containing things that may or may not be there because they didn’t move during the week.  Especially if it’s labeled ‘while it lasts’.

The bisque was unfortunately an  insipid mix of squid, fish, crab, and lobster.  The lack of flavor in the free soup might have been forgivable with the price of free, but the 3 shells I pulled out of less than 6 oz of soup was unacceptable.  As Tom Colicchio mentioned in his All Stars blog, sometimes making the extra unnecessary something can hurt you rather than help you because it takes away time from doing what is necessary.

The flavorless bisque also took a while to get to me, about 10 minutes, while the guy that came in after me got bisque and a beer in minutes.  For some reason, the 4 – 5 floor staff are always inconsistent.  It’s a bit like watching a dance where the choreography is slightly off every step of the way.  Where you’ll get all the waitresses or none of them.  It should be added that for the number of tables in the room, this seems poorly managed, there are perhaps only 40 – 60 seats in the restaurant in the winter, and 70 – 80 in the summer.  15 of the seats are the bar, and the tables aren’t that fair apart.

The sushi rolls I order actually arrived quite promptly.  The two girls behind the sushi bar were actually quite quick and focused on what was going on in the dining room.  The rice at California Rollin was excellent, and airy but sticky packing of well seasoned rice.  The wasabi tobiko coating the Spank Me roll were also sinus burning fun  That’s about where the good comments ended.

The Spank Me roll crab was not imitation, but was vaguely fishy.  The Courtney roll contained tuna and eel, but neither seemed particularly fresh or flavorful.  It could have been salmon, and both changed color throughout the roll.  The Bourbon roll had tasty deep fried texture of tempura and nice hot sauce and mayo, but the crawdads were overcooked and very chewy.   To top it off, the sushi chef noticed before the waitresses that I need to be checked out.  (which props to her, because she was on her game, she even remembered my name.)

California Rollin still has the elements to be great again.  Quality is down at a very low level, and competition like Sake House are making better sushi for cheaper.  Hopefully, things improve soon.  I however will not be returning any more.

In other words, ‘Chef Justo’ has left the building / It used to be good.

 

Delays, delays, delays

So it only seems fitting that I start this right before I go back to Rochester for the weekend.  The time I stopped was right after I returned from Rochester and caught food poisoning, for the second time, which laid me out for over a day and put a serious damper on my enthusiasm.  However, a little food poisoning can’t stop me, so on with the show.

Right about now, I shouldn’t be blogging.  No, in fact, right now I should be at the gym.  Today is a core day, and hopefully at some point after the past 5 weeks, a week where I lose some weight instead of gain / seesaw.  Going to Rochester  almost certainly means a ton of delicious food, but that’s a weight gain that’s worth it.  So why am I here instead of there?

Well, as it turns out, iTunes likes to make sure that any music you’ve kept as wma’s is secondary in priority behind say, 3000+ album artwork covers, or gapless playback for 15,000+ songs.  This of course helps it stall out in the middle of the night, with 2000 songs still to convert.  This, as you can imagine is a rather annoying inconvenience.  So, after 8 hours trying to go through iTunes, remove duplicates, make playlists, and praying really hard it will convert songs while I sleep, I pretty much ended up exactly where I started, and very pissed off.  Honestly, it’s over 10 years since Napster, and it’s as though Apple still doesn’t understand there are more than a handful of audio formats.  It’s shamefully difficult really.

Well, at least some of the music I want made it on to the phone, with any luck, I’ll be able to get the rest on.  Aside, from the music troubles, I’m looking forward to a pretty good weekend.  Food nights, old friends, and adventures.  What more can you ask for?

Once More With Gusto

Over the years I’ve really taken this blog from having a lack of having a person to interface with at 3 am to something that’s designed to be more of a food / media content producing blog.  There are of course several advantages to this, the content is more useful, it’s more standardized, and it’s more based in facts.  That however isn’t the point of this space.

I’ve always enjoyed writing.  I think it’s a particularly good way to condense feelings and thoughts, organize them in a rational or irrational way, and finally share them with everyone.  Writing is creativity, and this is no different that making movies, a recipe, or a song.  Creativity is the original package of you, expressed by you, as only you can.  Creativity is soul.  Creativity though isn’t usually particularly powerful own it’s own, so we add something, structure.

Structure provides the framework, the skeleton, the solid bits and connective tissues for the expression to be more than an idea in a person head or a rambling to one’s self or friend.  In the case of this entry, the structure is grammar, spelling, context, and sequence.  These are the bits that aren’t that much fun on their own, but when they all come together make the process as fluid as running when in danger or reaching quickly to catch a falling glass.  They’re the part that keeps the whole thing instinctive.

Lastly, as a society, we feel the need to share and interact with others.  We take the creative and structure, and we lace a skin over it.  In the past this could be a book if you were lucky, or writing your story and sending it to the Atlantic.   Perhaps making home movies with some friends like James Rolfe of Cinemassacre.   If you hit the jackpot, Star Search or Late Night with Jay Leno. Whatever it was, it was hard to share, you needed special equipment or connections, or just a lot of luck.

Now though, it’s easy to package yourself and ship out copies.  Hit the music scene via your computer, make a movie of you jumping off the roof of a house into a pool, or find Twitter and get 1,000 followers to tell them all about your day.   Ghost in the Shell got it backwards, the souls are in the net.

There’s an old saying that beauty is only skin deep, and so we push, we treat creativity like an accessory, not a heart.  Not a drive.  We emulate Clarkson [either of them].  Success becomes formulaic.  As a prominent Twitter user I follow recently tweeted, ‘imitation is the surest way to finish second’. The true artists and visionaries let their passion lead from the heart, not a differentiator on a Facebook wall.

This blog has never been meant to be a media / cooking blog.  Personally, it just feels wrong to me to continue it as such.  I love those things though, and so I will say I’m planning to make sure that those things will become available from me in future somewhere else.  For now though, this blog is about whatever I want it to be, and no more pushing preformed, half-baked ideas in skins just like everyone else.

Consider this me hitting the randomize button.

*It’s also because WordPress is slightly draconian with their copyright.