Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In Which I Review Three Italian Wine Lists In Chicago: Osteria Langhe, Ceres' Table & Acanto.

There has been, as of late, a collective sigh of disappointment among industry colleagues regarding the state of wine writing in Chicago. There is none. New York has Eric Asimov, San Francisco has Jon Bonné, and Chicago- well, crickets. Do you hear them chirping? They are singing about small batch cocktails! And the tumbleweeds are buying craft beer.

I think this sad state of affairs can be be attributed to the dismal fiscal states of our two city papers (I use this term loosely) The Sun-Times and The Tribune. Outlets such as The Reader, Time-Out Chicago, Thrillist, and the various on-line sites that devote space to food and drinks have writers that seem much more comfortable in the beer and cocktail realm. I want to exclude John Lenart and Michael Nagrant from this fold because I feel as if both these writers enjoy and have made an attempt to include wine in their writings. But mostly, restaurant reviewers avoid the subject of wine completely. And as a wine drinker living in a city of wine drinkers, this is sad news.

I have decided to take this space here and "review", and talk about, three wine lists in Chicago. I may continue to do this in the future. All three lists belong to restaurants that have opened this year. The most difficult part of this exercise is my fear that criticism of any type could revert back to the shop, and having worked in the Chicago market for 14 years, I have connections to all these people. However, if we are going to do this, let's do it. Let's get the conversation going about wine.

I truly hope that in the interest of opening a dialogue about wine, that this post is received positively. I welcome any commentary, granted that it is constructive.

So, I am going to try and be fair and transparent. I decided not to interview any of the three wine directors about their lists, because I wanted to try and interpret their visions without any extra information. I am happy to also write a follow-up with their points of view. I think this is the best way to go about this.

The restaurants whose lists I have decided to take a look at this week are: Osteria Langhe, Ceres' Table & Acanto. I have neither eaten nor been in any of these restaurants yet, but the advantage to looking at wine lists is that you do not have to taste anything to get the story. Some may find this completely ludicrous, but I taste often enough, and know many of the producers intimately. I printed out each of the wine lists at home, and these are my findings. 

2824 W. Armitage
Chicago, IL 60647

Let's just get this out of the way: I have known Aldo Zaninotto, co-owner and wine buyer, for over 12 years and consider him a friend.

The logo at Osteria Langhe has a small banner that reads "cibo e vini tipici piemontese", or the typical food and wine of Piedmont. There are 58 D.O.P. in Piemonte, 13 of which are represented on the list. Several of these DOP are pretty obscure and possible not represented on the market, but I think as the restaurant continues to grow in popularity and flourish, he could really have quite the collection here. 

The BTG (by the glass) list shows good range, from a Favorita (aka Vermentino or Rolle) to a Chardonnay (there is a large amount growing in this region) in the white section, and the holy trinity of reds (Dolcetto, Barbera & Nebbiolo) plus a few interesting others in the red BTG selection.

The bottle list is small, but very nice. Two, count 'em, two Ruchés are represented along with a Grignolino and a Freisa, so even some of these obscure accessory grapes get menu time. I love that this list, while Nebbiolo heavy (not a bad things in my mind) also pays attention to the little guys. However, at $72.00/ bottle, the 2010 Vietti Barolo Castiglione is such a steal you shouldn't be drinking anything but that. Sure it's young but you may die tomorrow! There are so many nice things here, especially on the red side, that it would be hard to choose just one bottle.

The big issue I have with the list is organization and lack of symmetry. The organizational scheme (sub-regions/DOP of Piemonte) would be difficult to navigate for a diner who is not a sommelier, and even then, is a cause for consternation. In some listings, the varietal is stated and in other listings it is not. In most cases the producer is listed first, but not all the listings. The Sperino Lessona is listed as a DOC under the sub-region of Lessona, but then so is Clerico's Spanna, a DOP outside of Lessona, although Clerico is located in Lessona. We need a map. Aldo, where are the maps?

Other confusing listings are: "Braida di Giacomo Bologna Bricco dell'uccellone" (Under Alba, it's a Barbera D'Alba but there is really no way of knowing this due to the exclusion of the DOP) and "Braida di Giacomo Bologna Il Baciale"which is a Barbera/Pinot Noir blend and technically from Monferrato, for which there has a separate category but for some reason, he lists this under Alba. Again, I surmise it is probably the location of the producer, but that's a lot of guess work on my part.

I found this list a bit hard to navigate, but I am also seeing that there are really some terrific and exciting wines to drink here. I imagine the list really comes to life when Aldo is on-hand to help. So shame on me for not eating/drinking here yet!

3124 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657

Let's just get this out of the way: I have known Giuseppe Scurato (the Chef) and Scott Manlin (wine buyer and partner) also for 12 years. I worked under Giuseppe (in the FOH) when he was the Chef de Cuisine at MK, and Scott I met as a customer there and would describe our relationship over the years as warm acquaintances, with many mutual friends.

I was happily surprised by the depth and affordability of this menu upon first reading. They have gone for a "styles category" approach here and include a three or four word description underneath each wine. This is a good idea, especially for a neighborhood restaurant that may not have the wine director on the floor every night. The wines really come to life with this context, although, like with any type of tasting note, some of these go overboard. Some did honestly make me so thirsty though I nearly had a glass of wine at 10am!

Varieties are neatly highlighted in bold letters which I think is very helpful, and for the most part symmetry is respected, although on the current on-line menu there are a few errors: Montepulciano is in bold for Avignonesi; the variety here should be Prugnolo Gentile or more simply Sangiovese. The Paolo Bea Montefalco is composed of Sagrantino, not Sangiovese (as stated) and there is no new oak on the Passopisciaro Etna Rosso (only neutral large barrels are used for this bottling). The tasting note for the Lageder Pinot Grigio is confusing: "stewed fruit, baking spice, perfume". These cannot possibly describe a basic tank aged Pinot Grigio, so perhaps this is the "Porer" bottling and if so, shouldn't that be noted on the menu?

Am I nit picking? Yes! But my wine lists were never, ever free of mistakes so I think it is good to have several sets of eyes going over the list, especially before you commit them to printing. 

What I love about this list is its uncompromised devotion to Italy, and fearless approach. This wine menu, in the way it is written and laid out, allows the diner to plunge headfirst into an unknown sea, with a bit of information and a sense of what kind of water they will find. The fact that they are willing to feature 14 different expressions of Nerello Mascalese, the noble grape of Mount Etna, in order to pay homage to Chef Scurato's roots is inspiring (although the fact that Passopisciaro is misspelled at least twice, as well as Catarratto, is not so inspiring). There is also an extended rosé list, and a nice "orange wine" selection, which they thankfully, chose to keep off the BTG program. Orange wines are terrible choices for BTG due to perishability and expense. I applaud them for being smart.

Overall, a big thumbs up here, for me. And another shame on you Shebnem for not going to the new location yet.

***UPDATE 09/05/14: All this has been fixed on the Ceres' Table Wine List. And the Paolo Bea bottling was the Montefalco Rosso, not the Sagrantino di Montefalco, which IS indeed a blend of Sangiovese & Sagrantino.

18 S. Michigan
Chicago, IL 60603 

Let's just get this out of the way: while I don't know Jon McDaniel very well, the wine director at Acanto (and The Gage and The Dawson), I held this position at The Gage and Henri for 7 years. I am friends with the Chef of this restaurant (Chris Garownski) and also hold the owner, Billy Lawless, and his family, dear to my heart.

Now closed, Henri was re-concepted as Acanto, and opened last week.

First of all, for a tiny restaurant (70 seats?) this is a ginormous list, 16 pages came off my home printer. Organization is a little chaotic, with all types of headers being employed (DOP, Regions, Style Categories and more!). Jon also employs the three and four word tasting note, but his are less succinct than those at Ceres' Table. There is a category of whites called "Glass Jumpers" with many things from Piemonte, so why not put those wines in the Piemonte section? Well, for one thing, all "Glass Jumpers" are white and Piemontese only features red wines and I am puzzled by this bifurcation, although I have to say I wanted to drink nearly all the "Glass Jumpers" this minute! 

I am happy he devotes some small space to Valle D'Aosta (a personal favorite) and Northern Italy (other than Piemonte). And there is a nice fat section for the Veneto, devoid of the usual suspects with some fascinating wines. I would tuck right in there! And while the Tuscan section is neither alarming nor surprising, there are many classic producers that I forgot I really loved, and this was a nice reminder that they are still making wines, and that I should drink them once in a while. A lovely, respectful nod to the wonderful and noble grape, Sangiovese.

While the sections devoted to Sicily and Sardegna are well fleshed out, there is a glaring error in the Sicilian section. Passopisciaro's "Franchetti" is not, and has never been made from Cabernet Franc. It has always been a Petit Verdot/Cesanese D'Affile blend.

There is also an odd choice of terminology being employed in his orange wine/rosé section, although I think it is so smart to put these two categories together. This section is called "Wines of Color". Given what is going on in the world, in Ferguson, etc. I find this heading unfortunate, and honestly, a bit distasteful. The fact that he also chooses to feature the now infamous racist ranter Fulvio Bressan's wines on the list does not help matters either. Hash tag awkward!

Another section that goes off the rails for me are the last few pages which are all over the place- Italian Grapes grown on American soil, Pinot Noir (American & Burgundy) Rhone Grapes and Bordeaux Grapes. Perhaps these sections were created to alleviate the burden of some of Henri's leftover inventory; I do not know but they seem like wines out of step with the rest of the menu.

The BTG list here was less compelling to me than the bottle list. $42 for a 6 ounce glass of Brunello? It had better had be a "life-changer" as promised by it's description. To be fair, this is a "reserve" pouring. The rest of the BTG prices are certainly in step with location and food quality. Speaking of pricing, one of the nicer things about this list is its range. If you feel like balling it out with a 1998 Scavino Barolo "Bric Dël Fiasc" ($285)- yes, you can! Feel like keeping it cheap and happy with a 2011 Bastianich Sauvignon Blanc ($45)? Yes, you can do that too.

I think this list could ultimately use some pruning, and Jon will have time to do this. I suspect in a year it will be much tighter and more focused, and has the potential to be a very exciting list for Chicago. But clearly a lot of thought and devotion was put into this and it shows.

Another shame on Shebnem for not going down there yet.

UPDATE 09/05/14: The Passopisciaro Franchetti now has the correct blend on the menu.


Summary: 3 interesting Italian wine lists and 3 shame on Shebnems!!!!! How much more shaming can I take? I suppose I will find out when I hit "publish" for this post!!!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Beaucoup de Muscles!

Before I left for France, I completed a course on-line that would allow me to officially validate any crossfit athlete's performance in any of the 2014 open WODs. Every year Reebok holds a competition that names one male and one female athlete "fittest of all". I will never be that woman, but the open workouts are always challenging and fun to try.

The on-line course took me three hours to complete, but I was glad to have done it. It ended up coming in handy when we traveled to the city of Besançon, France, the capitol of Franche-Comté, just to complete the 14.4 workout. I may also be the only living soul to be certified by Reebok AND the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Somethings I learned:

1)At the end of a lift, you gotta lock it the fuck out. Otherwise, no rep.

2) Toes to bar? Both feet better touch the bar at once. Otherwise no rep.

3) Wall balls? Get that motherfucking squat below parallel and the ball has gotta make contact with the wall. Otherwise... well you get the picture.

Thankfully, the only person I had to no rep was my traveling companion Jennie, and she knew it before I said it. And it was only twice.

The 14.4 WOD was a tough one. The Crossfit Box in Besançon is one of the coolest, warmest communities I have ever wandered into. They welcomed us with open arms, and support and we spent 3 hours there, helping their athletes complete the work-out, two at a time because they only had two rowers, and the workout involved rowing, among other things.

I felt good about understanding the movement standards and I was doing ok counting in French but the one thing the on-line course did not prepare me for was how to not be distracted when the shirts came off. I mean, I don't want to be a big jerk or anything, but Jesus Christ. Just watch the video. You will understand.

Hugues Taillard runs a top-notch facility, and the members there are all super-sweet. They are also mega-ripped so clearly the programming is working for them. Of the three Crossfit Boxes we visited in France, this was the best. Besançon is an interesting city too, very ancient and walled-in, fortress-like, spooky and medieval. I would have done more research and spent more time there, had I known, a strange village with its citadel still in tact from the 1600s, built by Vauban to protect this old place and block access to the Doubs River.

If you look closely you can see me ticking off reps as a judge (juge) and shyly averting my eyes from the expanse of muscles that suddenly filled my periphery. At least that's the story I gave my husband....

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In the Land of Wonder, Once Again

 I'm back here in the land of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. And the sheep.
My buddies Les Sheepies.
I am almost loathe to make the recommendation, because I am scared that if I do, word will get out and I will never be able to book a room here again, but I am going to do it. This place is bananas and the best deal in all of Burgundy. 70 Euros a night for a room (there are only two rooms, each with a luxurious shower and a king sized bed) with an unrivaled breakfast included. I have stayed here for 2 years running, Guy Détain, the owner, is the sweetest, most hospitable man on the planet. It is 7 minutes from Nuits-Saint-Georges, so if you are looking to get wasted and yell in the streets of Beaune, it is not for you. If you are looking for an excellent home base in the Côte de Nuits, this is your jam.

We did two appointments today, completely different each one.  Mr. Détain hooked us up with an excellent and small producer in Ladoix-Serrigny Domaine Christian Perrin. They make a nice range of white and red wine in Ladoix, Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton. An organic producer with 9 hectares total, the wines have depth and charm. They are well-made, classic examples of the Côte de Beaune. We were taken through the cellar and a tasting, and ended up buying too much wine which is dumb, because now we will have to figure out how to get it home. They are not exported to the US nor are they interested in this at all. Which is a huge bummer because their Aloxe-Corton is fantastic and very affordable.

We grabbed 2 sandwiches (yes, two total weeks of #faileo) and went into NSG to visit Ray Walker of Maison Ilan. Ray has been featured in the NYTs as well as Anthony Bourdain's show "No Reservations" and he has written a book chronicling his experiences so surely you can figure out the whole story without my rehashing it here.

And what to think of this very unusual producer? The wines are very very good. Clean, vibrant, pulsing in the way that good Burgundy does. He's charming and hilarious, but that is besides the point. The whole thing that matters is the wine. We tasted two 2011s in bottle (Morey-St-Denis "Monts Luisants" Rouge & Charmes-Chambertin which he labels most specifically as "aux charmes haut" which clarifies the vineyard location in this larger Grand Cru that can also encompass Mazoyères). Afterwards we went through a pretty comprehensive barrel tasting of his 2013s. All this in the stunning setting of his new elevage room in the Abbaye de la Bussière, a sort of dream fairyland built in 1131 AD complete with rolling manicured gardens, free-range shetland ponies and enough lawn on which to land a helicopter if needed. These sorts of things are not my bag, but Ray's wines age in the room underneath the old pressoir where they remain undisturbed by the surrounding grandeur until ready for bottling. The ride up to, and back from the Abbaye was rather twisty and terrifying, but you cannot really call it a wine trip without at least one harrowing drive.

We drove again and again down D974 (was RN74) and I was struck by how much I love coming here year after year, and how happy it makes me feel. As Burgundy becomes more and more exclusive and expensive, I sometimes worry that I will be priced out of what I love most, but for now I cling to, and drink from the bottles I can.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Sunday morning we flew into Paris from Chicago, got in a small rental car and drove to Nantes (4 hours). Some more normal people may have checked into the hotel and maybe a relaxed a bit, but not us. We drove over to one of the Quais that lines the Loire River and had some delicious treats.

Smoked Salmon!
Older Muscadet!

I was also able to sample a Côte Roannaise, one of the tiny misbegotten appellations in the rather nebulously named sub-region, the Loire's "central vineyards". In the Côte Roannaise, it's 100% Gamay 100% of the time, rouge and rosé only. We ate all this at La Civelle, with outside seating perched on the banks of the Loire River. The weather was balmy and it felt odd to be sitting outside, basking in the sun, after spending so much time indoors during this particularly harsh mid-western winter.

Not wanting to risk some type of terrible jet lag, we then walked and drank ourselves around Nantes in various cafés, some awesome, some dubious and decided to eat dinner at this very strange place called L'Entrecote that offers one menu, a large amount of beef for two with  frites & salad for 19 euros. The meat comes with a famous sauce for which they are known, and apparently is a top secret, but we suspected there was plenty of dill and certainly garlic. There are four L'Entrecotes in France, and although the idea of eating at a chain in this country, the gastronomic capitol of the planet, is not so appealing to me, I have to say it really was pretty delicious. Plus, I am interested in all the experiences of France, not just the elevated ones. The place is full, with a long line outside, the moment they open, and waitresses in dowdy uniforms start throwing salads at you the moment you sit down. For wine they serve a private label from Bordeaux, and we had the rosé version, one of those kind of awful, cider-y, barely fermented numbers, but in the context it was fine.

Meat! It's all they do.
The next morning, in trying to maintain a balance between rampant consumption and keeping our figures muscular, we went to a cross fit box in just outside of Nantes, at crossfit Saint Sebastien Sur Loire. There was a lot of work with pull-ups and kipping pull-ups, and then the work-out also involved these two movements (50 kipping pull-ups and 25 strict) as well as 150 walls balls. I was unable to finish the WOD due to the ripping of my callouses (see below). Plus who wants to do 150 wall balls in a jet-lagged, meat filled state??? Not I. This is the second WOD in all of my crossfit days I have not finished; the other was due to my back going out.
Ripped in France, yeah. DNF WOD over. Shoulders hurt 2 days later. Difficult to put on coat.
I recommend this crossfit box highly, they were super nice.

We thought it a bad idea to leave the Pays Nantais without sampling one of their famous buckwheat crêpes, filled with egg ham and cheese. Check out the cheery colors "Atlantique". Delicious with Muscadet.
Breton Colors.

Traditional Buckwheat crepe with egg, cheese and ham. The only meal we *paleos* have not ingested wheat. #faileoaveccheese

We then drove out to the countryside about 30 minutes and had a winery session with Fred over at Domaine L'Ecu. Fred had just returned from Chicago and was at jet lagged as we were. There we checked out his underground fermentation tanks, experimental amphorae, used Château Latour barrels and then the vines.

Underground Melon de Bourgogne.

Famous Bordeaux barrels.

Melon in its naturel state.

Artful labels at Domaine L'Ecu.
That night the street of Nantes were filled with, what other than St Patrick's Day revelers. We had some wine and paté at Au Coup de Canon, super cute with nice food selection and an ok wine selection. The we got into the fray of things, I may have drunk part of a beer, some French dudes bought us drinks and the next morning felt really bad.

Evidence of bad things happening.

I had some work to do for the shop and we drove out into Anjou territory. My hangover was odious at this point, and we did a true routier, a boxy room where for 10 euro we were able to pick through a strange buffet (vinegar-y potato salad with ham, pickled beets, vegetable terrines, marinated cucumbers) and then have a veal stew for the "main". My stomach really started to rebel here, but I had a winery appointment and powered through it. There was even a dessert, a pudding with graham cookies. And terrible coffee.
In case you are wondering, the black thing in the background is a spinach flan.
The appointment went well, and we drove into Angers for the evening and went to a fine restaurant called Chez Remi. Adorable and great, highly gastronomic with a wine list focused on the hipster natural wines that are popular with the kids these days, by this time my stomach was in full mutiny mode. Jenny ate a lot more than I did, the wine pairings were fantastic, but I wanted to die. We went back to the strange Hôtel des Plantes and I fell into a coma-like sleep from which I was grateful to emerge.

Another winery appointment, this time in Saumur (actually Turquant) and we had a classic GPS experience in which the lady tried to kill us by asking us to drive into the banks of the Loire River via someone's farm. We did not listen to that lady, and found the place, then drove to Tours, which is a fine and beautiful city. This is where we are now. In the morning, we will leave for Besançon, where more French crossfit will happen and I hope they don't kill me this time.

In another attempt to work off some of the very rich food we've had including a giant raspberry macaroon, we went down (in 70F weather mind you) to the river and did a 12 minute tabata. This is where traveling with a professional crossfit trainer really comes in handy. This is what we did:
20 seconds on/ 10 seconds off
4 minutes of double unders/ air squats
4 minutes of no push-up burpees/ push-ups
4 minutes of all four movements, 2 times each

The French people strolling and smoking along the river, seemed alarmed by the intensity of our movements but whatever, we have a lot of food going on and need to keep active. If we could sit around all day smoking and drinking we would but we cannot. It makes us fat. And we wonder why the French are so damned skinny.

In the meantime I will leave you with 3 great restaurant recommendations and some pictures. I was told there are no good restaurants in Tours, and clearly, this information is false.

Au Lapin de Fumé- as perfect as a little French bistro can get. Simple wine and food, high quality.
La Famille- Fresh and light, simple wines, breezy and really good.
L'Evidence- elegant, superb dinner.

Water glass at la Famille.

Lobster Mousse at La Famille.

Hake plat at la Famille

In general, the facades here rock.

Who doesn't love a French doorknob?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's Been a Bit, and Têtes

It's no excuse, but I am writing so much at work there has been a sad pool of neglect going on here. But perhaps it's time to remedy that.

This Saturday, I am leaving for the Motherland (you know, France). The reason I am able to do this is a culmination of meeting some financial goals at work, my wonderful boss and his sneaky ideas, and a friendship that literally saved my life.

As many of you know, I reversed some bad habits in 2013. I lost some weight, but more importantly, began to really balance a career that pathologically focused on consumption versus leading a life that is completely abstemious. I feel like I have found a groove now, and most of the time, yeah, I am a paleo, crossfitting, weightlifter who also still loves to drink wine. And sometimes on Sundays, I will eat some nachos. What's more, I will be featured along with Bobby Stuckey and Joe Bastianich in the April Edition of Wine Spectator in an article that addresses health in the food and wine industry. Did I ever imagine that I would end up in the Spectator with a 95 pound barbell held aloft? Nope. Not in a million years.

The nice part of this impending trip is that my traveling companion is a good friend, Jennifer. This is the girl that took me to a gym for the first time in many years, in June of 2012 and sat beside me, pushing and pushing, in the nicest but most unyielding way, while I found my physical self again. It was buried underneath a layer of fat and self-loathing, but it was there. And in January of 2013, I joined this wonderful place, where I spend  many hours every week, and I always feel happy. Despite my coming in with some shitty injuries and some mobility issues, they worked with me and happily I can report that except for lunging and running, I am not modifying things anymore. It is also nice to exist in a culture where a developed hamstring is considered positive and not repugnant. We have a way to go regarding our standards of beauty.

Jennifer has never been to France. I am hoping to show her this country I love so much, its people, even the annoying fonctionnaires, and the wine culture there. We also plan to crossfit in France, which will have its challenges I am sure.  But I promise promise, to log my adventures. The report of my visit to Mugnier in 2012 is often visited and reminds me that I probably have some things to say about wine.

Lastly I will leave you with some images of heads, which were the dominant theme of the Perman Wine Selections/Fat Rice combo Christmas Party. We went down to Cai where they proceeded to kill and plate many a giant sea creature for us, as well as several birds. Large format wines abounded, including Domaine de la Pepière's 2007 Clisson bottling and Clotilde Davenne's 2010 Irancy. Never had an Irancy? This is the Pinot Noir of Chablis. Taut. nervous and tart, just like me!

Long live cool climate!!!!

Someonetimes it takes awhile to find your voice again, and sometimes, it just must be silenced so you can rise anew, with unfettered spirit and something fresh to say.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Nest Threatens Absolute Emptiness, I'm Counting Down These Warm Days, All Flush With Grief.

Hi. It's been awhile. I've neglected this site, mainly due to a new, punishing routine called Crossfit and the fact that all my good writing now happens at work, in a section we call "The Wine Wire".

The good news is, there is 26 pounds less of me, with the addition of scary, scary deltoids. This has been possible at my advanced age only through a radical change in habits. "Pay to play" is the motto of an industry colleague that I respect enormously, and who has recently undergone a similar change.

It may disappoint many eating buddies, but I am now, for the most part, one of those "Paleo" converts. It's not that complicated, and I try not to be an asshole about it. I still drink plenty of wine (for a recap of the last several months, here is my instagram feed). It's not a terrible way to eat: protein, vegetables, nuts & fruit. And I will eat well made cheese from goats and sheepies. I have, for the most part, left the cows stuff behind except for their flesh which I eat joyfully on a regular basis.

I have also learned that my years up and down the stairs at Henri, coupled with my seven year hiatus from fitness, and all the incorrect forcing of turn-out during my eight years as a classical dancer (this was long ago) have caused enormous amounts of ropey, braided, nearly calcified scar tissue in the very sensitive groin, psoas & hip flexor arenas. I now pay people to stick their fingers in there and break it up. It's unpleasant, but I hope to run and jump again like a gazelle someday. One can dream.

I am also navigating the unexpectedly endless well of sadness that has come with my son's imminent leaving. I feel as if I have never lived without him, although this is untrue, and am absolutely at a loss as how to do this again. People laugh at me, because the college he has chosen is only 6 miles away but this chasm feels much larger to this Momma, and it aches.

Then there's this. According to Forbes, I am a tastemaker. You'll notice my disdainful "I hate to be photographed look". It's the look I have in almost any photo.  Maybe I should take the press photos while the people I pay are sticking their fingers into my psoas/hip flexor/groin.

We are pretty busy this year, at PWS and I find myself trying to contain the chaos of having a small space and lots of wine. Thankfully, due to the beasty strong animal I have become, a 36 pound case of wine feels like lifting a kleenex and I am able to fling many kleenex around each day. For the first three months of Crossfit, I was often in muscle failure and one time dropped a case of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint-Aubin Les Champlot 1er Cru, chipping the wax capsules and irritating Craig.

I have also promised him I will never, ever again do a "Filthy Fifty" before work. This may have been one of the most physically brutal 31 minutes of my life, excluding child birth which was 72 hours. I was a zombie afterwards. He explained to me that he did not hire a zombie.
Here is what it was, with my modification for the injuries:

50 Step Ups, 20" Box 
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 row boats on the floor
50 Push press, 35 pounds
50 Back extensions GHD
50 Wall ball shots, 12 pound ball
50 Burpees
50 Double unders (modified to calf raises, 150x)

Filthy Fifty aside, I think the biggest issue, and one that needs to be addressed is the inherent unhealthiness that resides in the world of restaurant work. The days begin to have a cycle that looks like this, and after seven years, a great toll was exacted:

7am. Alarm. Get up and make child's lunch, drive him to school (until he got old enough to get there himself). Plan to go to swimming pool and do 72 laps. Go back home, fall asleep.
11:00 am. Scramble around for coffee. Arrange transport for child back from school. Take calls from reps, assistant and private dining room manager. Order wine. Worry about shit.

Noon. Learn that there are no clean/un-ripped panty hose. Notice that dry cleaning has not been picked up. Try to assemble a professional outfit. Perpetuate a dependence upon Dry-El and a steam iron.

2pm. Get to work. Try not to rip, run or dirty already compromised work clothes. Spend 1 hour in a hot, small room trying to organize stuff and get wine into the vino-temps. Audit invoices. Train a staff.

4pm. Stuff comida into mouth. Comida is also called family meal. There have been rumors about comida being a wonderful time of staff eating together, with delicious foods made from great chefs. This was never the case at The Gage and Henri. I would call myself a good identifier of food, but there was one memorable forgettable comida in which we could not determine if the meal was made with shrimp or cauliflower. And one of the servers had a shellfish allergy. Often the comida was a hotel pan full of scraps, odds and ends vegetable peels and weird meats, bound with cheese. Sometimes it was industrially prepared tamales whose masa filling was dense as a brick, flavored with a harsh spice that reminded of chili encrusted tree bark. Sometimes it was a sickly pan of braised pork trimmings, gelatinous and glistening, a siren song for those who enjoyed meals of collagen and unrendered fat. This was served with white rice, al dente and crunchy, for texture of course. Once in a while, it was burgers. The joy on these nights was palpable, due to edibility.  No worries of mid-service diarrhea accompanied burger nights. And that's a nice assurance to have!

5pm. Start service. Run around for 6 straight hours trying to make people happy. Upstairs/downstairs. 70-80 times a night.

11pm. End service. You are wired nervous and agitated. Drink until nerves stop pulsating.

4am. Pass out. Start again the next day.

You can see how clearly unhealthy this is a way to live.  Now I am going to eat some almonds and an avocado.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Champagne Hoarder's Dream

Yesterday, I was tasked with inventorying, consolidating and moving a rather large stash of (mainly) grower Champagne. It is no secret that Perman's Champagne palate is superlative-- the main secret is: we have butt loads of glorious stuff and it is unknown to many of our customers, and to this one employee. Until now.

I went through boxes and boxes of unmarked treasures, including THREE DIFFERENT SKUS OF CÔTEAUX  CHAMPENOIS, which, in case you have been living under some kind of bridge, is the rare, still wine of the Champagne region. That most wine shops truck along with their merry little lives successfully without ever stocking one bottle of this weird, anomalous and frankly unnecessary category tells you a little something about what is going on here. This is Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay) harvested in the coolest climate possible, a feather in your low brix, subdued alcohol cap.

Who needs one when you can have three?

I also found a lot of Georges Laval. Like about 15 six packs worth of his very fine Brut and Brut Nature, plus about 5 bottles of the 2005 'Les Chênes'. Vincent Laval farms a tiny 2.5 ha estate in Cumières, farmed organically since 1971, a virtual impossibility in the cold and wet climate of Champagne. Laval still employs a Coquard press, an old school relic that most houses have discarded (the laws were changed in 1992 to allow for larger presses, and therefore higher yields) to insure maximum quality for each parcel.  This is a 10,000 bottle per year production, so I calculate that we have about 1% of the total planetary production here, in Chicago. 

Laval et Amis.

After that, of course, some Gaston Chiquet 'Special Club' both 2004 & 2005 and some Vilmart 'Coeur de Cuvee' 2004, a prestige bottling made from 50+ year old vines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the single vineyard of Blanches Voles. This wine, like those of Laval, is pressed below the allowed maximum of 2550L/4000Kg and only 800L (from the middle of the pressing) is used.

You know about this Special Club business, right? Who would not want to drink Champagne whose vin clair and end product had been evaluated and approved by 26 different Champagne growers?  If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me. Special Club it up!  We also have the 2004 Special Club from Henri Goutorbe, an esteemed producer in Äy.

What is this? Oh, yeah, just a bunch of Agrapart. Here, another user of the Coquard Press and a Chardonnay specialist in Avize. The vin clair for Terroirs is partially oak aged and comes from old vine, Grand Cru Chardonnay parcels in Avize, Cramant, Oger & Oiry. Minéral comes from 40 year old Chardonnay vines growing in 2 lieux dits: Le Champ Bouton in Avize & Bionnes in Cramant. These 2 vineyards are composed of almost pure chalk with no top soil to speak of. Minéral is always vintage dated. We have 2005.

How about some Marie-Noëlle Ledru in Ambonnay? This is simply the story of a woman and her 2 ha of land. Yes, there is some 2008 Cuvee de Goulté, a prestige wine made, and some 2007 Brut. The Marne Marne Marne. I want to die in this Valley I think.

All this talking about Coquard Presses has made me thirsty and there is one room, one room only that can slake this thirst. Can you guess where that is?