Like many people, I have had a long love affair with New York. The vibrancy of the city, the sheer choices of cuisine, the great temples of American gastronomy, the art, the sense that there is anything and everything you want. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve thought, “this is the place for me,” but, professionally, it has never worked out for me to live in New York. Over the last few years, the sense that I’m missing something has slipped further and further away. I think New York may not be the center of the universe after all.
This led me to think about how lucky it is to have Durham. My brother can drive 5 miles and be at a farm that supplies his tomatoes and lambs. A few more miles and it is pigs, lettuce, etc. You get the idea. The whole local thing is very real down there in a way that it can’t be in New York or LA. Plenty of access to great wines, too.
Maybe we should be happy for the things we have that come easy. Maybe not everyone can live at the center.
Day 1: Marlow and Sons
Funky, trendy little Williamsburg joint owned by Andy Tarlow, whom I met and befriended on a trip to France a couple of years back. I finally got to make it to one of his restaurants.
They had some fantastically briney Massachusetts oysters (waitress didn’t know exactly where from). Not as good as the Duxberry oysters I had up at B & G in Boston, but you’d expect that given the proximity. When I first heard someone say that Massachusetts oysters were the best, I was highly skeptical. I mean there are all sorts of great oysters from the Pacific Nothwest, PEI, etc. I have to say, that I am a convert. Something about where the beds lie in the prevailing currents make for oysters that taste of the sea, almost like they come from really deep, really cold waters.
Anyway, they had 2006 Pépière Muscadet by the glass. They also had an interesting one-third of a bottle option. This turned out to be a perfect amount to wash down a dozen oytters between myself and my dining companion. It is also, as you might imagine, the perfect foil for oysters. It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it again, Marc Ollivier is a genius.
I had a mushroom course, which unfortunately, I’ve had at SFJoe’s from mushrooms he had picked himself. So while it was good, going up against that memory is quite difficult. For my main course, I had a lamb “stew”. It turned out to be more brothy than stew-like. That was good fro the vegetables because they retained their freshness, but not so good for the lamb, which didn’t seem as integrated into the dish.
With our main courses we had a bottle of 2006 George Descombes Régnié. This is the producer that lots of folks are freaking out about right now. This wine was good, and fun enough to drink, and while I wouldn’t pass judgment based on one wine (especially Régnié, I mean how many good ones are there?), but I find that this is a case where the philosophy obscures the wine a bit. Not totally, don’t get me wrong, but I find the traditional élévage of Coudert and Desvignes to produce wines more to my liking than the semi-carbonic. I also remember a time, maybe 8-10 years ago, when the Descombes wines were pretty fucked up. These are very good wines, but I think to make them the new anointed is going a bit far. Let’s wait and see if they ever develop the complexity of the excellent vintages of Coudert. I’m thinking that hipster methodology may be at odds with this.
From dinner, we went to a bar in Greenpoint called the Black Rabbit owned by my friend’s brother-in-law who is also a friend of mine. I haven’t seen it since completion and it is exactly what I would have thought he’d put together. He pours the best Guinness I’ve had in a very long time. Not to mention, he knows how to make an Irish Car Bomb just right.
All in all, it was a good start to what would be an inconsistent trip to the big city for this simple country boy.
Day 2: Showdown on 51st Street
This whole episode has been covered in some length on Wine therapy and on Rockss and Fruit. Suffice it to say that not every friend of your friends’ will be your friend. Also, don’t dare to criticize New York if you don’t live there, even if you’ve been going your whole life, because you just don’t get it.
2006 Wittman Gruner Silvaner Trocken which was a delightful wine. Crisp and clean with a creamy, silky texture. Not as intense or floral as Wirsching or as dirty and real as Furst but lovely in its own very refined crunchy mineral way. As someone pointed it out it did not match well with cucumber and fresh garlic but I did not dare to try. I love Silvaner just wish this Wittman wasn't so high priced a wine. That's what you get when you special order from Wildman.
1994 Prager Sauvignon Blanc which was very good for around twenty minutes but proceeded to go downhill very quickly. Very minerally austere with some slightly ripe grapefruit rind but also as it went downhill I got hints of rot on the nose. It was good for the moments it was good. The more I drink Sauvignon Blanc the more I realize there is not much high quality stuff there besides that small cadre of growers in Chavignol. Just a boring grape that needs exceptional terroir to really shine.
2001 Carl Loewen Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spätlese which was lovely. This was singing on this particular night and was my last bottle. I am staring to drink my less serious 2001's as they are giving great pleasure right now. Nose of lemon curd, minerals, petrol, honey and beeswax. Palate had lovely crisp 2001 acidity and good effusive fruit. I loved it. It definitely was forward and drinking great.
The Spicy Chicken w. Chinese Broccoli was a totally crazy dish. Had some sort of little electric juniper berries in it that were out of control, especially with a big bite of them and a hot pepper or two. Crazy and hallucinogenic.
2005 Baudry Chinon Croix Boisée which did not show that well on this night. More Bordeaux than Chinon. Went through like ten different phases. Nose of deep ripe fruit almost black. After a bit the acid on the finish became acrid. There was great freshness to this wine even though it was going through all these weird phases. There was a time after around three hours where it was undrinkable because it was dominated by its structure. I have two more bottles and I have heard this wine evolves positively over three days. It lasted two hours. Well my last bottles I won't touch for ten years. This seems like a wonderful bottle to age.
2002 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé
I think Lyle Fass covered this wine well over on Rockss and Fruit. Quite structural and oaky, with a coconut verging on pineapple stem tropicality that the Levi hated. I didn’t love the pineapple, but the oakiness didn’t bother me. I found it immensely structured and built for the long haul. It should be a great wine in 10 years. I’ll open another in 3-5 to see.
Day 3: Momofuku
I was really disappointed given all the hype. $45 for one person.2 pork buns, ramen and a beer. Fuck New York. I regularly eat $7.50 ramen that kicks the shit out of what they were putting out. More fucking poseur comfort food.
Had dinner with friends David and Jill Lillie at a little Thai place around the corner. Nice relaxing way to wind down a busy day. I can’t think of two more genuine wonderful people.
2005 Knebel Winninger Brückstück Riesling Spätlese Feinherb Alte Reben
Much more gentle than I was expecting. Certainly pretty and easy to drink (even Jill liked it, and she hates German Riesling). Didn’t make a huge impression, but I was more interested in catching up with David and Jill than really eating. The 13% alc.struck me as a little weird, but ti wasn't hot or imbalanced. Not quite Trocken, but fairly close, I would say.
Day 4: Tia Pol
Another highly touted NY hotspot. The food was fine, I enjoyed most of it. I think the issue is that it should be an easy neighborhood place, and instead, it is a zoo. Typical NY bullshit. You see a pattern here. That being said, this is the type of place I’d love to live walking distance from.
2006 Ametzoi Txakoli Rosato
No surprise here. One of the great discoveries of the past couple of years brought it strong. You have to try this wine if you haven’t.
2005 Vina Mein Ribeiro
Seemed little tired, non-descript and loose after the Ameztoi. Maybe any wine would, but not a great impression.
2006 Emilio Rojo Ribeiro
Really stunning. This may be the best wine in Spain, it is certainly the best white, IMO, and 2006 may be the best vintage yet. Has the grip, depth, length and mouthfeel to stand toe-to-toe with the best wines of the Mosel, Wachau, Cote D’Or, and Touraine. Manages to be light on it’s feet, whispy even, while keeping a sense of power and depth. Really lively with some food to knock the flavors around a bit. Another wine that is hard to come by, but worth the effort to try.
1996 Tondonia Gravinia Bianco
Really a strong coconut oak component that dominates the wine. We really should have had it decanted for an hour before as it only starts to come into focus at the end of the bottle. I quite liked this version of the Bianco. A very cool wine that may or may not have anything to say about terroir, but like sous voile savignin, it is a fascinating and delicious bottle.