Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brooklyn's Salamander Sauce stirs Tar Heel nostalgia in Mark....

Food is often accompanied by nostalgia as was famously demonstrated in the well known passage in Proust where the narrator was hit with a wave of overwhelming nostalgia while eating a Madeline dipped in tea reminding him of his childhood rituals. I had a somewhat similar but less intense experience when trying out Salamander Sauce from Brooklyn.
My roots are in southeastern, North Carolina and as a result I have a real affinity and near superhuman tolerance for hot sauce which pervades the everyday diet (at least in my household). Salamander Sauce company makes three sauces at present; Original which is the company's take on hot sauce.  Salamander Sauce Original is of course hot, but it has a different kind of heat to our palate.  Something that was more reminiscent of the deep, sharp heat that I had grown up with in the BBQ belt. I felt a pang of Proustian nostalgia along with pangs of sweet pain from the Salamander Sauce.

Lynn used Original Salamander on baked cauliflower which kicked them into orbit.  When football season rolls around this combination could be a more nutritious version of buffalo hot wings.  And, always creative, Lynn made a super potent bloody Mary like concoction with the OS and vodka which despite the heat was somehow perfect for a hot summer day.
Salamander makes two other sauces Tropical and Strawberry which we are experimenting with as of this writing that are apparently on the more savory and sweet side. Keep an eye out for our impression of them in August...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Square Wine & Spirits help cool Mark and Lynn off in Long Island City....

They Deliver!

Our recent trip to Long Island City is still reverberating with us.  One thing about going toward Manhattan is that you get flashes of things that you want to remember to check out later. So it was with Square Wine and Spirits in Long Island City (there Facebook is here).  We were going to the Sage Genaral Store and were told it was BYOW.  As fortune would have it, literally next door was Square Wine and Spirits.  Besides being literally very cool in the midst of the East Coast Heat Wave, Square Wine and Spirits had a great, cold selection of whites and roses.  The one I picked was called "Alpha Zeta" rose (I didn't save the bottle but I scrawled it in my notebook) which was well under ten dollars and in the 90 plus heat seemed like the best thing we had ever drunk.   Again, a place to file away and re-visit in more comfortable weather.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beatrix is finally born and Mark and Lynn find their summer drink in downtown Washington, DC

Our recent (relatively recent) trip to Maryland/DC/North Carolina was both eventful and stressfull.  But as the great Leonard Bernstein once said; "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”  Lynn and I had half a plan and not nearly enough time, but, as usual we seemed to make it work.

After the long awaited birth of Beatrix I needed a drink.  Even though we were into June we had not experienced  any real feel of summer until we hit the gateway of the south in Maryland.  We (Lynn, Me and grandaughter Zoe) were hot and after trekking through the International Spy Museum and parts of the National Portrait Gallery we came upon the restaraunt Cuba Libre.  We sat outside in the early June haze of Washington as Fedex trucks rumbled by, Congressional interns passed glued to their smart phones, wasting their young lives and a jackhammer spit at a construction site across the street.   Most of all though, we suddenly found ourselves hot. 

The food at Cuba Libre was great (Zoe liked the plantains dipped in mole sauce as I remember).  But, distracted by Zoe, Fed Ex, annoying interns and Smart Phones, well, you may forgive me for not making note of the nuances of Cuban oriented food at this fine establishment.  What I was coherent enough to know I needed something potent against the sudden arrival of the summer heat and as a small, personal celebration of Beatrix' arrival.   Our fetching waitress mentioned that there were a lot of varities of rum here to choose from.  And, I asked her if she had anything unusual to recommend and she said that she liked the Flor De Cana which was Nicarauguan in origin.  I ordered a Cuba Libre with Flor De Cana which cut into the early summer DC heat like a knife. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mark and Lynn strike gold at the silver diner in Maryland....

Lynn and I were not overwhelmed by culinary greatness during our recent trip to the DC suburbs near Silver Spring, Maryland.  There were, however, a couple of noteworthy stops which we would re-visit.  One of them was the Silver Spring Diner in Laurel, Maryland.  This is part of a chain of eateries driven by the locavore orientation of Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst of the Netherlands who oversees the menu and recipes of the Silver Diner group and whose philosophy informs the operation.  Lynn and I ate there with our granddaughter Zoe awaiting the birth of her big sister so the experience was a bit of a blur but I had a great warm Roasted Veggie Salad (local of course) and Lynn had a hearty Omelet. I had a nice glass of wine local to a Virginia vineyard.  Despite the high bar that Chef Ype has set for these restaurants the place had the look and feel of a traditional diner with jukeboxes, sassy waitresses and regular Joe customers.  Again, if we weren't so distracted by the imminent arrival of Beatrix our sixth(!) grandchild we might have paid more attention to the details.  We will certainly go back and take better note of the place and perhaps gain an even greater level of appreciation for the SD....


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Portrait of the superstar chef as a young man: Danny Meyer The Restaurateur

First Run Features is quickly becoming the best "foodie" (sorry to use that overused term) feature and home video distributor in the land.  We were lucky enough to get some copies of a number of these culinary oriented documentaries and they are all particularly absorbing and a nice switch from the often dreary and repetitious nature of some of the restaurant/cooking competition reality shows that make up much of the programming on the major food channels.

Danny Meyer: The Restaurateur was the first film from FRF we got a copy of and it is a very well observed, absorbing film about the great Danny Meyer's attempts to create Eleven Madison Park and Tabla (Tabla closed in 2010, but EMP is still going strong) to add to his fledgling empire started by Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. Filmmaker Roger Sherman fuses footage spanning 12 years to show the evolution of these restaurants and of Meyer himself (who resembles Jerry Seinfeld's more serious brother).

There are the usual, expected pyrotechnics including dramatic, painful chef firings, missed deadlines, poor reviews from the New York Times (EMP initially got a mediocre 2 star review not once but twice!), dramatic chef hirings and so on.  The film ends with Eleven Madison Park getting a four star review from the New York Times, one of only a handful of restaurants to get this coveted rating from the paper of record.

Mainly, this film is a kind of portrait of the coming of age and growing pains of the contemporary restaurant scene in New York, if not America and a portrait of one of the most influential, hardworking and low key "rock star" (sorry to use that overused term) restaurateurs in America.  Through it all, Meyer remains extremely appealing and impresses as the rare creative individual who fuses great ambition with real decency and a sense of humor about himself.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Boo Walker talks Hedges Wines, movies, & Merlot with Mark and Lynn

Boo Walker walked out of his job at a short term equity fund on Wall Street and moved to the west coast where he took up residency in a double wide trailer situated on several acres of Malbec vines in close proximity to the Hedges Family Estate which leads to his being educated in the agricultural and philosophical aspects of wine craft. Currently, Walker works for Hedges in sales and marketing; in his spare time he is an accomplished thriller writer.  
Lynn and I happened to come upon one of the Hedge Family Estate offerings, The Bacchus Merlot at a wine store in Brooklyn.  Lynn, being especially enamored of the Merlot traced it back to Mr. Walker who she emailed and the result is the following thoughtful email interview with Mr. Walker. 
M & L: How did your love and appreciation of wine begin?

BW: "I grew up in a wine-loving household in South Carolina, but at some point in my early twenties, I had the awakening realization that wine was more than just a beverage.  I'm an artist.  I played banjo and wrote songs for the Biscuit Boys in Nashville, and I also write fiction.  So I'm always on the search for ways to express myself, and I equally enjoy seeing how others express themselves.  Wine is a wonderful conduit.  In Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges case, they put in everything they had, took a chance on some land on Red Mountain, built their lives around these vines, began to ferment the juice, put their mark on the bottle, and spread it to the world.  We just heard that John Grisham loves our DLD Syrah and drinks it quite a bit.  I'm sure Tom and Anne-Marie have read several of his books.  How beautiful of a circle is that?  Wine, like music or writing or any form of artistic expression, is a way to put everything you have into something, every emotion, every dime, every last ounce of energy and sanity, and then share it with the world.  So back in Charleston, in my early twenties, a few key figures started telling me those tales about terroir and vineyard expression and what it took to be a vigneron.  It was then that my passion for wine exploded."  

M & L: Can you explain the idea behind the Hedge Family Estate's  philosophy of Score Revolution?

BW: "More than a decade ago, Christophe Hedges was on the road in Manhattan slinging Hedges wines, and like almost every supplier in the country, he carried along a laminated sheet of paper featuring all the high scores and accolades Hedges Family Estate had been given over the years.  As we know too well in the biz, scores are an easy way to sell wine.  But on this particular occasion, Christophe ran into a particularly passionate chef who essentially kicked him out of the restaurant before even tasting the Hedges wines, stating, "How dare you come into my restaurant and show me a number that some man that I don't know has assigned to these wines and assume that should move me?"  Christophe had already been thinking along those lines, and not too long after, Hedges Family Estate requested that no one ever score their wines again.  Write about them, please, but never try to sum them up with a number.  The scoring system was a helpful tool back in the old days, but now it has gotten in the way of the winemaker expressing his art.  I could go on for days, but my favorite example is of a couple wineries I heard about in CA that offered substantial bonuses to their winemakers if they were able to get a 94 or above on their wines.  If you were one of those winemakers, what would you do?  Would you think, "Forget the money.  I'm going to make a wine that expresses this vineyard, and I'm going to make a wine I enjoy."  Or would you think, "My family could really use the money.  I'm going to do everything I can to get that high score, even if it means I compromise the integrity of the vineyard and make a wine I don't enjoy.  I'm going to study what the men who give the high scores like and make that wine."  I'd like to think I know what I'd do in that situation, but I'd probably be fired.  So the scoring system can often force winemakers to make these massive, over-blown wines that compete well in blind tastings in a lineup of one hundred wines, but when you sit down to really get to know them at the dinner table, they can often be too loud or shallow and uninteresting, like a guest you wish you hadn't invited.  The Scorevolution ( manifesto is a petition that will hopefully help to destroy this dying system and assure the masses that it's okay to like what you like." 

M & L: Merlot took a hit not long ago due to a single disparaging line of dialogue in the film Sideways.  Has the process of healing Merlot's reputation begun? 

BW: "It's amazing how a movie can do that, but it's true.  To this day, I hear people say they hate Merlot, and I always have the sneaking suspicion that Miles in Sideways coerced this response.  Little do most people know, the reason Miles ranted, "I'm not drinking %^&*ing Merlot," is because it reminded him of his ex-wife.  The bottle he drank in the end out of the styrofoam cup, his most prized bottle, had a ton of Merlot in it.  But like all trends, this one is slowing.  To look at it positively, perhaps it weeded out some of the bad Merlots out there.  The truth is that Merlot is a wonderful variety (some of the most expensive wines in the world are Merlot substantial) and when it's done right, it has enough backbone to stand on its own, it can have multiple layers of character, and great age-ability.  Will it be the next big thing?  I'm not sure if we're ready for that, but I know our Independent Producers (HIP) Merlot is moving really well, so there are people our there asking for it again!"

M & L: Speaking of, what kind of film would you pair with Bacchus Merlot?

BW: Great question.  We call it HIP Merlot in house, HIP being the acronym for House of Independent Producers.  Bacchus is the name of the vineyard where the Merlot comes from.  You know, it's a single-vineyard, unadulterated wine that almost scoffs at the pretentious.  We harvest early, keeping the alcohol and acid in balance, and I think picking the grapes early also tends to capture more of the vineyard character.  In addition, it sees less than six months in oak and there are no special "tricks" done to add color or make the wine something it's not.  It's a wine made in the vineyard, with soul and breathtaking individuality.  It reminds us that beauty is in simplicity.  Let's take that thought to Hollywood.  In a world of heavily over-produced movies that focus more on special effects than human connection, it's always nice to find a movie with a bit more heart and a lot less monotonous action.  There happens to be such a movie out right now that is a perfect pairing with the HIP Merlot: Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater. It's his third installment starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  There are no special effects, no action scenes, and very few location changes.  The human connection between the two characters, with their thought-provoking dialogue, is what carries the movie."

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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