Pinnacle

What are the ideological implications of the word “pinnacle?”

In geometry “pinnacle” is the unification of surfaces – the making of singularity.

And the pinnacle of this piece – titled Detroit Restaurant of the Year: How we’re changing it up this time – occurs after a few initial paragraphs devoted to expansion and innovation.

To decide metro Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year, gone is the limiting variable of newly-opened status. A restaurant of any age can win.

The obvious question is whether that variable can ever be gone. It seems to me we now have two separate awards – best new, and best “not new,” both of which are determined by how new they are. Also, one can’t really obviate the variable of newness in deliberation. At best, a human might hope to offset it by introducing the competing one: endurance.

Still, the Freep will soon decide what “represents the pinnacle of dining in metro Detroit.” And to borrow another spatial metaphor, this is where the rubber hits the road.

I say with no irony that this is a high quality award. Resources are generously deployed to ensure its independence, and past winners show this. Furthermore, as imperial as its claim is, I know of no immediate competitor to the Freep’s ROTY brand. (Send me a link if you have one.)

And the concept of one restaurant of the year is legitimate. In a realm of enterprise so finely articulated with goals, it only makes sense to comment on concentrations of achievement. When done well, such an award can inspire an industry.

But how does the word “pinnacle” shape the reader? The singularity this word implies unfairly simplifies the person using it. A pinnacle of dining suggests a large universe in a rigid state.

In addition to “the position of Mercury in conjunction with the sun,” I’d like to suggest just one more variable: the company such an award keeps. This award filters the crowd so strongly, such that attending a winning restaurant can be like walking into a cognitive hall of mirrors.

If dining out is dramatic performance, then the ROTY diner is a stock character: the Trophy Hunter. What happens when the Trophy Hunters multiply and interact under one roof? Monoculture has a toxicology, and we should wonder about its influence on the food.

Hats off to anyone even attempting to define Metro Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year. The collective effort required to determine such a thing is enormous, almost as enormous as the freight load of assumptions that come with it.

Here are places I liked in 2016-2017:

  • Supino. Reheated slice. Doesn’t matter what’s on it.
  • La Rondinella. Now closed. Gnocchi. That pairing of anchiovata and a Monday glass of Boschis’ Pianezzo from a bottle opened prior to the weekend. Pulpete. Stuffed squid. Arugula salad.
  • The Gaelic League Fish Fry Fridays during Lent. It’s not wrong to join this fish with Slow’s remoulade and drink the best draft Guinness in the state.
  • El Rodeo. Shrimp tacos. Some say fish tacos. Definitely burrito de cabeza when mom is working.
  • Katoi. Green cocktail with hot chili. Mutton. Pretty much anything.
  • Supermercado La Jalisciense. This year I counted on the tacos de lengua, as well as the occasional torta de pollo milanesa.
  • Mabel Gray. I shouldnt have to tell you this. If Paul offers you a choice of raw shucked oysters and oysters baked with miso butter, you get the oysters baked with miso butter. James wouldn’t do something to a perfectly good oyster without a damned good reason. Also Rachel has the best wine.
  • Gold Cash Gold. Skurnik’s grower champagnes sold at the bar for retail prices. New chef of locally proven talent doing things with sharp knives.
  • Johnny Noodle King. Happy hour $2 over pour of Japanese sake with torched mackerel. Broth of pigs heads any time.
  • El Asador. Luis was nailing it this week. Charred red rib steaks with poblano cream. Lobster quesedilla, Queso fundido, Tacos de Cayos, Cazuela Mariscos, Guacamole en la Mesa.
  • Roast. Mr. Allerton worked on pairings with different styles of sherry, taking risks only to ace them in style.
  • Happy 4 Liquor. Best shawarma certainly within a bike ride.
  • Wasabi. One of the best thing about this place is the haters. They are not good people and I don’t want to eat near them. Comfort sushi, keep it medium-simple.
  • Chartreuse.
  • Selden Standard. Ritterguts Gose paired with any lunch food inspires the use of the the word “champagne” as an adjective.

bro

Bro!

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of Grace

…today is Easter in the western churches…

 

Know Your Importer, Vol. 3

Why should a consumer learn the name of a wine importer? Much has been written about this, and over a long time. Short version: know your importers because your wine purveyor knows them. An honest shop or somm has nothing to hide in this regard. Here are my current thoughts:

Making good wine requires two things.

  1. fortune – from the dirt, to the biome, to the bank – and,
  2. humanity – a cluster of virtues combining self awareness with selflessness, and  thriving in a medium of consciousness expanding.

Most important of all is the latter applied to the former: the awareness of one’s fortune and the ability to resist trying to capture it.

This can help explain why so many great wine properties change hands only to fail immediately and horribly. The new regime with all its vigor is no match for the old in situ. Stars in the eyes and rolls of cash are no substitute for experience making decisions with worms.

Wine requires grace.

Vino di grazia.

 

Know Your Merchant

Some people in the wine trade talk only about the the wine (points! gobs!), and if they are really smart, sometimes about the farmer (a personality cult), but never about the people selling, collecting and drinking it – and by doing so they are really talking only about themselves. It is selflessness serving an egocentric relationship with (the art form).

It is a fiction that great wines are like perfect jewels snatched from space and time, summoned before our poses of supplication, and grandiose tithes, by faces so dim as to be blank. The act of enjoying wine is elemental to its existence in the first place.

Wine tells a story, and the people building collections of it are also telling a story. It might be a remix, a collage, a mosaic, a pastiche or an ekphrasis. Often these people are in the studio mixing the paint.

Ponder, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and never a shortage of new ways to combine them.

 

A Quotation from the Fine Art Racket

“I select the selectors, so I control the operation,” she says. “You don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. But I know what they know and I know where they go.” -Gill Hedley on her team of curators for the CAS

Emphasis added.

 

Missing the Point

It used to madden me when I would suggest that a distributor of the great French wines from Louis/Dressner should also carry the newer, but just as thrilling, Italian wines from the same source.

“But we already have Italian wine,” was the answer. Sure,they had a couple things, and a lot of filler, but not these. I was suffocating from Italian wine starvation!

It wouldn’t have been so bad, but at the time I was also lacking steady access to the  reigning portfolio of great wines from the nation of Italy: Marc deGrazia.

Marco de Grazia began importing Italian wine in 1980, a first of its kind in that it eschewed anything but the most gorgeous and authentic of estate wines. By the mid 1990s Marco was a star in his own right – or at least he was amongst the masses of sommeliers and buyers who would attend his tastings and patiently await their allocations of rare and limited items.

If you didn’t know about deGrazia Selections already, please let me introduce you. These are dynamic, diverse, humorous, numerous and sincere wines. Based on the prices they fetch, I can only conclude that the American market is absurdly unaware of their merit as a group of drinks.

 

Unsolicited Advice

Try sharing credit. It feels good. Maybe it can prepare you emotionally to identify with your guests.

Or don’t share credit. Or share it only with your protected objects of exploitation.

 

Credit where credit is due.

The Art of Collecting Art. It exists.

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Neighborhood Wine – Mudgie’s Part 2

January 2016 –I love every wine available by the glass (BTG) at Mudgie’s. I know this is self-serving, but it would be just as true if you wrote this list and if you served lunch here. Anyway, if you eat and drink at Mudgie’s, you are directly participating in the process of selection, even if you opt for Hamm’s and a water.

Granted, for someone this jaded to be so excited about every item offered, the list will necessarily be brief. You could say short. There are six specified wines, plus one always-changing wild card. That’s seven wines, plus estate-grown cava on weekends. Call it concise.

Here’s the improbable thing. Every single one of the “permanent” six belong to the most mainstream of call-categories: Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sweet White, House Red, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon.

And without undermining the compelling appeal of these call wines, the seventh ad hoc selection is the biggest call category of them all. The non-call. The deviant. The subversive. #7 is dedicated to provide an example of the benefits of violating mass market categories.

Let’s go through this item-by-item, shall we?

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Sauvignon is misunderstood. It is a workhorse in the vineyard. It is assertive and polarizing. It tends to get caught in a self-reinforced cycle of industrial farming and potent aroma branding. The biggest dumbest Sauvignon wines reek of grapefruit. This obviousness is easily compatible with short, shallow wine-splanations, and so the call is made. Meanwhile, the domineering grapefruit character is a convenient symptom of shortcuts in production. Rinse. Repeat. Continue reading

Catching a Call Wine By the Tail- Mudgie’s Part 1

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In 2016 Detroit we are surrounded by “bad boy” wine lists. Personally, I hope we have seen the saturation point of alienating terms like orange wine, pet nat, flor-aged, and txakoli. These perpetuate like waves in a pool, coming in and out of phase. Beautiful as ripples. Discouraging as choppy waves. (Admittedly, a wave of txakoli ain’t that bad.)

The interesting question is this: how well is your wine lingo backed up with good and large supplies? Multiply this by “vested interest” and you should be able to judge the life span of a buzzword.

Naturally, this applies to Muscadet as much as it does to Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Natural Limits vs. Artificial Limits.

Modern humans co-evolved with wine. Each of us come with the sensory and intellectual equipment to discern very minute differences in a finished grape wine. These differences are a code, an articulated body of information revealing the state of the environment in which it was raised. This code is the point of contact between the production of inherent “goodness” and its limits.

Here are some examples of natural limits: geography, climate, weather, water, human resources, and microbial ecology. And there is one more, itself a smuggler of artificial limits: the market.

The market is intricately constructed of many artificial limits. Examples include withholding the sale of wine, brand proliferation, aroma branding, ratings, price fixing, state regulations, distribution deals, etc. And don’t presume to avoid it, because the market is that closing point on a loop which causes almost all wines to exist.

The good news is, here in the medium of digits on the internet, we amount to the market. We can alter its behavior. Our participation defines the narrative. It’s like a huge botanical video game.

Continue reading

Personally, Yes

A few weeks ago I read a wine list for a new restaurant in LA and I knew it was time to quit my job.

There I was, enjoying my seventh year serving in a deservedly famous restaurant called Slows Bar BQ.

Not only did Slows play a role in saving my life – whatever it’s worth – Slows was also a really fun place to work. I was there, to soak up the lightning.

And then I saw the wine list for Hatchet Hall, and the storm of vitriol and hurt feelings it inspired. As I read the list I smiled. Then I laughed. I was not alone, but nor did everyone get the joke. Someday I hope to explain the comedy in very dry, analytic terms, but for now I am still laughing a little.

There are two dining establishments local to me which are experiencing periods of dynamic innovation. Alphabetically, they are Gold Cash Gold and Mudgie’s Fine Deli-ing. Gold Cash Gold has been open barely a year on a city block shared by Slows. Mudgie’s inhabits a bucolic corner of Corktown where it has recently expanded to include its own wine shop.

As I wrote lists of wine for each place this week I had a sensation of liberation not related to the usual between-job butterflies. The language had opened up. The old rules existed to preserve the feelings of the most uptight of critics, and these were in decline. I hasten to add, I sincerely wish no harm to the feelings of the most uptight of critics, just as I wish no harm to anyone. The problem lies in the fact that these rules can mislead everyone else.

What is Chablis? Is it Chardonnay? Is Raveneau Chablis? Who is ladling guilt over our usage? Who’s language is it? If wine makes people nervous, and O does it, that may indicate a wealth of potential comedy.

Wine lists – besides containing inspiration, value, clarity, focus and comfort – should be funny! If your wine list isn’t funny, it just may be a waste of your time and resources!

I hope to demonstrate in future posts.

Certainly there will continue to be brooding, scrupulously lexical and boring wine lists. And they will tend to be stocked with boring wine, at ridiculous prices, yet not worth the first dollar. But these are on the way out. So I am so glad to be back.

What can you do?

Come to the gala debut of the new wine list at Gold Cash Gold this Monday. Chef Stockton has five courses in store, each of which will be paired with two wines. You can rediscover miraculous coq au vin and drink dry-farmed Pinot Noir from the Cancilla Vineyard. Huet is scheduled to appear as mousse and with mousse. Amphora-fermented Sicilian red wine shall warmly embrace 2015 Pumpkins, and a relaxed group of people who know how to have fun – even with wine! Follow this link.

Do it.

See you there!

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photo courtesy of Jacqueline Dickow

Paleo-Avant Chard

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We live in a bipolar world of Chardonnay.

For most people the grape was once synonymous with a style of wine that tasted like butter and tropical fruits. In recent decades a backlash came and it is now firmly entrenched. It turns out Chardonnay can also be clean and crisp. So now Chardonnay can mean entirely different things to different people. Yet we are stuck with one brand. And modifiers don’t seem to help: oaky Chardonnay; buttery Chardonnay; French style Chardonnay. When it comes to good Chardonnay, these clunky formulations are usually misleading and counterproductive.

I’ll have a Chardonnay.

I’ll have something that is not Chardonnay.

Unfortunately the schism is driving intelligent consumers out of the category, and this is having the predictable effect of improving Chardonnay’s value. Supply and demand seem to have an exaggerated effect on wine markets.

Pair all of this with 1) the grape’s relatively good expression in various wine growing regions of California, and 2) a modern wave of new winemakers who work small and who understand, and this might be the best time in a generation to be drinking wine made from this grape.

Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay is a natural wine.

Short Name: Chardonnay
Full Name: 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma County
Producer: Lioco
Geography: Sonoma County, California
$12 glass, $36 bottle
Varieties: Chardonnay
Description: Salted lemons and ripe pears and apples. Silky texture, substantial bouquet and overall elegance.
Comparables: Really no need to compare this to anything other than “Chardonnay.” The terms “White Burgundy” and even “French Chardonnay” might be mentioned, but technically they don’t really mean anything stylistically. Compare Domaine de Bongran, Cordier or Roally in the Macon – unctuous and exotic – to Meursault – chiseled and timbered – to Petit Chablis – sour and mineral, and how does that make a useful antithesis to anything? But yeah, if someone wants to be lazy and describe this as “French style,” ok. Especially if French style means commitment to natural fruit virtues and winemaking humility. Of course it IS a California Chardonnay, and California deserves the credit. We can only hope more winemakers emulate the approach.
Pairings: As a stand-alone drink, with charred octopus, fried chicken, and anything with avocado.

Rhone and Biodynamic

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Short Name: Red Rhone
Full Name: 2012 Le Petit Coquet
Producer: Domaine Chaume-Arnaud
Geography: Southern Rhone Valley, France
$10 glass, $30 bottle
Varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, etc
Description: Spiced berry reductions with silky tannins. Analytically it is perfectly dry; but allow a sample to anyone looking for “sweet red”? Take a poll and share your results.
Comparables: I’ve always thought this kind of wine had something in common with jammy old-school red Zinfandels, though it is more elegant than that. Also there are both organoleptic and deep historical comparisons available to big-ticket biodynamic red Burgundy from a warm vintage (when was the last time YOU drank DRC Echezeaux?) and, by extension, ambitious too-ripe New World Pinot Noir.
Pairings: Forgiving with a lot of foods. It might overwhelm the more delicate and lunchable choices. Stews and meats are the strike-zone, but it works good with the cheese course and fried chicken too.
Interesting Technical Facts: This estate is certified Biodynamic in France. Legalities aside!