“Champagne Wishes and Country Fried Dreams” @faithandflower

Hooper and Hoagland

Wine Director Jared Hooper and Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland

My passion in life is Italian wine, but a close second-place might be Champagne.  Cold, cutting acidity and lively bubbles.  Refreshing, yet serious at the same time.  Aromatically superior to any other category of sparkling wine.  Equally ready to lay down and develop for years in your cellar, or to be chilled immediately and enjoyed.

 How can you not be enthralled and seduced by Champagne?Menu-1

I had the chance to taste some real blockbusters the other night with Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland, who presented the wines of Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug at Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles.  The night was all about celebrating Champagne in all its elegant finesse and bawdy playfulness.  A night of serious wines, down-home cooking, and enthusiastic revelers.

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Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, paired with creamed corn topped with corn bread which had been smothered in fresh white truffles.  Yep.  It worked.

I love food pairing with Champagne.  There is so much to work with!  These are not typically delicate wines- they have backbone and verve!  Try Champagne with a grilled steak.  Or a cheeseburger.  Or pizza.  Seriously.  As Mike Hoagland reminded us, “these are wines equally well-enjoyed in a fancy restaurant as they are from a paper cup on a beach.”  Agreed.  And don’t relegate your Champagne to brief stints as the welcoming party-opener before the “serious stuff” is opened.  These wines are serious.  And fun.  And they deserve their time in the spotlight!

Popcorn

Salty, spicy, herbed popcorn with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV.

I love the idea of taking a “luxury”or “specialty” product like “Champagne” and delivering it in an unorthodox way.  Opening with a glass of Ruinart (Champagne’s oldest winery), and serving something fun and addicting like this salty popcorn really struck a chord with me.  Thank you, Jared Hooper & Chef Michael Hung, for giving me something I want to eat with this fine glass of wine.  Oh, and double thank you for making it a great pairing that truly highlights the wine.

And thank you most of all for not taking it all too seriously, and for letting me enjoy myself while I experience this excellent food & wine combination!

1985-1

Veuve Clicquot Vintage 1985.  En Magnum.

What do you pair with the most impressive, Vintage Champagne in your wine dinner?

Well, (and this is why I am a little bit in love with Chef Michael Hung right now), why not a brilliant little play on the classic green bean casserole?  Bright, snappy green beans cooked to a perfect al dente, kissed by some kind of creamy-mustardy sauce and spiked with radishes and tarragon.  Topped with the requisite fried onions, this was the most platonic incarnation of that classic holiday casserole I have ever tasted.  And it was brilliant with the wine.  Just enough acidity to match the wine- more than enough toothsome umami to play nicely with the bubbles.  Perfection.

Greenbeans-1

High-class green beans.

At this point in the dinner I started to really get into the wine and food pairings.  It was playful- like being on a really fancy picnic. Post-modern foodie stuff.  With great lighting and ambiance. And beautiful people. And perfectly polished stemware.Krug-1

Krug Grande Cuvée NV. Classic guilty-sommelier-pleasure.  Paired with…

FRIED CHICKEN!

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Continuing in our salute to unconventional (yet brilliant) food and wine pairings, we arrived at the main course- Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne and Fried Chicken.  As Samantha Dugan (Champagne Specialist Extraordinaire) would say- Champagne and fried chicken is a pairing everyone should know about.  There is something special about that salty friend crunch paired with those happy, brightly-lit bubbles.  That acidity and bright fruit rolling over a grease-slicked palate.  It’s so happy.  I urge you to find the best fried chicken possible, and to enjoy it with the most awesome bottle of Champagne you can get your hand on.

You will not be disappointed.  And you’ll probably have a lot of fun.Jared HooperJared Hooper, Wine Director and General Champagne Advocate.

DemiSec-1Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV

paired seamlessly with a Not-Your-Mammas-Miso-Apple-Crumble.

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Mike Hoagland treated us to a sweet ending, using the Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV to highlight Chef Hung’s golden, flaky dream of a desert.  He decanted the Demi-Sec, explaining that this helps to loosen the bubbles a bit, rounding out the fruit in the Pinot Meunier-heavy wine.  Mike also informed us this “pays homage to the Widow Clicquot, who is the inventor of record for the riddling table, which allowed for Champagne wines to become significantly clarified during the riddling process.”  I think she’d be impressed with the food and wine pairing, as well as the dramatic fanfare.  The ritual of decanting is pretty sexy stuff.

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I love that there are people like Mike Hoagland and Jared Hooper in the world of wine, urging you to have fun with whatever you’re consuming.  Drink what is delicious.  Eat what you like.  Learn a little something while you’re at it.

And please, enjoy more Champagne!

Grandma Lorraine will teach you a lot about wine.

Mugsy-1I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family.  Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna.  She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient.  Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table.  “You know what they say about the Calabrese.  Hard-headed.” Continue reading

Take me where I can see the Mountains. #valdossola #prünent

View of valleyA view of Val d’Ossola in Piemonte.

Wines are emotional for me- some more than others.   Cantine Garrone makes some of the most potent wines I know- effectively pulling at my heartstrings anytime I taste them. This obscure winery is the result of winemaker and visionary Mario Garrone’s unflagging love for his land.

vineyard management

Mario Garrone and Diego Meraviglia in the vineyard.

Continue reading

It Takes a Village.

Party @TerroniDTLAEvening of Terroni DTLA’s “Soft Opening”

I have been so lucky to be working with the people at Terroni as they prepare for their first day of service in the new Downtown LA location.  These people know how to open restaurants, and if I have learned anything in the past few months, it’s that consistency is everything, as are good people.  There is a palpable excitement as the seconds tick by towards the grand opening.  The food has been amazing out of this shiny new kitchen, and the staff is excited and happy to be working in such a glamorous, fun new place. The wine program? Don’t even get me started.  Amazing.

I thought I’d share a few pictures of the beautiful chaos that defines this special moment in a restaurant’s life. Continue reading

Tu Vuò Fà L’Americano @FeedBodySoul

Americano @FEEDThe “Americano” at FEED in Venice Beach.

I had this refreshing cocktail the other evening in Venice Beach, expertly made by FEED’s adorably-dread-locked Mikey Santiago.  I love this version, which replaces the traditional Campari with Oregon-made Calisaya Liquore.  They stir this aromatic and perfectly bitter concoction together with soda water and a bit of house-made sweet red vermouth.  The perfect thirst-quencher for these sweltering summer days.

Ingredients Americano @FEEDFEED’s Americano ingredients.

A lot of FEED’s cocktails are similarly playful and fun, using natural, organic ingredients from local, small suppliers as much as possible.  Calisaya is a great Campari substiution here, as it’s actually an Italian recipe, re-interpreted by an American company.  This in itself makes it a perfect ingredient in a drink called an “Americano”, which makes me think of Renato Carasone’s epic tuneTu vuò fà l’Americanowhich is indeed a song about the longing of a young Napoletano boy to seem “American”. Continue reading

Mother Shucker. And How to do the Philly Flip.

Shuckers

Iconic’s lineup on the bar at Shuck.

I found my new Happy Place the other day: full of California sunshine, bright white, clean, stocked with super-chilled, zippy white wines and a mountain of raw bivalves.

Shuck, Orange County’s new oyster bar, is the kind of place that reminds me how much joy and satisfaction can be obtained from the simplest and most obvious food and wine pairings. Continue reading

Doing the Brooklyn Bocce with @EugeneMSantiago

FEEDUnquestionably, my favorite part about my job is meeting all kinds of people, usually people who are irrationally and irrevocably passionate about food, wine and spirits.  There is a natural communion between people who like to feed each other- people who revel in the various and beautiful expressions of flavor sensations.  The day I walked into Feed in Venice Beach I knew there would be no shortage of such sensitive souls- this place is a sanctuary for foodies.  I felt like coming home. Continue reading