Villanelle 

There are a handful of restaurants in New York City that I refer to as hidden gems. These hidden gems you all learn about through various ways. What you are unaware of are the city’s precious gems. Some restaurants I enjoy so much, I tend to keep them as little secrets for myself to enjoy. Such is the case with Villanelle

Yes, the name sounds exotic, but this restaurant is much more than a clever name. Chef Nick Licata creates his own Villanelle at the namesake Greenwich Village restaurant and truly represents the meaning of word. Like the 19 lined poem depicting pastoral scenes of Italy, Chef Licata has a 19 item menu that highlights the freshest ingredients from the neighboring Union Square Farmers Market. 
My first visit to Villanelle was during the opening week in early March. Of course I was warmly welcomed by eager staff with gleaming smiles. I made myself comfortable at the bar, and the bartenders made sure I was comfortable too. Hospitable and absolutely delicious, my immediate impression was ‘I must return’! 

A few weeks later, I did return and sat at a table. Once again warmly welcomed. The difference this visit, though, was my sense of familiarity. I couldn’t help having repeat dishes from my first visit like Chef Licata’s crispy octopus. Known as his signature dish, the octopus is steamed for two hours before gently fried; served with a mouth watering pomme purée and coveted spring favorite, nettles. The house made cavatelli with black pepper is served with fresh market asparagus and a hen egg. Similar to a carbonara, the cavatelli has a subtilty that contributes to its appeal. The silky slow poached Arctic Char with sorrel, dill oil and plenty of roe is a dish I hope will be on the menu for some time. 

On my most recent visit, I once again opted for the bar. Just missing their newly launched oyster happy hour which is from 5:30pm to 7pm, I instead enjoyed the Cured Thai Snapper. This tartare style dish is accompanied by radishes from the farmers market, though that may change based on availability. The snapper is cured in a curry pulp, which is made from banana, kaffir lime leaves, kombu, thai chilies, and offers a refreshing kick! 

Desserts at Villanelle are some of the most delicious I’ve had. Chef Licata and Chef de Partie Christian Grindrod have collaboratively exposed a broad range of flavors from ingredients found at the farmers market. They bake parsnip root then butter-braise it, and serve it with white chocolate. It’s skin, thinly shaved, turns into a delicious crisp that encases the vegetable. It makes for a creamy, buttery dessert that is rich, uniquely flavored and utterly satisfying. A watermelon sorbet is served under a baked meringue crisp with fresh shelled peas which is served with a soft meringue, mint oil and fresh mint. Think pavlova, but with components more interesting than fruit. 

One of my new favorites, Villanelle is a restaurant I look forward to visiting again and again! 
Villanelle is located at 15 E. 12th Street between University Place and 5th Avenue, 212-989-2474, http://www.villanellenyc.com @villanellenyc. The restaurants serves dinner Monday – Thursday 5:30pm – 10:30pm; Friday & Saturday 5:30pm – 11:30pm; Lunch Monday – Friday 12:00pm – 2:30pm Closed Sunday. Happy Hour Monday – Friday 5:30pm – 7pm offers six East Coast oysters and a glass of wine, beer, sherry or cider for $15. 
Original publish date, May, 2017 

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Chapel Down

If I had offered you a glass of English Sparkling five years ago, I’m sure you would have laughed at me, and I’m sure most New York Sommeliers still will. While Champagne and Spumante are considered the Pièce de Rèsistance in France and Italy, the English expertise of Chapel Down’s Chief Executive Officer Frazer Thompson is quickly proving that English Sparkling is capable of giving Grande Marques Champagnes a run for their money. I had the pleasure of sitting with Mr. Thompson and understanding his very simple philosophy. In order to compete with the globe’s best, you must be prepared to offer the best to the globe. 

Located in Tenterden in the Kent countryside, south east England is synonymous with the white cliffs of Dover. “It’s all about the Chalk.” Mr. Thompson says. The vineyards of Chapel Down are heavily influenced by the iconic chalk soil which is identical to the soil in Champagne only a mere 90 miles to the south across the English Channel. 

Chapel Down’s sparkling wines are produced using the intricate traditional method which means the bubbles are naturally created in the bottle you take home. When producing sparkling wine, this method is arguably the most appreciated in terms of quality, but in return, it is also very costly. 

      “As a winemaker, I want people to simply say “this is delicious.”  

With Mr. Frazer Thompson

For last last 15 years Mr. Thompson has been aiming to produce a genuine and consistent English sparkling. Three Graces made its debut in New York last fall and I was honored to attend the launching hosted by then newly appointed Consul General Antonia Romeo.
The cases of English Sparkling arrived late 2016, and after much anticipation became available on February, 1st 2017 in New York! You will be able to find Three Graces 2010 on the lists of Indochine, Quality Meats, Buddakan, and Grand Central Oyster Bar. Pinkies Up! 

Savoring Sardinia

Tucked between Spain and Tunisia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean. An individualistic region of the Italian Republic, Sardinia is home to spectacular beauty, ancient history, and of course, mouth watering sips and savors for the food enthusiast. The Sardinians have defended themselves from the Phoenicians, Romans, Egyptians, and the Byzantines. With its jagged cliffs and mountain formed walls, Sardinia has even survived a horrific volcanic past. The outcome of such characteristics has resulted in a present day paradise for the jetset, the overly stressed American, and even the wine lover.

On the northwest coast, protected by ancient walls and cannons is the Catalan- influenced city of Alghero. Regarded as one of the finest wine regions in Sardinia, Alghero offers a promising terroir that is heavily influenced by its coastline where significant pride is taken in the vines of Cantina Santa Maria La Palma. Since 1959, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma has allocated and preserved the characteristics of Sardinian tradition. In a cooperative setting utilizing modern technology, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma offers a harmonious fusion of old world mentality with new world method. 

The Vines of Santa Maria La Palma

Mostly known for their delicious Vermentino and Cannonau (a grape derived from Grenache); Cantina Santa Maria La Palma has also rediscovered and revived two equally prestigious grape varieties unique to Sardinia: Monica and Cagnulari. Both varieties are remnants of Spanish antiquity and date back to the 11th century. These varieties require care and attention to cultivate, but not in vain. Monica and Cagnulari provide beautiful wine that may be considered to have more qualities in common with Spanish than Italian wine. The limited quantities produced offer a sense of exotic refinement which one will only receive in Sardinia. 

At of glance, the traditional cuisine of Sardinia reveals the intriguing fact that the people not only eat what is available, but also eat what is considered to be edible. With an abundance of artichokes, seafood, figs, nuts, wines and cheeses at their fingertips; it is no wonder the people of Sardinia are considered to have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Casu Marzu, a Sardinian delicacy has been enjoyed for centuries. The rotten sheep milk cheese is literally alive containing larvae. Don’t worry, they are barely noticeable – unless they jump at you! Derived from Pecorino, casu marzu goes beyond usual fermentation and is served for enjoyment decomposed. The acid from the larvae breaks down the cheese’s fat making the texture of the cheese soft, spreadable and becomingly sour. Though it is now illegal, Sardinian’s still produce casu marzu, and are eager to share this local tradition with a crisp glass of Passito, though, Cannonau is another likely accompaniment. 

Casu Marzu

Meat, as one would imagine is not too sparingly consumed. However, su porcheddu, in the local dialect, or suckling pig, is reserved for feasts and celebrations. The dish is associated with agro pastoral cuisine, but has become quite the fine dining delicacy. Suckling pig, a babe between 20 to 40 days old is so buttery and so delicate because it has contained a diet of only its mother’s milk. The method of roasting directly above lit coals and ash causes a spectacle, but more importantly contributes to the crackling being crunchy and absolutely mouth watering. I guarantee, suckling pig will never taste the same again after leaving Sardinia. Savor with a glass of the local Cagnulari, as a true Sardinian. 

Food and wine is only one aspect of a country, yet it is one of the most persistent in growing awareness. Being able to understand food traditions helps us to understand a culture, which is an indispensable component to any human communication. Though food is a necessity to life, when carefully crafted, and accompanied by a beautiful glass of wine, cuisine does turn into an everyday art form that will evoke taste, smell, and a panging nostalgia to anyone who chooses to embrace it.
Savoring Traditions original publish date, September 2016

Virginia is for wine lovers

Just before Christmas in 1784, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend and wine contact John Bonfield, The American Council in Bordeaux. He expressed a fear. He wrote to his friend, “I have written a letter to Monsieur d’Yquem for 250 bottles of his newest vintage, but I am afraid he will not know who I am.” Mr. Bonfield in favor wrote to Monsieur d’Yquem introducing Thomas Jefferson, Minister of The United States of America. By February of 1785, Jefferson had received his 250 bottles which were described as “bottled with greatest care” in a letter signed by Count Louis-Amédée Lur Saluce, the newest proprietor of what Jefferson referred to as “House of Yquem.”

Thomas Jefferson’s introduction into the circles of French society was welcomed. They viewed him as “warming to intelligent conversation” and found his colonist lifestyle intriguing. His greatest friends included French liberals such as the Duke of Rochefoucauld, the Marquis de Chastellux, and General Lafayette. Through these influences and eventual life long friends, Jefferson discovered that fine wine and fine food is a great way to meet informally with political friends and foes. He approached gastronomy as a gentile art, and encouraged the newly American citizens to embrace it as a refined accompaniment for everyday life. During his time as president, Jefferson frequently used dinner parties as a form of legislative lobbying.

The success of Virginia viticulture was one of Jefferson’s greatest ambitions. He saw a vision in a state of breathtaking views, majestic mountain ranges, favorable climate, and diverse soils. “The best Virginia soil from an agricultural point of view is clay soil.” Exclaims Gabriele Rausse, the dubbed Godfather of Virginia wine and Director of Gardens and Grounds at Jefferson’s beloved home of Monticello. “As the Virginia wine industry started to take off people started to experiment with areas which were not clay.” Says Rausse. “Virginia also has a lot of loamy soil.”

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Virginia has a topography which compares very much to the Friuli region in Italy, and now produces quality wine as well. Though Jefferson’s predictions of Virginia wine were seen as over enthusiastic, now 200 years later Gabriele Rausse along with other Virginia winemakers have turned Jefferson’s vision a reality!

White Truffles!

While strolling the city, I’ve noticed the colors of the leaves are changing . Autumn has arrived! One of the world’s most rare ingredients has arrived too; the white truffle. These are not the black truffles of Burgundy, France seen on menus all over the world.  The Alba white truffle is one of the most expensive foods in the world. It grows wild and it can not be cultivated. The Alba white truffle is a true piece of gastronomic luxury.

Starting in early to mid  September through December truffle hunters along with their dogs prowl the Piedmont in search for what some call the diamond of the culinary world.

Once brought to surface, the truffles are sold to purveyors around the world. These precious fungi contain an aroma that is very earthy and can compare to mildew, or sweat, but trust me, it is strangely becoming and very intoxicating. You can smell a truffle from a few feet away but once shaven, the aroma fully exposed floats in the air. The truffle purveyors save their largest truffles for the best Chefs and restaurants and they eventually end up on your plate; garnishing buttered pasta, risotto, pizza, steaks, burgers, and even eggs. img_3126

I wish you a happy truffle season. Bon appetite!