Eating Badly in New York

Since there seem to be plenty of sources to help one find great food in NYC, I thought it might be useful to maintain  a running log of bad meals.  In part, coming from London, one often arrives with an inferiority complex, so I thought I’d test the assumption that food here is generally better than back home.  I mostly avoided the NYT’s higher-rated places, therefore this post focuses on more humble local joints (not necessarily cheap, especially when you include the 23.875-28.875% tax & tip wedge).

I started this 9 December with 3 entries, let’s see how many times I need update it…

Rego Pita (Rego Park): what was advertised as chicken breast sandwich, was nothing like.  Slimy pieces of thigh, possibly under-cooked (or juicy depending on whether you’re making it or fated to eat it), in a lumpen white doughy pita.  A steal at $10 apparently.

Boulevard Bistrot (Harlem): so I asked the waiter what the turkey meatloaf was made of – white meat or dark meat.  He answered, as if to say ‘you’re an idiot for asking such a stupid question’, that ‘well it comes as ground, how do I know whether its white or dark meat?’.  Or maybe he thought I was asking a politically incorrect question.  Anyway, I went ahead and ordered it, and got 2 rather dessicated slabs back, none of the touted wild mushroom gravy in evidence.  The meat itself, whatever went into it, was about 10% gristle, so I guess it was mostly dark meat – from the claw.  Or perhaps, this was soul food interpreted by a Japanese chef – tsukune (chicken meatballs) intentionally have cartilage in them to give them crunch – and they’re delicious. The beans, peas, and ‘tatoes were good, so maybe I was unlucky as the place looked promising and was recommended.  Total cost: $18

Boulevard Bistrot's freeze-dried ground-gristle-loaf garnished with ketchup and mushroom slices
Boulevard Bistrot’s freeze-dried ground-gristle-loaf garnished with ketchup and mushroom slices

Shalimar Diner (Rego Park): this is a bit unfair, as the place is sweet, and I will return.  But, again, the poultry was the culprit: instead of gristly meat, this was zero-texture turkey.  Really quite remarkable, 6 or 7 giant slabs of what could be reconstituted soy protein, on a rather good stuffing, all slathered in some unrecognisable flour paste garnished with liquified turkey-fat – I wouldn’t insult the venerable British white sauce by calling it that.  Again, to be fair, that is pretty much what American turkeys taste like, when I remember back to Thanksgivings as a child – and to some extent I’ve been spoiled by excellent free-range poultry in London – turkey, guinea fowl, and chicken.  Good martinis.  Cost: $18 (?)

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Shalimar’s soy protein roast

Arunee Thai (Jackson Heights): Elmhurst/JH/Woodside are full of Thai places, and this place is a trendy take on the cuisine (flat long stone bar, nice lights, cocktails).  Lunch specials are $8-8.5, and include soup or salad.  I had a rice noodle with chicken and basil, and it wasn’t bad (though with enough fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic and grease, anything can taste passable).  My main issue was that both the noodles and the soup had chicken with a funky smell, like it had been cooked the day before or maybe two, and was slowly being warmed up for  the lunchtime punters by (what looked like a non-Thai) quick-order chef in the back.  On the whole, then, I thought style had trumped the food; instead, go to the lovely Khao Kang canteen on Woodside Ave instead – much more authentic, just as clean, and 100% Thai staff and mostly Thai clients.

Mission Chinese (LES): My basic gripe with Mission is that, for all the hype and queues, it just wasn’t that impressive, and more specifically, smothered with enough salt for the passage to hell and back.  It was perhaps unfortunate that I had eaten at the Mission pop-up on Bond Street a couple years back, and thus had something to compare to.  And perhaps lunch for one isn’t where the menu shines.  But still, you gotta have standards: I ordered the fried rice, beef dumplings, mapodofu, and celery dish.  The fried rice was fine, but unexceptional – for all the artisanal smoked bluefish in it, it was a refined Chinese takeaway staple.  Pock-marked Mother’s Chen’s tofu was pretty decent, but lacking in the Sichuan peppercorns which is, somewhat the raison d’etre of Sichuan food – and if the late lamented Grand Sichuan (on the Northern approach to the Manhattan Bridge) used far too much, this had practically none.  No notable trace of chili either – so perhaps it was  toned-down for the Midwestern palate that famously is part of Danny Bowien’s shtick.  The beef dumplings were mush – so whatever shin, tail or ear they used, they definitely cooked it to the consistency of gelatin.  The broth had a scent of dill, which I suppose is a conceptual nod to Ashkenazi-Jewish dumplings, but let’s just say no one, other than third-tier New York food writers, rushes to acclaim that food as a culinary paragon – and this version wasn’t particularly nice.  The celery with hazelnuts sounded interesting, and wasn’t a bad start.  Then, somewhere between the rice and the celery, I started hitting clusters of salt, and nothing was the same after.  Overall – Bowien had, at one time, a good concept, and remains a great showman.  Most importantly, the food was good when it was a scrappy, small, cult operation.  Now, with copious financial backing, and the pressures of being on the painfully trendy LES with its hordes of identikit entry-level office workers in Canada Goose coats, seem to have sapped quality and invention in his kitchen.

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Oh I forgot to mention the idiotic website: a screenshot of a 1st gen web-browser that is ‘oh so..like retro…awesome!‘.  Any click, say on the ‘Girl Skateboards’ link takes the hapless viewer to something called Reserve.  Reserve is an app, seemingly entirely in champagne for the inhibited rapper in you, that has to be downloaded.  It is the only way to book at the restaurant.  It might even require the bill to be settled on the app, and only Bowien the God knows what data it collects.  I wandered in off the street, as did the next table, but I’m sure the Canada Goose crowd has Reserve downloaded to their Fitbits, so no trouble there.

One good thing – the white wine – a Portuguese Moscatel was fab.

 

Houdini

So after a few hours of walking the streets of Red Hook, Bushwick, and Ridgewood to see how far this ‘gentrification’ everyone bangs on about had gotten, I was delighted to finally find ‘Houdini Kitchen Laboratory‘ on Decatur Street in what looks like a large ex-factory studio complex.  The take-away is that the pizza was decent, soup great.  The reason to go is cultural: this is a very Italian place, in unexpected ways, and a fantastic addition to a benighted area.

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I had just stopped in for a drink at Roberta’s, the avant-garde in Bushwick that is still best-in-class, despite crowds and slightly uber-cool attitude.  Between the two pizza joints was the opportunity, on Myrtle Avenue, to eat lots of fried pig unmentionables, fried plantains, stewed cow unmentionables, and so forth.  I quite carefully missed all that – save it for next time.

Anyway, I had been at Pioneer Works, in Red Hook, another ‘up-and-coming’ – that has no transport links with anything.  It was a fantastic day-long class on Software for Artists and so maybe I had Houdini on the brain.  The subtitle ‘Kitchen Laboratory’ reminded me of the contemporary trend, to bring art, and to a lesser extent, technology, into the restaurant.  Massimo Bottura in Modena is of course the Italian poster-child of this, who has received death-threats for his efforts. He in turn, has been influenced by Wylie Dufresne, Ferran Adria, and countless others, within and outside the molecular gastronomy crowd.

Houdini had, I’m afraid, nothing of the laboratory that I could tell.  It was a good-looking pizzeria in an industrial building.  But this observation serves to introduce my topic: a deconstruction of a pizzeria. Having spent some time in medium/small-town all over Italy, I thought the parallels fascinating – it really has nothing to do with the food.

Negroni: This seemingly simple drink is served in a multitude of ways across Italy – from the vast soda-glass pours of the Veneto that ‘cut like a knife and leave you more dead than alive’ (from The Art of Eating quoting Luca Veronelli, albeit on Sicilian wine) – to the perfection of the most humble Roman bar.  The pricing varies – cheapest has been €4 in Molise, and the national average is €6.  The Houdini version did a great job picking off the worst features of Italian negronis and giving them a NYC-boost: a smallish pour in a very nice glass, with an enormous fat shard of ice that wetted my nose every time I sipped, and, for grip, a fine layer of sticky Campari juice on the outside.  The iceberg is apparently a mixologist’s trope – not content to leave a 96-year-old, adequately functional, recipe alone – trained cocktail bartenders insist on molesting it with ‘barrel-aged bourbon’, fancy vermouths (Cocchi di Torino), and most painfully, massive blocks of ice that never melt.  Anyway, the price at Houdini – keep in mind, in a pretty grim bit of town – was $12.50, which with tax and a presumptive 15% tip, makes it $15.5.  Obviously NYC and Italian prices are totally different, but that gets to €14.35. More comparably, the London equivalent is £10.26, probably the most expensive I’ve had in the UK other than Dukes.

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Lentil Soup: excellent, thin, no fat, not over-salted, basically perfect.  This is a staple of winter cookery across much of North-Central Italy, but particularly well-done in Padova and the cities of Emilia-Romagna.  It’s highest form, in my view, is when the soup is made exclusively of vegetables (a soffrito of carrots and celery, plus good lentils, say of Castelluccio [Umbria]), not relying on porky bits for flavour.

Migration: One of the most interesting, and encouraging, aspects of how Houdini was run was the demographic.  My order was taken by a lady who looked and sounded (in English) Chinese, but who seemed to speak fluent Italian.  The Chinese incursions into Italy are one of the lesser-known success stories of immigration – from textile workers in Tuscany to owners of hotels and cafes stretching from San Remo to the Veneto – they have even spurred a documentary (being in Italy, it’s structured as a reality-TV show).  In the kitchen was a man who was African or African-American, but spoke Italian, I think.  Interestingly, Italian kitchens are rarely staffed by Africans – the kitchen and flower-seller trades are the preserve of South Asians. The clientele was a happy mix of young (white, professional) people, an elderly English couple with perfect cut-glass accents and hair to die for, and, unlike at Roberta’s, a number of (apparently) working-class Hispanic and African-American diners.  My bill came to $50 before tip for 2 drinks, soup and pizza.

That ain't 'nduja

Pizza: The pizza itself was good for Ridgewood, but would be distinctly sub-average in Italy itself.  It was not greasy, nor slathered in nasty cheese.  Yet, for sporting a wood-fired oven, they weren’t getting the best out of it: the dough was not bubbly, chewy, or particularly charred.

Localvore: The idea of making food locally took Brooklyn by storm a few years ago, and has spread to East London, Berlin, etc.  Why it’s a great idea to make basic ingredients (sausage, cheese, wine, etc.) that depend on a particular terroir, and exist in a well-defined cultural context, in cold, wet, snowy cities, is debatable.  Anyway, I ordered ‘nduja on my pizza.  When it arrived, the ‘nduja was basically just spicy crumbly sausage, and tasty too.  I called the owner (dressed in the obligatory distressed, close-fitting, precisely ripped jeans that are the carapace of the some Italian males) over to discuss, and he tried to emphasise proudly that it was home-made, but after I invoked Cosenza, Metaponto, and Reggio Calabria, he admitted it wasn’t ‘nduja at all, because he couldn’t get the spices, pork, or preservatives.  After that, I didn’t dare ask what cow (never mind, buffalo) produces the ‘home-made’ burrata.  Having said all that, they get points for effort.

Lambrusco: To their credit, it was a tart, deeply violet, bubbly drink, pretty much as it should be.

Cash-only: The last small-town Italian giveaway was the cash-only, paid at the front table.  For whatever reason, in a city that almost universally takes cards in any decent restaurant, this was a cash joint – with a ($1.50 charge) cash machine in the back.  No further comment.

Planetary Fluff: On e-flux‘s Supercommunity Day 29

fluff

I picked up e-flux’s elegantly produced Supercommunity online journal with considerable anticipation – the topic was ‘Planetary Computing (Is the Universe Actually a Gigantic Computer?)’.  This idea, of course, has been quite fashionable for a while in cosmology circles, and I briefly return to it below.  But I was particularly interested in what light we as artists, and arts writers, could shed on the conversation.

It started promisingly enough – the header (http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/topics/planetary-computing/) wrote that 3-D modelling software basically simulates the laws of motion, so as to realistically model movement. I would add: fluid dynamics (to model explosions or water), light’s interaction with gas, solid, and liquid, 4-D complex numbers (to better model rotations), and fractals (to get that natural look of ‘nature’).

Allora & Calzadilla and Kader Attia had great contributions – poetically wandering around the brief. Attia considers the idea of repair, as in, fixing things that are broken or dealing with mistakes and failure. These are inherent in the process of making physical art.  In the digital realm, ‘Ctrl+Z’ is so powerful that mistakes rarely are visible, and leave little permanent trace.  Attia somehow linked repair to cosmology and mathematics – I don’t get it, but I like thinking about it.

Reading on, I came upon Adam Kleinman’s essay.  This essay evidenced extensive research and the broad erudition of its author, a respected curator associated with dOCUMENTA (13) and the Witte de With Center.  It also highlighted certain features of art writing that I find a noxious cocktail of viewpoints that are both painfully orthodox and right-on, and that don’t really offer much insight into the world, or art.

Random Associations

The essay starts with an anecdote about a DARPA project: a 1.8 gigapixel surveillance camera with 368 lenses. It then quickly makes an associative leap to another programme that funds solar-powered drones that can stay aloft for five years.  The connection is via an aside on the Greek myth of Argus, Juno, and the peacock’s feathers, and the section ends with an obligatory rhetorical question (presumably accompanied by theatrical hand-wringing)

‘How did such terrors come to pass?’

Backatcha…or…an Essay About Nothing

As I read the essay, I noted a remarkable feature – the number of times (three, by my count) Kleinman, in a rather self-conscious tone, brought up the e-flux brief:

‘Coming back to the concept of cosmology though…’

‘In the brief for this meditation, I was asked: Is the universe a gigantic computer?…’

‘If a universe is a supercomputer, then…’

Yet, for all that repetition, the portentous question remained unexplored.  Each one of these statements leads to a flight of fancy, and, in one case, simply somersaulted into three questions back at the reader.

‘Is the universe a gigantic computer? Instead, I would like to ask: Are supercomputers universal—in the sense of equality or universal justice—or are they simply ubiquitous?  Furthermore, do they have a cosmology? And lastly, what is their nature when we train them on our planet?’

WTF ?? how does one even constructively think about that? These are strings of words that are grammatically and syntactically correct but convey little, or no, sense.  I’m not sure they even read well as poetry.

Art Writing Shibboleths

The essay then goes on to give a potted account of how the Internet developed out of various U.S. Defence Department and corporate projects, and somehow jumps from that hackneyed topic to the following non sequitur:

‘And like the rise of the drones and the rise of the bots, the rise of secretive and proprietary inter- and intra-nets, which link both private and secure supercomputers, needs more discussion today.

‘If a universe is a supercomputer, then we should be able to zoom in and check whether differing galaxies and solar systems are contained within it. On a low level of magnification, we might eye the so-called internet and its “evil twin,” the darknet.’

Things continue in this vein, making the obligatory stops to hammer Facebook, high-frequency trading, and the section ends with an anodyne statement about how computers replace human and human labour.  If one substituted ‘technology’ for ‘computers’, this reflection on the relationship between machines and the labour of man could easily date back to the shutting of U.S. steel factories in the 1980s, Detroit’s car factories around the same time, extinction of market-makers today, maybe computer programmers tomorrow….neither novel nor insightful.

Finally, proving that if you trawl broadly enough, you will catch some decent fish, Kleinman relates (or rather, quotes copiously) an interesting story about the Soviet effort, in the 1960s, to network factories and government bureaux, with a view towards increasing efficiency and reducing personnel.  The Soviet experiment never got off the ground, but may have inspired American efforts to develop what would eventually become the Internet.  Kleinman doesn’t really explore the political implications of this – or what this anecdote had to do with the universe or art. All we got was another gnomic utterance:

‘Juno stripped of the state is simply the goddess of the family, or, more directly, the goddess of motherhood. As we continue to nurture more and more supercomputers, and possibly populate not only the earth, but the entire sky with them as well, we have to ask: Are we really going into this whole thing as responsible and mature adults?’

Simulation (or Simulacrum)?

But rather than continuing to pick apart that essay, I wanted to gloss the nominal topic of this e-flux module, since none of the contributors seemed to do so: the thought experiment that our universe may, in some sense, be a great simulation running on some rather advanced computer.

Nick Bostrom is the best-known advocate of this position.  His hypothesis, strictly speaking, one part of a group of three statements, all of which cannot be untrue (http://www.simulation-argument.com/matrix.html), is that there is a good chance that we (humans singly and collectively) exist as simulations within some sort of computer.  The creators of the simulation are ‘post-humans’, that is, entities that are our descendants, who, for some reason, want to simulate what the universe was like in the time of flesh-and-blood organic humans.

In this view, the universe is a simulation ‘running on some computational substrate’ (Ray Kurzweil quoted in Is Our Universe  A Fake? http://www.space.com/30124-is-our-universe-a-fake.html) and ‘physical laws are sets of computational processes’ (ibid).  The philosophy, and physics, involve fall out of scope of this essay, but an immediately interesting question arises: how we might be able to tell if we are subjects in a simulation.  It might be possible to test the laws of physics to work out whether there are slight errors, inconsistencies, or unexplained phenomena that might be evidence that the world we live in is not quite ‘real’.  These traces may be left by the programmers unintentionally, or may be ‘back doors’ intentionally left in the programme, to be found by the inhabitants.

As an analogy consider a 3-D CGI simulation: if an advanced (say artificially intelligent or self-aware) character could somehow look behind a wall, at a so-called hidden-surface, and find that the programmer, to reduce rendering time, had chosen not to model or ray-trace light reaching the hidden surface (because the surface is invisible to the camera), he/she might interpret that as evidence of a simulated environment.

A readable article on this topic, that, given it is in The New Yorker, is as equally about Bostrom as it is about his philosophy, may be found in the November 23, 2015 issue. There are a number of researchers who take issue with Bostrom’s arguments, and indeed, the very idea that the mind is at all computable: see Sir Roger Penrose in The Emperor’s New Mind (1989) or Ken Wharton, in The Universe is Not a Computer (http://arxiv.org/abs/1211.7081v2 ).

On Poetry

Judging by the trouble I have had in concisely summarising the Simulation Hypothesis, I do sympathise with the approach taken in the e-flux essay: essentially repeat the question, then talk about something else.  Whatever it is trying to say, I would, inelegantly, summarise it as

‘The military-industrial complex is building (lots of) spies in the sky that are watching over us (all the time). Something like this has happened before in the 1960s and led to the internet.  The Soviets might have done it first but it would have trashed the Worker’s Utopia. Oh dear, I’m not sure where all this technology will all lead.’ [more vigorous hand wringing]

Perhaps a certain type of art-writing is not to be judged on content, but rather, as poetry, on style.  A style of writing where one strings together fancy words, quickly jumps from topic to topic, throws in some truisms, garnish all the above with a splash of Greek mythology, and nod sagely in an auburn haze of profundity and critical-engagement.

Catania: Central Fish Market

Catania’s main fish market, the largest in Sicily & probably Italy. Tuna arrive unfrozen from the Trapani & Marsala fishing grounds off the western coast of sicily, some with hooks still in their mouths. The tuna hunt is one of the great dramas, blood-tinged and a bit sad, as much else in sicily. The great fish are herded by the fleet into large nets, each opening into a slightly smaller net, until the last: the ‘house of death’. Here they are, to the rhythm of antique songs of Arab origin, and upon the instructions of the rais, a word of Arab origin meaning ‘leader’, speared and slaughtered, with care taken to avoid damage to the precious stomach and midsection. The wine-dark sea turns a foamy red.

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6am,just landed tuna are relieved of their heads, guts, roes to be preserved as bottarga. The fish are left mostly whole beyond the midsection, as some customers buy the ‘loin’ intact while others want steaks. The complex stomach area, with its delicious fatty bits, and more difficult sinews near the pectoral and dorsal fins, are carefully sectioned. Thin slices are cut for raw dishes like battuto, and possibly sashimi at Catania’s top restaurants.

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Men walking about in wellies, no pools of blood and water yet. That’s to come.

The market is mostly open-air, amidst the arches of a railway line. Fish come in by small lorries, and ice in the ubiquitous Ape 50. Fish are carted around on great hand-trucks. The dealers in large fish, with the biggest stalls (slabs of marble or high-density plastic chopping boards) in the main piazza next to Piazza Duomo. There is a raised area where old men stand, some shouting orders for fish, others joking with the fishermen. The smaller stands, retail as they carry a much broader range of fish, are under the arches. Three coffee stands supply the market, and one has a delivery service. After the tuna and swordfish are decapitated and gutted, the first espresso (that we saw) arrived in little plastic cups.

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Unlike Tsukiji there isn’t a defined primary or whole-fish section of the market. But the gent with white hair seemed like a sort of primary dealer, with the biggest, most valuable fish in the market – expertly butchering it into large blocks that get sold over the course of the day. It’s all about theatre as he arranges the swordfish blade and tuna heads in just the right way.

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On a different morning, this stall landed a large tuna, which they worked through. One man stuck his hands inside the fish to tear out the gills and innards, draining deep red veinous blood onto the cobbles.

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Our catch: 1 kg from just behind the stomach, away from the main fin, so a mix of filet & fatty chu-toro. For €10 about 30% London prices. They also threw in bones & shavings. This tuna was about 8 hours between killing and eating, so probably fresher than at Tsukiji.

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Simply cooked in the padella, with a tomato salad, and zucchini.

Highlights of RAW Natural Wine Fair 2014

RAW Wine Fair: the end of the affair...
RAW Wine Fair: the end of the affair…

RAW 2014 was, as in 2013, at once fantastic and frustrating: some phenomenal wines and winemakers, but relatively few are actually sold in the UK. On the other hand, if you take the view that wine is best tasted in situ, then it’s all the more reason to get down to Solicchiata, Asti, Udine, or Tokyo !

Of the 151 wine stands, in the interests of focus, I mainly stuck with Italy (Friuli, Sicily, Campania, Lazio, and Piedmont), Georgia, and the Japanese sake stand.

2013 review here, with an introduction to natural wine, importers, etc. https://eatthehipster.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/raw-natural-wine-fair-london/

The highlight was the sake stand, manned by the awesome duo of Masaru Terada (of Teradahonke organic sake brewery based in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo) and Dick Stegewerns of Yoigokochi sake importers (Leiden, Holland). They had about 25 organic sakes, defined as junmaishu (“100% pure rice wine” without alchohol, sugars, additives), some of which were unpasteurised and unfiltered. Many of them were relatively “unpolished”: polishing rice removes the bran on the surface to expose the starch, and most “standard” sake is 30% polished, for what’s thought to be a cleaner flavour, perhaps at the expense of character.

Masaru Terada and friend..
Masaru Terada and friends…
Teradahonda's offering
Teradahonda’s offering

A favourite was Ine Mankai (from Mukai Shuzo brewery in Kyoto Prefecture), a rose sake made from 30%-polished red rice, sweet and acidic. Another was the Yuzu (from Heiwa Shuzo in the southern prefecture of Wakayama), flavoured with yuzu lime. Teradahonke had a number of cloudy sakes described as “pre-modern”, made with minimal polishing, while Senkin Tsurukame 19 (Senkin brewery) was 81% polished ! Bottom line, the sake stand was an eye-opener on the range and variety of sake production in Japan, which doesn’t really make its way to most Japanese restaurants in London, at least at an affordable price by the glass.

On to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia – once again Stan Radikon’s wines impressed with their colour, aroma, tautness: favourites were Oslavje 2007 (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio), the utterly austere Ribolla 2007 (Ribolla Gialla), and the more forgiving Jakot 2007 (Tokaj). Still in FVG, Franco Terpin’s Ribolla Gialla 2007 from the Collio hills was notable, as were Marco Sara’s peppery Schioppettino 2012 (Schioppettino grapes native to FVG) and the Frank 2012 (Cabernet Franc). I also greatly enjoyed Denis Montanar’s slightly sweet Rose Di Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso 2010 (RDP grapes), and more tannic Verduzzo Friulano 2006 (VF grapes).

Radikon from FVG
Radikon from FVG
Denis Montanar
Denis Montanar from FVG
Denis Montanar from FVG
Denis Montanar from FVG

Just next door, in Veneto, Costadila from Valdobbiadene offered a great prosecco, 450 Slm 2012, with no added sugar and slightly cloudy, as well the slightly-orange, owing to 20 days of skin contact, 280 Slm 2012 . I think the odd names might refer to elevations.

Costadila from Valdobbiadene, Veneto
Costadila from Valdobbiadene, Veneto

In Piedmont, the standouts were Luca Roagna’s Barbaresco Paje 2008 (Nebbiolo), made in the traditional style (botti grandi instead of barriques , autochthonous yeasts, and a submerged cap of crushed skins atop the fermenting wine), producing a pale and pleasantly tannic wine, 6 years after bottling. Cascina Roera’s wines from Monferrato near Asti, particularly the Monferrato Rosso of 2008 (Nebbiolo) was excellent but probably could use a few more years of ageing (Roera is also a traditional vintner). Lastly, I liked Valfaccenda’s Roero Arneis 2013 (Arneis grapes), for its hint of perfume and sweetness.

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Some very fine wine was at Cancelliere from Campania in the Montemarano zone, made from Aglianico grapes, said to be southern Italy’s answer to Nebbiolo, its high tannins and acids making it suitable for long ageing, indeed requiring ageing before its drinkable. Unlike Nebbiolo it gives a deep garnet colour and more chocolate/plum aromas rather than the pale colour and rose/tar combination of Nebbiolo. It’s prominently made at Monte Vulture in Basilicata (though there were no Basilicatan producers at the fair), but also in Campania. The Gioviano 2008 Irpinia Aglianico DOC, and particularly, the Nero Ne 2008 Taurasi DOCG, both had wonderful colour and mouthfeel, and super-sweet winemakers (this really is a general comment about most of the makers I met). Fabulous stuff. Still in Campania, Don Chisciotte 2011 from Pierluigi Zampaglione, made with Fiano grapes, was delicious.

Lamoresca from Sicily
Lamoresca from Sicily

South to Sicily: Frank Conelissen has been written about here and elsewhere, and had his very fine, if slightly crazy, wines ran dry quickly! Lamoresca, from near Ragusa in SE Sicily, had some likeable wines, from the autochthonous Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Nerello Mascalese grapes (see Eric Asimov in the NY Times). I also thought the wines of Porta del Vento, from near Palermo, made from Perricone and Catrarratto grapes were worth buying.

Lastly, the non-Italian standout was Esencia Rural’s wines from La Mancha in Spain: the unfiltered Pampaneo 2013 (Tempranillo) with its hint of cumin, and the De Sol A Sol 2010 (Tempranillo), were both remarkable. The former is available in the UK (many of the above are not). The estate also produces a mad black garlic, apparently ultra-hip in NYC restaurants – basically it’s garlic that’s been slow roasted that roasted at low-temperature for up to a month, until they turn black, ultra-caramelised, and umami-rich.

Esencia Rural's Pampaneo from La Mancha
Esencia Rural’s Pampaneo from La Mancha
And their de Sol a Sol, note the great label: the hands of the winemakers parents, if I recall
And their de Sol a Sol, note the great label: the hands of the winemakers parents, if I recall