Saturday, November 14, 2009

Master Class in Gruner and Nero D'Avola at a local Bacaro

A cicchetti feast for vegans and a panino-fest for porchetta-lovers

How often does one get the opportunity to travel around a state visiting great wine people with a master sommelier like Damon Ornowski? Last week, while my amigo was noshing it up in Nashville with Kermit, we were terroirizing the Texas countryside with a car full of Gruners and Nero D’Avolas. An unlikely pair of wines from the polar opposite ends of Italy (the Gruner was off the map from the Wachau).

Last week in Houston, our rolling wine show pulled up to the steps of a friend’s new place. Lynette Hawkins recently opened up Giacomo’s cibo e vino on 3215 Westheimer (near Kirby). The concept is bacaro with cicchetti, a casual wine bar with small plates. This is a delight for carnivore and vegan alike, as the counter is filled with any number of delicious offerings. Tha place has gotten great early press from my twitter buddy @alisoncook.

But our goal was to meet up with a group of sales reps and sommeliers for a quick meet-up and a light lunch. The draw was Damon with his wines from Cusumano in Sicily and a selection of Austrian wines from Kracher, Hirtzberger and Domane Wachau. Great stuff and right before the Thanksgiving holiday some liquid food for thought.

Damon is a lightning bug of info, and he moves as fast as one too (the guy took two runs in one day while we were in Austin!). After a long day in San Antonio, capped off by a dinner at Il Sogno, Andrew Weismann's new Italian spot in the Pearl Brewery, we headed out early for the ride to Houston. All through the trip I kept wondering about all the great BBQ places we were passing. Thankfully it was too early and we had to be in Houston at 11:00AM.

Damon handled the wine details and I got with Giacomo manager Emily, who is as turned on to the concept of cicchetti as the able proprietressa, Lynette. I looked at the line of food and asked her for a little taste of everything for our group.

Within minutes small plates poured onto the table, fighting for space with the Gruners and the Neros. But a battle in which everyone won.

I have to say, I roll with some interesting folks in the wine business (starting to sound like an umami blog, hey Dr.P?) and this was no different. @JonSomm (Jonathan Hoenefenger of Tony’s) and I got into this deep chat about DOCG’s. Jon keeps me on my toes, and we had some fun flaring our nostrils at each other, trying to stump one another over the most esoteric of wines from Italy. Later in the lunch he mentioned the Nero D’Avola Bianco that he pours as the house wine at his restaurant (Damon made a note and emailed the Cusumano's about it on the way to the next stop). Scott Barber from Tesar’s in the Woodlands took the drive in to hook up with us, along with a table of intense and attentive salespeople and their clients. Darn, we are lucky to be working and living in these times.
"Hey, I'm really paying attention -
I'm just writing my tasting notes down"

The Cicchetti we had were wonderful (If you aren't a carnivore you would be very happy here - see the pictures):
we also had
cavolfiore in agro dolce roast cauliflower in caramelized onion vinaigrette
ratatouille roast eggplant and zucchini with sweet peppers, onions, tomato, herbs, garlic and olive oil
insalata di barbabietole roast beets with goat cheese, fennel, walnuts
tacchino tonnato poached turkey breast marinated in tuna sauce
frutti di mare salad of poached shrimp, calamari, fennel, herbs, lemon and olive oil
polpettini d’agnello spicy lamb meatballs
pollo ai peperoni chicken thighs braised with white wine, sweet peppers and onions

But the showstopper of the afternoon was Lynette’s panino di porchetta, a toasted sandwich of slow braised fennel and rosemary roasted Berkshire pork on ciabatta (with my full year's allocation of garlic). It was so good I didnt take the time to take a picture of it. It was so good I wasn’t even feeling bad about missing all that brisket and ribs we passed by on our way from San Antonio earlier.

And with wines like Cusumano Nero D’ Avola (rosato and rosso) and the Gruners from Domane Wachau, Hirtzberger and Kracher, it was hard to imagine how we would ever make the next three appointments (we did!).

Giacomo's cibo e vino
? A great new destination in Houston for wine and food lovers, especially if you are looking for pure and simple unpretentious food and affordable wine. Lynette, grazie e bravo!

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