Thursday, March 03, 2011

Authentic or Delicious: What’ll you have?

Two-steppin' between translation and interpretation

Maybe it’s that we are waiting for new releases. Maybe wine blogging is dead. I don’t read about how a wine tastes very often on line where it makes me want to go buy it and drink it. But then, I have plenty of wines that need to be tasted and hopefully, enjoyed.

Which leads me into what I really am thinking about. I think about it a lot. This whole genuine vs. innovative debate that appears on line and in person. I am really torn. I love, love, love real authentic Italian fare. I eat lots of it in Italy and 80-90% of it is also delicious.

I also am exposed to newer expressions of la cucina in Italy. A recent visit to a pizzeria in the Veneto was one of those moments. When I was really looking for the real Neapolitan pizza, we were taken to a place that essentially used very good ingredients. But the pizza was more like a focaccia, and either sliced and filled or simply layered with the toppings after it came out of the oven. For the most part the combinations were tasty. The shrimp crudo with the goopy cheese left me scratching me head. But Ok, it was decent. It was even tasty. It wasn’t authentic. I’m not sure it was as delicious as what I had set my mind on.

Back home in America, I recently had occasion to dig into a deep-dish pizza in the Berkeley area. Once again, not exactly what I was looking for. But again, it was tasty. Not cutting edge, like the shrimp crudo goopy cheese version in the Veneto. Thankfully. But tasty. And it went well the wine. Not that wine should really ever be expected to go with any pizza. That’s not authentic now is it?

So what I am hearing myself say is that I have come to expect certain foods that I feel are delicious and often authentic. And when I don’t have those foods in front of me, in certain settings, I am not as satisfied. Pretty funny, considering when I am at home I try all sorts of experiments.

Right now I am on a kick using nutmeg, cardamom and cayenne on a lot of foods. Mainly roasted vegetables. But I have tried it on fish and fowl. Authentic? Not in any of my past experiences, unless maybe I was a Bedouin in a previous life. But tasty, delicious, yes!

So why shouldn't a chef or a winemaker mix it up? Why not indeed?

And here’s the hook. Sort of.

I’m having dinner last night at a very posh place, Stephan Pyles. Winemaker dinner. Neal family. California. Howell Mtn. Chef Pyles is the epitome of innovation. And good taste. Oh, and moderation. Look at him. He’s been around as long as me. He’s trim, he smiles, he still has that child like curiosity about things in his world. And he lives in a pretty broad swath of those expressions. He has a large palate with which he blends his flavor and textures. And 90% or more of the time, the food is delicious. Really resonates with me.

Similarly, the winemaker, Gove Celio, a 5th generation Californian. Gosh, what an historical epoch in wine, in American wine, he has witnessed. And from California. He is part of the history. Mountain grown, valley floor. Oak, no oak, Davis, no Davis. Till finally he lived long enough and realized what he was.

He was a winemaker. He makes wine. And yes, he also listens. But he is the hand of man, not on some jihad against modernity. Just keeping the modern in check with his sensibilities. And his sensibilities are pretty good by my reckoning.

California wines. Organically grown; Native yeast, but not always. French Oak, but not always and rarely the small barrique. Alcohol in check. Flavors in check. Some field blending. Old school. And the wines?

Dang, I loved ‘em! They were not arrogant wines. They didn’t have an agenda. Or an ego. They were calm. They were steady. They were quintessentially 21st century California. In my opinion. And they were delicious.

My friends Julian and David and his wife Jennifer all run small, successful restaurants in Dallas, my home town. All are young – in the beginning of their careers. None of them has been to Italy very many times. But they love all that is Italian. Hey, they’ll get to Italy more. But they also have businesses to run. And passion about their businesses, which are fueled by things Italian.

I have had some delicious things in their places. Sometimes they resemble something traditional. Sometimes they appear to have come out of their wellspring of creativity and imagination. Sometime they work. More often than not, they do, because these young lads love delicious things. But when they fall short, hey, it’s not like a whole crop of cabernet. It’s one night. One dish. It’s not the end of the world. How many of us have been at home piddling around with ingredients only to have to eat it when we knew that it would not be one of our favorite home cooked meals. I remember - too many times. But what I am getting at is after a little time (or a lot) those practitioners get better. They get better chops in their trade. Just like our winemaker friend from California.

“I remember my first two or three vintages, those wines were pretty rough,” he remarked. I hear, you, pal. Been there, done that, drank the bitter potion from my own casks a time or two.

We are humans. The phrase, “It is impossible to step into the same river twice,” comes to mind. Everything is in motion. Nothing is static. So why should our opinions of whether it is this or that really matter? Ultimately it doesn’t.

But I will continue to pursue delicious. And while one little angel whispers in my ear “keep it real” and the other little devil squeaks ”Oh screw it, let’s go for it, let’s have some fun,” I’ll be somewhere in the middle taking it all in.

Trying not to fall in the river.

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