Bring it On.
24 March 2011
Even a gypsy eventually reaches the end of her rope, and I have. All the schlepping, buying, wrapping, TSA-ing, and airport shuttling has gotten the best of me, and I am ready to settle down somewhere delicious for a while... you know, actually live somewhere I can sink my teeth into. After Italy, what should a girl do?
I landed at LAX, somewhat broke and completely exhausted, hailing a Super Shuttle and melting into the bench seat, a weary sight, beside my boxed-up dachshund and embarrassing amount of luggage. I smelled of airline travel and L.A. looked gross. I thought about it, but I couldn’t. Many friends live there as well as my family, but I just can’t. Other than for the obvious pollution and traffic reasons, I simply couldn’t fathom living under the veneer of a “city” but still having to hunt and scavenge for decent artisanal food products, aka drive around and spend too much, deeming a love for good food a mere luxury. After all, the way we eat is our birthright.
Bing! Napa. After 24 hours of travel, what’s another eight hours on the road to sniff out a new home like a wild boar during truffle season? Am I nuts? Probably. In certain circles, most definitely. But what a greeting I received from my friends! Fresh off the highway, I melted into the easy chair, and within seconds, a glass of 2003 Frog’s Leap Cabernet slid seamlessly into my hand, Jennifer having visited her nearby wine storage in anticipation. There was also dill havarti and dried beet chips to accompany. But this was just the beginning. We were off to the SF Chronicle’s 2011 pick for best in the Bay Area, and I rallied with what little bandwidth I could muster. I mean, wouldn’t you?
Oenotri, in a nutshell, was Holy Shit. A humbling experience, no doubt. Fresh off the plane, bus, and road from rural medieval Italy, I was surely a tough audience when it came to authenticity and cheeses, charcuterie and polenta melts. Isn’t this sort of scrutiny par for the course after a long immersion in foreign culture? First came the house-cured pepperoni on a deliciously-browned pizza, I a die-hard-pepperoni-lover born at first bite. Tiny rounds of the purest, oil-less, in-house sausage decorated the top of a most perfect pie, paired with a 2006 Planeta Santa Cecilia Nero d’Avola. The first sip was an undeniable explosion of honey, with little on the back end, a sturdy stand-up wine against the gently-spiced pepperoni. Not traditionally a pate person, I was converted immediately when the toast rounds arrived and the wine yanked the residual liver flavors out of hiding. I’m still not sure if I like pate as a stand-alone experience, but paired with that particular wine I am poised for almost anything at this point. It’s those mind-blowing taste breakthroughs that I liken to people who are hooked on adrenaline. But you want to read about cheese....
How about a second pizza with nettles, red garlic, and ricotta dura for starters? Yep. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. The sweetness of the red garlic carried the nettles and together they pushed the aged ricotta shavings to the finish. And a fine finish it was. When boarding the plane in Milan, I had mourned my departure from ricotta and it’s many uses and variations. But now, a mere several days later, I have happened upon its rebirth in my daily life, effortlessly and with the respect it deserves. Next came the polenta with a gorgeous taleggio melted within and on top, creamy and gentle, except for the stinky little back on it, and just divine with the deep and dirty 2004 Rosso Del Conte Tenuta Regaleali Tasca d’Almeria. Might I add that having sommelier friends really doesn’t suck? Another bite of the red garlic, nettles and ricotta dura brought the precious nectar through from down-and-dirty to a round vanilla finish, something I never came close to in Italy these past months.
Just when I thought we had been spoiled beyond return, out came the charcuterie platter, a mix of about a dozen varieties of house-cured paper-thing pork slices, the Sardegna variety yellow from the saffron it had been cured in. Little slices of taleggio and buffalo mozzarella garnished the enormous turning oak platter of various-aged cloven-hoof delicacies made on the same property I was privileged to be dining in. Desert was Unuvici. That’s Italian for “one of each.” But this is another subject altogether, for another day... or you can go there and whimper first-hand... But this was how my friends welcomed me to Napa Valley. I guess I live here now. I am going to the cheese-lover’s Burning Man on Sunday in Petaluma. It will be my first time, Virgin that I am. Any hints or advice?