Report from the 2009 Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Food & WineThe Aspen Food & Wine Classic last week was once again one of the most promiscuously flavorful weekends of the year.

I also had the good fortune to visit with other illustrious speakers, including cheese-goddess Laura Werlin, wine-goddess Lettie Teague, the perfectly pocket-squared Brian Duncan, and the smartly-sweatered Tony Giglio. There truly is no better pairing than food & wine.

Another highlight of the weekend was the Best New Chefs Dinner, which featured delectable creations such as the a crab cocktail shooter from Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef, pork meatballs from Nate Appleman of San Francisco’s A16, and a grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwich from Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch.  I practically feel to my knees in bliss sampling the succulent pork belly sandwich topped with kimchi from Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of LA’s Animal.

My own seminars at Food & Wine this year were entitled “Hard to Say, Easy to Drink” and “Outsmarting Wine 101”.  To select the final twelve wines from 186 contenders, I once again employed a tasting panel of wine-passionate friends.   On a mild Saturday night this March, we diligently swirled and spit around a table in the techno-cool offices of my pal Mark Hernandez’s electronic interior design company, Cliqk.   After the evaluative part of the tasting, the evening somehow transformed into a raucous rager with dozens of thirsty friends somehow finding the stamina to help us drain those 186 bottles.

Food & Wine

The twelve winning selections that I included in my Aspen Classic seminars were:

“Hard to Say, Easy to Drink”
Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV ($70, France)
(Egg-lee Oo-ree-ay)
Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli 2008 (Spain, $22)
(Sho-MEEN Ex-TAN-ess Choc-oh-lee)
Boutari Moschofilero 2007 (Greece, $11)
Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico “Rubrato” 2006 (Italy, $17)
(Ah-LYAH-nee-koe )
Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2005 (Portugal, $65)
(Tou-REEGA Nah-shu-nal)
The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz NV  (Australia, $15)
(hard Ch, rhymes with “hook”)

“Outsmarting Wine 101”:
Adriano Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2007 (Italy, $23)
Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2008 (New Zealand, $19)
Plantagenet Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 (Australia, $18)
Erath Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Selection 2006 (Oregon, $32)
Gundlach Bundschu Merlot Rhinefarm Vineyard 2005 (California, $30)
Justin “Isosceles” Paso Robles 2006 (California, $55)

The Biggie Show: Aspen ’08

Once again, the Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic proved itself a gastronomic Shangri-La — a confluence of sips, sustenance, and setting of Mr. Roarkian wondrousness.


My seminars this year were “Rosé Renaissance” and “ABC’s of Wine”.  To ensure that each wine was worthy of the Classic’s illustrious attendees (including my sister), I again enlisted the palates of my Manhattan-based “Civilian Tasting Panel,” a circle of discerning but non-professional tasters organized by my buddies Mark Hernandez and Judge Kirby.  After sampling close to 90 wines this winter, these winners emerged:

Rosé Renaissance:
1) Delamotte Rosé Brut NV (France, $90)
2) Domaines Ott, Chateau de Selles, Rosé 2006 (France, $38)
3) Domaine de la Mordorée, “Dame Rousse,” Tavel Rosé 2007 (France, $28)
4) Tablas Creek Rosé Paso Robles 2007 (California, $22)
5) Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé Of Malbec 2007 (Argentina, $12)
6) Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rosado 1997 (Spain, $28)

ABC’s of Wine:
1) Mionetto “Sergio MO ” NV (Italy, $22)
2) Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2007 (New Zealand, $20)
3) Beringer Chardonnay Private Reserve 2006 (California, $35)
4) A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2006 (Oregon, $19)
5) Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2004 (California, $50)
6) Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Paso Robles Westside 2006 (California, $29)

Being at the Aspen Classic also affords the opportunity to visit with various superheroes of food and wine, including, this year, Gail Simmons, the irresistible judge from Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

Finally, I offer a grateful knuckle-knock to the Aspen Daily News for their kind words in this Monday’s issue:

“Mark Oldman had to be the most entertaining wine speaker of the weekend.  In his seminar, Rosé Renaissance, the wine author managed to incorporate some Biggie Smalls lyrics while discussing a $90 bottle of French champagne; led a little chant and dance on how to taste wine; and shared his method of pouring undrunk rosé into a Gatorade bottle when unable to finish a bottle of the pink stuff in a restaurant.  While his seminar slightly overlapped the Saturday Grand Tasting, very few looked as though they wanted to leave as the volunteers signaled that his time was up.”

Mark’s Magnus Morsels: New York’s Best Nibbles (Downtown Edition)

Man cannot subsist on wine alone. We also need special savory treats and snacks, foods with an uncommon depth of flavor, soul-satisfying, life-affirming, swoon-inducing, so deliriously good that they will make you want to moan in joy, hug yourself, and float skyward in the manner of that old Hanna Barbera cartoon hound after he received a dog biscuit. We need what I call “Magnus Morsels”.snacks nyc downtown


The following 27 Magnus Morsels are obtainable in downtown Manhattan and were chosen based on their ability to deliver intense flavor per swallow at reasonable cost:

Fried Chicken at Blue Ribbon
Frank Purdue would have wept with like a rescued castaway tasting the golden crunchy skin swaddling the juicy meat within, accompanied by the restaurant’s luscious Mexican honey, and divinely creamy mashed potatoes and Gerbers-tender collard greens.
Blue Ribbon, 97 Sullivan St. between Prince & Spring St

Cheese Popovers at BLT Prime
If sex shops had bakeries, they would proudly proffer these gigantic, warm and chewy, gruyere-laced puffed-up creations, brought to the table gratis and guaranteed to butcher your appetite.
BLT Prime, 111 E 22nd St, between Lexington & Park Ave South

Grilled Corn at Cafe Habana
Like a glowing aircraft beacon over LaGuardia, this Mexican-style maize attracts heavy traffic, its crispy kernels electrified with chili powder, melted cotija cheese, and mayo, and enlivened further by a squeeze of lime and a dash of hot sauce.
Cafe Habana, 17 Prince St., at Elizabeth St

Personal Pizzas at Pizza Gruppo
Searing into your mind like the Kal Kan branding iron, these brick-oven masterworks benefit from the perfect assemblage of tangy sauce, fresh mozzarella, unimpeachable toppings like caramelized onions and quality artichoke hearts, and a thin, flaky crust — served in a little East Village joint that few seem to know about.
Pizza Gruppo, 186 Avenue B, between 11th & 12th St

Tempura String Beans at the Red Cat
More addictive than nicotine-laced Pringles, these lightly battered marvels and accompanying sweet mustard dipping sauce will haunt your taste buds for weeks at a time.
The Red Cat, 227 10th Ave, between 23rd & 24th St

Lemonade at City Bakery
Thirst slaking and pleasantly piquant.
City Bakery, 3 W 18th St, between 5th & 6th Aves

Lobster Roll at the Lobster Place
Snowy chunks of the freshest lobster meat, lightly mixed with lemony mayo, crammed into a hot dog bun and ringing up at only $12 at this Chelsea Market fish shop.
The Lobster Place, 436 W 16th St, at 10th Ave (inside Chelsea Market)

Fried Meatballs at Bellavitae
These small, spherical miracles snap and crackle as you pop them into your mouth, their olive-oil-fried crust encasing moist meat within.
Bellavitae, 24 Minetta Lane, between 6th Ave & MacDougal St

Tuna on Rye at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
Neither this coffee shop’s dreary pre-war decor nor the sandwich’s bland rye bread, prosaic iceberg lettuce, and only-ok tomato can dull the magic of its gloriously retro tuna salad: a mound of tuna and high-fat, non-sweet mayo, fluffed to perfection with grandmotherly love.
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, 174 5th Ave, between 22nd & 23rd St

Volcano Roll at Cube 63
You’ll experience an eruption of your own when your fangs sink into this savory slice of succulence, a soft cushion of crabmeat and shrimp, sauced sweetly with crunch bits up top.
Cube 63, 63 Clinton St, between Rivington & Stanton St

Wild Mushroom Pizza at Gonzo
This grilled pleasure-disk is crisp as a cracker with a perfect blend of caramelized onions and taleggio, Romano, and bel paese cheeses.
Gonzo, 140 W. 13th St. between Sixth and Seventh Ave

Crispy Chicken (“Pollo all Capricciosa”) at Apizz
If God endeavored to make Shake-and-Bake Chicken, it would emerge like the beatific bird at Apizz: crispy exterior (brightened by a lemon squeeze) and a delectably tender, pounded-thin interior, served with palate-cleansing arugula.
Apizz (pronounced: Ah-Beets), 217 Eldridge St, between Stanton & Rivington St

Kobe Beef Sliders at the Stanton Social
With mini-burgers in New York as ubiquitous as cell phone-chattering cabbies, this fine rendition stands out for its juicy Kobe-style meat, tangy sauce, and golden brown roll.
The Stanton Social, 99 Stanton St, between Orchard & Ludlow St

Chicken Samsoas at Spice Market
A hemisphere away from the typical leaden, monolithic fried wedge you find on Sixth Street, these crispy little wonders contain bits of chili-accented chicken, invigorated by a cilantro yogurt dipping sauce. Snacks of all other kinds, bow down.
Spice Market, 403 W 13th St at Ninth Ave

Wood Oven-Baked Pasta at Five Points
A heady perfume of teleme and grana cheese announces the arrival of this creation, a kind of new world lasagna fabricated with thin layered pasta and slow-cooked plum tomatoes, thankfully a staple on the menu of this venerable eatery.
Five Points, 31 Great Jones St, between Lafayette St & Bowery

BLT at Joe Jr.
This Greek diner’s dilapidated facade belies the miracle within: the platonic ideal of a BLT, highlighted by always-crispy bacon and better-than-decent tomato slices, packed into crispy white toast and joined by a properly sour pickle.
Joe Jr., 482 6th Ave at 12th St

Sizzling Shrimp (“Gambas Al Pil Pil”) at Azafran
Shrimps bathed in a bubbling olive oil lagoon so garlicky good that any vampires at your table will run for the hills. The house rolls, crusty yet soft, are perfect for sopping it all up.
Azafran, 77 Warren Street between Greenwich St & W Broadway

Chicken Wings at Tebaya
So good is the garlicky, sesame-seed-studded sauce slathered on these non-battered, twice-fried wings, you’ll be tonguing it off your knuckles long after you leave the secret takeout shop that is Tebaya.
Tebaya, 144 W 19th St, between 6th & 7th Ave

Lobster Sandwich at Mooncake Foods
Among this Holland Tunnel hideaway’s fantastically fresh, bargain-priced Asian-influenced creations is a non-mayo take on a lobster roll, its sweet meat slathered with garlic butter and tucked into a quality Kaiser bun. Not technically snacks but too delicious to gloss over.
Mooncake Foods, 28 Watts St, at 6th Ave

Asparagus Bruschetta at ‘ino
You’ll marvel at how this nominal nibble can deliver such a shock wave of flavor through its alchemy of asparagus, Parmesan, and truffle oil.
‘ino, 21 Bedford St, between Houston & Downing St

Sauerkraut-and-Mushroom Pierogies at Veselka
The upper limits of savoriness are visited with these pliable pillows of Polish pleasure, encasing a tasty of mix of sauerkraut and mushroom, and ready to dip in the accompanying apple sauce and onion relish.
Veselka, 144 2nd Ave at 9th St

Pastrami at Katz’s
A feat of gastronomic perfection manifesting itself as black-rimmed hunks of tender pink meat, glistening and garlicky, savory and smoky.
Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E. Houston St. at Ludlow St.

Warm Pecorino Fondue at Craftbar
This ménage à trois of melted pecorino cheese, acacia honey, and hazel nuts induces paroxysms of pleasure every time.
Craftbar, 900 Broadway at 20th St (note: menu changes currently underway)

Hot Chocolate at City Bakery
So lusciously viscous that it borders on the profane. Snacks move out of the way for this thick beverage.
City Bakery, 3 W 18th St between Fifth and Sixth Ave

French Toast at Danal
Springing from the flaky goodness of croissants, this crisp creation is rich and flavorful without descending into eggy, spongy trap that often afflicts this brunch favorite. Sweet snacks are just as imperative as savory.
Danal, 90 E. 10th St. between 3rd and 4th Aves

Meatball and Garlic Pizza at John’s
Ordering a meatball and garlic pizza at this Village institution catapults a good pizza into the realm of the heroic, its creamy mozzarella and tangy sauce blanketing the dark slivers of meaty magnificence, buttressed by John’s signature charred, ashy crust.
John’s of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker St, between 6th Ave & 7th Ave

Diet Coke at Cafeteria
Can one eatery’s Diet Coke stand above the rest? Cafeteria somehow pulls it off, with its plentiful pour of uncommonly dark, moderately sweet, sassily effervescent pop. Perfect accompaniment to all snacks.
Cafeteria, 119 Seventh Ave. at 17th St