I Hate People

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and indoor

Overheard at my favorite neighborhood sushi spot:

Women walks in and is being shown to seat at sushi bar.

As she’s about to sit down, she starts grilling the helpful hostess.

“I’m allergic to gluten and all regular soy products.”

“I don’t eat wheat of any kind.”

“What kind of vinegar do you use?”

“Does it have any wheat products in it?”

“Would you check please?” (Helpful hostess goes to check; returns five minutes later.)

Upon being told that the vinegar may contain trace amounts of gluten or wheat, she (and her no doubt long-suffering husband/boyfriend) decided to leave.

She was carrying her own bottle of tamari.

I would bet the beach house this woman was no more allergic to wheat than I am to catfish.

I would bet my other bungalow that 90% of the narcissistic prigs out there who claim to have gluten allergies are lying about it.

But it’s nice that your “allergies” give you an excuse to torture people in restaurants so you can make yourself feel “special” at their expense.

Here’s an idea lady: leave your bottle of wheat-free tamari home, and leave my sushi bar alone.

Better yet, leave yourself at home.

Do you know who doesn’t have food allergies? Europeans, Asians, Africans, Mexicans, Burundians… and all sorts of third world countries where people are starving.

Do you know who has a lot of food phobias? American white women who want to draw attention to themselves.

It’s always white women, isn’t it? I’d venture the ratio of white women to white men claiming food allergies in America to be at least 100-1.

But how they suffer so. Poor things. They have this burden dontcha know of things they can’t eat….but they still want to go out and be seen at restaurants and be known as food lovers (because you know, it’s cool to be a foodie), but they just want everyone to know how special their needs are. And they need the restaurant to know so they can be catered to in a very special way that will make them feel special, because, you know, their special-ness depends on it.

Face it: your gluten allergy is fake.

So go fuck yourself and your fucking fake food allergy.

A person who is severely allergic to foods and still goes to restaurants is like a someone who abhors violence stepping into a boxing ring.

The only thing that would’ve made this situation worse is if she had been carrying a dog.

I hate people.

Hello Grappa!

Image may contain: drink
(Ed. note: As I will be in Italy this week (Lake Garda and Venice), I thought your grappa edification ought to be enhanced. Sip, savor, and enjoy, and I’ll start posting again once I return to Las Vegas. Cin cin!)

Grappa has an image problem. As the old joke goes, tell someone you bought a bottle of grappa on a motor trip through Italy, and they’ll ask you if you got a second one to re-fuel your car.

“Harsh.” “Rocket fuel.” “Great for stripping paint,” are but a few of the insults heaped upon grappa over the years, and to be honest about it, much of what was distilled for most of the 20th Century fit the descriptors. There is no doubt that grappa was low born — it is said to have been used by peasant farm workers to warm them up and dull the pain of their daily grind in the fields — but there’s been a new wave afoot for a few decades now, and what is showing up on shelves and wine lists (in Italy and elsewhere) reflects a maturity of spirit that can be as compelling and complex as any eau de vie or brandy.

My introduction to high quality grappa occurred fifteen years ago, by happenstance at the end of a meal at the Ristorante Sabatini in Rome. Having seen the beautiful bottles on the grappa cart as we entered, my party of three wanted to try three different ones. But the language barrier being what it was, all our waiter heard was that the three of us each wanted to sample three different grappas. Before we knew what was happening, nine different bottles appeared on the table. A lot of amusing consternation followed, which ended with us happily agreeing to try the entire array. (As the saying goes: When in Rome….)  Nine sips later, each of us was hooked, and now I can’t think of ending an Italian meal any other way.

Grappa is Italy’s contribution to what are called pomace brandies — spirits distilled from the pomace (leftover seeds, pulp and skins) of the wine making process.  Arabs may have invented the distillation process (well over a thousand years ago), but it is in prominent wine regions of the world where these spirits have achieved preeminence. Every French wine producing region has its distinctive marc (pronounced “mahr”) as do Spain (where it’s called orujo) and Greece (tsipouro). By way of contrast, German schnapps and Alsatian eau de vie are made from a the juice or mash of culinary fruits, while brandy is distilled directly from wine — the fermented fruit juice of grapes. Like all digestivos, grappa is usually taken at the end of a meal, although some Italians like to spike their morning espresso with a shot of the stuff, to make what is called a caffé corretto (“corrected coffee”).

Grappa’s evolution from hoi polloi hooch to respected sipping for the landed gentry started in northern Italy after World War II. History tells us that Italy’s first distillery was set up in 1779 in the Venetian town now known as Bassano del Grappa. But grappa didn’t go upscale until the 1960s when, as part of Italy’s postwar resurgence, Benito Nonino popularized the use of a discontinuous still (also known as batch distillation) and began making single varietal grappas that contributed a sophisticated kick to the Italian food that was then conquering the globe.

To make the finest grappa, one first acquires the freshest possible pomace and distills it as soon as possible so that no aromatics are lost. The distillation is done in a discontinuous still to preserve as much character from these single varietal, small batches as possible. Then the cut of the distillation is narrowed as much as possible (eliminating the “heads” and the “tails” which contain impurities) to maximize bouquet and minimize bitterness.. Narrowing all of these parameters limits the yield while raising quality, resulting in a refined product whose cost belies its humble origins.

Because of early pioneers like Nonino and Jacopo Poli, grappa has now taken its rightful place at the digestivo table, and great grappas can be found in Italian restaurants and wine stores across America. The original pioneers are still going strong, but right along side them are other excellent grappas — many of them aged in wood — from the great wine making regions of Italy, and I recently had the privilege of tasting some of the best, right where they are made.

Image may contain: indoor(The way grappa used to be made)

At the Bonollo Distillery in Torrita di Siena, we received an immersion in grappa (figuratively speaking), that included a class, a tour, and a taste of three of their best varieties. Bonollo is a huge operation, with five distilleries set along the spine of the Apennines, but it is here in Tuscany where they process the remains of Sangiovese grapes that produce the fabulous Chiantis and Brunellos of the region. The first grappa we tasted, however, was made with the pomace of the sweet, perfumed Moscato grape. It was a revelation, especially to anyone who equates grappa with fire water. White wine grapes often produce the most aromatic grappas, and this one was no different, bringing forth a strong nose of sweet jasmine, honeysuckle and honey. Those dominant floral aromas exemplify the art of extracting just the right amount of scented fruit from the raw material.

Image may contain: drink(The grappas of Bonollo – worth seeking out)

After this “entry level” grappa, we proceeded to a spirit made from Chianti Classico Riserva pomace. Where Moscato makes the most wine-like grappa, the fruit fragrances become more elusive when you move into red wine grapes. In place of being fruit-forward, here grappa becomes richer, drier, rounder, and more complex. With strong cheese and nuts, Moscato grappa would be a delight; Chianti grappa begs for chocolate and dried fruit. As a finale, we tasted the riserva Consenso grappa, aged in three kinds of wood (ash, cherry, and oak) and it was the most brandy-like of the bunch: lighter in color than true brandy perhaps, but hauntingly rich and very smooth. With this one, I’d smoke a cigar…if I smoked.

No automatic alt text available.(This is not grappa – this is the biggest winery I’ve ever seen)

Working our way north, the Castello Banfi winery was our next stop. Italian law prohibits grappa and wine from being made in the same place, so Banfi ships its grape pomace to the Bonollo Distillery for distillation according to its specifications. Before we got to the grappa, however, we were treated to a tour of Banfi’s vineyards (huge, as in as far as the eye can see), and its winery (jaw-dropping-ly ginormous) and a barrel tasting of 2017 Brunellos, and a sampling the best of 2012 and 2013 vintages of Banfi’s best Brunello di Montalcinos — Poggio Alle Mura and Poggio All’Oro — all of them big, rich, teeth-coating wines, redolent of black fruits, chocolate and tobacco, with that extra dimension of deep, dark, dusty earth that signifies the Sangiovese grape at its best. (Next to these big boys, many California cabernets come off tasting like a store-bought cherry pie.)

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting, table and indoor(Barrel tasting ’17 Brunellos with the legendary John Mariani)

Following the tours and the tasting was a private lunch with legendary founder John Mariani (no relation to our very own legendary John Mariani), and then it was on to even more grappa. The first two Banfi bottles (Grappa del Castello and Grappa di Brunello – pictured at top of the page) were very traditional, in that they were assertive, clean on the finish, and mostly alcohol-forward, while the latter two (Grappa di Brunello and the Poggio alle Mura Riserva) displayed the hints of fruit and complex aromas associated with more modern bottlings. Eighteen months in oak contributed a deep bronze color as well as vanilla and spice flavors to the Riserva, and no doubt, this is the grappa you would break out to impress your friends.

Northeastern Italy is where grappa began, and the Veneto region is where modern grappa became famous, but the production and consumption is in full flower farther west in the Piemonte as well. The Mazzetti distillery in Altavilla, Monferrato (about a half hour outside of Asti) has been in business since 1846. It is still family-owned, and is now run by the seventh generation of the Mazzetti family. All Mazzetti grappa are distilled in steam copper stills using the discontinuous method. This small batch approach is applied to twelve single grape grappas, as well as ten “special blends” and six “riserva” bottlings. All of these products are on display in a combination tasting room, cafe, and gift shop on the ground floor of the distillery which is the closest thing to a grappa candy store as you’ll ever see.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, drink and indoor(The trouble with Italians is they’re not good looking enough)

With Elise Belvedere Mazzetti and Claudio Galletto (above) as our guides, we proceeded to make a serious dent in those selections — tasting nine different varieties — ranging from another entry-level, heavily perfumed Moscato grappa, to their Incontro — made from Nebbiolo grapes and aged in 225 liter barriques. If there was one thing I learned from all this tasting it was the appreciation of how wood-aging brings a softer and smoother profile to this formerly fiery spirit. Nowhere was that more noticeable than in Mazzetti’s 7.0 bottle (named for the seven generations of the family in the business). Made from the relatively scarce Ruche red grape, exclusive to the Asti region of Italy, this grappa showed a gentler, softer and smoother side than the non-aged single varietals.

Once we got to the more prestigious Gaia and Segni Grappa Riserva bottles, the aromatics were much more assertive, and the finish a lot mellower. The Segni Riserva obtains its brandy-like complexity from spending five years in six different wooden barrels, with the sizes generally decreasing over time until smaller mulberry and juniper barrels are used to finish off the aging. This technique mimics how aceto balsamico is produced, and the final product is a clean and haunting spirit that could stand shoulder to shoulder with a V.S.O.P. brandy. Indeed, this is the one grappa that was served to us in a wider-mouthed snifter, the better to appreciate all that wood seasoning.

Obviously, these are not your grandfather’s grappas. Make no mistake, they are still are strong  drinks (between 35-45% alcohol, i.e., 70 -90 proof), but the varietal character of the grape comes through, which makes side-by-side sipping so fascinating. Grappa is generally served in a bulbous-shaped glass with a slightly flared rim — the better to let its concentrated aromas open up at the lip. The glasses are small because grappa is supposed to be enjoyed in very small amounts. The point of today’s grappa is not to get drunk or sooth your weary bones. Instead, it is to appreciate the distiller’s art — how they can extract the alcoholic essence of decomposing wine grapes, and turn them into something so pure and so distinctly Italian.

Image may contain: indoor(Just what every man needs – his own desktop distillery)

 

PARTAGE

(The Three Musketeers)

A Francophile’s dream come true. The chefs are French, the decor is French, the bartenders are French and the food is as French as Bastille Day. And the whole enchilada is in Chinatown. Go figure.

When Vincent Pellerin, Nicolas Kalpokdjian, and Yuri Szarzewski (above) came to the United States in 2015, they had a dream — they wanted to bring healthy French food to Las Vegas. Anyone with a brain would’ve told them the idea had as much chance for success as a Mormon nightclub, but arrive and succeed they did, first with their casual EATT Gourmet Bistro on West Sahara, and now with a more upscale (but still very laid back) place in a shopping center more at home with massage parlors and noodle shops than croque monsieurs and Pays Nantes.

Because it’s in Chinatown (in the old Chada Street space) the curb appeal is practically nil….and so is the parking. (At busy times you may have to inch your way around the lot once or twice to find a space. If ever there was an off-Strip property begging you to take a LYFT to it, this is it.)

The signage is as simple as the storefront and gives not a clue as to the wonders behind the long glass facade. But as soon as you step through the doors, you can sense that magic is about to happen. Seating are plush but not too so. Cozy booths line one side of the room and a long L-shaped bar dominates the other. The lighting is dim (but not too dim) and flattering, and even at peak occupancy, you can still hear yourself think and talk.

Towards the back you’ll see a large window behind which the chefs operate, and a glass wine room holding the all-French, all-nicely-priced selections. While the list isn’t long, it’s broken down by region (Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, etc.) and the bottles are marked up 100% over retail, rather than 2-300% gouges you’ll find a mile to the east. Another thing I love are the easy to read prices ($65 for a Gigondas; $120 for Dom Ruinart, etc.) with none of that $59 v. $63 nonsense you see at the big hotels. (I’d love for some wine director to edify me sometime on why one Cali cab is priced at $118, while another fetches $121. Is it because there’s a 2.8% difference in quality between the two bottles? Ridiculous.)

Partage means “to share” and the menu encourages you to do just that. 20 small plate options are offered, each amounting to no more than 2-3 bites of headliners like halibut ceviche (disguised to look like dragon fruit):

….or a single lobster ravioli in a small cup of bisque, or perfect, meaty scallop swimming in a dashi broth with seaweed chutney and steamed leeks. Everyone seems to feature trilogies of oysters these days (whassup with that?), but the version here is top drawer, with the yuzu hollandaise being the one you’ll remember. As good as they are, the real stars of the show are the salmon croquettes (almost Japanese in their deep-fired, ultra-light crispiness):

 

…and the squid “risotto” — the risotto in this case being finely diced pieces of squid bound together by a barely-there pesto, filled with flavor but not filling you up.

If you’re looking for richness, Szarzewski has you covered. His sweetbreads are a godsend for lovers of all things thymus — accented by lotus root and a smooth tonka bean cream — the tight little sauteed gland giving not a hint of how dense and filling this offal can be. For pure decadence though, nothing beats his oxtail croque monsieur — long simmered meat, slicked with bone marrow,  served between three batons of the world’s most luxurious toast:

If hunger still lingers after these (doubtful), tuck into a quail leg garnished with umeboshi and foie gras, or a few nibbles of good Spanish pata negra served with a small puck of olive oil cake and fennel sorbet:

Jamon platters are everywhere, but this little one may be the cutest of the bunch.

The anti-ham crowd will enjoy digging into things like ratatouille-stuff squash blossoms, burrata Caprese salad, a melange of root veggies, and the best damn pea soup you’ve ever slurped — this one given a kick by lemon-basil sorbet and finger limes.

About the only dish I can’t recommend is the king crab coated with black garlic. It tastes of pure, sweet crustacean slicked with the tamarind-like essence of aged allium, but it looks like something the cat left behind. If there’s an award for the best tasting, least attractive dish in town, this would litter-ally win by a landslide:

(Honey! The cat’s been at it again!)

Large groups will want to go large format with big cuts of 18 ounce rib eye, or a 32 ounce tomahawk steak — smoked with either hickory, applewood or hay (your choice!). Two pound lobsters and whole duckling breasts served on the bone, and sea bass baked in salt crust is also offered for the whole table to swoon over. In keeping with the “healthy French” thing, sauces are kept to a minimum. Not to my taste, exactly — the duck, pork and bass suffer from the lack of liquids — but the presentations are in keeping with how modern French food is done these days.

 

Desserts are a dream, and Pellerin’s rolling cart (above) is not to be missed. Whether he’s doing a baba au rhum (injected at table with some high proof spirit), a caramel candy bar, or a flaming baked Alaska (below), you can be assured no one, in any neighborhood in Vegas, is eating a dessert as good as the one you’re getting. Pastry chefs are an endangered species these days, and having one as accomplished as Pellerin working in the ‘burbs is quite a statement for a local joint.  His macarons (when available) should be ordered by the dozen.
(Like this baked Alaska, Chinatown is en fuego!)

Las Vegas came of age as a restaurant town in 2018, and exhibits 1-4 are Sparrow & Wolf, Mordeo Wine Bar, EDO Tapas, and Partage. By recognizing the true foodie potential of Chinatown, these venues have broadened its horizons and done the same for serious gourmands — local and tourist alike. Partage may not be for everyone (the food might be a little too precious for the meat and potatoes crowd) but it’s given a boost to our dining scene in all the right ways. Vive la France!

PARTAGE

3839 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.582.5852

https://partage.vegas/