Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Gentlemen's Lunch

If it seems the return of Le Monstre is food based, you may be on to something. C.R.E.A.M (Cash Rules Everything Around Me, for those not familiar with the Wu Tang Clan) has been replaced by F.R.E.A.M. And while that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or even make much sense, it allows me to mention the Wu in a blog post…which warms my heart.

Every once in a while our good client and better mate, Angus, will come to town to pick up some wine but more importantly, for us to have a proper Gentlemen’s Lunch. Angus is an Aussie, who officially lives in Manhattan but is constantly traveling the most remote places in the world. I will often get a witty reply to one of our 56 offerings from some micro-village in Africa or Asia. Angus is nothing if not witty, with a repartee that puts mine to shame. Also possessing a pro’s palate, he’s actually in the process of becoming an MW. He’s that good. Add it all up and you have a great guy to spend a couple hours dining with.

We’ve had four or five of these now, usually Chris and I along with my good friend, Doug. We’ll frequent the Pluckemin Inn or Restaurant 252, grab a few bottles and have a nice two hour lunch and just generally geek out on wine, food and life. A good, long lunch is something that has fallen by the wayside in our society. It’s understandable – busy schedules and the need to produce at a high level doesn’t usually allow for two hours of eating in the middle of the work day. Unless you are from Spain, in which case it’s expected. Hell, you can’t even find a business open during “Siesta” hours. But I’m actually working during this lunch (remember, Angus IS a client) so I’m doing my duty. I love my duty. Reminds me of my good friend, Manish Bardolia, and his blog post on combining work and passions. Anyway, for this Gentlemen’s Lunch we went back to the scene of the very first one, Sette Cucina in Bernardsville.

Allan Russo is the most under-rated chef in NJ. He doesn’t do nouveau cuisine. He doesn’t build skyscrapers on a plate or use chemistry or power tools to produce food. What he does is take you to the essence of traditional Italian cooking. He keeps it REAL. Want one of the best meals you’ve ever had and be transported to a trattoria in Campania without buying the plane ticket or getting crushed by the Euro? Just go to Sette and ask Alan to cook for you. No menu, no constraints…he will make it like in the old country with heart and passion. We’ve hosted many Italian winemakers at his restaurant: Gianluca Grasso, Christina & Isabella Oddero, Vinzia Novara from Firriato, Ivan Rapuzzi of Ronchi di Cialla. All have gushed on how amazingly authentic the food is. “It’s like I’m eating at home!” remarked Gianluca Grasso.

For the Gentlemen’s Lunch, we just had Allan cook. He started us with Bruschetta, homemade garlic bread, ripe red tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. Angus is always good for bringing old Aussie wines and he supplied a mature 1991 Tyrells Semillon from Hunter Valley. Next up, Antipasto Fantasia, thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma, sweet soppressata, “Cinque Stelle”, Gorgonzola, and Poached Bosco Pears. A simple yet utterly delicious plate that was devoured in a blink, we attempted to pair it with a bottle of 2001 Ronchi di Ciallo Ciallabianco but alas the bottle was corked. Back to the Semillon…

Next was Antipasto Caldo, an eye-popping plate of sweet and sour Yellow & Orange Peppers with Homemade Sausage. This was so simple and so flavorful, as well as appealing to the eye. You always see a dish first, setting your mind up for the flavors to follow. To me presentation is very important, never better illustrated than with this dish. We cracked open the 2004 Cascina Chicco Barbera d’Alba Bric Loira, a perfectly aged and delectable Barbera that is drinking brilliantly.

Then Alan brings out a plate that will remain in my mind for a very, very long time. Tortellini al Profumo di Tartufo, Baby Torellini sautéed with toasted Pancetta, touch of Cream and Truffle Essence…my God, this was orgasmic. I mean just look at it! I felt as if my body was leaving the planet and rising to the heavens. We uncorked the clear wine of the afternoon, the 1985 Emedio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Words aren’t really sufficient to describe the depth of this old Montepulciano with this magical mushroomy, salty, creamy plate of love.

Finally, we finished with another old Aussie wine that Angus provided, the 1996 Bowen Estate Shiraz Connawarra, a dark fruited, gamy wine that reminded me of a great Languedoc, a la Grange de Peres. It was fantastic with Vitello al Gorgonzola, Escalope of Veal, sautéed Crimini Mushrooms and Gorgonzola, perfectly picking up the earthy notes of the dish and melding with the Shiraz. One would never confuse this coolish Coonawarra with the sappy Shiraz that are mass produced today. Truly lovely stuff…

Much discussion by the Gentlemen of which I can’t divulge. For what happens at a Gentlemen’s Lunch stays there, only to be revisited at the next one. Not soon enough…

JCB the 4th

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