Dec 302004

Larry scored an extra reservation tonight to Per Se through one of his coworkers. Four of us will be going there. It should be an interesting experience. Frank Bruni of the New York Times gave it a four-star review. [He just gave another four-star review to Masa, a restaurant in the same building as Per Se.] I probably will not take photos at the restaurant.

While I’m thinking of food, I ate at some great places in Seattle. Dandelion is a small restaurant in Ballard with a terrific local menu and a great wine list. The red wines were mainly local to the Washington and Oregon areas; the white wines were mainly blended French wines. The service was friendly and efficient. It was a small place, and it took us a while to get seated. In fact, they gave us glasses of wine because of the wait.

As I do almost every time I’m in Seattle, I ate at Harvest Vine and Le Pichet, a tapas restaurant and a French wine bar respectively. Harvest Vine has a seasonal menu; at this time of the year this means that there is less vegetables and more meat on the menu. I went by myself and sat at the bar. This makes for a great experience, as you get to see the chef prepare dishes for the entire restaurant. There is nothing bad on the menu; I had three or four dishes, and even though it was several weeks ago, I can still recall the elegance of each dish.

Le Pichet has a fantastic list of around 30 wines by the glass, pitcher, half-bottle or bottle. It is a great way to get to know a wide variety of French wines. There is a small bistro menu that is designed so that you can have a small snack or a full meal.

I will try to write more about food in Seattle and Portland later. For example, I can spend a good amount of time describing the various mushrooms I purchased at Pike Place Market. I also will write about some adventures with my godson and hanging out with friends.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market at night.
Mountains near Seattle

Mountains on the flight to Seattle

 Posted by at 1:25 pm
Dec 192004

Today I went to a memorial service for my friend, Syon Bhattacharya. He passed away this past Wednesday. Syon was diagnosed with stomach cancer around 18 months ago, and the cancer was discovered at a very advanced stage. I found out about the disease shortly after he did. Syon was not the type of person who complained, and he did not send regular updates about the status of his health.

Many of my friends from Carnegie Mellon, including Syon, live in Seattle. I typically visit there once or twice a year. A couple of weeks ago, I made plans to visit Seattle and Portland. When I started to make plans with friends last week, I found out that Syon had taken a turn for the worse and was in a hospice. I arrived in Seattle on Saturday morning, and I was able to see him in the hospice almost immediately after I landed. I am very happy that I was able to talk to him.

I’m sad that I won’t get to spend more time with Syon, but I’m glad I was able to spend as much time as him as I did. He was a warm, friendly, funny, and smart person, and I will miss him.

Syon and me at Peter's wedding

The table we shared at Peter and Stephanie’s wedding. Syon is the man in the second row on the right. I am the guy in the blue shirt and suit sitting below him.

 Posted by at 11:15 pm
Dec 132004

I’m in Portland today, and I’ll be taking the bus back to Seattle tomorrow morning. For the last two nights I stayed at The Benson. This is a four-star hotel that I booked through Hotwire. It was an awful stay. It was expensive, noisy, smoky, and the service was poor at best. I ended up staying an additional night in Portland, and I switched to the Vintage Plaza. The Vintage Plaza is between a three- and four- star hotel.

What’s interesting is that most people associate the number of stars with the level of service. But this isn’t really how stars are awarded in hotel ratings. Stars just refer to the level of amenities. For example, in a two-star hotel, you are guaranteed a private bath and a way to get to your room from the reception area without going outside. has some good articles on the star rating system as it applies to Europe.

In other words, stars are not a good metric for determining whether or not the hotel you want to stay in is good. You should be assured of the following in any hotel you stay in, if it is a one- star or a four-star:

  • A clean room
  • A smoking- or non-smoking-room as requested
  • A quiet room
  • A safe room
  • Courteous staff
  • Privacy

If you don’t get all of these items at any hotel, you are getting cheated.

I will write a note to the management and owners of The Benson when I get back to New York City. Some of the problems I encountered included:

  • A noisy room above a ballroom and down the hall from a suite of people having a party.
  • A new room with smaller beds….
  • and that had been a smoking room for the previous guest.
  • Assurances that an ozone machine would be used in my room to get rid of the smoke…
  • That wasn’t put in until the evening…
  • And was picked up by a porter at 10:45 PM who entered the room without calling or knocking first.

Never mind that the hotel also charged for Internet access, local calls, and Sunday newspapers.

I should have just booked the entire stay with the Vintage Plaza. It cost a little more, but I would be happier and perkier now.

 Posted by at 6:24 pm
Dec 092004

Yesterday, Anne, Geoff, Phil, Karen (Phil’s wife), and Larry (my brother), went to a wine tasting at Otto Pizzeria and Enoteca. I helped arrange the wine tasting with Morgan Rich, the wine director. Italy is the largest wine exporting country in the world; we decided to focus on wines from the Piedmont region (Piemonte) made with Nebbiolo grapes. All of the wines were from small producers; the smallest number of cases produced for the wines we tasted was 225, and the largest number of cases produced for the wines we tasted was 2,800. This is very small compared to Chateau Latour Pauillac (14,000 cases) or Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve (50,000 cases).

Phil Jache

Phil smiles at the wine tasting table. On the lowest shelf of the wall behind him are the wines we tried.

Our tasting consisted of two flights of three wines each. We started out in the front of the restaurant in the bar area before moving back to the dining room for dinner. The bar and restaurant were both fairly empty; we got there at 5:45.

The first flight of three wines had tons of fruit and full flavor. We started with a Gattinara Vigneto Valferana, Bianchi 1997. This was a dry wine and smelled of earthiness and roses. I thought it became slightly spicy as it opened up with a taste of cherries. The second wine was a Barbareso Nervo, Pertinace 1993. I thought this was a earthier wine than the first wine with a strong chocolate flavor. The final wine of the first flight was a Barbaresco Cole, Moccagatta 1998. Of the first flight, this wine had the most fruit with great Cherry and Raspberry notes. While it was earthy, I thought there were also some hints of caramel.

Geoff through the wine glass

Later in the meal, I caught an image of Geoff through the wine glass.

During the wine tasting, we ate three different cow’s milk cheeses, Toma from Piedmont, Fontina Valle d’Aosta from Valle d’Aosta, and Brescianella from Lombardia. My favorite cheese was the very soft, stinky Brescianella. It probably overwhelmed the wines a little bit, but it was great for clearing out my palate between flights. The Toma and Fontina were firm cheese with a lot of pleasant flavor. Even though they had a lot of strength, they were neutral when compared to the Brescianella.

We focused on three Barolos for our second flight of wines: Cascina Francia, Giacomo Conterno 1996; Marcenasco Rocche, Renato Ratti 1996; and Sperss, Angelo Gaja 1995. The Conterno was the most traditional Barolo, followed by the Ratti, and the non-traditional Gaja (pronouned GI-YA). In fact, we learned that next year Gaja is dropping their DOCG certification and moving to DOC. This means that while all of their wines will still be from the same region, they will no longer adhere to the strict traditional flavors required by the DOCG certification.

The Conterno tasted most like a French wine. It had a lot of earth with a subtle jammy flavor. As it opened up, you could smell a strong licorice aroma. The Renato Ratti had a tobacco nose and a deceptively light feel in the mouth. As it opened up, the aroma seemed to change from tobacco to lavender. The final wine, the Angelo Gaja, was simply incredible. It had so many layers of flavor and complexity. Like all three of the Barolos, there was a base of earthly flavor, but it had the most complex mix of fruit flavors. I wish I could describe it better, but I couldn’t bring myself to take notes. I have to have this wine again if I want to attempt to describe it properly.

Tasting at Otto

The seven wines we drank from left to right: the Gattinara, a white wine we drank at the table, the Moccagattta, the Gaja, the Giacomo Conterno, the Renato Ratti, and the Elvio Pertinace.

All six wines were terrific, and I could easily drink any one of them again. There was not a single bad wine in this entire batch. It was a wonderful selection of wines, and I learned a lot about the region.

The price range on the wines was quite large. The retail price of the cheapest wine we drank was $24; the most expensive wine retails for around $195. I hate to say it, but the most expensive wine, the Gaja, was the most interesting, complex, and wonderful.

After we completed the tasting, we brought the half-full bottles to our table. A new bottle of white wine was also on the table, along with several bottles of water. For dinner, we ate assorted antipasti followed by several pizzas and pasta. Finally, we were given a selection of desserts and coffee.

The selection of Antipasti was house-cured beef bresaola, thinly sliced beef salami; sformato di parmigiana, a small cheese souffle served with a radish and pomegranate salad; cardoons with bagna cauda; funghi misti; and two green salads. We were given several different pizzas: a mixed mushroom and cheese pizza, a class Margherita pizza, and a four-cheese pizza. The pasta was penne with noci and zucca. Needless to say, the food was fantastic.

me and Phil

I dressed up for the evening; how often does one go out for a great wine tasting?

Overall, it was a wonderful time, and I’m really glad we did it. Hopefully, I will get another chance to do something like this again in the future. I hope Anne, Phil, and Geoff learned as much as I did; they will need the knowledge in preparation for the Olympics in 2006. (I don’t know if I’m going yet.)

 Posted by at 6:44 pm
Dec 072004

My parents first started buying wine when no one in the United States was buying wine. They would spend a good amount of money on very good French wines and throw them in their basement. Some of the wines have been stored for too long, but many of their wines are now extrordinary. We had three bottles of wine; two of which are pictured below. All three bottles were quite amazing. It’s really interesting drinking bottles of wine that are around as old as you are.

Colon-Segur, Cos D'Estournal

 Posted by at 8:05 pm
Dec 072004

Ever morning I take the subway to 47-50th Street, Rockefeller Center. From there, it is a short 5 minute walk to work. I generally get in the office around 10 am, which in New York City is still part of rush hour.

This morning, I was going towards the stairs as usual, and I noticed that everyone was moving to the right side of the staircase. This is a bit unusual in the morning; typically in the morning rush, every bit of staircase is used. When I got to the stairs, I saw that a man was sitting on the staircase with his head between his legs. I placed my hand on his shoulder and asked, “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

It turns out that he had just sat down and nodded off. The man said, “No thanks, I’m fine,” got up, and hopped in the waiting D train. This was not at all shocking to me; many people work hard, and it is easy to fall asleep when you are tired.

What was a bit surprising was that at least fifty people passed this man before I did. Was I the only person who asked if he was okay?

 Posted by at 7:46 pm
Dec 012004

I went to a Christmas party at Keira‘s work last night. They timed the party to coincide with the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Her office is on the 16th floor of a building overlooking the skating rink. In the past I have made a point of avoiding the tree lighting ceremony. The crowds can get a bit annoying. However, the view from Keira’s office was very nice.

Keira's hand

Keira doesn’t like having her picture taken, but I think she looks stunning in red.

Rockefeller Center tree (unlit)

Tree is off.

Rockefeller Center tree (lit)

Tree is on

 Posted by at 7:34 pm
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