Jesse's_ext

A revelatory trip to Ensenada last November brought me closest to some of my favorite food experiences in recent memory. Filled with fish tacos, tostadas and ceviche (of too many varieties), that were not only bountiful, but incredibly fresh (oh yeah, and wildly affordable!). In addition to sight-seeing at La Bufadora and doing as much touristy stuff we could pack into three days, our Baja visit was too short. Vowing to return soon, it isn’t always feasible to drive down three and a half hours, despite the perk of tracing the beautiful California coastline, so when I have an urge for some new-found favorites there are a few go-to’s in Los Angeles that can put me into that delighted state—one being Jesse’s Camarone’s—my eatery of the month.

In an eighty-five-seat restaurant off West Adams Blvd, nearest USC, with red vinyl booths and a couple TVs piping in telenovelas and deportes (depending on the time and day), there lies an unassuming seafood joint that turns out delicious fish tacos and the best damn aguachile I’ve had yet.

While better fish tacos might be had elsewhere (arguable, but that isn’t where I will hang my hat), I’ve searched for far and wide for aguachile—a shrimp and serrano pepper ceviche in simple terms—everywhere and Jesse’s has perfected it. Served in parfait glass, agchile_jesse_img_3162overflowing with a deep green of cilantro, raw red onions and shrimp that is accompanied by a basket of tostadas, soda crackers and halved limes.

I will not make the claim for authenticity, a tricky subject that is better left to a food historian’s thesis, but I will say that there few things, for my money (around five dollars), as perfect as this. I have had many other takes including refined and dressed up versions, where shrimp is forgone for bay scallops, or the sauce is concentrated, but those constantly seem to underwhelm. There is something to that dripping broth and intense spice of undiluted proportions that leaves me wanting more. A lot more! The best part is that it is fresh and light, so while your taste buds will be nearly spiced-out, there is still room for more… like their fish tacos or something even more substantial.

Jesse’s doesn’t skimp on flavor; the prices and portions are generous and the wait staff is always friendly. This is a neighborhood gem and I am happy to have found it. It’s with their consistency and quality that I write that they are worth a stop if you are itching for a spicy starter or just in town to catch a show at the Shrine. Not the same as a trip to Baja, California, but indelible all the same.

 

elastic_daysRainy days are great in Los Angeles; it lends another perspective to this sunny city, bathing seldomly under wet skies, LA looks cleaner, the food magically tastes better and my music becomes livelier. I tend to shorten the stacks, playing the same records over and over when it rains. I’ve conditioned myself to believe that Astral Weeks is synonymous with dew drops and suddenly will come out of my slumber on jazz. Art Blakey drums in rain time. It’s rare we get much here, so when it was on the forecast last week, it presented an opportunity to find new rainy-day favorites. Since time allowed, I filled my stem with something suited to be a catchall—in this case, a glass of 2016 Guillot-Broux ‘Les Genevieres’ rouge that was riding tableside, while I thumbed through my newer records.

One of the newest in my collection happened to be from Dinosaur Jr. front-man J. Mascis titled Elastic Days, released last November, and before I go any further, I must admit that I am big fan of their/ his music… an obsession that has stuck since middle school. J. Mascis’s new work was a pared down effort, more intimate, and I had given it a few casual listens earlier (when I first purchased it in December, amongst holiday shopping), but nothing as concentrated as this time.

I put it on the platter, spinning through the A side and immediately was awestruck. It took me back to when I first listened to Dinosaur Jr. The thing that has always struck me when listening to them, or later solo efforts, has been J’s delivery. The first song that I that I couldn’t stop listening to was Start Choppin’ thanks to skateboarding videos when I was thirteen. Start Choppin’ was one of the coolest songs I had ever heard; It began with a simple little pop riff and then unfurled into a layered masterpiece that fused everything from falsettos to epic guitar solos and would send me off running to purchase my first CD of theirs.

While Elastic Days doesn’t bring the power of ‘Where You Been’ or other Dinosaur Jr. releases—nor is it trying to—it demonstrates why J. Mascis will forever hold a special place—like Yo La Tengo—between my ears. His maturity and songwriting are simple, straightforward and enjoyable to listen to. The dude makes melodies look easy. As the years continue, the songs are distilled, so while he can shred on the guitar like a Jimmy Page, his perceived vocal diffidence provides an endearing counterpoint.

When the rain really came down, I noticed it again, but honestly the record wasn’t hitched to rain drops quite like Chopin’s prelude or even encapsulated in a pop tune like that of the Cascades. Elastic Days made me feel a little warmer than the current weather let on—a folksy vibe painted early evenings on sunnier days. A reprieve, in fact.

By the time I moved into the B side I was fully on board, I heard new material that felt like a natural progression of where some of my favorite Dinosaur Jr. tracks had left me years earlier. He featured duets and a wider tapestry of instruments, including trading in his own axe for an acoustic guitar on a few songs, but kept the record thematically true and warm.

I finished my glass of Pinot Noir as I reached ‘Elastic Days,’ the namesake of the album. The wine was docile, showing hibiscus, red berries and possessed a savory crunch that, although not a perfect pairing, was a good partner for the music as it allowed me to savor that well-shaped guitar line and those vulnerable lyrics.

There were a few other tracks that made me pause like See You At The Movies (the single), I Went Dust, Sometimes and Wanted You Around. This record was just so far beyond my expectations and remained on my turntable all weekend. The rain has come and gone, so has that bottle of Macon Rouge, but what I am left with is a deeper appreciation for J. Mascis.

What are some of your favorites to listen to when it rains?

 

tongueEvolution of taste shouldn’t be surprising; it’s a fact that when I started this blog my penchant for hamburgers and a glass of wine was insatiable rather than just a passing trend. Time passed. Burgers have been supplanted by aguachile, and my wines, which were once mostly red, have been more and more exchanged for white wines and bubbles. My musical tastes have taken a dramatic swing too, widening genres so that I am often sifting through country and classical music crates at flea markets, trying to satisfy my analog cravings, as opposed to having my tastes rooted in the Pacific Northwest for all its indie rock iterations. These changes are positives… with more exposure comes the ability to home in on new favorites, travel to new places (figuratively and literally), and enrich my foundation. These changes will also help me reengage with writing and shift my focus on this space—not limiting my scope to only hamburgers and wine, but to open it up to new wine and new music—amidst all the changes in my life these two different activities have had me enthused and enthralled consistently, and I will try to weave them organically together in this column going forward.

Before I go head first into Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in e or Little Jimmy Dickens’ ‘Country Boy’ and try to find a wine, subjectively, that complements both,—though, I will try to keep this less restrictive and make it a whole lot more playful… I also encourage you, the reader, to get involved and issue recommendations to broaden my palate like a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi over grilled chicken tails (couldn’t resist!).

In terms of output, I don’t want to put heavy expectations on my writing like Kliff Kingsbury, in resurrecting my site. However, I do have more free time and this can prod me, along with piano practice, to stimulate myself in those idle moments, that just scrolling through Netflix and falling asleep on my couch cannot possibly do. I know this smacks of a New Year’s resolution, but unlike most of those made with wide-eyed inspiration at the turn of the calendar year, this is easier to maintain on my current schedule.

No rebranding is necessary with the rebirth of this site—although there is nothing overly maverick about me—I will still adhere to keeping this blog approachable for those who are beginners in wine, music and food as I am by no means an expert. It’s true that my love for Zinfandel has waned—save finickiness for the right producer—and hamburgers are no longer required weekly fare, I hope to preserve the same carefree attitude since… little Jimmy and I can both agree that “[we] hate those folks who think that they’re so doggone high falutin .”

32516340752_06af070ee9_zLong before Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. changed their name, Malbec had lost its cool. It was no longer a grape that had anything unique to offer—save for that electric purple-blue color that gave me one more clue in a blind tasting—there was nothing more to that the Homerian dark-tinted rich fruit core. Not even Cahors, with an added benefit of earth, could help in resuscitating it. To be fair there were a few producers that made me pause when generalizing about Malbec, yet they would fill the glass so seldom they were like Halley’s comet in effect. It wasn’t that I was looking for the next hip thing either, but every time someone offered me a glass of Malbec it felt like a reminder that it should have been my last glass (…fool me twice, shame on me). Homogenized. 

Looking for inspiration, recently, I found an interesting bottle from Lo-Fi that had been discounted heavily by the retailer. Worth a gamble.

Mike Roth’s Lo Fi project—it’s local—works similarly to those earnest Loire Valley projects of quasi-natural winemaking that can yield exceptional beauty. The aim of Lo Fi is to express a wine that showcases more grape than winemaking as they eschew additives and there is little to no manipulation in the cellar.

I uncorked the wine, and began to analyze its appearance, which offered that peerless blue-ish purple in my Bordeaux stem. The aromatics were tilted to a darker set of fresh-picked berries, violets and there was a subtle earthy aroma… but otherwise the wine was unabashedly primary.

On the palate the wine was more akin to one of my favorites at our restaurant—La Grange Tiphaine. That is to say, closer to a Loire Valley expression of Malbec (Cot, as it is known there), than the imitable Southern Hemisphere examples. Medium-bodied with great acidity and more freshness of fruit that followed the nose. The wine was perfectly suited for the Wednesday that I opened it.

If you were looking for something big and concentrated then you should continue your search. But if you were looking for something that can genuinely bridge the gap between Old and New World Malbec, then this would be an apt selection.

Rose Fabled French labels, and classy, curved bottles may have written the script for rosé, but it’s a brave new world out there—some exceptional values still exist in unlikely places. I dug into the icebox and found a wine that was apt for the 105˚ day that I spent in the valley.

Viña Apaltagua’s rosé of Carmenere (85% Carmenere and 15% Syrah) is of Chilean descent, specifically from the Maule Valley, and was new to me. A highly recommended value from a shopkeeper that I trust in Orange County, he had pitched the wine as a surprising find for himself.

Unscrewing the cap, the wine was chilled to the forties and would open slowly as the hot, ambient air enveloped the bottle and poured glass. After a few minutes I nosed the salmon-hued wine, finding passion fruit, lime, strawberry and something faintly green, but pleasant like rubbed Geranium stems. In the mouth it was dry, red-fruited, with more strawberry and raspberry flavors upfront, with medium-plus intensity, the citrus and tropical accents found on the nose took a backseat. The rosé had refreshing acidity, medium weight from the lees aging—not as angular as I was expecting—and finished cleanly with a nice mélange of flavors. It was delicious and inexpensive (under twelve dollars).

This wine wasn’t like analyzing a Shostakovich symphony; rather it was akin to Bach’s minuet in G, where it was pleasant and not without a little bit of surprise—perfectly cooling us down from the fiery atmospheric conditions outside. Given the circumstances I would have been happy with most dry rosés, but I was happy to have found such a tasty and affordable option from outside of Provence.

Curator Behind a few very exciting winemakers, South Africa was fast ascending my wine to-do list. Starting from the ground up, last Sunday I had a bottle of A.A. Badenhorst’s “The Curator” red blend to get myself acquainted on the cheap.

My background on the producer—A.A. Badenhorst—stemmed from my grocery buying days when I had purchased cases of “Secateurs,” red and white, to stock the shelves as a way to beef up my puny South African set.

Based in Swartland, an area fifty miles north of Cape Town (in the greater wine region of the Western Cape), the Badenhorst family employs contracts with growers to purchase old-vine grapes to make eminently drinkable and affordable blends under “The Curator” title. Not one for Rhône-style white wines, I opted for a bottle of The 2011 Curator red while shopping in Huntington Beach.

A rich garnet in the glass, painting my tulip—glass—with moderate tears and erupted with a core of dark fruit, smoke, meatiness and pepper that was true to its French inspiration on the bouquet. In the mouth it had medium weight and a nice texture (medium and round tannins), and a moderate finish that echoed its exuberant and developed fragrance with a bit more olive and twig. It fit the bill for the evening and paired well with the red meat that was served.

It is hard to find convincing wines under ten dollars, but “The Curator” red, a blend of Shiraz / Syrah (95% of the blend), Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier was seamless and over delivered. I loved every sip and was happy to taste such an unassuming wine that will hopefully springboard my own interest into a relatively unknown (speaking for myself again) territory.

Altesse Peillot Back on the horse (pardon the cliché and my delay), 2015 begins with Altesse, a little known grape variety made famous in Savoie. I was introduced to two separate examples at the beginning of the year, not thinking much of it, and now, sprouting like Daffodils in springtime, Altesse is routinely making appearances at top restaurant wine lists in Los Angeles. Inclined to delve elbow-deep so that I could better understand the buzz around the grape, I began my search for a bottle.

Combing the aisles of K&L I procured a seven-fifty of 2012 Famille Peillot Roussette du Bugey—100% Altesse—for a decent sum (in the mid twenties). I took it home and chilled it down, in order to serve with a light a salad and some white fish, reading more about the producer and region to enrich the experience.

I poured the wine and allowed it to stretch out from its bottled confines, while putting the finishing touches on the salad and allowing the fish to cool.

It turned out that my decision to purchase a bottle of Famille Peillot, under the direction of Franck Peillot, was better than expected, since the family had a long and intimate history with the grape. Four generations of family tending vineyards in the Roussette de Bugey appellation on steep clay and limestone soils at the most southerly part of Jura mountain range (think east of Lyon for geography sake) were enough to see what the varietal had to offer.

On the nose the wine offered little aromatics, but with a good sniff I managed to extract yellow plum, citrus, almond and minerals. The palate showed off one remarkable trait while the rest fell into the light-to-medium camp…rapier-like acidity (high acid). The wine was reminiscent of Picpoul or Muscadet but with a little less brightness. Tart plum, citrus and nuts were detectable on a medium finish but the wine was a great pairing for dinner.

I liked the idea of the wine; although I wasn’t wowed, I could see it lending value and obscure notoriety to a wine list, a chance for discussion with an inquiring guest. I have to say that I liked the wine more after knowing the story about Franck and his hands-off approach to Altesse, allowing his wine to show off its terroir with little manipulation. I look forward to trying their Monduese next time, but will save that for another entry. Best wishes on the trail!

GEAWhat was a smart and mobile business plan ballooned into a full-fledge phenomenon in the late 2000’s. Every festival, event and abandoned parking lot seemed to offer gourmet options on wheels. Even now there are televised competitions and endless variations on interesting cuisine concepts launched. However exciting the menu and cool paint job though, the idea of waiting in crazy lines and eating in uncomfortable settings was never that appealing, except for one Heavy Metal themed burgerie—and the best part of the exception was, they had a brick and mortar location.

Headed to Alhambra, I looked forward to a belated birthday lunch with friends and an opportunity to finally try Grill ‘Em All. The roaming burger joint had made quite a name for itself, winning Food Network’s “Great American Food Truck Race,” and had settled in the gateway to San Gabriel Valley.

With an edgier diner setting and an all-encompassing penchant for metal (music), the restaurant didn’t appeal to me much at face value. If it weren’t for the massive amounts of social media and tremendous word of mouth, I probably wouldn’t have paid them any mind—folk music was always more my thing.

Gea BurgAn extensive menu of scrawled music-laden choices didn’t speed things up, we measured our options; going wild for “Napalm Death” or “Powerslave,” would be reserved for a return visit as I held strong to my philosophy of judging the base, and ordered the “Winger” and accompanied it with “No More Mr. Nice Fries.” My friends went a hair more daring since they had been here before.

It was apparent early on that their great reputation was earned by the endless procession of photogenic sandwiches trayed through a packed restaurant. By the time our food had arrived, I took a few snaps with the camera and we dug in.

The Winger arrived gloriously with an unruly avalanche of American cheese and few edges of Iceberg lettuce protruding from the toasted brioche bun. An homage to the classic West Coast hamburger lathered in thousand-island dressing and bread-n-butter pickles to buttress the ridiculously tender patty. No head banging about it, the Winger was excellent, a lot of jus from the meat and a soft ‘n well-seasoned grind played against the cold, crisp vegetables. No More Mr. Nice Fries were outstanding too, with a true meat-lover’s chili dressed over the piping hot potatoes—one of the best chili fries I’ve ever eaten.

Everything checked out at Grill ‘Em All; a bona fide concept on wheels brought the thunder to Alhambra and made this hamburger tracker very happy! Even though I had to make some compromises to my musical tastes—an ardent supporter of bluegrass and folk—for an afternoon, the result was well worth it. Maybe now I will feel more confident about the wait at their food truck.

PattiAs a rule I try not to praise my own wines (that I sell) like spoiled children—the attachment to a brand or a story clouding my objectivity—by not paying enough attention to their individual faults and virtues. But there are a few wines, and producers, that are so compelling that I feel like I have to share the gospel—this is the closest I will get to proselytizing or picking a favorite child.

Before I started to sell Carmelo Patti’s wines, I knew of one producer pushing counter to the barrage that was being peddled to all buyers (myself included) from Argentina. I had been introduced to Bodegas Weinert, a traditional winery that had been described to me as the R. Lopez de Heredia of Argentina; Malbec, Cabenet Sauvignon and Merlot, among other grapes, fashioned in a masculine style, with immense structure, aged in large casks for extensive periods yielding wines that were savory and could only be thought of with food, unlike the more ubiquitous run-and-gun style offerings. As exciting as these wines were to me, the problem was I could never find them; buyers wouldn’t support Bodegas Weinert consistently, claiming that they were too difficult to sell.

Carmelo Patti is an even smaller operation than the legendary Bodegas Weinert, crafting a fraction of the production nearly singlehandedly. A garagiste. A lot of care in the vineyard sites—Luján de Cuyo—and unmanipulated winemaking, with native yeast fermentation, delicate punch-downs and employing nearly all used French oak to keep the wines pure and honest. Much like Weinert, Patti will release his wines when ready and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon embodied this methodology perfectly.

I opened the bottle for customers, booking appointments for two days to show the wines to accounts I thought would be interested. I was surprised that a few accounts didn’t open their doors to Carmelo Patti (his wines) because the overall showing was stunning—all were snatched up… we are plumb out. That was their loss!

After the end of the second day I took the dregs of the Cabernet Sauvignon for myself and meditated on it privately to further assess what I had: Conjuring Old-World images, medium ruby in the stem, with dusty red raspberry, spearmint, dried tobacco leaves and olives on the nose. It was a deep scent that had no end. On the palate the wine was lithe, a graceful medium-body, contoured by medium-plus acidity and fine tannins that tasted of red raspberry, pomegranate seeds, Earl Grey tea, dashes of cupboard spice (of the savory variety) and pepper. It was elegant and complex; the transparency of the wine was seamless and soulful.

In comparison to Weinert’s wines, they had a softness about them on the tongue. Patti’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is reminder of why I sell wine, exposing others to a producer that is making wines in his modest style—humbly—ignoring the homogenized exports that flood retailers and grocery stores, thereby storming the public’s palate. Every wine has its place and Carmelo Patti and Bodegas Weinert certainly have one in my cellar!

Uma 2

Nothing against Austrian wines, but I rarely drink them when I am not working—the restaurant post or slinging Weingut Salomon on the streets of Southern California. If I do, generally, it’s to have a glass of groo-ve (Grüner Veltliner) or Riesling when I’m in a ramen mood, but however much Austrian white wine I may taste, experience tells me it’s best to keep my eyes trained on the less celebrated red wines. As a birthday gift I received a bottle that would help maintain the balance, red versus white.

I uncorked the seven-fifty of 2006 Umathum “Vom Stein” St. Laurent with the friend who gave it. A wine that he and his family had enjoyed many times while visiting the estate in Austria. I was unfamiliar with Umathum, the eponymous family that began focusing on wine production in the early 80’s after years of cultivating vines. Under the direction of Josef Umathum, in the mid 80’s, the wines transitioned to organics under the tenets of Biodynamics and their reputation for excellent red wines has been growing ever since.

The Vom Stein (from stone) vineyard is an older and warmer site where St. Laurent grows in gravelly soils that are rich in quartz. The wine was vibrant, with developing scents redolent of dried red flowers, dark cherries, blackberries and wet forest floor. Flush medium-body with round, fine tannins, pert acidity and a long, expressive finish of mixed berries, plum, subtle spice, and coffee grounds.

St. Laurent is often compared to Pinot Noir, though there is no genetic link between the two red grapes, however this wine shared a lot of the same pleasing flavors while adding a bit of weight to the mid-palate. It was in a class of its own and every sip was better than the one before.

The complexity and velvety texture of Umathum’s St. Laurent were eye opening, I couldn’t really tell you if it was a value, because it was a gift (and it’s impossible to find on wine-searcher), but it was certainly delicious. It will definitely make me rethink my Austrian white wine bent, and I will be scouring the wine shops for more of it.

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Wine of the Month

Roumier Morey St. Denis 'Clos de la Bussiere' 2008

Eatery of the Month

aguachile

Jesse's Camarones Restaurant

Musical Accompaniment

Glenn Kotche’s ‘Ping Pong Fumble Thaw’  by The Brooklyn Rider Almanac