Profilin': Mary McAuley of The Ripe Life Wines

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetReal talk about blogging: it’s difficult to come up with original AND compelling content on a weekly basis. I’m not a list person, at least online. As I work on this site more, and as I am inspired by some ace Web producers out there (no mere bloggers, these), I realize how much I want to shake up “blogging” as much as I want to shake up my routine. 

In that spirit, I’ve decided I will be pursuing more profile-style posts with fascinating people doing cool shit out there, here in Internet-land and beyond. I’m tired of sitting around, watching passionate people go unnoticed for their work. I’m curious and ripe with questions, but I have the luxury and luck to know So. Many. Cool. People. Let’s try to get them on here, mkay? 

Now that that’s out of the way… 

I first met Mary McAuley a few months ago at Ed’s Lobster in SoHo. There was, natch, lobster and clams and tators, but more importantly, there were bottles of Mary’s wine. Ya see, Mary is a wine-trepreneur: Back in 2013, the Jersey native, former NYC somm/culinary student and all-around badass started her own company, Ripe Life Wines, and released her first vintage of Clambake Chardonnay.

I know what you’re thinking: ABC (“I drink anything but Chardonnay”). But hear me out!

Mary’s first release, sourced from Cali’s Santa Lucia Highlands, was a wallop of a sip. Fresh, minerally, hearty squeezes of lemon: her juice is not that ’90s stereotype of oaky, popcorn-buttery Chard. It is finessed, with tons of fresh acidity that makes it dangerously easy to guzzle. Her 2013 release is from Mendocino and is just as fresh, if a little fuller.

I’ve hung out with Mary a few times now, and lemme tell you, girl knows her way around wine and food. In fact, the Clambake label is a nod to her East Coast roots: It’s meant to pair well with all iterations of clambakes up and down the eastern seaboard.

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Wine Discovery: Louis-Antoine Luyt

Wines of Chile Wine Bar War

So I get to do some pretty cool shit, like this last week: Wines of Chile hosted a Wine Bar War featuring four sommeliers from around NYC. Basically, it was a battle of pop-ups, but in this case, the medium wasn’t food but wine.

“Alright,” you may be saying to yourself. “I can dig that.” Damn straight: there was a ton of talent in that room.

Working with Hector Vergara, South America’s only Master Sommelier, each of the somms took to their corners and built out their wine bar concept that would best evoke Chile’s diversity. Did I mention they started at 9 am? By the time dusk fell, the event (hosted at Villain in Williamsburg) drew a fun weekday crowd of wine lovers, industry pros, writer-types (like me!) and the like. The prize was a trip to Chile for the winning team of somms (score!).

As you’d expect, the wine flowed quite easily.

While a few bottles piqued my interest, only one bottle really stood out at Earth’s End, the pop-up created by Momofuku Ssam Bar’s Anna-Lisa Campos. The bottle: Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan. Long story short, winemaker Louis-Antoine is a native-Frenchman who traveled to Chile in his youth, found wine, studied it back in France and took that training back to Chile to produce something incredibly unique in a country run by many large producers. A believer in terroir and the natural wine-making philosophy, he set out in 2009 to create the wines he loved. Fast-forward a few years and he’s now rockin’ three lines of vino you don’t often see coming from Chile.

Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan natural Chile wine

His newest venture, an eponymous Carignan, attracted me first with its colorful label, but the glass was an all-out seduction offensive.

First sniff, swirl and sip: The 70-year-old vines threw off aromas akin to a big bowl of summer berry fruit with an underlying, tell-tale earthy funk. The palate was all ripe red juiciness, with more of that horse-y funk coming in like the goddamn flavor cavalry. To say I was “into it” would be an understatement. If this is how LAL makes all his wine, sign me up. Lest I forget, this wine rocks a $22 price tag. Delicious AND affordable? GTFO.

I didn’t stick around to see who won (papa’s got a bedtime, yo) but for real: This “wine bar war” thing needs to catch on. Can I get a witness?

For the full scoop on the Wine Bar War, like the kick-ass somms who brought their A-game that night, check out Wines of Chile’s site. 

Party of the Summer: The Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party

Jazz Age kiss

It’s not quite summertime in New York until you dapper up, don an ascot and take the ferry to Governors Island for a day of big brass band shimmying. For hundreds of New Yorkers this last weekend, they did just that.

Held twice a year, the Jazz Age Lawn Party transforms a sun-dappled lawn into a free-wheeling, 1920s-style party, complete with visiting dance troupes, St-Germain cocktails and tasty bites for the most erudite Gatsby fan seeking period authenticity. A highly anticipated event on many calendars, the Lawn Party attracts NYers from all walks to take in a jaunty afternoon of music and dancing, provided by the acclaimed Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra.

Jazz Age Dancers

St. Germaine cocktails

In fact, the party is the brainchild of Arenella himself, who plays emcee to a host of acts that channel the best talents of the Roaring ’20s. For some fancy footwork and era-spanning spectacle, you’ll see Gregory Moore and the Dreamland Follies take the dance floor, while chanteuse Queen Esther plays homage to classic jazz. Whatever your flavor, you’ll be surrounded by enthusiastic revelers decked out in their peacock-iest finery.

These shots, from the June lawn party, are just a sample of the revelry that goes down at this NYC favorite.

Shrimp Rolls

Jazz Age Lawn Party

Whether you’re wearing suspenders and a natty ascot or swishing around in a shiny flapper dress, you know you done good if the blue clad Bill Cunningham snaps your pic.

Though this year’s events are over for the season, mark your calendars now. If you’re ever in NYC during June or August, it’s worth time traveling back a few hours and soaking in the jazz, the booze and the pageantry of it all.

Jazz Age Lawn Party | Governors Island 

For a weekly dose of big band entertainment, check out the Dreamland Orchestra every Wednesday and Thursday at the Clover Club and Red Room.

Brunching in Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetI’m one of those unlucky souls with only one day off a week. When not in Westchester, commuting, writing or bartending, I don’t usually have the luxury of taking time for myself to, ya know, do stuff.

This isn’t to say I find it impossible, just exceedingly difficult.

Surprisingly, between an upcoming work conference and a move from Harlem to Queens, I found a few Saturday hours with the bf in one of our favorite areas of Brooklyn, Fort Greene.

Tree-lined with BK’s iconic brownstones, Fort Greene is a picturesque ‘hood with a ton of shops, restaurants and bars within a few blocks, great for a meandering weekend’s exploration. It’s one of our favorite ‘hoods for a reason: the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), host to a grip of world class culture and art house films, anchors the neighborhood, called home for creative urban-types. The sloping, arboreal oasis of Fort Greene Park and the bustle of restaurants off the main thoroughfares don’t hurt, either.

We planned to meet at the at General Greene, where we’d only enjoyed a cocktail once before. Between packing up our respective apartments and rumbling morning tummies, brunch was clearly required.

I timed it so I’d be a bit early, which always warrants a leisurely stroll through the area. Walking down Dekalb (hell, any street) is almost like walking onto a movie backlot, except all of the details are just right, sans typical H-wood touches of forced authenticity. Everyone is just doin’ their thing: runners through the park, kids playing ball, young (exceedingly/frustratingly attractive) parents taking their kids out, neighbors of all ilk selling wares from their stoops while blasting Whitney Houston… Fort Greene’s got it.

General Greene is a great stop for a quiet afternoon drink, or in this case, a leisurely brunch. Order the housemade lemonade with a shot of jalapeño Tequila. You won’t hate it.

The bf ordered the biscuits and gravy, a cast iron pan’s worth of buttermilk biscuit drowning in a savory sausage gravy and topped with two eggs. I opted for the Greene Eggs and Ham, which did not have the de rigeur pesto this dish often comes with. The poached eggs maintained that delicate balance of runny orange yolk that is not overcooked but miraculously exists between solid and liquid states. That flavor-noise was served atop a buttery (albeit not hot) biscuit and fatty ham with requisite hollandaise. Oh, and let’s not forget the side of fried green tomatoes.

Allz I gotz to say is: Show me a person who hates brunch food and I’ll show you a liar.

General Greene | Brooklyn | 229 Dekalb Ave. at Clermont

New York is Always a Good Idea

Empire

 

Three years ago today, I stepped on a plane and left Chicago—the first home I ever shaped for myself—for the unknown wilderness that is New York City.

With the hubris of a 25 year old, a promising job opportunity, a paper thin wallet and a clutch of friends, I chased the dream of making it as a writer in NYC.

I was a naive cliché, deriding a young Didion for writing her famed Goodbye to All That essay. I thought to myself, “Maybe you couldn’t hack it, Joan, but I will!” I had seen Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty, after all. I was plucky as fuck, pluckier than all those underdogs combined. I’d be fine.

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Wine Craving: Red Tail Ridge’s Sparkling Teroldego

sparkling red wine, Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes, New York wine

Listen up: if you’re not currently drinking wine from the Finger Lakes, you’re missing out. And if you’re not drinking Red Tail Ridge, well, I feel sorry for you, your kids and your future grandkids.

Red Tail Ridge first came on my radar a few months back, when I doing research for an endangered grapes story I wrote. Winemaker Nancy Irelan was a peach via email (and sadly, some of her sage wisdom was left on the cutting room floor). When I finally got to try her Dry Riesling, I was hooked. Crystal-focused, light and dry, the wine is everything I love in a Riesling.

Fast-forward a few months (and bottles), when a few weeks ago, I got to meet Nancy IRL and sipped the fruits of her labor, paired with delicious bites from talented young-gun chef Kwame Onwuachi. While chef Kwame served up knock-out food (taste explosion!), I kept returning to the glass for more of Nancy’s wine. Specifically, her Teroldego.

Surprise, surprise: I love obscure grapes. Wine discovery is huge for me, and while I’ve had Teroldego before, Red Tail’s is entirely singular. Firstly, the grape usually goes into still wines. To make a sparkling is a lovely stroke of whimsy. Not unlike Lambrusco, it’s a delightful froth of bubbles on the palate, which is kicky with ripe black cherry flavors and a peppery, dry finish. Hints of savory earth notes made it a perfect match for Chef Kwame’s hamachi with yuzu.

Frankly, I’d eat it with bacon. Then again, what wouldn’t I pair with the stuff?

 

Red Tail Ridge 2011 Sparkling Teroldego, $39.95

How to be a Ninja | Knife Classes at Brooklyn Kitchen

chicken

Being a big home cook, I’ve learned the heard way that the first cut is the deepest. The combination of a dull blade and clumsy fingers is a recipe for disaster, I’ll tell you what.

Earlier this year, Ian and I wanted to up our knife game in the kitchen. After gifting him with a pair of beautiful but intimidatingly sharp chef’s and paring knives, I decided that knife skills classes wouldn’t be a bad idea, too.

After putzing online for a bit, I decided to sign us up at Brooklyn Kitchen. With two locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as a number of classes held throughout the month, it was an obvious choice. Besides, it was also the least expensive, relative to places like the ICC’s knife skills classes.Brooklyn Kitchen, Gotham West Side Market

For convenience’s sake, I opted for knife classes at the Gotham West Side Market location. Located in Hell’s Kitchen, this new market of shops and pop-up counters of grade A grub is not dissimilar to Chelsea Market, though not as big or crowded. Definitely a plus for the neighborhood, and for us, closer to my place in Harlem.

Tucked in the back of the market is Brooklyn Kitchen, which stocks not only foodstuffs but also a slew of kitchen supplies for chefs and bartenders, while in the corner is a working teaching kitchen. While Ian brought his knives so he could get the feel of them, it’s not required as the Kitchen provides them.

First things first: good food starts with good knife skills. It’s the first lesson any aspiring chef or culinary school student learns, in the kitchen or in the classroom. We got the fundamentals: parts of the knife, how to hold it and what to do with your other fingers. Mostly, you need a good grip on the handle and the blade, while your other hand assumes a bear claw position, so you don’t accidentally lob off finger tips.

Knife skills class, claw hand

Protect your fingertips: remember to bear claw.

Then comes the cutting. Leading with carrots, we perfected how to chop through starchy items without the amateurish sound of blade hitting board. We learned how to cut batons, plateaus, dices and mince, using celery, green peppers and onions, respectively. In two hours time, we became more confident through the guided learning, our technique that much better. In no time, Ian and I had cut through our veg—the perfect beginnings of a soup, which you get to take home.

While I’m not a knife noob, I left the class feeling a bit more polished in my skills. I benefitted from the instruction mainly in the efficiency of my cuts; it was a realization that I wasted so much veg because I didn’t cut it properly.

Our instructor, a gregarious working chef, also showed us how to properly used a paring knife, and what is offered at the second level of knife skills classes, which focuses on prepping meat. In less than two minutes, he broke down half a whole chicken, showing us the speed and efficiency of knife mastery (see lead image above). Ian and I plan on attending that class in the coming months, if only to prep for the impending zombie apocalypse. Hey, you never know.

Brooklyn Kitchen | Manhattan | 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th Street


Update: Well, that’s a bummer. The Gotham Market location of Brooklyn Kitchen is closed. Visit their (thankfully, still open) W-burg location instead. 

Cheap + Authentic Tacos in the Heart of Bushwick

tacos Bushwick Brooklyn Mexican food

Real talk: there is a dearth of great Mexican food in New York City. Traverse the five boroughs and I can pick out a handful, maybe two, of really good food.

In a city teeming with Dominican, Puerto Rican and hell, even Spanish food, there’s such a noticeable lack of honest-to-goodness Mexican fare that it’s practically a cliche now. And we’re not talking Tex-Mex—delicious in its own right but most certainly not Mexican.

Hailing from Southern California and Chicago—both areas with a high population of the good folks from south of the border—I know my tacos from my taquitos, my nachos from my Doritos. There are days when my body just yearns for a grip of corn-tortilla-enveloped meat dripping in jus and oil, fairy-sprinkled with emerald green cilantro and diced onion.

Recently, I was having one of those body-cravings one day, which led me to a cursory Google search for “Bushwick tacos.”

Enter Taqueria Izucar. After reading this piece by the inimitable Robert Sietsema, I was compelled to go and get my taco fix.

Located underneath the rumbling above-ground M tracks on a busy stretch of Myrtle—a short walk away from the L train—this nondescript little joint is not much to look at. With barely any seating inside, this is the little taqueria that could. The menu rocks some classic double-tortilla tacos but you can also find cemitas (sesame seed-studded sandwiches stuffed with your choice of meat and cheese, avocado, chipotle and the tell-tale papalo, a flavorful and pungent herb found in all proper cemitas) and tortas (classic, hefty Mexican sandwiches of avocado, meat, lettuce, tomato and onion). Larger style platters are also available, but lez be real: that’s not what you’re here for.

What you want is the taco. The $1.25 taco. The simple, deeply flavored taco you just found in the middle of New York City. It’s like finding Shangri La, but for your mouth. tacos Brooklyn BushwickYou’ll find classic standbys like carnitas, al pastor (here, without its characteristic oily orange coloring) and chorizo, but don’t fear venturing out of your comfort zone for the lengua (tongue), suadero (veal flank) or oreja (pig ear). Behind the little window into the kitchen, you’ll see the cook whip up your alternately savory, spicy little disk, served with a heap of cilantro and a lime wedge or two, all on a no-fuss paper plate. Douse that bad boy in some of the provided salsa verde and you’re made.

Don’t be afear’d. The taco/salsa combo has bite, but man, it hurts so good.

Taqueria Izucar | 1503 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, NY 

 

The Ice Geek Cometh

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Ever since that first classic cocktail passed my lips (an Aviation, if you gotta know), I’ve been enamored with cocktail alchemy. Though my home attempts are more miss than hit, it’s still a mental exercise in taste and skill. After more than a few botched tipples, all I can say is blessed be the bartenders, for nightly slinging balanced, flavorful booze.

It’s not all tinctures and booze in Candy Land, though. In the August issue of Wine Enthusiast, I dove into one of the most important ingredients in the cocktail biz: ice. I got a deep assist in the expert department from bar gurus Sother Teague (Amor y Amargo, NYC) and Charles Joly (The Aviary, Chicago). With their insight, I covered the major variations, from crushed to spherical, and even a cool ice pick to rock at your home bar. The piece is a geeked-out primer on the cold stuff; give it a read, if you’re so inclined.

Illustrations by Patrick Morgan

I can’t mention ice and cocktails without a bow and a hat-tip to noted ice master Camper English. His posts on the importance of ice and how to create diamond-clear cubes at home are legendary, and make for a fascinating read.