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April 25, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Re-imaging the last meal aboard the R.M.S. Titanic


About 10 weeks ago, Chef Rob McCue (Hell’s Kitchen, Fox) and Chef Adam C. Banks (Roble & Co., Bravo TV) summoned me to John Allan’s, a gentleman’s den nestled amidst the towering cathedrals of midtown Manhattan.

There was a pool table, a comfy leather couch and far too many amber elixirs (neat) to go around the room. I hadn’t seen Chef McCue since this collaboration from September 2011. McCue introduced me to Chef Banks and spoke of an epic culinary adventure, that could potentially use my creative stamp. The centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was to be April 14th of this very year, 2012. To commemorate the night, he and Baks were planning to serve the very same meal those fateful first-class diners enjoyed before the inevitable demise of her majesty Titanic.

Interesting, I thought. But, why? What would be the purpose of re-creating a meal where the dishes themselves are by today’s standards, mildly interesting? What would the great people of this upstanding nation think, or how would they respond to a group of rogue culinary masterminds plotting to dish up the Titanic’s last meal? (I heard the voice of Jeff Morgan, a good winemaker friend whom I’ve turned to for advice in recent months, ask, “Was it Kosher?”)

The answer came to me after those burning amber waves of grain slowed my mental process down to the tune of a noble cause: Yes. Yes, we can I thought! Yes, we can recreate the last meal served aboard the Titanic, if… if…if and only if we dedicated ourselves to a far greater cause: to re-imagine the last meal as if it might have been served “today.

Let us imagine that the R.M.S. Titanic had passed the iceberg and sailed into New York; if she were still out roaming the seas today, carting passengers to and from the coasts of the world. We would pay homage to the Titanic by focusing on the jubilant moments during that final meal, before the threat of danger was prevalent and when nothing by exuberance and ecstasy filled the hearts of the souls aboard the ship. To be aboard the Titanic, meant to be sailing upon a vessel the entire world was curious about – a veritable Ark, that sadly betrayed its passengers. However, by tapping into the energy and excitement that surely permeated her walls during these exultant moments, we would memorialize the passengers and crew in uplifting fashion.

The menu, it was decided, would be composed of the very ingredients and components from the original First Class menu (copies survived in pockets of a few who escaped). Our twenty-first century version would condense 11 courses to 7, and elevate the cuisine to modern standards of culinary deliverance. The next eight weeks would prove to be a Titanic undertaking, indeed.

In my mind, the beginning of this journey was marked by what I believed to be the most important questions to ask: What wines will we serve – and why? No record exists of the wines that were paired with the many meals served. There are accounts from The White Star Line’s distributors of what had been purchased and what was on board: mainly French, Italian, German and Portuguese wines. Enter: the Galloni’s. That’s right, Antonio Galloni.

On our behalf, they reached out to a distributor whose wines fit the bill of what we were hoping to accomplish with respect to pairings. I’m incredibly thankful to the Galloni’s for having made an important introduction, and from there we began to assemble our wines. To help complete that task, enter: Master of Wine, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan.

The stunning, lovely, brilliant, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine (and lover of cocktails).

Jennifer is truly Master of the House (I’m singing Les Mis in my head) and her enthusiasm and support turned an evening of impressive wine pairings into an evening of brilliantly planned and thought-out pairings. Her goal was to help source wines from brands that existed in 1912 or before. Trying to source actual wines from 1912, and enough to pair each course for 80+ diners, was well out of our budgetary means and frankly unrealistic (we were this close (   ) to landing that $250,000 sponsorship from NASA – alas, another time). Jennifer’s approach made sense, and all our combined efforts produced this fabulous list of wines/courses:

First Course
Oysters a la Russe
Local Long Island Oysters, Tomato, Vodka, Horseradish
2009 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse (First Class)
2008 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse Les Menetrieres. (VIPs)

Second Course
Consomme Olga
“Vesiga,” Celeriac Root, Vegetable Garni
2006 Alvear Fino (First & VIP Class)

Third Course
Butter Poached Wild Salmon
Cucumber, Mousseline Sauce, Salmon Skin
2010 Dopff & Irion (First & VIP Class)

Fourth Course
Filet Mignon Lili
Potatoes Anna, Artichoke, Foie Gras, Black Truffle
2007 Chateau Manon La Lagune. (First Class)
2005 Chateau Millon Saint Emilion Grand Cru (VIPs)

Fifth Course
Punch Romaine
Ginger Oil, Rum, Champagne, Frothed Egg White

Sixth Course
Squab & Watercress
Asparagus, Squab Reduction
2009 Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune (First Class)
2009 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin (VIPs)

Dessert Course
Mock Waldorf Pudding, Suspended Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Eclairs
Taylor Fladgate 10 year old tawny (First Class)
Taylor Fladgate 40 year old Tawny (VIPs)


Louis XIII de Remy Martin (VIP Class only)


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And what is stellar wine without a stellar wine-pouring team? I assembled a group of some of New York’s finest Somms and impresarios, who together bedazzled our guests with their wine-speak and exemplary service. They shall be named:

Morgan Harris, Sommelier Captain
Tanner Walle, Sommelier
Katarina Maloney, Sommelier
Leiti Hsu, Sommelier
Ramon Del Monte, Sommelier

Mayur Subbarao (Bittermens, EVOE)

Tanner Walle, Morgan Harris, Leiti Hsu. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Look at Katarina Maloney pour! Absolutely stunning! MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Ramon Del Monte (far right) pouring Laurent-Perrier. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.


Without the support of these upstanding libationists, I would not have been able to focus on my most important and immediate task at hand: to prevent the Titanic from sinking.

In his book, From Time to Time, author Jack Finney reveals the story of a government agency dubbed, The Project, in which Einstein’s theories of time, space and travel are employed to transport members of The Project back in time. The Project’s process of transporting a person back in time is rooted in deep mediation practices, imagery and the presence of a “gateway,” a place that exists in the present and in the past. Some examples are the Statue of Liberty, The Dakota, certain areas of Central Park, etc. For one to be successful in traveling back to another time, one must be present in one of these gateways and in practice, settle into a state of mental deceleration. That is: to let the present move ahead and let the past catch up. Through self-hypnosis and meditation, one has the ability to latch onto “threads” of the past, according to Finney, and connect to and exist in another time.

The evening of April 14, 2012 – the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic – presented a gateway and the potential to change history in a serious way – I set out to do just that. To help in my righteous quest, to assist me in dreaming the impossible dream, was the Captain of the R.M.S. Titanic and the Jotta Girl, a character from Finney’s book:

Abe Danz, Captain RMS Titanic, Caitlin Bebb aka the Jotta Girl. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO. Effects by Time Travel.

Jonny warning the Jotta Girl not to interfere with his plans to warn the captain of the ice bergs. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO. Effects by Time Travel.

In the words of Neil Diamond, “I’ve got an emptiness deep inside and I tried: but it won’t let me go.” And so, to help me “let go,” came the generous support of one of my best, best friends in the world: an amber wave of grain, a mountainous glass of majesty, the color of a California sunset, a libation that has been in existence since the 1800s, well-sipped over the evening to help settle me in under the influence of a decelerated state of mind, ole faithful: Glenmorangie.

Can you feel that 1912 in the air?!?!?! I felt it. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO

Finally, underscoring the evening – the journey that is – was perhaps the finest addition to the entire Dine Titanic fete: Chrome Canyon featuring  Icky Doom of Shad[]wb[]x (computer) and Megan Sears (cello). The account of the musicians playing as the ship sank is essentially common knowledge – and the moment is memorialized in James Cameron’s leviathan of a movie. Instead of a string trio or quartet, eerie sounds, ethereal sounds, sampled air, ocean and bits of “Nearer My God To Thee” were sampled into hypnotic, persistent, dark undercurrents of depth-inducing sounds. They looked like this:

wb[]x (computer) and Megan Sears (cello).  MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO”]


And with that, good reader, good wino, good foodist, good friends, I leave you to a short documentary of my experience and a rhetorical question: what do you recall about the Titanic? Is it possible that some of you now have a memory of her docking in New York City in 1912?

For links to Press and more photos visit:

Wine Evangelist Jonathan Cristaldi (Jonny Cigar), Chef Rob McCue, Chef Adam C. Banks. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO

March 28, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

City friends: It’s time to play winemaker.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery - Hudson Valley, New York State

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery is a mere stone’s throw from the former farm-land of good old New York City. They are the pioneer grape grower of the Hudson Valley, begat by John S. Dyson in 1985, who also happened to coin the I “Heart” New York campaign we see so commonly attached to car bumpers. At Millbrook it is attached to wine glasses:

Tasting glasses at Millbrook

John was an agricultural genius, and as dairy farms were suffering in the 80’s, John saw the potential to turn the Hudson Valley into a premier farm region known for much more than its dairy farming. Enter: Millbrook Winery.

I recently had the opportunity to visit and taste through Millbrook’s entire portfolio. I was absolutely thrilled by their Chardonnays – which are vibrant, crisp and have a classic cool-climate Chardonnay nose. And their New York State Pinot Noir is alone worth a trip. Speaking of…

We all know just how lovely New York City is during the hot summer months. And if trips to Coney Island and Jones Beach are getting old, how about hop on the Metro North to Poughkeepsie (for those of us without cars) and let a shuttle bus drive you through green mountains toward a winery where you could taste wine, have lunch at the vineyard grill or better yet – cultivate your own vines from bud-break to harvest and take home a case of wine while you’re at it.

Inside Hook has the scoop on a Wine Growing Boot Camp Millbrook is offering — periodic Saturdays from April to July, harvest in October and a final trip in 2013 to bottle.

Winemaker is John Graziano who’ll take you under his wing – and with 25 years of winemaking and growing experience at Millbrook, you could say he is pretty much one with the vines up there. Tell em, “Jonny sent me,” and they’ll put you to work.

Love to see these kinds of displays in the winery.

View of the tasting room.

By the way: Millbrook is part the estate properties also in possession of Williams-Selyem and hence, a good deal of it is available at Millbrook, which is really kind of amazing.

My visit was during one of the only snowy weekends. Was exciting to be amidst vines even though I could see my breath.


March 17, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Hunt for Wines of 1912 & My Personal Let-Down

Day 23, Day 24? I’m not sure anymore. I had committed to 40 Days of Writing. 40 Days of writing the truest sentences about wine, I could muster.

My last post included days 9, 10 and 11, and shows a photograph of my late night note-taking at The Richardson in Brooklyn about the “Titanic” dinner event I’m collaborating on for April 14. There’s a wine-story here, but first, permit me this:

Since that night, it would not be incorrect to say that I’ve been a bit under water with this project. In an effort to pay homage to the spirit of the Titanic, my hope is to create a window into what it might have been like to be a diner aboard the very vessel the world was all-too-gaga over; so the aim is to re-imagine the moments during the last meal when exuberance, ecstasy and the thought of getting into New York a day early, all that…was in the hearts and minds of the passengers.

I offered to call the event 41°North, 49°West – the coordinates where the Titanic hit the iceberg and sank. This was accepted by “Team Titanic” as I’ve come to call them: and though we are a team, I am the Visionary. I am the lone visionary out to sea.

And I have a vision: I have a belief. I believe that if we all believe in the power of persuasion – the power of the imagination – I believe we can spend one evening changing the course of history. I believe we can imagine a world in which perhaps, tragedy is non-existent. This event is for me, the Anti-Tragedy of this century, and I intend to make good  on delivering this vision to the 80 diners who attend.

But to the point: I have failed in my promise to write every day, one true thing about wine. Now… no one is going to fire me. I’m not going to be stripped of medals I never won and if people stop asking for my autograph, it’ll likely be because they never asked for it in the first place. However folk: that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve let myself down.

Matthew Homyak of the Stag Dining Group (based in San Francisco) recently shared this video, of Ira Glass talking about perseverance in storytelling. In it, Ira talks about let-down and persistence as the vehicles for success. And with successful storytellers, there is a common denominator: work, work, work, to the point of breaking and indulging in the ever-elusive necessity to create something better than was just created.

Have I worked as hard as I could? I don’t know. But what constitutes “hard work”? Writing is hard work and not always fun. Sometimes it’s fun. I had a good deal of fun writing “Farm!” a new Jonny Cigar spectacle, however after re-reading it recently, I know it needs a lot of work and that – I’m not looking forward to.

I haven’t solutions to my circumstance, so for now let’s turn to 1912.

In our efforts to re-imagine the last meal aboard the Titanic, our hope is not to replicate the 1912 experience. Rather, we plan to present this meal as it would be presented in 2012. Our only rule was that the wines poured should come from wineries that have been in existence since 1912 or before and were likely poured – very likely poured – in the Jacobean dining room (the name given the first-class dining hall).

And we’ve been successful thanks to a very special wine consultant, who I shall introduce in a separate post. She is a Master of Wine and I am honored, flattered and thrilled that she is working with us to source these wines — the real benefactors will be the diners, which is after all the idea.

The Truest Sentence I Can Write About Wine today is one of familiarity: In wine there is truth.

February 19, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Fine & Raw + Um Segredo + Tempranillo = A Noble First

Photo Courtesy of Underground Eats

What’s in a Supper Club? If you ask The Whisk & Ladle Supper Club, they’ll tell you that they coined the name. In fact, so told me one of the W&L hosts, and I am paraphrasing: No one was using the words “Supper Club” before we began hosting our dinners. If you ask other New York-based dining groups, they’ll think nothing on it and if you ask Grub Street to describe a Supper Club, they won’t define what it is but they’ll tell you that the Health Department is too busy to even consider what a “Supper Club” is up to.

What about Dinner Theatre? Good question! Most certainly not the same thing, though I’ve collaborated in the past with a supper club that promises an, “educational, social and theatrical culinary” experience to unsuspecting attendees.

Most surprising of all is the WikiPedia entry, which only mentions super clubs in the U.S. as a footnote to a happening in Latin America, look:

“In Latin America, Supper Club typically denote underground restaurants, where they’re known as either a paladar or a restaurante de puertas cerradas (locked door restaurant). While technically illegal, they’re built into the culture, and often have higher standards than many licensed establishments. They are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.”

The New York Times has hailed supper clubs as “Anti-Restaurant[s]” and the term underground is used in conjunction with culinary happenings at such a frequency that all history of the “underground railroad” I fear, may well be re-written and confused for a big dinner party.

Q: Alright, JC, what’s the point?

A:  Great question kind Hipster in the back! First a photo, then my response:

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Fine & Raw Chocolate piercing vanilla bean ice cream.

On Sunday February 12th I hosted an event that was indeed a first (for The Noble Rot). Since The Noble Rot’s inception in 2009 I have boasted of our Anti-Supper Club format where there ‘ain’t no sittin’ down.’ The focus has been on wine and the food is there to compliment the wines. The food has always been passed and like a politician kept afloat by a superPAC, I promised we’d never repeal our credo! We’d never sit down! And last Sunday, I flip-flopped. I’m also announcing my candidacy for President of the Unite States of Foursquare and Seven Years Ago When There Wasn’t No Damn Foursquare.

Fine & Raw limited ed. scotch bonbon. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

This story of Love, and the Occupying of it (title of the event was “Occupy the Things u Love”), begins last year when David Santos, Chef of Um Segredo a Portugese-influenced Roosevelt Island based supper club, contacted me about a collaboration.

ME: “You’re Spanish right?”
DAVID: “No, I’m Portugese”
ME: “I’ll never go to Roosevelt Island.”
DAVID: “You should, it’s pretty amazing. My apartment is so big it feels like a house in suburbia.”
ME: “So we’ll do a Spanish-inspired Valentine’s Day dinner in Williamsburg. Sound good?”
DAVID: “Sure.”

Mark, a Noble friend on the left. Chef David Santos on the right. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

That’s not exactly how it went, but pretty close. Daniel Sklaar, the ChocoFiend of Fine & Raw Chocolates, offered his loft as the base of operations. I was sold when he used the words”scotch” and “bonbon” in the same sentence. It wasn’t clear to me that he had made a scotch-infused bonbon, but that didn’t matter, I simply love word associations. Turned out he did make a limited edition bonbon and we were to give it out as a parting gift to the lucky 25 guests who made it on the list to attend.

You should only buy chocolates from a man dressed as impeccably as Sklaar (he doned this suit as a personal homage to yours truly).

Ramon Del Monte from Tempranillo, Inc. and I had been talking about the necessity of collaborating again and so he came on board the love train. Whenever we serve wines from Jorge Ordenez, the flagship brand of Tempranillo, the quality and consistency of deliciousness is always overwhelming. We tasted through five wines and ya know, I’m now hooked on every one. At the end of this post there are photos of the food and the wines we paired with each dish.

Ladies & Gents & Lovebirds: Ramon Del Monte.

Carla Rhodes, a “rock n’ roll” ventriloquist to the stars brought out her turn-of-the-century friendly, singing, womanizing compatriot: Cecil. Guests were clamoring for more of Carla’s musical numbers and Cecil’s harsh criticism. At one point, he told Carla that she looked like “Shirley Temple on speed,” and multiple times threatened to harm everyone in the house.  The act was just what Valentine’s Day ordered. Look her up.

Carla Rhodes and Cecil. Photo courtesy of Underground Eats.

We poured five Jorge Ordonez wines, sourced from the Wine Exchange in Brooklyn:

  • Bubbles: Marques de Gelida Brut Exclusive 2006 ($15) Brilliant value cava
  • Paired with Crudo: Marques De Gelida Xarello 2010 ($10)
  • Paired with Monkfish: La Cana Albarino 2009 ($17)
  • Paired with Pasta: Cepa 21 2007 ($25) ** my personal favorite of the night
  • Paired with Squab: Avanthia Cuvee Mosterio 2010 ($22) ** will get even better with age, this was young.
  • Paired with Dessert for the Gents: Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Anada 2008 ($23)
  • Paired with Dessert for the Gals: Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 NV ($25) ** go to Tinto Fino in Manhattan for this and other sherries/ports. The place will astound you!

So, there you have it: we hosted a sit-down meal for 25. And all were a lovely bunch. Some “regulars” were there (you know who you are) and some new faces who had been trying to make an event happen for a long time. Chef Santos’ professionalism, his composure in the kitchen and ability to handle prepping, cooking, plating 25 portions for a five-course meal while washing dishes in between, keeping conversation light and fun, never breaking a sweat — is unparalleled in this “supper club” scene (in NYC). In fact, I’ll make a bold statement: every single supper club in New York City could take lessons in composure (and portion-size) from David. I told him so and I meant it: I’d work with him again anytime he so desired.

As we round the bend on this one, a tall order is in hand: to define supper club. Luckily, we’re not going to fill that tall order here today. Instead, we’ll just say that the experience of social dining may provide a very hearty rival to the restaurant scene as supper clubs develop and become adults. To boot, two gents from Underground Eats attended our V-Day extravaganza and truly captured the flow of the evening in a well-written and enjoyable blog post. They’re mission to become a source for access to our clandestine dining world may be the start of the growing up process. They’ve provided some photos for this post! Seek them out and perhaps you’ll be the fine owner of the only business card to rival the luxurious design of a Bentley (which they possess).

I’ve a bit of big news to break out as well, which involves an announcement about, “Jonny Cigar,” an idea of the title “sommelier,” a commitment to new dining and wining experiences, and a new business that combines a bit of public relations, a dash of marketing to be stirred with consulting. Details and more coming to an inbox near you in the very near coming weeks. So if you’re not on the Noble Rot mailing list, get on board.

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February 8, 2012 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Rise of Kosher Wine: Kosher Food & Wine Experience 2012

The tasting season is upon us here in ole’ New York. And while there are plenty of opportunities to taste a array of wines from around the world, there is one opportunity to discover a rising class of wines that are making palates perform double-takes: kosher.

On Monday, February 13th, head to Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers to take part in the 2012 Kosher Food & Wine Experience (KFWE). The lineup of vintners may have you stroking your corkscrews, murmuring, “I didn’t know they made a kosher wine!” The likes of Laurent-Perrier, Rothschild, and Goose Bay will be pouring and unsurprisingly you’ll be able to taste through the Baron Herzog wines, but may indeed be surprised by the latest vintages.

In Napa, some of the valley’s most coveted and expensive fruit is making its way into wine bottles that are kosher, and the result is a kosher wine renaissance. I dare say you may already be hooked on one of these wines and not even know it’s kosher! Go then, good connoisseur and see for yourself, for I will make a prediction: the next cult wine to take the cult wine-seekers by storm may be a kosher one.

And note: good wino, for you may have heard of manischewitz. Well, wine does not have to be manischewitz to be a kosher wine. To make manischewitz-type wines, the wine is typically “boiled,” which then classifies it mevushal.

And if you’re looking for a really fantastic explanation of what makes a wine kosher vs what makes a wine mevushal, read what Covenant Wines wine maker Jeff Morgan has to say about it. He’ll be at the KFWE pouring on Monday, so say hello but don’t tell him I sent you because I’m Sicilian. The tastings begin at 6:30pm!


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