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October 6, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot and Google Bring About Revolution

Left to right: Christine Wells, Greg Grossman, Rob McCue, Michael Cirino, Jonny Cigar. The Noble Rot Presents: The Culinary/Libation Revolution in collaboration with Google. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

On Tuesday, September 27th, 2011, just days before the New York Food and Wine Festival the Noble Rot teamed up with Google Places to present a revolutionary event: The Culinary/Libation Revolution.

This was the big idea: discuss the prevalent culinary and libation movement sweeping our nation dinner table by dinner table. What movement, Jonny? Why the very movement that in recent year has seen the uprising of supper clubs and inventive chefs, the uses of “modern cookery” in the home kitchen, an emphasis on local, fresh, organic ingredients, the use of liquid nitrogen! and sous-vide cooking techniques, the madness of the wine trade and the emergence of thousands of brands trying to carve out a niche in organic, biodynamic boutique productions. Why man, the list goes on and on! Why woman, the list goes up and up!

40 terrific people were granted a ticket to this event. They worked hard, writing reviews of food and drink establishments in NYC. They were rewarded with lively entertainment, which thrilled and revived the senses.

Amanda and Leiti posing with Swanson Vineyards 2009 Pinot Grigio. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

The incentive to win a coveted spot fell on the chance to hear from and meet our panel of super-star guests. I invited Michael Cirino (a razor, a shiny knife), Cathy Erway (Not Eating Out in NY) and Rob McCue (celeb Chef from Hell’s Kitchen) to take part in a discussion at the top of the evening. We created a mini-theater inside 16 Beaver Street Studios in downtown Manhattan and engaged in wild conversation, which we recorded as our inaugural “Noble Rot Talks” podcast. You are encouraged to listen by visiting:

Left to right: Michael Cirino, Rob McCue, Jonny Cigar, host of Noble Rot Talks podcast series. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Cathy Erway sadly was pulled away last minute to Germany for some kind of beer thing and who wouldn’t pass up a beer thing in Germany, ya know? Conversation with Michael and Rob was thoroughly engaging, though Mr. Cirino was a bit antagonistic, which is his per usual. That’s why we love Michael. Or perhaps we love his mustache. Either way, think of it like this: Cathy has authored a book called, “The Art of Eating In” and thus her world revolves around not eating out; preparing meals at home using fresh locally-sourced ingredients. She is an absolute locavore. Michael’s cooking focuses on the use of modern techniques, i.e., sous-vide, vacuum marinating, thickening agents and frighteningly long words to describe salt. Rob McCue is a celebrity chef from season eight of Hell’s Kitchen, who admits that he, “Went through hell,” battling it out on the program. McCue’s hell however is distinctly sandwiched between Cirino and Erway’s culinary realities. As a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen, Rob performed under intense stress and pressure in a national spotlight. Reality cooking shows have inspired a “think-fast” society of foodies, where chefs are challenged to use only the ingredients that are available on the chopping block. This kind of cooking requires a talent that spans a mastery of home cooking to working in a fast-paced professional kitchen. McCue has to be able to perfectly execute a meal for two or two hundred where consistency is the mark of his skill.

I certainly missed having Cathy’s take, but Rob and Michael provided a brilliant dialogue and guests were entertained by the notion that modern cooking is a bit on the dark side right now and simple cooking with that focus on fresh and local is representative of the lighter side of this revolution.  I posited the notion that inventive supper club cooks and chefs are helping pave the way for change in the way Americans approach the dinner table. The more people engage online, sharing and talking about their food and drink experiences at these clubs, with impassioned bravado, the more pop culture Chefs are having to sit up and pay attention. That kind of interaction is changing the way many Chefs approach food service in their restaurant spaces.

Noble Rot Chef, Christine Wells and assistant Greg Grossman, helped to execute the menu below, which was designed by Mr. Rob McCue. They did a stellar job. The food was revolutionizingly delectable.

Le Menu. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Alright, Jonny! All this food talk!?!? What about the wine? I know. I know. But here’s the deal: food and wine go together like a horse and buggy. Ya know? Food is augmented by wine and wine is transformed by food. Do not, young squire, get me wrong: I absolutely love to drink wine on its own – but I really love wine when it is shared over a meal and over good conversation. And wine elevates conversation just as it does the meal.

We poured wine from Swanson Vineyards, where I’m currently hosting “Salon” tastings as part of my #Harvest experience. Winemaker Chris Phelps makes structured wines that have bright acidity and fabulous mouth-feel. We tasted his 2009 Oakville Pinot Grigio ($21),  2007 Oakville Merlot ($38) and a late harvest Chardonnay called Tardiff ($80). We also poured a 2009 Shaya, old-vine Verdejo Spanish white wine ($12), and a Portuguese white, the 2009 Gazela Vinho Verde ($6).

The lovely Laura Huben poses with Swanson Vineyards Late Harvest Chardonnay "Tardiff." Photo by Katie Sokoler.

In the light vs dark scenario, price was our focus for the wines and people enjoyed the $6 Vinho Verde as much as they enjoyed the $38 Merlot. Yes, we’re talking apples to oranges with respect to the wine, but in terms of enjoyment, the feeling was mutual. The Merlot paired beautifully with a rich, sous-vide Short Rib and generated moans of absolute satisfaction while the Gazela was the perfect sipping wine that we poured during the podcast recording and gave people a certain kind of pep in their walk.

To my great satisfaction a dear friend, really a criminal, performed a few musical numbers that inadvertently involved…me. Mr. Jonathan Samson – perhaps one of the most talented musicians I know – and who teaches music therapy to children, is himself a child of notorious proportions. Well, apparently so am I. So we entertained ourselves and several people who were watching from five feet away, while others continued to drink and be merry in the recesses of the room.

You had to be there to understand this. Jonathan Samson ladies and gent. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Many thanks to Google Places and our friend Esther Brown for inspiring us to host this event. Check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ll be back in New York as of November 2. Until then, you can “tune in” each Wednesday to hear another Noble Rot Talks podcast — which will very shortly (hopefully by next Wednesday) be available via iTunes, where yee may subscribe and listen upon yer leisure.

Finally, I’d love to see some comments and thoughts from you good readers about your take on the “light and dark” side of the current state of our culinary and libation based affairs. Cheers – Jonny. All photos by Katie Sokoler.

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April 25, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Australia Redux (an evening with Bernard Hickin)

Bernard Hickin, Winemaker at Jacob’s Creek. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Australia spoke, and we listened. So it was, on the 19th of April 2011 in downtown Manhattan (16 Beaver Street) that we, The Noble Rot, did host an exciting event with Bernard Hickin, winemaker of Jacob’s Creek.

The literature on it will tell you that Australia is a continent of vast unknown and traversed landscapes, home to a ruling majority of the world’s most deadly creatures, arid deserts and unexplored hotbeds of archeological history. And of the scores of European cultures that have descended upon its shores in efforts to populate and conquer the continent, we may in the coming years be thanking the many early German Farmers who begat Australia’s wine country. As the wine-growing community undergoes its Renaissance, the fruits of their labor will undoubtedly yield great benefits to us all.

Wonderful images were on display of some of the famed Jacob’s Creek vineyards.                           Photo by Katie Sokoler.

The year was 1847. The man was Johann Gramp. He missed the wine he used to drink in Bavaria, his homeland, and so he planted some vineyards to make a wine. We spent an enjoyable night tasting through Gramp’s present day wines and learning of their evolution over time.

We tasted through:

  • Jacob’s Creek NV Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Sparkling
  • Adelaide Hills Reserve Chardonnay
  • Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
  • Barossa Shiraz
  • Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Jacob’s Creek wines defining their “Regionality.” My favorites: the sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend and the Shiraz. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

My personal favorite was the sparkling. It’s a perfect crisp delight and reminded me of the summer I was a billionaire, dressing in three-piece super-light-weight Seersucker suits, sipping bubbly every afternoon overlooking the harbor (any harbor really). I also enjoyed the Shiraz, which was ripe with dark fruit and smooth tannin – a very pleasant and very enjoyable wine. And it is good to point out to all you young and fabulously broke superheroes that all these wines retail at around $13 a bottle. Heck, this would be an ideal wine to make a superbly delightful summer sangria. A bit of peach, strawberry, some spiced rum, and voila!

We feasted upon:  An array of small plates, paired to highlight each wine by Chef Christine Wells of The French Culinary Institute as well as savored Tuck-Shop meat pies – as an homage to Australian cuisine. Wells’ cooking was utterly mouth-watering. She marinated lamb in the Adelaide Hills Cab and Barossa Shiraz, cooked up a mouth-watering fillet served over creamy risotto, confounded people with a fennel-herb and shrimp salad, a buckwheat crepe with duck and mushroom ragu… on and on. With the help of Gabrielle another FCI grad, they turned out 75 consistent portions – which for FCI folk apparently is all in a night’s work.

Buckwheat crepe with duck and mushroom ragu and a balsamic reduction, paired with the Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir. Dish by Chef Christine Wells. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Bernard Hickin was a delightful presence, full of wit and wine-speak. I had the chance to interview him about his experience making wine for Jacob’s Creek. Like any winemaker, he would like his wines to express the essence of where they come from – that ever elusive notion of “Terroir.” Bernard is like a modern Paul Revere delivering news to us all, not that the British are coming, but that Australia’s wine regions are indeed full of micro-climates and micro-terroirs and that the soil, climate and environmental elements that are present in these regions define the characteristics of wine. “Regionality” is the new lingo and what you might consider when searching for an Australian Cab (you want a Cab from Coonawarra) or Pinot (from Adelaide Hills) or whatever it is you’re in the mood for. Like many wine regions in the U.S. it’s taken time for growers to figure out what varietals grow best in which regions. Have a listen below, or run out and grab a bottle of the Barossa Shiraz (everyone’s favorite from the event), and let Bernard’s Aussie accent transport you to Australia’s wine country.

The Noble Rot Talks with Bernard Hickin. (Left to right: Brian Quinn, Bernard Hickin, Jonny Cigar). Photo by Katie Sokoler.

THE NOBLE ROT TALKS with Bernard Hickin:

JACOBSCREEKpart1a (4:39 – Intros)

JACOBSCREEKpart1b (3:52 – True or False?)

JACOBSCREEKpart2a (5:26 – Bernard and Jacob’s Creek)

JACOBSCREEKpart2b (5:02) – Bernard and Jacob’s Creek cont’d)


March 30, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Sherry Podcast & Update on Sinatra Simulacra

Because I’m knee deep in memorizing Sinatra tunes and his every subtle nuance I failed miserably at uploading the podcast from our Sherry event. Really, a very thorough and engaging dialogue with Kerin Auth of Tinto Fino, Mayur Subbarao of EVOE, El Cobre, Cienfuegos, etc., and Christine Wells of the French Culinary Institute.







So, 17 days into preparing for Sinatra Simulacra, I’ve not blogged once, as promised. So it goes. Better late than never, someone always says. Okay.

I’m growing concerned that my wildly attentive audience is confused about this particular event, and so I hope to set the record straight right now. This is not going to be some cheap, ho-hum imitation or impersonation of Frank Sinatra. I’ve got one of the bright starts of the composing and arranging business, Mr. Daniel Barnidge, working out new renditions to the following songs, which will be performed by yours truly with a magnificent group of seven very talented musicians:

  1. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  2. Day In, Day Out
  3. I’ve Got a Crush On You
  4. Fly Me to the Moon
  5. You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You
  6. Luck Be a Lady
  7. That Lucky Old Sun
  8. One For My Baby
  9. That’s Life
  10. Angel Eyes

It’s no easy task, working to emulate, working to revive the energy and perfect performance of such a well-known artist. Frank Sinatra became a phenomenon that generations will have a hard time comprehending in the future because at the pace were going the future is going to be devoid of his kind of entertainer. A controversial figure, a contradicting figure, with enough rumors about his life, habits, run-ins, to fill billions of pages of books and still have room for more. The question I posit to myself is: How did one man achieve such a legacy? And my answer: Well, simply put, and as I believe Sinatra might suggest, there is no other explanation than to say that his celebrity occurred at such a unique time and place – historically and contextually – and he had a rare gift, which received the right attention at the right times and the right places.

There’s no question that The Voice, as he is often referred to, was brilliant in it’s own right: What Sinatra did, that not even Crosby was doing, was talking to his audience; speaking to them through the songs he sang. When you watch some of the marvelous videos that have surfaced on YouTube, if attention is paid to Frank’s expression and focus, not only is he very naturally acting out the scenarios in the songs he sings, but he embodies the character of the person singing – embodies the subject of what they are singing – and does it so well that it’s almost as if he isn’t singing at all, but simply speaking the lyrics. (And Sinatra grew up listening to Crosby who was the king of crooning at the time. Early in his career, Sinatra worked to emulate Crosby before Frank’s own status as a crooner and own voice began to evolve into the mature voice so well known from recordings like “New York, New York,” “My Way,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” etc).

This skill (speak-singing I’ll call it) was what separated him from every other performer, and still does to this day. He focused the sounds, vowels and consonants, right into the front of his face, through his nose, vibrating in his cheeks and jawbones, never singing in falsetto voice (save for a few recordings in his early, early days with Harry James) but maintaining his mid-range and singing songs as if his speaking voice was merely stretching the vowels and consonants, elongating them melodically and rhythmically. Reinforced with impeccable breath control, able to sing through many bars of music before taking a breath, and paying careful attention when to breath, his singing developed into a style so satisfying to listen to that all he had to do was stand up on stage and…sing. He didn’t need to do anything else. His show was his Voice.

And this is my challenge. As Jonny Cigar, I’m used to flailing about the stage, throwing myself down into the gutter, into the depths of my own despair and climbing out with one hell of an army of bells and whistles. I’ve got to channel all that now into subtle hand-gestures and let my body find the natural rhythm of the music, let it respond naturally to it as well. I’ve got to focus my gaze and I’ve got to speak-sing with an orchestra backing me up – I have to be tuned into the orchestra and so comfortable with everything happening that I can also be open to the spontaneity of a show with a crowd fueled by cocktails and ready to be impressed. I’m not going to try to “become” Sinatra, because for Christ’s sake that’s ridiculous, and Christ would agree. I’m going to put into practice the very elements that made him the artist he was, and in theory I ought to come out on top, if I can pull it off.

So, a rigorous voice-training has commenced. 30 minutes of vocalizing everyday followed by a couple hours of singing the songs and getting into the subtext of the lyrics. I’ve got to know what I’m saying in order to sing and convey the emotion. It’s no different than memorizing a monologue and performing it: an audience can tell if you’ve done your homework or not.

This seems like a good place to conclude for today… I hope that this attention to detail indicates that Sinatra Simulacra is going to be more than just another night out on the town, more than just another show. Without getting too hokey, the evening is intended to transport the audience back in time to an era devoid of instantaneous gratification and where entertainers relied on their talents to impress an audience. The style of performance that saw Sinatra’s hey-day is gone, replaced by the world’s 6.7 billion-person 15-minutes-of-fame-ridden atmosphere. For one night, I’m bringing it back and you’re gonna love it, like nobody’s loved it, come rain or come shine…

Like I’ve been saying, if you’d never seen Sinatra live, this’ll be your last chance. Grab a spot:

March 25, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (event): Sherry

Brian Quinn sets up the Tumblr page for Sherry. The Noble Rot will never be the same again.

Live Blogging. Here we go.

5:22pm. Friday, March 25, 2011. We are setting up for a wild night of Sherry tasting and Sherry cocktail-ing. Brian Quinn has arranged for a live Tumblr page ( for some interactive online engagement.

6:00pm. Mayur Subbarao, the evening’s bartender/mixologist and Kerin Auth from Tinto Fino are scheduled to arrive any minute. Christine Wells is cooking up a storm: gazpacho, white bean salad, pulled pork & sage polenta,

6:27pm. Kerin arrives with the Sherry and with Jeanette, a noble-assistant for the evening. EMERGENCY: The button broke off my tux jacket. #Panic. It will be mended…with #Sherry.

6:48pm. Mayur has arrived, and is setting up. He’s very late and we’re missing the Manzanilla he needs for the intro cocktail that people will be served when they walk in the door in 10 minutes. I have a back-up plan: stare out the window wishing I was in Disney Land.

Mayur! is stirring!

7:15pm. Guest begin to arrive. Turns out Mayur worked it out with a different Sherry, and as he only needed to batch Sherry and Gin, set up was less than 3 minutes.

7:30pm. Starting the podcast now. I smell danger in the air. The Sherry is making me Merry.

8:37pm. Several Sherry’s in. High ABV. My oh my. Damian Gutierrez shows up to tell me about his hair stylist who was deported. We should be on our last Sherry at this point, but we’re on our third out of five, but it’s seems to be okay—everyone is having fun.

11:17pm. Sherry baby, thank you Jerry Seinfeld. Who is Puff Daddy? I don’t know.


Hello good readers: I’m recovered from our rather posh Sherry soiree. While a good three hours elapsed between my last two “live” posts it was all in the name of encouraging guests to learn a little something about Sherry—education takes time!

So, what did we learn? Well, for one, Sherry in its many forms is truly quite enjoyable. And in cocktails, it’s classic, even legendary. Sherry is a fortified wine that hails from the town of Jerez in Spain. And in all honesty, the wiki entry does a good concise job of explaining Sherry, so take a peek at it.

The cocktails:

REVERSE Martini Aperitif

  • 2 oz. of Manzanilla
  • 1 oz. Beefeater GIN

Add ice, stir, strain and serve in rocks glass.

Manhattan Special (Digestif)

  • 1.5 oz. Rye whiskey
  • 1/4 oz. Benedictine
  • 3/4 oz. PX Sherry
  • Orange Citrate
  • Orange Twist

Combine all ingredients over ice, stir, strain and serve in rocks glass.

And the Sherry’s we sampled were:

The Sherry’s!!!!!!!!! Photo by Brian Quinn.

  • La Gitana Manzanilla — (Very light in color, almost straw-green, light flavor and mouthfeel. Delightful afternoon in Barkley Square.) Food Pairing: fresh gazpacho with chorizo oil and grated almond.
  • Vina AB Amontillado — (A bit on the verge of tan, nutty and good. Day sailing around Cape Town.) Food Pairing: white bean salad with chorizo, pecorino, arugula oil (pesto) served with beet chips.
  • Vides Palo Cortado Lustau Almacenista — (Moving on up to the darker side. The Lustau was like a midnight stroll through the streets of Yountville, CA.) Food Pairing: braised pork shoulder with sauce espagnole (riff on it) topped with crispy bacon, served on top of a crispy polenta cake.
  • El Maestro Sierra Oloroso — (A big-daddy type-Sherry, a lot of drunks cried in their glass over this mother.) Food Pairing: crostini with gorgonzola with caramelized pear.
  • El Candado PX — (You wanted it, you got it. Fig, nut, but oh so fit for a riled up game of bocci or fencing.) Paired With chocolate from our friend Daniel of Fine & Raw Chocolates—this was an outlandish finish.

The good news: there isn’t a massive difference in price between a great Sherry and an average Sherry. Top shelf will run you around $40. You can drop a total of $50-$100 and taste your way from young, lighter Sherry’s to full-bodied aged gems. Or you can spend $14 and have a blast with a great drink. Whatever you do, go to Tinto Fino (Lower East Side) if you live in New York, or if you’re visiting, and talk to Kerin Auth because she is a Sherry-genius and she will help you pick a Sherry that is right for you and for the occasion. She also knows a hell of a lot about it and you’d be wise to strike up conversation.

Thanks to all our collaborators.


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