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October 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner with (San Francisco)

There is a mansion with a gracious lawn, nestled a good distance from the road at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco’s Russian Hill district. The mansion serves a dual purpose: it is home to “Neal” while the facade presents the perfect backdrop for many a photographic memory; groups of tourists, backpackers, brides-to-be, all gather at the beginning of the brick walkway leading to the house to have their photos etched into “1112” Lombard history.


On the 8th of October in this the 2011th year, Tim West of and I, Jonny Cigar, hosted a “Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner” at 1112 Lombard.

A month after Burning Man, residents of the pop-up city all gather in groups to “Decompress” and so in the spirit of Decompression we hosted a pre-decompression party.

Coming off of a week of Harvest work I was exhausted, but truly excited for this event because the small gathering of 25 people brought together some of the bright stars of the culinary and technology industry, from TechCrunch to Google from Facebook to the Hub, Mashable, live-painting by artist Ian Ross and Tim’s group Most everyone had met at Burning Man, by the way. And the conversations throughout the evening were, if I may be candid, some of the best conversations I’ve had since landing on the West Coast back in June. Refreshing is the word I would use and though that’s a touch cliche, it’s simply the truth. I was refreshed by conversation and the energies of the group.

Mr. Tim West cooks with great people at, particularly my new favorite French San Franciscanite: Olivier Pecquenard. Olivier is a chef at Facebook, but beyond Facebook he’s cooked at the best restaurants in the world. He made Oxtail sliders I shall ne’er forget.

The Beginnings of a Pre-Decompression Feast. In the background: red jump suit = Tim West.

I poured wines from Swanson Vineyards (2007 Merl0t, 2006 Sangiovese) and because it was also Yom Kippur we served Covenant Wines 2010 Red C Sauvignon Blanc.  Two superstars of the group, the Grables, entered with much pomp and circumstance and brought their own wine. Mark Snyder of Angels’ Share distributes the Grables tiny, tiny lot of about 47 cases of this and 32 cases of that, etc.

Grable Vineyards, made by Amy Grable. Yes, a rose of Cabernet Sauvignon. Amazing.

Self Appointed MW's choice cocktail: Bud Lite - thanks to Neal!

Dillon's Bruning Man attire.

We drank, we ate and told stories by the fire. Yes, there was a fire pit in the expansive back yard. The wines were a hit and I was glad to introduce everyone to Swanson and Covenant, as none had heard of the two before.

Since I’ve not attended Burning Man I can only imagine that the experiences of the individuals who do go are in many ways life-changing. It’s evident in their conversations and expressions, the things they can and cannot talk about with respect to the experience. Sincere and lasting bonds are formed in the desert – the fact that people of all walks of life come together to build a city in what seems to me to be a valley of ashes, is remarkable. The emotional attachment is strong and Tim was smart to provide an evening of pre-decompression because, it seems they needed it.


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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