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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: www.thenoblerot.com/podcast

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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May 2, 2011 4 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

L-Train Luncheon (May 2011)

You may have seen this article in The New York Times, published May 3, 2011.

Photo by Yana Paskova for The New York Times

On the first of May we hosted a “luncheon” on the L line of the New York City subway. The subway is a familiar place, providing a necessary means of transportation for many New Yorkers. Its stairwells, turnstiles, platforms, trains and unpredictable elements are all-too-familiar to its dedicated patrons. One begins to know the exact time of travel from one destination to another. One begins to intuit the conditions of a ride, anticipating smooth stretches and knowing when to brace for a jarring turn. Through a series of familiar gestures, presented in commonplace locations in unfamiliar ways, we set out to challenge a habitual experience.

We are committed and determined to push ahead, boats against the currents, providing unique and unforgettable experiences… And so we leave you to ponder what might be next…


Follow up thoughts: May 2, 2011:

On Sunday, the first of May, I had the privilege of “performing” on the L Train from 8th avenue to New Lott’s Avenue near the end of the line. In character as a front-of-house captain, self-appointed Master Sommelier and Supreme Badminton Champion, I poured water, served haute cuisine, offered cracked pepper and escorted walk-ins through the “dining room.” Let’s call it the true manifestation of a “pop-up dinner” since the blogs and papers have been bloggin’ and papering about pop-up dinners. Let’s call it “art,” for the sake of art. Or performance for the sake of performance. Or let’s say it was a modern-day attempt at understanding Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

This past December (2010) I was in L.A. with Michael Cirino and Daniel Castano of A Razor, A Shiny Knife to host a dinner. After we successfully served a multi-course meal paired with moonshine-inspired cocktails, we took to our rental car to drive around Hollywood Hills and other various hills, getting lost amidst lavish mansions and tailgating the occasional celebrity tour bus.

The topic of discussion? What’s next? What do we do now? If memory serves me correctly, no one was driving, and as we were sight-seeing, the spark of a wild idea popped in my head: “We should host a dinner on the subway,” I said in time for one of us to take control of the car. “How did we all get in the backseat?” asked Castano. However it happened, this past Sunday saw such a renegade idea come to life and unravel without a hitch.

I’m thankful to A Razor, A Shiny Knife for helping to execute the concept — and to all involved in the affair.

November 13, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (event): Vin, Fromage et Chocolat

“Paint on Me” | 2010 | The Guests of Vin, Fromage et Chocolat

This past Wednesday, The Noble Rot pop-ed up in Manhattan (Gramercy to be precise) in an amazing loft for an evening dubbed “Vin, Fromage et Chocolate.” Our hosts, Rob and Christina graciously opened their home to our guests and allowed us to dampen their walls with an array of wines paired with outrageous cheeses accompanied with truly divine chocolates.

The Wines:

Liz Martin of Martin Brothers Wines & Spirits, runs one of the most amazing retail stores in this city. Located at 2781 Broadway (between 106th and 107th) the store is an elegant dark-wood paneled, well lit, incredibly well-stocked store. Their selection of fine and rare scotches is unparalleled.

The wines she curated for our tasting were:

1. I Stefanini Spumante Brut (Chardonnay)  NV
2. Domaine Serge Sancerre, 2008
3. Iby Traisental 2008 (Zweigelt)
4. Joel Gott Zinfandel, 2008
5. Bodegas Juan Gil, 2008
6. Domaine Claude Dumarcher Clos De l’Abbe Dubois Ardeche, 2007 (The after-party wine)


Martin Johnson – bringing Cheese to the people since 1776. The Joy of Cheese. Photo by Damian Guitierrez.

The Cheese Man
Martin Johnson of The Joy of Cheese, was our fearless leader in all things salty, funky and moldy. Martin is a genius and a jack-of-all trades. In addition to knowing everything in the world about cheese, he writes jazz reviews for The Wall Street Journal. You can run into him at The Bedford Cheese Shop (corner of Bedford Ave and N4th, off the Bedford L train), but winetology strongly recommends emailing him for more information on his upcoming cheese events: thejoyofcheese@gmail.com.
The cheeses we tasted were:

With the Sparkling, Cannestrato from Casa Madaio in Italy.  This Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese is buttery at the start, then peppery then it finishes with an herbaceous sweetness.

With the Sancerre, Tomme D’Acquitaine from Jean D’Alos in France.  This alpine style goat’s milk cheese from Haute Savoie is known for its lean character and gentle toasted nut overtones.

With the Zweigelt, Camembert from Herve Mons in France. Yes, it’s pasteurized.  Get over it.  It’s still full of mushroom-ey and cauliflower-ish goodness.  It’s one of the best Camemberts available.

With the Joel Gott, Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farms in Vermont.  Nutty and delicately balanced, this cheese was the second runner up in the American Cheese Society judging this summer.

With the Juan Gil, Gruyere from Rolf Beeler in Switzerland. Dense, denser and densest, this alpine classic is the very definition of nutty plus distinctive overtones of fresh meadow and malt.


Cacao Prieto’s bon-bons (a “beans to bon-bons” operation). Photo by Brian Quinn.

The Chocolate Men

Cacao Prieto, will be opening a pop-up store down under the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo – details to be announced before the holidays – so once it’s up and running you are encouraged, good reader, to visit Chocolate-Maker Damion Badalamenti and the ever-mustached Michael Cirino of a razor, a shiny knife. Michael and Damion passed around and spoke very highly of their chocolates. We learned that there are two types of Cacao in the world from which we derive our chocolate: Criollo and Forastero. Criollo is a truly “fine” chocolate, in much less supply and expensive. You can absolutely tell the difference in quality when you bite into a chocolate made of Criollo. And Criollo is what Cacao Prieto is all about.


Christine Wells and Amanda Wells whipping up Risotto. Photo by Brian Quinn.

Graduating from the French Culinary Institute this coming Monday (Nov 15), Christine Wells whipped up an outrageously delicious Risotto, an improvisation on a Stilton and red beat recipe made famous by our good friend Nora of The Whisk & Ladle. Christine also roasted squash and added that to the mix and the result was utter enjoyment. Christine is available for private parties and if you send us an email (info@thenoblerot.com) we can put you in touch for more information.
A fabulous duo, normally much more than two: Check out Robin Aigner‘s myspace page and catch an upcoming set – we look forward to having her back!
As usual the event was a wild and crazy good time. Again, many thanks to our hosts Rob and Christina. Christina is a painter and had the brilliant idea of hanging a canvas and encouraging guests to paint on it. The result, is worthy of a showing in the Moma we think, but you be the judge – the photo at the top of this post is the crowd-sourced painting.

The Noble Rot: Vin, Fromage et Chocolat – Michael Cirino about to attack (dark suit on the left) and on the right Damion Badalamenti (in the hat).

Liz Martin of Martin Brothers Wines & Spirits with Brian Quinn, a State-Certified Absolute Gentleman of The Noble Rot

August 19, 2010 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (events): Los Angeles and San Francisco


KCRW-AM (The NPR affiliate in L.A. produced this segment on our little dinner party on Willshire Blvd.

The piece, hosted by Eddie Lin aired on Good Food, and here is a link to Eddie’s blog Deep End Dining.)


Carla Ramey, Jonny Cigar, Jeff Morgan, Jodie Morgan, David Ramey, Brian Quinn

Take One: Los Angeles

The humid and sweltering New York City morning of August 5th gave way to stale and moist air as I left my apartment at 4:30am ET and headed to the airport. Our plane touched down in L.A. at 10:30am PST and the humidity was gone and the temperature hovered around 67 degrees. On a mission with A Razor, A Shiny Knife, to host a night of remarkable culinary feats, later we would head north to San Francisco to host a Noble Rot event as well.

Our themed dinners, “Two Perspectives: Modern Meets Establishment,” were heartily embraced by local media and we were privy to a series of preview articles in Zagat, Daily Candy, Urban Daddy, Thrillist, Grubstreet, and Eater.

In L.A. we were hold up in West Hollywood, and luckily, everything we needed was just a 10-15 minute drive away. We prepped all day Thursday and Friday, waking at the wee hours and traversing the city for Ultratext, Liquid nitrogen and tacos. The L.A. Times dished up quite an article about Saturday’s event.

The venue: 5900 Wilshire Boulevard (the former Variety Building). We hosted a cocktail hour on the rooftop, 33 stories up, overlooking the tar pits and then shuttled guests back down to the lobby for a meal of duck fat, rare short ribs (sous-vide), black truffles, chocolate, cheese frozen in liquid nitrogen and more. The wines we paired were produced by Garagiste and Estate-winemaker Anthony Yount who makes these tasty wines, accompanied here by notes from Anthony, embellished upon by yours truly:

2009 Kinero Alice – 100% Grenache Blanc

This porch-pounder screams, “Get off my lawn before I put up an electric fence to keep you and your damn dogs off my property!”
Conveniently Egotistically packaged in 500ml bottles, you may not even need the glass with this wine. Aromatics of stone fruit, lemon peel and wet sand lead into an explosive palate of green apple and citrus. The lively finish is driven by a 2010 Tesla at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds. (Did I mention that Tesla donated a car (for the evening) to one lucky guest for the L.A. event?)

2009 Kinero Rustler – 100% Roussanne, James Berry Vineyard

In contrast to Alice, this is a whimsical white wine. Aged in equal parts new French oak, new Hungarian oak, and stainless steel – it is full bodied, with hips like white elephants, yet still balanced on one leg while hoola-hoops encircle its tusks. Rose petal, honeysuckle, Neil Diamond, and sage pioneer juicy flavors of orange marmalade, Vermont autumnal scenery, brioche and citrus sorbet or walks along the Seine. The finish is textured, zesty and long-forgotten by days of yore.

2007 Denner Dirt Worshipper – 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier – Denner Vineyard

This wine has post-traumatic coital aromatics – so much so that if you weren’t involved with what proceeded it, you may not like it. However, since you were, you’re probably going to need a cigar (or a pellet gun)… On the nose there are vibrant memories of driving the autobon, boysenberry and pomegranate in your hair as ideas of sandalwood and white pepper, and birkenstock indulge your senses. The core of intense black fruit on the palate is framed by an elegant label of a vine digging deep into the dirt.


Take Two: San Francisco

Cirino and I drove north along the 5, to San Francisco, for an event called “Garagiste Meets Establishment: A Tale of Two Winemakers.” We were quite fortunate to have two highly lauded and talented winemakers join us for the event and show their wines: Jeff Morgan and David Ramey.

According to Wine Spectator magazine, David Ramey is one of a handful of winemakers who have essentially created the modern-day era of winemaking in America through an effective blend of Old World and New World tradition. Ramey was among the first modern winemakers to promote natural yeast fermentations and unfiltered wines—long before it was a trend. His eponymously named winery is located in Healdsburg in Sonoma County where he produces highly sought-after wines. Jeff Morgan is the only commercial winemaker in the United States who is also a professional wine and food writer. The former West Coast Editor of Wine Spectator, he now makes his own Covenant and RED C Wines in Napa Valley. Unlike Ramey, however, he doesn’t own his own winery. Instead, he operates as a “garagiste,” making do as best he can in other winemakers’ digs. That said, both Ramey and Morgan make wines that consistently garner some of the highest scores and rave reviews from pundits like Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Our event featured one white and two reds from each winemaker, in addition to some incredibly delicious bubbly provided by Domaine Chandon, as an homage to Morgan’s latest cookbook: Domaine Chandon Cookbook; Recipes From Étoile Restaurant. The Napa Valley-based restaurant just received its first Michelin star; and to celebrate we paired gougeres from the cookbook with Chandon bubbly as guests arrived.

In keeping with our theme, Jeff Morgan represented the “Garragiste” winemaker and David Ramey was our “Traditional” or “Establishment” winemaker. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each style of winemaking: difficulties and control, style and preference. The wines we poured are listed below along with notes from the winemakers.

Jeff Morgan’s Wines:

Lavan Chardonnay (2008)

Fermented and aged in twelve French oak barrels, the wine is richly textured yet blessed with bright acidity for balance and potential biblical war-related uprisings; it’s also layered with lovely pear, fig, citrus, toast and mineral notes. It was not filtered or fined.

Red C Cabernet (2007)

100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, the blend includes some of the barrels from Covenant that don’t make it into our premier bottling, but that still show excellent character and finesse.

Convenant Cabernet (2007)

Made from grapes grown on a 3-acre parcel of the historic Larkmead Vineyard in Napa Valley, just north of St. Helena. It is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, made exclusively from the free-run wine after fermentation and aged only in French oak barrels for approximately 18 to 20 months. It is an age worthy wine fit for the cellar, but also is blessed with soft, plush tannins that make it easy to drink upon release.

David Ramey’s Wines:

Russian River Chardonnay (2008)

Small lots Chardonnay grapes from: 38% Martinelli Vineyards, 35% from four different Dutton ranches, 15% from Rochioli Vineyards, 9% from the King Vineyard off Piner Road, and 3% from Green Pastures Vineyard (a 40-year-old Wente vineyard back Felta Creek Road). Goldridge loam and gravelly soils give a crisper mouthfeel to this Russian River chard, compared with Carneros counterparts.

Claret, Napa Valley (2006)

This is Ramey’s entry-level Cabernet blend, and this vintage is composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 4% Merlot, 3% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Perfect for the time you stopped wearing Adidas sneakers everywhere and bought your first pair of loafers. Moving on up…

Annum, Napa Valley (2006)

A new release, this represents Ramey’s version of a “winemaker’s wine.” Having spent so much time working in Bordeaux and visiting Burgundy, the Loire and the Rhone, Ramey contends, “I’m deeply steeped in French winemaking traditions, including their orientation toward the growing site or region. Thus, all our wines are either vineyard designates or regional blends.” Annum is an appellation wine, it is the one blend they can make each year that allows them to select from a range of vineyards to make the best blend possible that vintage. This inaugural release is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The vineyards chosen include the J. Davies Vineyard on the Schramsberg Estate (61%), the Larkmead Vineyard (34%), and Somerston Vineyard (5%). Get on board!


We are so grateful to Jeff and David for spending time with The Noble Rot.

Special thanks to Noe Veneable whose beautiful voice and elegant performance lent just the right vibe to the evening. Noe performed on the third floor with views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background as she strummed her guitar to the quiet and anticipatory ears of an audience hanging on her lyrics.

Thanks to everyone in California that made our event possible, especially to our host for offering her home in the Presidio.

Saturday, August 14th saw the Noble Rot collaborate with a razor, a shiny knife on a dinner event, which was held at the same location. Brian Quinn’s flickr page will show you pictures of that event.