It was time to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones.
Four years had passed since the Cold Potato Salad Debacle at Minetta Tavern; four summers, with the length of four long winters. It was a Saturday night, there were ten thirsty geeks and we thought, what the hell, let's give it a shot, what's past is past, water under the bridge, that had to have been an abberration, I'm sure they've cleaned up their act.
So it was that a small crowd of New York's geekiest arrive at Greenwich Village's historic Minetta Tavern for an evening of drunken festivization. Here's toastmaster Jay Miller, here's the eternally irrepressible Brad Kane, Tony Fletcher is taking a night off from marathon training so he's here too, as are Jancis Robinson, Jill and Marty "Martin" Lebwohl, Lisa the ür-doctor, and me.
Oh, and Camblor too, he was there. No Josie, though. I think Greg and Michelle had to cancel at the last minute, or were feuding with Kane, or something. Anyhoo, they're not here too. And no Callahan either, nor Thor.
Who else isn't here? I don't know, lots of people. Who wants to know, anyway?
So let's start the ball rolling with a Clark-Scott Chardonnay Finger Lakes Kabinett Trocken 'Bath' 2003. Pale pale straw color. Smells lean and minerally. Tastes lemony-tart and chisel-hard, very light bodied and crisp, crisp, crisp. Bending the scales at a whopping 10% alcohol, this is a food wine all the way, a sort of chardonnay-Muscadet hybrid. Damn, this is a change of pace from the huge alcoholic chardonnays this place used to make. I like it; it's severe, but I like it. What I don't like is the name change, as that's going to throw off my alphabetization. Stupid Japanese investment consortiums, can't they leave well enough alone? (10/2/04)
Wait, did I say Jancis Robinson was here? No, that's not right, I'm getting it all confused with the $200 wine-and-waffles breakfast hootie at the Rainbow Room this morning that I had to miss because against all odds I retain a microscopic shred of perspective and couldn't quite bring myself to sell a kidney on eBay. It's difficult to wake up and find yourself at Minetta Tavern, you know--reality begins to acquire a rather dreamy, fluid quality. Sometimes it seems like Maureen Dowd Nelson is here too, schmoozing with the obligatory minor celebrity in the corner. Hey, is that Anson Williams?
Whoops, it's a Louis Michel & Fils Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 2002. Pale straw color. Aromatically shy at first, some light yellow apple, white flowers, cream and minerals. Tastes calm and steely-stony, medium acidity and with a subtle plushness around a solid core. Quiet and pure, a slow-moving mountain stream. Charming and minerally early on, it takes on other guises as the evening goes on, the color deepening, a quiet oxidative quality slipping in, yellow pear and tangerine-citrus notes appearing, a living wine, very interesting. (10/2/04)
Lisa and I order the grilled sirloin special, thinking to ourselves 'how can you screw up grilled steak'? (OMINOUS CHORD) She corrals the waiter and gives her boilerplate speech about wanting it rare as can be, black and blue, bloody, "It should moo," etc. I merely say "What she said, like that."
Joseph Matrot Meursault-Charmes 2002. Pleasantly aromatic, lightly earthy apple-pear yellowfruit, touch of vanilla toastiness, minerals underneath. Good structure, nice crispness, a pleasantly cohesive little Meursault that paints by the numbers and colors inside the lines; no missteps, but not much verve either. I could drink it easily, but the Chablis is much more compelling. (10/2/04)
The salads and appetizers arrive, my 'garden salad' is really just some mesclun greens with four slices of tomato on top, but what the hell, it's okay, I'll take it.
I pull a bottle of Robert Eymael Riesling Mönchhof Urziger Würzgarten Spätlese 2002 out of the ice bucket and, before I have a chance to pour, Kane stops me and insists I shake the bottle. I stare at him blankly. "You know," he says, "it's been half-submerged in the ice bucket, you've got to shake it to move the cold around from top to bottom." I continue to stare at him blankly until I'm certain he's serious, turn towards Lisa to see if she wants to give a quick physics lesson, then just decide what the hell, put my thumb in the tophole and shake the damn thing up. It fizzes up, spurting lightly across the table. Riesling showers for all! (10/2/04)
"Hey, this tastes like bubble gum," says Marty, and indeed it does, almost muscattish, quite sweet and rather bloppy and spineless, with lots of fat candy-spicy yellowfruit; there's an amiable quality to the loose glossy babyfat, but this is one fat baby. Serve frosty-cold if you must serve it at all.
Suddenly around our table appear a gaggle of white-clad waiters toting what appear to be large Jiffy-Pop Popcorn pans, aluminum oven tins wrapped with foil. With a ceremonial flourish they tear into the foil, a cloud of steam goes up, and there within are revealed...
(wait for it)
Yes, that's right, steamed sirloin steaks, which after a token viewing are then just as ceremoniously whisked away.
General puzzlement, agitated murmuring. The hair on the back of my neck begins to stiffen ominously.
"What was that all about?" asks Camblor. No one can say, but after a moment or two the steamy steaks reappear, this time on plates, arranged under a heap of mushrooms. Bewildered, I take a knife to mine: solid battleship gray throughout, not even a touch of pink. Lisa's is just the same. We sigh, and begin the process of trying to catch the waiter's attention.
"Look," she says when we finally flag him down, "we asked for rare, and this is well done." He sighs and says we're right, this is unacceptable, the kitchen should know better because he explained it to them carefully, tsk, tsk, then whisks off the steamed well-done steaks.
Okay, that wasn't so bad, they'll get us some properly cooked steaks; in the meantime we'll keep drinking. Who the fuck steams steaks though, what the hell is up with that? They did clearly say 'grilled' when they told us the specials, not 'steamed.' I truly believe I'd have remembered if they'd said 'steamed sirloin.' Freaky shit, man.
No food, but at least there's a Francois Charles Beaune Les Epenottes 2002. Medium purply-garnet. Smells ripe and clovey-spicy, black cherry and red plum, light mineral streak underneath. Soft and plush tasting, medium-light bodied, velvety-soft pinot. Actually pretty nice if you're not looking for classic Burgundy. Puppyish redfruit, low acidity, a pointy-tribe kind of Burg. I've brought this as sort of a sop to Kane, a ripe, soft Burgundy that I thought he might go for. After all, he likes gamay when it's overripe and acid-deficient, right? He makes a squinchy face, moans "High acid, ook," and I officially throw in the towel. From now on: no quarter asked or given. (10/2/04)
Key change: here's a Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanée Les Chaumes 1980. Medium ruby color, browning in from the rim. Lightly horsey nose, barny funk laced with muted cinnamon over a base of faded leafy-bricky redfruit. Quiet, light bodied and shy, but pleasantly decayed and complex at first. With air the underbrush notes come to the fore, the wine is fading but lively acidity muscles it along. Necrolicious. (10/2/04)
There's still no sign of our food; Lisa calls the waiter aside, tells him, "Look, if this is a problem we'll be happy to order something else, some pasta or something." He assures her that it's not a problem. Jay, who has ordered the T-bone (not the sirloin special) says in a tone usually reserved for Australian shiraz, "This is the worst steak I've ever had in my entire life." He generously cuts off a chunk to share with poor foodless Chris and Lisa. Actually it's not that bad, in the sense that it's at least edible. Lisa and I gnaw on the chunk we're given like hungry dingoes, monopolizing the bread basket all the while as well.
Here's a wine that gets around, a Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003. Juicy, strawberry-jammy and utterly delicious. It's not a classic keeper-for-the-cellar style of CRB gamay like the '02, instead a straightforwardly juicy-soft wine with a pleasant tanginess in lieu of structure, and the lightness and forward-fruitiness to get away with it. Jill opines that it's both "like California wine" and "like fruit punch!" and, excepting the innate sense of balance and lack of clumsy overwooding, she's right. At the end of the evening this is the consensus wine of the night. (10/2/04)
Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2002. Saturated purply-black color. Big black-raspberry-blackberry flavors, ripe and loose, a bit watery-vague in the middle, with a lot of toasty wood. Boisterous and roasty-ripe, a warm blanket of velour fruit. I liked the '01 more in its youth--although this hasn't quite the fetal quality that it had a year or so ago, it seems a bit smoother and more of a whole, but it's also lacking a bit of the intensity of the last one. It's a tough wine for our lean-and-sour crowd to warm to. Finishes blackberry-toasty; I take the rest of the bottle home and nurse it awhile, but it doesn't seem to change much. I don't know about you, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Victor somehow managed to get his grapes ripe in '03. Strangely, I've just come from buying a bottle of the '01 at Chambers Street, where Lyle described Victor as "the Francois Truffaut of Spain." Damn, I guess I should've sucked up a little more when he was last in town. (10/2/04)
Everyone else is finishing up, when finally our second round of steamed steak appears. Relieved, we pick up our knives and begin to tuck into them hungrily.
Sweet jumpin' Jesus on a stick.
Okay, it's a joke, right? Or is someone in the kitchen trying to make a point? My new steamed steak is a very pale grayish pink on the outside; when I cut into it, ice crystals glisten up at me. Astonished, I poke at it with my finger: frozen solid! Frozen steamed steak! I say "Holy crap!", chisel off a frosty chunk and offer it around the table for examination. Kane pokes at it tentatively, "Wow... frozen..." I start giggling semi-hysterically, "Man..." is all I can say, "Oh man." I look over at Lisa, who is staring down in silent astonishment at her own crystal-glazed piece of frozen cow. There are no words.
After taking several deep, calming breaths, we call the waiter back and say LOOK AT THIS, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY ABSURD. He whisks them away, tut-tutting all the while. Jill, feeling our pain, says "My chicken and sausage is good, order that!" but I've lost faith in screw-uppable food and say please just bring me some plain spaghetti with red sauce, thinking maybe I can at least eat something before everyone else leaves.
"I think I've sent back food three times in my entire life," I moan, shaking my head in wonderment, "and two of them were TONIGHT."
Holy cats, I need wine. What's next, a Gentaz-Dervieux Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune Cuvée Reservée 1979. Medium ruby color, browning well in from the rim. Smells like a walk in a eucalyptus forest, hints of dried leaves and koala. Over the hill, leafy and dried out, but still has a bit of life. Well, a tiny bit anyway. Okay, not that much. Whoops, it's dead now. Oh well. (10/2/04)
Lisa is doing some Eminem, I think it's 'White America.' No wait, it's the new single, Lose It. She's very sexy when she raps. In fact, she murders a rhyme, one word at a time. I think she's the clear star attraction of the SUNY Downstate class of '08. I'm glad I married her. Wait, I'm getting sloppily sentimental, very déclassé, must reassume my usual disaffected hauteur. More wine required to finesse the irony of posing as a worldweary poseur.
Montevertine Vino da Tavola di Toscana 'Le Pergole Torte' 1996. Cement dust and taut berry-cassis aromatics, quiet and shy. Tastes coiled and more theoretically interesting than actually pleasurable. The finish is all hard blackfruit and sandy tannins. Hold, hold, hold. It seems like there's a lot going on, but hard to read right now, especially in my Katsmanesque famished state. (10/2/04)
Forty-five minutes after I've ordered it, a plate of spaghetti with red sauce arrives. I'd expected the worst ("How can you mess up spaghetti with red sauce?" "Well, how can you mess up steak?") , but this is actually quite good, al dente and garlicky, with a light tangy sauce. I eat hungrily, exclaiming all the while how the pasta is so good it was worth the almost hour-long wait after the first two fuckups. Lisa, who still hasn't seen any sign of her food, picks at it as well. Delicious! I can see how this could take forty-five minutes! Surely they had to pick the tomatoes and ARRRRGH! AAAARRRRGH! AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!
Must drink more. What wine now here drink? It Domaine Lafond Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001. Ah, the evening's Kane wine. Smells ripe and dark, raspberry jam, toast and bomber jacket. Tastes similarly ripe and squishy, a velvety-meaty low acid wine that gives you a warm wash of meaty red fruit, then evanesces with a Robitussin flourish. Hey, it's a juicy little wine that's so simple and amiable it's hard to find fault, much in the mold of the 'Ugly American Cuvées' of all those overripe Spanish jamfests that pointy folks go nuts for. (10/2/04)
More now wine please. Wine Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2001 is to drink now. Medium dark garnet color, smells lightly of cedar-dusted cassis, hint of oregano, trace of dark smokiness. Taut redfruit right up front, a lot of structure, a broad-shouldered wine with a high butchness quotient. Finishes rough and tannic, rather austere, a bit of a bully. Good cohesiveness and balance, the rare California cabernet that would seem to need some time to loosen up. Or dry out further, who knows. (10/2/04)
Wine sweet now is we have Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 1997. Medium gold color, ambering towards orange at the rim. Always a bit of a freakazoid, the hugeness has calmed down and the tropical guava-lilikoi flavors have turned toward autumnal apricot and spiced pomander-orange. This is holding together better than any of the various '97 village Layons, but it too seems to be experiencing an accelerated aging curve. The shiny viscosity has taken a turn towards a matte texture, but the outsized facade hasn't collapsed like a soufflé; it's still a big, fun wine with a ton of sugar and a ton of botrytis and a ton of everything else. (10/2/04)
Just as I'm finishing my dessert, an hour after everyone else has finished, Lisa's pasta arrives. She pokes at it listlessly for a moment, more amazed than anything else, then we shrug, gather our glasses and head out.
Looks like we probably won't be coming back to Minetta for awhile, says Brad. I opine that it took me four years to get over the cold potato salad, that this should be good for at least eight, so we'd check back in 2012. And, given the house specialty, they didn't even have the decency to comp us some free Ecstasy, which just made matters worse. A good MDMA buzz goes a long way towards mending fences, if you ask me. But nobody asks me except a wandering drunken Englishwoman from Manchester who wants to know where the "hot clubs" are. I can't enlighten her, sad to say, and don't have the heart to explain that she's dressed like a hooker, micro-miniskirt, rabbit fur vest and all. It's just too much, and my Manchesterese is pretty rusty. Where did Fletcher go, he speaks several Brit dialects...?
We go home and I eat a Boston Market meatloaf TV dinner. Frankly, it tastes damn good.