Disaster Strikes, Keep Drinking

You know it’s a great dinner party when a guest breaks an arm during the main course and puts off the emergency room until after dessert. Happened just the other night, I swear. Marty and Amy are as old as friends get in this life: He was my college roommate, she was a childhood friend of my sister’s, and they met in their early 20s at my mother’s dinner table. Almost 20 years later, they live nearby and have girls the same age as my own, and they also love a good time. So they are truly cherished dinner guests.

The meal itself? I’d had a day of both blessings and curses, from a cooking standpoint: At the farmers’ market that morning, I’d bumped into my friend Annie Somerville, the executive chef at Greens Restaurant here in San Francisco. We don’t know each other from food, we know each other through an old climbing partner of my father’s; I hardly knew what she did for work until I first saw her at the farmers’ market pushing a giant cart full of produce. But now, what a treat, I can ask her for a salad suggestion! Once I’d described the main course—beef braised in red wine, as per the Thomas Keller recipe in the Bouchon cookbook—she steered me toward bitter greens with Asian pear.

And now for the curse: After all the involved work of getting the braise set to burble away in my big iron pot, I’d put it in the oven at 350 degrees, gone out for a jog, come back an hour later, and discovered that the oven temperature had shot up to 550 degrees. (Clearly, my thermostat was broken; I had it replaced today; my stove is an ancient Wedgewood.) Nothing had burned yet, but there sure wasn’t much liquid left in there. A year ago, I would’ve torn my hair out in anguish and ordered lousy pizza as an act of petulant self-pity, but I’ve been trying to evolve, and this time I simply did my best to un-reduce the now wickedly reduced braising liquid and carry on.

Nothing like a little alcohol to help you forget your culinary foolishness, so I popped a Schramsberg blanc de noirs the moment our friends walked through the door. With those two, you know bubbly won’t go awry, and by the time we sat for the salad—which had become thin-sliced Asian pear, mandarin orange sections, a radicchio variant the farmer (Dirty Girl Produce) gave me for free because he had no idea what exactly it was, and a mild Meyer lemon vinaigrette—the bottle was gone and it was time for a clean and lovely Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc. And then, lo and behold, that bottle was gone, too! Just in time to pour the Gott Cabernet Sauvignon I’d left breathing in the corner; and, hey, while we’re at it, the great young (2006) Côtes du Rhône brought by Marty and Amy.

But that’s when it happened. The stew turned out pretty well, although the beef was on the dry side from its time without liquid. But the flavor was all there, and we were drinking and laughing when we heard a crash and a cry. It was one of Amy’s daughters, downstairs with our daughters. Amy got up, ran down our stairs, and then we heard a much bigger crash and a loud, strange, anguished sort of cry from Amy. Sprinting drunk from the dinner table, we found her on the floor of our bedroom. The little girls, it turned out, had made a game of spraying child hair detangler (silicone gel in mist form) all over the floors, to make them smell pretty. The result was ice-slick floors. And now Amy had a dark bruise clouding her pretty cheekbone, from where her face had smacked into the wood floor hard enough to give her a concussion (no kidding). And she was holding her wrist, which looked funny, and swearing it was fine—that we should all just get back to that stew, which she claimed to love.

So we did, awkwardly at first, but then happily, as we kept on drinking and polished off the wine and Amy admitted that she really couldn’t move her hand at all and that it was all starting to hurt pretty badly.

“I think I may have broken my arm,” she said at that point.

“Do you think you should go?”

“No, no, don’t be silly. Let’s at least have dessert.”

“Do you want a painkiller?”

“What do you have?”

“Well, there are two kinds of pills in this here bottle, and I know that one is Percocet and the other is Vicodin, but I’m not really sure which is which.”

Whichever she chose, it worked out fine (I know, this is insane, that’s my point) and then we poured a St. Supéry Moscato to go with dessert. I’d found four mushy-ripe Hachiya persimmons at the farmers’ market, bought them for a very high price, and now I simply sliced them to fall open in little fans and then dabbed on whipped cream flavored with Armagnac.

Heaven, at least until the next morning, when we called to inquire: Marty and Amy had dropped by an ER on the way home, and stayed until 4:30 a.m. getting Amy’s broken arm set in a cast, and her face x-rayed to make sure her cheekbone wasn’t cracked. And Marty had to go to work at 9 a.m., leaving the girls with Amy. So across the bay we drove, and took their kids to a park all afternoon while Marty worked and Amy slept. Ah, the joys of the table! (Next time, I’ll have to be much more careful about my braise.)

I’m going to write more about the Gott wines in my next post, but here’s the lowdown on the Schramsberg and the Côtes du Rhône Syrah:

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs
Grapes: 85 percent Pinot Noir, 15 percent Chardonnay
Wood: 24 percent barrel fermentation (presumably this means that only 24 percent of the wine was barrel aged at all)
Alcohol: 13.1 percent (not so much, compared to a lot of today’s wines)
TA: 0.92 g/100ml (well, we’ve learned not to make much of these numbers, right?)
pH: 3.02
Cases Produced: 11,700 (this reads to me as “a fair amount, but not so much that quality comes into question”)
Suggested Retail Price: $37
Tasting Notes: I’m a big fan of Schramsberg, I have been for years, and this bottle did not disappoint: very bright aromatics, with citrus and tropical fruit, firm bubbles that fill the mouth, and just the right amount of tartness for my palate. There’s an element of structure as well. A great bottle.

2006 Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes “Cave de Chante Perdrix”
I couldn’t find much information about this wine, so I called the shop where Marty bought it: Vintage Berkeley, in Berkeley, California. They said it was 100 percent Syrah from the Saint-Joseph region of the northern Rhône, but that it can’t officially claim to be a Saint-Joseph wine because the grapes come from 250 meters outside the Saint-Joseph boundary.
Grapes: 100 percent Syrah
Wood: N/A
Alcohol: 12 percent (old school!)
Price: $14 at Vintage Berkeley
Tasting Notes: This wine had the aroma of fresh, wet barrels and a kind of green-pepper vegetal quality. To my palate, it tasted of young blueberrylike fruit and the clean bitterness you get in a chicory such as radicchio. Excellent value, this one.