Saturday, July 17, 2010

I remember my Grandmother’s “Sunday Sauce”

Those childhood memories and the things they do to us. They capture us in the moment. Leave us longing for what we once had. The smell of your father’s tobacco or the song your mother sang you to sleep. For me, and I’m sure, for many who had the fortune of growing up with an Italian influence, I fondly remember my grandmother’s Sunday sauce. It wasn’t something you’d ever expect at a restaurant. It was probably not perfectly seasoned… but it was magical. It was warmth and the safe feeling of having your entire family around you, waiting in anticipation of the amazing meal that your grandma had spent hours preparing.

Is it any wonder why you’re taught about nostalgia in culinary school? It’s because it is the key to our hearts and minds.

Last week, I found myself at a dinner with fellow writers and wine enthusiasts, at a restaurant named Cesca on the upper west side. A cozy and inviting place with an old-world feel, yet a perfectly relaxed atmosphere. Firstly, I was there for the wines, and they were great. However, what caught my attention in the midst of it all, and stopped me dead in my tracks, was when the server brought me their Sunday sauce. Understand, I hardly order off the menu and usually ask the staff to bring me whatever the kitchen feels like making me (a great way to try new things and let chefs get creative). So as I looked down at the plate in front of me and the aromas began to waft up to my senses, I was taken aback.

It was one of those moments where it seemed like the world was moving forward without you. I sat there, no longer sipping wine or taking notes... I sat there with the sudden realization that they truly made me a Sunday sauce, in the same style that I had enjoyed every Sunday of my childhood life. What’s more, this was actually on their menu under the exact name of “Sunday Sauce” and I simply didn’t make the connection until that moment.

What did it taste like? Exactly what it should have. A red tomato sauce that had been slow cooked with meatballs, sausage and pork. Perfect acidity and the same texture I remember. I enjoyed myself so much that I failed to write a single note, simply because it was that good. Such a simple thing and yet I haven’t experienced it in all the years I’ve been working in restaurants or wining and dining.

And so, before I publish a single note on the wine from that night, I must say. Cesca is a restaurant that deserves some attention. I can assure you, it will get another visit from me in the near future. And I’m happy to recommend it to all of you, if for no other reason, than to taste that Sunday Sauce. Well done.

After all of that, you might think that the wine was an after thought, but I assure you, it was amazing. Snooth editor and community manager, Greg dal Piaz, brought a selection of rarities and well aged beauties, from old school California cab to 1978 Barolo. Put the wines with the food and add the great company and you have an evening that I will not soon forget.

On to the notes:

  • 2005 Vare Ribolla Gialla - USA, California, Napa Valley (7/12/2010)
    Talk about an interesting wine as the nose hits you with almond, pistachio and olives yet somehow… ripe. What was expected to be a semi-sweet palate turned out to be remarkably dry with roasted nuts, minerals and grassy hint. The finish was a bit simple but in all honesty, this bottle is worth it for the bouquet alone. (89 pts.)

  • 2008 Di Filippo Montefalco Grechetto Colli Martani - Italy, Umbria, Montefalco (7/12/2010)
    On the nose I found lemon sabayon with hazelnuts and a bit of sea air. The palate was rich with canned peaches, vanilla and a hint of lime with a nice fresh finish. (88 pts.)

  • 1984 Daniel Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley (7/12/2010)
    Excellent, old school, Napa cabernet as your senses are assaulted with dusty, dark red fruit, eucalyptus, stems, and balsamic vinegar. On the palate, I found a rush of menthol and strawberry fruit. It was immensely fresh and lush for a wine of over 20 years old. The finish keeps a hint of menthol and carries red fruit. (89 pts.)

  • 1990 San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT (7/12/2010)
    The nose showed red fruit with sauté mushroom and a bit of olive. On the palate, I found ripe dark cherry, spice, old cedar and leather strap mixed a dusty sweetness. The impeccable balance on the palate really makes this a showstopper of a wine. I enjoyed it immensely and was only disappointed that there wasn’t more in the bottle on my second pass (94 pts.)

  • 1978 Prunotto Barolo Cannubi - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (7/12/2010)
    The nose showed, crushed fall leaves, parchment paper and soft strawberry fruit. The palate showed fresh, vibrant cranberry fruit with bitters and a hint of old wood yet so lush and velvety. The finish carried the sour red fruit into a soft red fade that kept me filling my glass. (86 pts.)

  • 2005 Maculan Torcolato - Italy, Veneto, Breganze (7/12/2010)
    A wow of a desert wine as aromas of apricot, rhubarb and peach nectar waft up through your senses. The palate is lush yet fresh, with ripe peach and mango followed by a sour apple wash of acidity as it goes down into a mellow, fresh fruit finish. I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle. (91 pts.)

  • Wait, wait wait, one last thing that's worth the extra read... this was a blogger dinner after all and I met with a number of fascinating people whose work has really impressed me. Foodies and wine lovers alike will all enjoy the following links.

    Food, Wine and the business is perfectly mixed in this blog by Susannah Gold. Susannah's experience in the industry and time abroad lends to some amazing insights on wine and food at avvinare. It's also a treat to listen to her speak Italian, if you're ever face to face.

    This was my second time meeting Diane Letulle and just like the first, she’s a real treat to talk with. Diane’s an accomplished wine educator and blogger as well as the writer of The Manhattan Wine Examiner. You can also find her blog at Wine Lover's Journal.

    Lastly, Sasha Smith, the writer of Spin the bottle NY, which I’ve found myself reading quite often lately. Sasha’s blog is a breath of fresh air with a diverse content that’s set off by her witty yet highly informative writing style.


    1. Eric,
      Great to see you again. As I mentioned that evening, I also had an Italian grandmother and her Sunday sauce was not exactly like their rendition, but the serving of meat separately was true to her presentation - we actually had the meat with gravy and a salad after the pasta course. I was also pleased to see that menu item and really enjoyed it. Anyway, thanks for the compliment, I had a great time chatting with you and the rest of the bloggers. And I would love to come back to Cesca for another round of Sunday Sauce. Cheers,

    2. Great post, Eric. Love that you had the Vare Ribolla.

    3. Thanks Dan. It's a wine that I'll seek out to try again. Very interesting and a great bottle in that it makes people step back and think about it.


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