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The wine effect

04.02.19 Posted in Uncategorized by

Los Alamos, CAMax Garrone | Max Garrone

Downtown Los Alamos, CA.

Wandering around the Central Coast over the weekend made it clear just how far wine has come in this state. While staying in the tiny hamlet of Los Alamos we dropped into Bodega which, in appearance, looks like every other bougie hipster wine space with a bocce court, corn hole, massive fire cauldron surrounded by lounge chairs, and an entire green house full of the plants of the moment but…. it’s completely devoted to natural wines. Friday they featured Amplify Wines which had some terrific finds, especially their Para Pato, a Refosco Pet Nat. It’s like a well structured dry Lambrusco that reflects the hands off aesthetic of this label. The winemaker was there, the conversation was friendly, families were everywhere.

We kept running into that vibe wherever we went. There are huge wineries and tiny tasting rooms in industrial parks – but everyone seems to be dedicated to the area. Vinters want to pull character out of the unique vines and geology, restaurants feature all the local produce – we were fortunate to be there during their chanterelle megabloom. Many are succeeding and sought the area out exactly because this was where they could pursue that vision. Here in SF and the more established areas like Napa and Sonoma it’s probably too expensive. But even on the Central Coast the prices reflect a tension. I can only assume that $30 and up bottle prices reflect recent mortgages and rising competition for particular vineyards.

The culinary scene feels the same way – places like Industrial Eats in Buellton which truly is situated within a light industrial park –  always had a line out the door, a huge menu with all sorts of local produce, and casual counter ordering / table service. While the technique isn’t always up to the task on some items, the mainstay pizzas and sandwiches and rotating wine list make up for it.

Not to be alarmist but clearly things are changing, and changing fast. We stayed at the Skyview in Los Alamos which was fun but eerily similar if you’ve stayed in any other hipster enclave. It’s a refashioned highway motel with everything you’d expect (cocktail bar, restaurant, designy touches, etc) except the espresso bar. It feels like it was dropped onto the hill overlooking this dusty little hamlet as a bulwark for future tourists. The strip in Los Alamos is clearly growing fast and full of tourists on the wine trail.

But to really get a sense for what this looks like you have to go up to Paso Robles where Tin City, what used to be a light industrial park where a winery or three rented space, has become a fully bespoke business park for wineries replicate with fake waterfall and all the accoutrement (sheep’s milk ice cream shop, olive bar, distillery, brewery, and a ton of wineries) except an espresso bar. I remember visiting Field Recordings not that many years ago in their first tasting room just down the road which was shimmed into a real light industrial park. Now the simulacrum has become the real thing.

And, apparently it’s not just the space. We were chatting with a local proprietor who moved down from San Francisco and is seeing the same effect: More people moving from the Bay Area, rising housing costs, tighter labor market. I’m not all doom and gloom. It’s well worth the trip, especially in a season like this one where all the hills are carpeted in green and wildflowers. It’s no wonder that one of the constant conversational tropes is about whether you’d move there.

Places to try:
Lo-Fi Wines
Amplify Wines
Skyview Los Alamos
Rourke Wine Company
Industrial Eats
Bell’s Restaurant
Bob’s Well Bread
Full of Life Flatbread
Bodega Wines
Field Recordings
Giornata Wines (+ Etto Pastas and Italian foods)
Stolpman Wines


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Right attitude, wrong target

04.01.19 Posted in Food by

I finally got around to reading the San Francisco Chronicle’s new food critic, Soleil Ho‘s, first batch of reviews which includes a take down of Chez Panisse. It’s entertaining because she’s clearly trying to make immediate noise by moving the focus from local classics. The only problem is that Chez Panisse is actually quite a value when compared to most tasting menus in the area, stays true to its vision, and the cafe works like few other restaurants: the service is fantastic and the culinary technique is spot on.

Meanwhile across the bay another member of the local culinary canon has been in decline. Substitute the name Zuni Cafe for Chez Panisse in that review to arrive at a more legitimate target. The service has clearly been slipping while the kitchen isn’t holding the same standards which is what you have a right to expect from a standard. So, yeah, take on the classics, but take on the right ones…


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LA ahead of the curve

02.20.19 Posted in Art, Food by

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The kitchen at one of my new favorites.

We had a great long birthday weekend dining and looking at art all across LA. Amazing dining experience at Here’s Looking at You which has its own take on the new ethnic synthesis in pulling together Asian and European ideas in a refreshing and fun mix. Kismet continues the march of the Trois LA Empire (Trois, Jon & Vinny, Animal and many more) this time embracing light Levantine dishes and great natural wine list. Gjelina keeps an amazingingly high level of quality and variety while serving hordes.

But the most remarkable item from LA’s dining world is that quite a few restaurants add a service charge of 18-20% to their bills before tax. They’re very clear about it on the bill and wait staff tell you as well. It’s a great shift that I’d like to see everywhere. Even better – just add a standard service charge of $20 per bill or whatever your business model looks like, and leave it at that.

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A new service charge applied before tax as part of the normal bill at some LA restaurants.

We stupidly missed the entire Frieze circus. Next time we’ll plan better. But highlights of what we did see include the Diebenkorn show way out in Pepperdine’s Wiesman Museum, the LACMA’s Outliers and American Vanguard Art, and the Laura Owens show at the Geffen Contemporary.

On a coffee note: The Go Get Em Tiger cafes continue to expand and continue to serve up amazing espresso, breakfasts, and fun nut drink combinations. Check out my full map here.


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Goodbye Karl

02.20.19 Posted in Obituaries by

The man, the myth, the source of one of the best Simpson’s episodes ever is dead.

“Ideas come to you when you work,”


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Bygone California

02.11.19 Posted in Food by

Listen to the first 10-20 minutes of Levi Dalton’s latest “I’ll Drink to That” podcast with Joel Peterson and dip into a different work where you could chance on a 1945 CNdP for a 50’s Thanksgiving and casually gather abalone on the coast.

It dives deep into the history of the Zinfandel industry after that which is rewarding for the personalities, the sense of community among wine makers, and the dedication it took to make Ravenswood what it became. I wanted to hear more about life as an apex wine producer but it’s not my interview.

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Albert Finney

02.08.19 Posted in Obituaries by

He had me the first time I saw Tom Jones but really turned the screws into me in Under the Volcano. He lived an extraordinary life, took the money, and refused to be part of the system. Here’s the New York Times’ summation:

“At the turn of the ’60s, Finney was the screen’s incarnation of the new working-class hero,” Mr. Falk wrote in “Albert Finney in Character,” published in 1992 and republished in 2015. “In the theater, he was barely 20 when he was hailed as the ‘new Olivier.’ Yet instead of pursuing either mantle, he became a millionaire and made love to beautiful women on several continents.”

Mr. Falk added: “To some he is still the leading actor of his generation; to others, though, he has suffered an ambition bypass. To even severer critics, he appears to have remained cheerfully indolent, almost willfully failing to fulfill the remarkable early promise.”

 


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Spotify switches horses

02.07.19 Posted in Media by

Initially there’s the novelty of Spotify buying Gimlet, the podcast publisher which got its start with an agonizingly earnest podcast which revealed everything about business and people. Then there’s the reward: Finally the content people are getting a share of the titanic money gusher. But then the picture expands quite a bit.

The play looks just like every other big platform in recent memory. Spotify doesn’t want to be at the mercy of music publishers, clearly it’s unaffordable. They want their own content and think they can monetize it. Maybe they’re ahead of everyone else in realizing that people aren’t as into listening to music any longer. Maybe, just maybe people really do want to listen to short form spoken word instead of grooving. Or maybe they know that they can get more of us listening to the podcasts that they produce even if we’re into music because they own the platform that will put all those podcasts right in front of our noses day in, day out. Whatever the case, they know that if they own the content, they don’t have to pay royalties.

This all goes to prove that you can’t be a platform or a publisher any longer. You have to be both. Here’s the short list:

  • Netflix goes from being a platform for DVDs to a platform for digital streaming to the biggest producer of content.
  • Amazon follows suit.
  • Apple is trying something similar albeit in a disjointed manner.
  • Disney is building its own platform.
  • Sports leagues are doing something similar.
  • And everyone else seems hell bent on doing something similar.

Pity the movie studios who were stripped of their distribution platforms decades ago in order to avoid this sort of monopoly play. For now it’s good for customers, prices are low, the diversity of media is amazing, the quality is mind blowing. If you had told all those starving film students making indy films on their credit cards in the 80’s and 90’s that thirty years hence there would be competition from all corners for all of their ideas, they would have made a sardonic independent movie on their credit cards about that idea.

Next question: Is owning the content enough or do they have to induce people to use their platform as well?


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Manhattan plays itself

02.04.19 Posted in Movies by

Max Garrone | Max Garrone

Last night the first episode of Russian Doll impressed for a number of reasons (concept, Natasha Lyonne, homeless girlfriend actress) but I was really struck by just how definitive New York City is as a location. The light, the streetscape, the whole milieu is indelible. The topic has probably been subconsciously lurking as the latest season of High Maintenance unfolds because they also take full advantage of location New York (they’re also probably creating a contemporary oral and visual history of the place but that’s another story).

The amazing thing is that locations aren’t used more aggressively. I was just reading an interview with Rossellini about his post war films, of course they were made on location out of necessity, but the sensation that comes from place is indelible.


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Soccer noir

02.01.19 Posted in Sports by

Max Garrone | Max Garrone

How did we get back to this?

Last week’s Samp/Udinese match offered lots to discuss, at least one bogus penalty, Quagliarella’s bid at history, why attendance is low at Italian matches. Amidst all of these distractions I found myself wondering about the state of hair in the Italian game. There is a cluster of guys with the frosted look which always comes across as a bit shaggy because of the variability in hair growth and dye aging and then, then you have a cluster of guys who have embraced the Suavecito look replete with a severe part, which feels like it hasn’t been in style since noir.

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Quagliarella’s suavecito look.

There’s Quagliarella himself as Exhibit A but Stefano Oakaka is an equally forceful exponent of the look on the other side of the ball. Between them the hair product outlay must be enormous. Trend or exception?

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Stefano Okaka in a shot that doesn’t quite do justice to his suavecito style.


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A pound for your book

02.01.19 Posted in Books by

Max Garrone | Max Garrone

Volume 46 in the Penguin Modern series.

One of the tiny and great discoveries of our trip to England this Christmas which continues to illuminate our lives more than a month later is the Penguin Modern series. These are tiny books, so slight that they really do fit into your back pocket with nary a bulge, and are full of literary inspiration. The series starts with MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and ends 51 volumes later with Wendell Berry’s “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer,” which should give you a sense for their publishing arc. It bends through a bewilderingly diverse and scattered set of literary voices. There’s Borges but also the sorely under-read Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, even John Berger. The diversity of voices is amazing. It feels like a university unto itself.

By necessity they’re all small works but hardly slight. The series is a keen rinder of the virtue of limitations because just the few pages of Borges’ “The Book of Sand” brought back so much, not only the story itself which I hadn’t touched in years but Borges’ playfully speculative voice. Little inspirations like this spark connections, I’d forgotten just how influential Borges has been: Think of Eco, David Foster Wallace, an entire canon of speculative fiction.

And then there’s the design – a stern reminder of joy in physical objects. So small but so visually striking that ever time I see a volume, I compulsively pick it up, flip through it, read a page, before putting it down. As with the Penguin series of old design consistency is critical but this time out it’s an absolutist vision; every volume sports the same color, font (ITC Avant Garde Gothic), and layout. The entire series is even offered as a boxed set. That faith and investment in design and power of publishing is sorely missing from most of our lives.

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The font on full display.

My only regret is that we only bought six of them. The whole series looked positively luscious lined up at the Tate Modern and bookstores like Daunt. Shoulda coulda woulda. What do we need to do to get Penguin to launch the series over here?