My Dinner with Mario

As the Northeast USA sunk beneath the worst blizzard in memory (beating in Philadelphia, the old record snowfall by over nine inches), I remembered how much more fun the last major storm we had was. Fate works in strange ways.

I had an awesome wine tasting planned in 1992 at a restaurant that had closed due to advancing age of the owner's mother, who did the cooking. Their cooking was always ethereal and they were authentic Milanese. After considerable effort, I got them to open just for a small group of 12 old customers that night. Then came the worst Nor'easter in 20 years in this part of the country. Expressways closed. The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting many guests to Philadelphia closed due a church steeple tottering in the wind. New York reported floods and closed roads. Indeed, my own apartment had water coming in the windows. When closed. I had to cancel.

At the last moment, I decided to go alone since no one else who had been going could get there (and after all, they were charging cancellation fees.) It was even better than originally planned. Oh, the wines weren't as good (I was all alone and downsized the wines, and the guests with 78 Chambertin and 69 Echezeaux didn't show), but the food was just as good as remembered and the company was (sorry, wine group) better.....

Mario, the owner, wasn't there at first. Mamma told me he is now a movie director working on an American Indian film. After having eaten there so often I finally found out some personal information for the first time. His father first met his mother at age 15 during WWII. She was in Montenegro; he was an Italian soldier. He eventually took her away and into Italy. They've been married for 50 years. All this I found out that night after years of being a customer.

They first served a course of ravioli stuffed with red snapper in a baby clam sauce, my old favorite. I don't know how she does it. The ravioli literally seem to melt in your mouth. How can pasta be this tender? I started with a 1985 Val di Suga Brunello that was surprisingly accessible and like many Sangiovese-based wines, soft on the edges with a core of nice, user-friendly fruit in the middle.

Then, Mario came in. He regaled us with tales of recent exploits in Rome where he drank, with a friend up to 7 bottles in an evening. He also noted that he found a cellar in Italy where the new proprietor wanted into a different line of work and sold off to Mario '61 Barolos for 2 dollars; '45 Mouton Rothschild for $4. Yes, that's what he said.


I proceeded onto tortellini stuffed with veal in a red sauce that was, well, almost but not quite as good as the ravioli. This is NOT damning with faint praise.

Around now I opened a bottle of 1990 Ridge Lytton Springs Zin. To those who think this is ready to drink [Note: this was originally written in December, 1992], may I just utter one word: Wrong. The wine has incredible extract, so much so that the first impression is of a Beaujolais carbonic maceration wine. With air, its true pedigree is revealed. Admittedly, the tannins are soft, but that's not all there is to maturing wine. This will come into balance, and the simple (albeit delicious) fruit will turn into elegant wine. Jan., 1996 note: I just had another bottle of this a month ago (that's three years later) and my opinion is only reinforced. The wine is now starting to mellow and open, after a period of being closed, the fruit is apparent and sweet, and the tannins have moderated. Depending on how this was stored, it will hit peak in a year or so, but it's delicious now.

Then, they served another old favorite, veal in port wine sauce. Don't forget the Portobello mushrooms.

By now, I didn't need any liquor, although mamma, papa, Mario and his middle son even helped out. Nonetheless, how could one not uncork a dessert wine? (I'm a civilized person you know.) To go with the special, prepared rosato peach and canoli, I took out some Bonny Doon 1988 Muscat. They were amazed at how my wine bag seemed to carry everything essential for an evening's fun. I was amazed at how much fun I could have in the middle of a natural disaster.

Cappuccino. Finito. Mille grazie. Ciao, Mamma, Pappa, and Mario.....

Remembrance of storms from the past, as I suffer through the Winter of 1996.

Friday night, the end seemed in sight. The second wave of storms ended with a dud, and off we went into the night in search of wine dinners.

It's going to be a busy two weeks on the wine tasting front; may as well get back in training.

I warmed up Friday the 12th [back to the future, 1996 now!] by pulling some benchmark cabs, the 85 Mondavi Reserve and the 85 BV Reserve, to go with a small dinner party. I've never been more impressed with either wine. The BV seemed very young at first. Grapey, fruity, pure cassis and classic cab. Some half hour later, fine soft tannins emerged and the wine kept on improving. The Mondavi opened tight and seemingly closed, a little earthier, seemingly less advanced. But I'm not sure this is true or if there was just less fruit to give. I tend to think the latter. Both wines had lots of fans and I liked them both more than I ever have (although I'm making a note to drink up the Mondavi), which is fortunate, since I have a lot of them both....(g) I've read somewhat critical comments on the BV btw, and based on this bottle from my own well stored stash I'd have to say I strongly disagree. 

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