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Articles,  June, 2003

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Long Day's Journey into night:

"Lunch," with Parker and Rovani
Citronelle, Washington D.C.

"Man should practice moderation in all things, including moderation." -- Mark Twain

I had the pleasure of lunching with Rovani and Parker recently at Citronelle, in Washington, D.C.

Many of you would have liked to have done this. But let me explain how hard this really is.

First, Bob has a rather unusual idea of lunch. Hedonists 'r' Us. There's enough food for about 3 days. There's enough wine for 20 people, even though the number involved is well under 10. It begins before noon and lasts all afternoon.

I underwent vigorous training. I hired a personal trainer. Each day for 2 weeks preceding the event, I was forced to drink more wine and eat more food each afternoon. Soon, I was ready. And quite plump.

This, then,  is what Robert Parker calls lunch. 

So, let us not demean this with faint praise. Lunch is a misnomer. More like "A Long Day's Journey into Night" (especially considering that on the way home, Amtrak decided the tracks were too wet and stopped for an extra hour in Wilmington, Delaware).

Oh, yes, not to be outdone, Rovani decided to go out to dinner afterwards. Hallelujah, and pass the lobster.

So, back to lunch. Or, what else might it be called? Bacchanale? The meal you'd want to have before the asteroid hits the Earth? Maybe we'll take a poll.

I remain most impressed by the gorgeous amuses bouches that Michel Richard gave us. Imagine little foie gras cubes with tomato and port jelly; or a truffle and foie gras ravioli (my personal favorite), or terrine of foie gras with mushrooms, caviar and foie gras mousse.

By any rational standard, this was an appetizer not amuses bouches, and the meal was a third done.

Here, this was the first of 15 courses. Strap on your seat belts.

Then there was a razor clam chowder that was just delicious, but it was blown away by the warm mushroom salad. Only with Parker could anyone call this a salad. Porcini, chanterelles, faux truffles, no lettuce. That's my idea of a salad. Not content with that, Monsieur Richard followed with carpaccio of Lobster in gélee.

Bob switched plans on us at the last minute, going all California instead of all Rhone.

SO you want some wine notes, by now? Ok, ok. Just some quickies, I have no time yet for formalities. 

Our first two flights were Chards and in some respect they stole the show, or at least a big part of it.

1997 Peter Michael Belle Cote
2000 Kistler Hudson
2000 Kistler Cuvée Cathleen
1992 Chalone Reserve
1989 Puligny-Montrachet Folatières (Domaine d'Auvenay)

and a ringer 1990 Chapoutier Chante Alouette (heavily oxidized and undrinkable so it seemed on its own, but surprisingly a good match with some of the unusual dishes)

In this group, my eye opener was the Chalone. Surprise, surprise. Who woulda guessed that on paper? A matter of expectations, perhaps. But this was fabulous--intense, with grip and power, fresh, pure and pristine, well balanced, bright acidity perfectly integrated. It seemed so young for 11 year old Cal Chardonnay. Remarkable.

The Leroy (Dom. d'Auvenay) was lovely--brighter, but for the heavy lees notes, lively and rather sexy, with a mouthwatering finish. The Chalone had more depth, though.

Nothing was off in any of these wines, though the oak on the finish was touch intrusive in the Belle Cote. It was surprising how clean and pure the Hudson was and how bright--it lacked the flesh and depth of the Catherine, but had a beautiful purity of fruit. Two super wines.

When did we pass into reds? Well jolly well not soon enough. These were very good chards, but hey, they were chardonnay after all. We wound up with some Santa Barbara Prawns al dente and then some Maine diver scallops. Just when I thought we were going to get the DTs from lack of foie gras, there came a foie gras creme brulée course too, that I really liked a lot.

The first red wine flight was an eye opener.

1984 Togni Cabernet
1974 Heitz Martha's Cabernet
1971 Ridge Eisele Cabernet

The Ridge threw me. I never knew Ridge made an Eisele. Apparently, the ONLY one. The Heitz had my mouth watering. Haven't had one since about 1990.

My winner: Heitz. It seemed pretty much perfect, although very soft, with no perceptible tannin. Still, bright and tingly, and the fruit sweetened with air even after decanting. A great performance.

The Ridge opened with a nose showing oxidation to me, and I had little hope. Despite being decanted, it got better and better, too, showed relatively powerful on the palate, and cleaner than I could have guessed. It came alive, became bright, laced with strawberry notes, and kept improving. From being my loser of the flight, it almost overtook the Heitz. A remarkable performance.

And then the Togni. Marked with the typical bell pepper notes, it was of course much younger than the others, and much richer, more voluptuous and thicker. As much as I like the older wines, I like this style better--but for the bell pepper notes. But for that, I might've annointed this WOTFlight.  It's a great flight when you keep debating with yourself which should win and all three wines get serious consideration!

I stuck in a 1994 Zind-Humbrecht Hengst Vendange Tardive Gewurz with the foie gras, which was kinda a mistake--too cold at that point, it began to show its stuff about 20 minutes later. It had way more depth than the Pavots! 

And the next flight:

91 Seavey Cabernet
91 Montelena Estate Cabernet
93  Peter Michael "Les Pavots"

This flight to me wasn't as successful, but that's only because the standard was so high. The Seavey was in top form, and way better than the last bottle I'd had. Simply one of the great cabs in one of the great vintages.  The Montelena showed some cedar and tobacco, and was a lot of fun, certainly a 90+ pointer, but not quite awe inspiring the way the Heitz was, for instance. The Pavots seemed too soft, and was uninspiring to me. Drink up.

Still, there wasn't a lot here to complain about.

Around now we get to more food. More food you say? A great pork adouillete, a pot au feu terrine that was very creative. Some of the lesser geeks around the table are beginning to groan under the strain. As each new course comes out, they begin to look at it with grim determination, as if plotting where to stick the fork, and how much they can still do. They are game, though. The food is not wasted.

I, of course, am just getting warmed up. Parker, Rovani--unaffected, and probably wondering why the courses are so small. Especially Bob, since he wasn't going out to dinner afterwards.

My clunker flight--relatively speaking--was the last.

94 Flora Springs Hillside Reserve Cab
1995 La Jota Anniversary
1995 Maya Dalle Valle
96 Alta Catena Cab

The Flora was just too sharp, laced with VA, sour on the finish--not showing the flesh to support its structure. At any other time, the other two Cal cabs were just dandy, but with the 6 preceding entrants, this was a heavy burden to bear. Easy winner to me: the Maya. Inky black, medium bodied, with a great, bright, refreshing feel to it. The La Jota wasn't chopped liver. Sweet and sexy, it was a bit too light for my taste--but it had been decanted. It seemed like we had been there about 8 hours by now. Maybe the wine picked up on that vibe.

The Catena was interesting. When it was first opened, I was sure it was corked. Then it tasted great. Picked up weight, became by far the biggest wine in the flight. Then I began to get some moldy notes on the finish again. Hmm. While I wasn't getting those notes, it seemed pretty impressive, but I'm undecided about this bottle. I'd like to try the wine again.

Around this time, Parker got the delirium tremens for lack of Rhones and had to order one. We've had notes on the 2000 Pegau Reserve before--about everything you could possibly want in a CdP, flavorful, intense, structured, beautiful.

Then, a '99 Grange des Peres. I was unhappy with this, admittedly one of the wines I brought. Too pointed, too sharp, too much acid for the fruit, too much like the Flora Springs. It did have some nice sweet blueberry notes, good texture, but not nearly enough depth or flesh. It would be hard to give this more than 85-86 points.

Oh, yes, more food.

Braised veal feet in puff pastry--very interesting and innovative, I liked this a lot. Suckling pig made in 4 or 5 different ways in little "excerpts" of dishes. And Beef cheeks.

We declined cheese. It came anyway. I ate some anyway. Then dessert came (almost too pretty to eat, a jolie pomme ice cream...) and finally petits fours. I had some of those, too.

With that, I added a 1981 Seppelt Para Port, which was showing absolutely perfectly. I'm not sure anyone cared at that juncture. 

Then, onto Amtrak station. It is fun driving with Rovani. Parker sagely deferred to me and let me get into the front seat. There's a reason why they call that one the death seat. Lunch ended around 430.

We had to leave then to give Pierre time to prepare for dinner, after all. 

Oh, many thanks to Amtrak for leaving everyone on the train frustrated and furious as the train pulled into Philly about 1 and a half hours later after stopping in Delaware for about an hour. The train conductors during this period: made not one single announcement.

So, in more ways than one, it really was a long day's journey into night.

I just want to point out this was hard work. Really. It sounds like fun. But half of you wouldn't live through it. I just did it for the entertainment of the Bulletin Board. Really.

And Many thanks to RP. A man who redefines "lunch" for the ages.  


Copyright Mark Squires, © 2003 all rights reserved.