“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”
Wine and the Rheumatologist has been rather lazy of late as my blog output has diminished, but have no fear I am back. I was just waiting for the proper inspiration.
I had dinner about a month ago in Phoenix with Peter Lipsky, an icon in rheumatology and who requires no introduction to my readers, where we discussed a rambling number of topics both rheumatologic (hence, the experience does qualify for a blog!) and non-rheumatologic. Given the time frame in early (February) 2017, I don’t think you have to guess what (or who) we also were compelled to discuss and commiserate upon (think orange hair), but this is not that type of column.
The dinner itself has been kicking around in my head now for weeks and yet originally I had no intent to write about the experience. After a bit, I began to wonder why I was still ruminating over the evening and I have finally concluded that it was because of its perfect simplicity, yes, a Zen kind of thing. Be aware that I took no notes and thus this is from memory (real or imagined) but I think it’s pretty close because the experience has lingered as proof of its merits. If you run into Dr. Lipsky, ask him.
Now, let me elaborate.
The restaurant is Tratto in Phoenix. It is relatively new and the owner and chef is kind of a cult figure in the food world, a guy named Chris Bianco. Mr. Bianco, whom I have never met, opened the infamous Pizza Bianco in Phoenix in 1994 and has received so many accolades, the likes of which include awards from the James Beard Foundation and glowing reviews in the New York Times. I can also attest that his pizza is cosmic and worth the wait. There is also an interesting back story of why he opened his first non-pizza place and it has to do with his developing some form of occupational lung disease from decades slaving in his wood fired pizza kitchen. Thus, Tratto.
The place is small, the bar is tiny and the bartender was extraordinary. Peter drank Pio Cesare Barolo by the glass (what a start!) and I, after the bartender quizzed my tastes, let him make me a riff of a Negroni which definitely uplifted my mood. There is also music playing (which I generally hate) but it’s not loud and we both made the same observation that tracks were all great. You can interpret this any way you want, but I was happy.
The wait staff were all extraordinary, knowledgeable and genuinely friendly and eager to tell you of the local-regional origins of their ingredients and purveyors as well as everything going on there. Dinner was in four stanzas and all dishes are shared (this makes me happy also). A Primi course was a faranita, which is a kind of chick pea pancake, slightly crusty but pillow like inside. Who would have thought that something so simple could be so perfect … Ring Round 1 up as a winner. The Secundi, I chose as a test. They offered several pastas but I chose the cacci e peppi, the classic Roman dish which is pasta, pecorino cheese, pepper and water and some butter. If you want to get into a fight start messing with this simple tradition as there are about 100 YouTube videos that do, but I digress. They did it perfectly. I could have been strolling in Trestevere and had no better. Round 2, big winner. The main course was selected by Peter and it was a roast chicken. Yes, that was it. No reductions, fancy sauces, no bed of pureed this or that and no foam (I detest this style of cooking, sorry). This chicken was served with some pan juices and beautiful lemon. What could be more simple and brilliant all at the same time? Ding, ding, ding - Round three, over and another winner. I wasn’t even looking for dessert, but we had to experiment and I wish I could provide more details but they brought us a beautiful plate that three things on it. Some chunks of the darkest chocolate I have ever seen, some small pieces of perfectly ripe blood orange and few nuts of some kind. Insanity as they did it again. Game, set, match.
Wait though, I didn’t tell you what we drank and boy was it special. The list is tiny but ever so thoughtful and at least I had the forethought to capture a pic of the bottle:
The wine, Etna Rosso, is made of 100% Nero Mascalase and one of my favorite styles of wine. They can range from traditional to modern to quite unconventional in styles (recall my discussion of the wines of frank Cornellisen in my last blog). The wines of Terre Nerre are beautiful and elegant and look like burgundies. There are red fruits and earthy tones and the pre Phyloxera bottling is harvested from vines up to 130 years old (i.e. dating back before the blight at the turn of the 20th century), it was a special treat.
So, there you have it. No, one more memorable recollection. When I got back our place I realized that my money clip, a Tiffany clip and favorite gift from my wife and daughters was nowhere to be found. I was bummed and thought I dropped in the Uber but I called Tratto just to be thorough. Fifteen minutes later they called and informed me they had pulled the bench apart where we were sitting and my money clip and $100 cash were found and I could pick it up at the pizza parlor the next day, yes, perfect.
This edition of Wine and the Rheumatologist was not science or even planned but genuinely from the heart and a reminder that fancy and complicated, while at times extraordinary, are not always the stuff you remember best or longest. Next time you are in Phoenix, it’s Tratto. Book ahead!