In honor of that special night when the barriers between this world and the next grows thin, I made a list of some favorite creepy/scary books.
by Steven King
by Thomas Harris
by Dan Simmons
by China Miéville
by Tim Powers
by H.P. Lovecraft
In honor of that special night when the barriers between this world and the next grows thin, I made a list of some favorite creepy/scary books.
by Steven King
by Thomas Harris
by Dan Simmons
by China Miéville
by Tim Powers
by H.P. Lovecraft
In this detailed post series, I discuss the evolution of the five World of Warcraft endgames from both a player and game design perspective.
For the most part, leveling a character in Vanilla World of Warcraft wasn’t too different than in most single player RPGs. Sure, helpful or hurtful players sped up or slowed down your leveling rate, but you rarely required others. Dungeons were an exception, as these always required five players, but you didn’t need dungeons to keep leveling. In fact, while the dungeon blue gear was much better than the typical leveling gear, dungeons slowed you down. The XP was split among players and the two hours it took to assemble a party and the frequent wipes made them inefficient. In those early days, experience came from only two sources: killing monsters and quests. Everything was slow compared to where it is now. Quests were far apart. Mounts came at level 40. Flight points were rare.
It took me approximately 400 hours to level my Warlock from 1 to 60. It felt epic. I never looked at a guide, or searched the web, but took the game as it came. Aside from the occasional frustration, progress was slow but steady. Things were tuned much harder back then and catching a second (or, God forbid, a third) add (additional monster) could mean certain death. Graveyards were spread far apart. Sometimes it was even easy to get lost on the corpse run back to a dungeon (like Black Rock Depths).
But at 60, this steady rate of progress took a huge downshift. Why?
Even at launch, WOW was a big game. So big, that as a game creator my jaw dropped at the sheer number of zones, quests, mobs, items, dungeons, etc. Still, it took years to make. There is no possible way, no matter how much money Blizzard spent, that they could create leveling content at even close to the rate at which players could consume it.
So they had to slow you down and design “endgame” content that was slower to consume.
Back in 2005, questing at 60 was a waste of time unless you merely loved the lore. Quests didn’t even award (meaningful) gold on turn in. They rarely earned reputation. They were pretty useless except for the obsessive. Without achievements, it was hard to judge how many you had even done.
One exception to this, and short lived, were class specific quest chains. Warlocks had class specific quests every 10 levels and at 60 could quest for a special demonic pet called the Doomguard and to earn a special epic (i..e. fast) mount. Both of these chains were fairly difficult and required help from others but occupied me for a few days as a new level 60. Too bad the Doomguard was — at that time — utterly useless (except for torturing newby Aliance) and the Dreadsteed cost a fortune in gold. Still, these were cool chains.
In vanilla, most of the level 60 dungeons and the three early 40 man raids (Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, and Onyxia’s Lair) all required keys. As a brand new 60, I didn’t even understand what raiding was, so I’ll come back to that, but it took a bit of work to grind out all the quests needed to get the keys for Scholomance, Stratholme, UBRS, and Dire Maul. These often involved normal questing mixed with dungeon runs and had quest chains that strategically bounced back and forth between continents (adding 30 minutes of travel time to each leg). The UBRS chain was hard enough that despite the instance’s popularity owners of the key were few and far between (each group only needed one key holder).
For a short while, the five man dungeons represented a decent source of level 60 blue gear, which was much better than quest greens. Unfortunately, the return on investment was often very poor. Guild runs were great, but my guild was a tiny group of real life friends and rarely went. PUGs (Pick Up Groups of random players) were another matter entirely. In general, it took perhaps an hour or two to recruit a tank and healer and get them all to the desired dungeon. Then one of two things happened: 1) you spent about 2-3 hours making really solid process through the dungeon or 2) you spent 3-5 hours wiping constantly and eventually one or more people left and the monsters respawned.
In the first case, you had a great time and might even earn some needed loot or clear out a few difficult dungeon quests. In the second, you almost certainly wasted the time completely and spent a bunch of gold on repairs and materials. As you got more and more blue gear the odds of winning something you wanted declined. Combining this with the high odds of “option 2″ in random PUGs meant that few players wanted to run level 60 dungeons with strangers.
Those of you who never played Vanilla or Burning Crusade may not really understand what the old five man dungeons were like for people in blue and green gear. They were all gigantic, with 5+ bosses and obscene amounts of trash. It was easy to get lost. The tuning was such that each individual pull required crowd control to have any hope of success. Accidentally dragging in a PAT or second group was almost always suicide. Monsters respawned fairly quickly which meant that dying could involve clearing a second (or third) time. Only a Warlock Soul Stone or Shaman Ankh could prevent a long corpse run after a wipe. Druids healers didn’t even have a resurrection spell! Replacements had to travel across the world to enter the dungeon (could take 30 minutes). Summoning could not be done inside the dungeon and required carefully exiting the whole party so the Warlock could summon.
On the plus side, the dungeons were really cool and involved all sorts of special setups.
The early honor system rewarded extreme investments of time spent grinding battlegrounds. PVE and PVP gear wasn’t very different in those days, so there were some decent blues that could be earned by reaching high levels of reputation with one of the three battleground factions. In practice, only Alterac Valley made this reasonable, involving a grind of “only” several weeks. The other two, could take months. If you focused your PVP time intensely into a short couple of weeks you could get your honor rank up and earn a few mid range blues. The epic (and quite awesome) sets were reserved only for the top ranks. The rank of High Warlord (he who PVPed the most on the server for the Horde) required an investment of approximately 16-18 hours a day for 6-9 months. Hardly casual.
Some players, me not included, seemed to enjoy grinding out various materials for trade skills, sale, or their guilds. This usually involved mindlessly killing a particular class of mob for extreme lengths of time (hours was just the beginning). An alternative variant was traveling around on your mount in a set route collecting either herb or mining nodes.
One variant of this, which I did occasionally do, was grinding for rare vanity pets. For example, the little colored whelplings which dropped 1 in a 1000 from various dragonkin. It took several hours to get lucky and collect one of these rare pets.
WOW professions have never been much of a minigame and instead just a straightforward grind. In Vanilla, the designers did add some interesting choices and splits into a couple of them. Like the goblin/gnome engineering divide. My main took Alchemy/Herbology, which while very useful, has always been one of the most boring combinations in the game. Across five expansions they almost never added anything interesting to either profession, Burning Crusade being a minor exception.
Most crafting skills involved some rare/epic component useful/necessary for high end raiding. This usually involved an obscene grind. Getting the Thorium Brotherhood reputation up for Blacksmithing, for example. With Alchemy, the original flask system made another brutal illustration. The recipes came only from raid bosses. The ingredients were very rare and worst of all, flasks, which are after all a consumable, could only be made at the two special Alchemy Labs: one deep in Scholomance, the other, even more cruelly, several bosses into Blackwing Lair (a difficult second tier 40 man raid)!
Prior to winter/spring 2006, it was possible to “raid” Scholo, Strat, LBRS, and UBRS with 10-15 players. The dungeons weren’t tuned any differently in these modes, so were MUCH easier than normal 5 man runs (UBRS was never possible 5 man, but required a minimum of ten). You couldn’t complete most quests this way, but you could get a shot at the blue loot. This was by far the easiest and most efficient way to get blue dungeon gear as 10 man raids rarely wiped (except in UBRS). They usually involved an easy mindless zerg with low odds of getting gear. Loot dropped infrequently, and only one blue per boss.
UBRS was a special exception, as it was harder, even with 15 people, and had slightly better loot. It was also very popular, vital for the Ony Key Chain, and so groups were readily available. Occasionally — very occasionally — it even dropped some mediocre epics.
The designers created specialized quest chains that allowed many classes to get one or two epics, often head gear. In addition, there were a few weapons like the priest staff, the hunter bow, or the warrior sword (as usual, DPS casters got nothing). This gear was better than dungeon blues, but not nearly as good as the raiding epics. The grinds were also pretty obscene. In Vanilla, when they said epic, they meant it! The helmets all required the “pristine hide of the beast” an exceedingly rare drop from The Beast in UBRS (available only to max level skinners with a special rare tool) plus a whole bunch of rare materials from other dungeons. Several weeks of dungeon grinding were required to make one item.
The weapon quests, which were all tied into raiding, were difficult, but regarded by many as super cool and rewarding (after you finished).
Reputations have come a long way in WOW. The early reps combined both obscene grinds (like kill several thousand Furblogs or run Strat and Scholo at least 150 times) with an extreme paucity of rewards. Getting exalted with the Argent Dawn was a tedious weeks (or months) long process of endless dungeon runs, yet in the end, you merely got a shoulder enchant that added +5 chromatic resist. At revered, you could pick a single school of resist.
Other factions offered even less reward. Timbermaw took weaks for one (more or less) vanity item! However, by the later days of Vanilla, the AQ and ZG factions did offer some real gear — but were tied to raiding and retained the brutal grind.
A few weeks after turning 60, there was only one way to make any real progress on your character: get into a real raiding guild. This made for a clear and sharp divide between raiders and non-raiders. A quick glance at a character told the tale. Raiders were sprinkled (or covered) in purple.
But raiding involved 40 (or occasionally 20) player groups with a particular class composition. The raids themselves were exceedingly difficult even with everyone present. Reading strategies and installing and using an external voice chat program were mandatory. Guilds at this time usually had web pages and formal applications. The armory wasn’t yet available, so you had to list all your gear and progress, and even fill out a couple of essays.
Acceptance, if it happened, was provisional. Guilds had rules and policies and as a new member you had to tread lightly or get kicked out. “Dragon Kill Point” systems ensured that newbies had a very low chance of getting gear.
One of the most loved and reviled things about Vanilla was the Onyxia Key Chain. In order to enter this single boss 40 man raid, you had to atune your character and doing that meant finishing one of the most arduous quest chains in the game. Having completed it was often a requirement for entry into raiding guilds.
The Horde version of the chain began with my most hated quest of all time: Warlord’s Command. This required you to run LBRS 5 man several times. Without guild help, this was brutal. LBRS could easily be 4-5 hours and offered subpar rewards. No one ever wanted to run it except for the Ony or UBRS keys. I spent a good ten days continually recruiting groups. Several times I even got into the place only to wipe and fall apart 3-4 hours later. One of the drops was even a single scroll hidden in one of four random locations which only one party member could get. Only the mercy of two of my real life friends helped me finish this rite of passage.
And after that, the quest chain bounced you back and fourth between a remote spot on the eastern continent and Rexxar, an elusive quest giver who wandered two whole zones on the western. In between, you ran UBRS again and again for various stages of the chain. Other than Warlord’s Command (and an equivalently brutal Alliance version in BRD), it wasn’t really hard, but it was a test of will power and perseverance.
An important thing to understand about all raids in WOW (particularly Vanilla) is that each player could enter each one only a single time each week. This was called the lockout. Once you became “bound” to a raid ID for the week that was your instance until next Tuesday. This meant that one of the worst things that could happen was to be accidentally bound to a raid with a group that was incapable of making significant progress. If you did, you blew your shot at those bosses for the week. Also bad was to join an existing raid that had already killed the easy bosses, as you would become bound and miss those bosses for the week.
While I was leveling, Blizzard released the first of Vanilla‘s two 20 man raids, ZG. In January of 2006, they added AQ20. These raids were easier than their 40 man brethren and certainly getting a group organized was simpler. The gear was mixed blue and epic and in both cases tied in a complex faction to the dungeon reputation. Most serious raid guilds ran them as “off night” content when a big raid wasn’t going. Getting into the group was easier. Killing the bosses sometimes easier. But the rewards weren’t great. The gear was odd and you often had to run the place again and again for weeks to have enough rep to turn in the better rewards. Some of the fights were pretty hard too and interesting gear was often offered by optional bosses that were very difficult to summon — meaning groups rarely bothered.
Molten Core, or MC, was the bread and butter of Vanilla raiding. It had LOTS of bosses. It dropped the whole Tier 1 set, three epics per boss without constraint. It was fairly easy with 40 people who knew the place. The atunement was easy. Our guild sometimes had trouble filling all 40 spots and so that was a bit of a problem. The instance was also VERY long if you weren’t efficient. There were a lot of bosses and immense swaths of trash, so sometimes it took two nights, which meant clearing the trash twice! The final boss, Ragnaros, was hard. He required high fire resist and was a serious DPS check, but he did drop the T2 pants.
MC was the key to getting seriously geared in Vanilla. If your guild ran it every week and actually cleared to Domo (the boss before Rag) then your odds of getting some serious T1 loot were high. It was a serious time commitment, scheduled (for example, 6 to 10pm on tues and wed) but in the early days, before it devolved into a six hour slog through solid orange, it was damn fun and felt seriously epic.
If MC was the bread and butter, Ony was the creme. As a single boss behind only four trash mobs, she dropped at least four T2 epics including two T2 helms. This was the best gear that was moderately accessible. Ony wasn’t even that hard, but she was random. Her second of three phases made or broke the whole event. She flew around above periodically sweeping half her chamber with “deep breath.” Sometimes it didn’t happen, sometimes once, sometimes three or four times. One hit you could survive, particularly if you swigged a fire protection potion in advance. Two or three? Forget it. If most of the raid lived to phase three, you’d probably kill her. If someone didn’t pull agro or get themselves knocked into the whelp caves, therefore bringing out a fatal brood of her spawn.
The RNG (Random Number Generator) was killer. My guild vanquished Ony every week in 2006. She only dropped the Warlock helmet twice. Once on my birthday when I wasn’t there and once in October (while I was sneaking the raid in at work). I wanted that hat (the Nemesis Skullcap) for 9 months. Getting it was perhaps the biggest high of my WOW career (tied with achieving Hand of A’dal).
Raids prior to BWL were hard, but didn’t require all that much coordination. Yeah, there was stuff to avoid, and tanks had different jobs, but for the most part DPS had to stay alive and do as much damage as possible. BWL was something else entirely. The first boss had no trash, but about 50 adds at a time. Different groups had to run around in a 100+ mob free-for-all kiting and managing this unwieldy and dangerous host while some designated “controllers” mind controlled a dragon and broke a bunch of eggs with special abilities. If somehow you had the coordination to survive this, it switched into a more or less normal boss fight after 10 minutes.
This opening, plus MC’s Rag and the later BWL bosses, separated the hardcore from the merely competent guilds. We worked on Razorgore (the first boss) for about two months before downing him. Nothing released in later patches geared you up to overcome the level of coordination needed for BWL. Guilds had to be disciplined to progress. You needed to raid 4-5 nights a week. To show up on time and have forty people of the right mix there. They needed to be the same people and they needed the patience to wipe again and again and again and again. They needed to watch videos and prepare, to pop flasks and pull out all the stops. Special mechanics gated certain bosses. Nefarion (the final boss) required that everyone in the raid have Ony cloaks, which could only be made from scales earned from the earlier dragon. It took half a year to make enough for everyone in the guild one, and only if people didn’t leave!
In early 2006 Blizzard changed a bunch of stuff in the endgame, most, but not all for the best. They added some epic quests. They discontinued the “raiding” of the normal dungeons, and they opened AQ20 and AQ40, two new raids. The dungeon changes actually made the end game harder by removing the easiest route to blue gear. The 5 mans got a hair easier, but still remained huge time sinks.
AQ20 gave midlevel guilds like ours something else to do and a way to get more approximately T1 gear. We dabbled in AQ40 but it wasn’t manageable by guilds that hadn’t farmed BWL.
In May, Naxx launched. This monstrous 40 man raid was probably the most difficult ever made (the only other contender being Sunwell). Only the elitist guilds that had farmed through BWL and AQ40 could possibly make progress there. Its groundbreaking encounter design required extreme cooperation. Many of you probably saw it years later in its much easier 10 and 25 man Lich King incarnations.
You might wonder why I keep using the worlds hard, brutal, tedious etc. How come 10-15 million people played this game? Now, it was a little less during Vanilla (perhaps 7-9 million) but WOW was incredibly fun. Yes, often hard and frustrating, but immensely addictive. And honestly, it was much less frustrating than prior MMOs, which had been designed with the punitive model Let’s speculate on WHY the designers did what they did with the endgame.
MMOs have a decent number of hardcore players. Some are willing to spend crazy amounts of time and energy on things and some have a very high level of skill. Yet, this isn’t most people, and so the designers wanted an endgame that could keep people playing for months or years regardless of their skill level.
The raid content served the hardcore. It required skill, coordination, practice and all that. It was/is also some of the most difficult content to make from a development standpoint so the sheer amount was very limited. Therefore, to make it last for the elite, it had to be very hard. Progression was further “slowed down” (or more gameplay created, depending on your perspective) by regulating the amount of boss kills and per boss loot. If the current tier has 9 bosses that means that approximately 30 epics drop for each guild of 40 players each week. This means one per player every week or two at best (there is a random factor and as you get better geared it gets harder to get that last specific item). It then takes a couple months for a raid to fully gear from a tier. Hopefully, by then, the dev team has time to build a new raid. In practice, for guilds who weren’t as good as the difficulty standard, it was far far slower (and more frustrating).
The non-raid content was designed for the more “casual” but because of the existence of those willing to spend 100+ hours a week on grinding, each individual route to progression needed to be incredibly slow so they couldn’t power through it. Blizzard had not yet transferred the raid lockout concept to this arena as it would in Burning Crusades (i.e. dailies, but I’ll discuss that when I post about the expansion). So, their solution was gating by sheer time investment, and a steep one at that. Some crazy people (High Warlords I’m looking at you!) rose to the occasion!
While the Vanilla endgame did have its share of problems: a lack of content for non-raiders, frustration factors, tank shortage, class imbalances, broken specs, extremely steep grind curves, and very high difficulty levels, it was overall pretty damn successful. The designers built a truly stupendous amount of content and invested heavily in unusual and “one-off” quests and details. Compared to later expansions, items were highly individualized, classes varied, factions different, and the game was filled with all sorts of unique quests and features. This, combined with the high difficulty, lent things an extremely epic and deep feel.
When I received a last minute invite to the latest Roberto Cortez dinner, I immediately jumped on it. I won’t miss one of these unless I’m dying or otherwise seriously incapacitated. I even went to one ten days after breaking my arm in seven places! For those of you who don’t know, Roberto is a world class modernist chef and overall artist of many things.
This dinner was October 24.
Roberto disdains the idea of opening a restaurant and cooking the same thing everyday, so his food is performed (and that is the right word) at randomly located three day installations. In this case, as with last July, it was at the Redd Collection, a wine store and bar that I separately frequent. Redd has a really great space in Culver city, simultaneously cool and comfortable.
The drinks begin with a bit of Roederer Estate in the big bottle. It’s worth a few words about the format (and specifically the wine format) of these dinners. Twelve people attend, in small groups of friends. Everyone eats together at one table. Technically, everyone is just supposed to bring wine and figure it out. Pot luck wine can have mixed results. It works out fine at my Hedonist dinners as there is a high bar (maintained by the organizers) plus some recommendation and coordination of the types. Overall timing and pairing, even then, is a little off, but the stellar quality of the wine makes up for it.
So instead of bringing 2 bottles like a normal person, I brought 7, and I chose them ahead of time with the ingredients (supplied by Roberto) in mind. Michael Carpenter, one of the owners of Redd, helped fill in the gaps, then I organized these plus a couple of the random (but good) stuff brought by others into proper flights. I had correctly guessed that people would bring big reds so I made mine the more unusual pairings that Roberto’s cuisine really deserves. I’ll comments on the success (and minor mismatches) below. As a sommelier, wine nut, frequent organizer, and devotee of Dionysus, I take this stuff very seriously. I take a rather paternalistic “hard line” as well. It doesn’t bother me to leave someone’s wine under the table unopened if it doesn’t match or is subpar and I hate to waste good wine. I think that the net enjoyment of everyone at the table is enhanced by some organization and discipline, and that while most diners don’t necessarily know enough wines to pair them, appreciate it when the effort is made.
After the sparkling, we enjoyed this special rum cocktail made by Roberto. It was fruity with a bit of spicy heat. I unfortunately was too busy organizing my wine to get the details. One server was out sick and this time around, I ended up opening the bottles and pouring myself. I don’t mind, actually, as I’m a control freak :-).
“Ceremonial: A consume of five mushrooms, maple, lovage, sherry vinegar and wine, farro, garlic.” The spoon is hollow and serves as the bowl. The dish showed off nice earthy notes and more than a little acidic tang.
Below (as with all the courses) you can hear Roberto discuss them in his own words. This first one is a little hard to hear, but the others are better.
“Chanterrelles, egg, raspberries, leeks, forest.” Sort of like fancy scrambled eggs, but much better. Light and fluffy with interesting forest notes. There is enough richness to the eggs that the meaty (for a white) Roussane paired perfectly.
From my cellar: Parker 90, “2009 Sancerre Cuvee GM (don’t ask me why he doesn’t simply write out its name) offers cooling, soothing honeydew melon and mint with hints of sage, chalk, lime zest, and white pepper. Vintage-typical in its lushness, it nevertheless doesn’t stint on minerality or refreshment, and is blessedly free of the alcoholic heat, roughness, or ungainliness that plagues many wines of its appellation in this warm and hail-challenged vintage. Impressively persistent and practically sumptuous rendition of Sancerre.”
“Diver’s Scallop tartar, dill oil, frozen avocado, sudachi, pomegranate, coconut butter, quinoa.” Scrumptious dish, but I adore raw scallop. As usual with Roberto, the seemingly chaotic ingredients gelled perfectly. Cool textures too, literally so with the frozen avocado!
Based on the ingredient guesswork (Roberto improvises so heavily that pairing from his notes takes some interpretation), I paired the above Sancerre with the scallops. Michael, who is after all a wine pro, was initially a skeptic, as he thought the dish would be too rich. In the end, I think it was a (lucky but) sensational pairing. The scallops came off much like scallop sashimi and as such, the bright citrus notes from the wine did what I hoped, add the same zing that yuzu does on the best Japanese preparations.
From my cellar: Parker 96, “After a performance like this for a Spatlese, the warning was hardly necessary! Donnhoff’s 2009 Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese offers a riot of herbal aromas reminiscent of but far more intense and diverse than that of the corresponding Grosses Gewachs, and here, too, accompanied by grapefruit and passion fruit in a manner that calls to mind Sauvignon. Horehound, licorice, sage, mint, black tea, nut oils, candied grapefruit rind, and crushed stone inform a silken-textured palate. As with the corresponding Brucke, there is a remarkable interactivity on display, and a depth of mineral and animal savor that goes beyond crustacean shell reduction or veal demi-glace, leaving me salivating helplessly. This should be worth following for 20-25 years.”
“Romance X: Whisked ham, Honey caramelized pineapple, curry, horseradish, fried leeks, shaved ham.” Awesome, awesome dish. Intensely hammy and light (surprising when a whipped white ham product is involved).
The Riesling Spatlese made for a stunning pairing, but not for the reason I chose. First of all, it is a great wine, a really great wine. Second the sweetness and pineapple notes matched the real fruit and just perfectly counterpointed the salty ham vibe. I’d actually chosen the wine because of the curry. That ingredient (if it was even still there after Roberto’s beta modifications) was muted to the point of nothing, but the pairing worked out anyway.
From my cellar: 1990 Robert Ampeau & Fils Volnay 1er Cru Santenots. Variously 90-95 points. Started off with a bit of funky nose but quickly blew off and opened up gorgeously. This was one of those burgundies that makes you want to come back for more; cork was in good shape; a nose of cherries mushrooms and earth; fruit on the palate that softened with time; long finish that changed in a positive way with each sip.
“Forbidden: foie gras, maple, chive, ginger, mushroom rye, PX sour, coriander, rose, green apple tonka bean, corn cinnamon.” Very interesting dish. You pour the below “secret sauce” on top and then eat like a salad.
The Burgundy was great by itself, and paired fine with the dish. Because of the foie, one could have gone sweet, but the whole salad like vibe (not that I knew about that from the notes) wasn’t traditional.
From my cellar: Parker 94, “I under-rated this medium-to-dark ruby/purple-colored wine (91-93 in Issue #111). This wine’s lively nose presents candied orange peels, black cherries, and Asian spices. It is powerful, layered, intensely complex, full-bodied, and ripe. Densely packed blackberries, cherries, and cassis are intertwined with minerals and hints of earth in this highly-impressive offering. As is spelled out in the margin of my notebook, Super! Bravo!”
Pairing-wise, this dish was my biggest failure. The wine was great, and not a mismatch or anything, but heck if I know what would be perfect here. I’d give the wine 95/100 and the pairing 60/100. Maybe something spicier. Looking it up, I even find “squash soup” listed under “impossible food wine pairings!” People generally go with an Alsatian wine like a Pinot Gris, which would certainly work. I was trying to get some more reds in because most diners don’t like a pairing dominated by whites.
Parker 93, “An impressive performance by Lagrange, the 2000 possesses a saturated ruby/purple color with obvious notes of melted licorice, creme de cassis, and toasty new oak. This ripe, dense, full-bodied St.-Julien is chewy, thick, high in tannin, large-bodied, and impressively long and dense. As always, it is less expressive than some of its peers, but it is loaded as well as reasonably priced.”
For this next dish we each had to blindfold ourselves and then pick an “ingredient” by shaking two containers. No senses other than sound and weight were allowed. Listen to Roberto introduce this concept:
“Carnaoli Risotto with custard of black truffle, syrah reduction with honey and coffee, fig, plus special ingredient.” Wow, wow! Similar to a risotto he made for me at Dark Illuminated Forest, this is just so sumptuous.
The pair of above wines both paired very nicely as they offered up mushroom, forest, and cherry (the Boca) and earth tones (the Bordeaux).
Parker 90, “Performing better than it did eight years ago, the 2001 Opus One reveals a classic, French-like style with notes of cedar wood, melted licorice, black currants, roasted herbs and tobacco leaf. While not one of the stars of the vintage, it is a medium to full-bodied, outstanding effort that has reached full maturity. It should continue to drink well for another decade or more. This was a reassuring showing, although vintages over the last five years have been stronger and more powerful, with greater aging potential than the 2001.”
Parker 90, “The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon is uncommonly approachable. Its dark ruby color is accompanied by sweet aromas of plums, black cherries, and currants. With soft, silky tannin, medium body, and a Bordeaux-like weight, this Cabernet was clearly inspired by Bordeaux clarets.”
“Wagyu brisket sous vide cooked for eight hours. Glaze of fermented black bean and thyme. Pear and kale chip with smoked bone marrow.” Fantastic piece of meat. Soft, with a marinated tone not unlike North Carolina BBQ.
Smoked alder-wood butter brioche is added to the plate.
The above “beefy” wines had enough grape to them to match very well.
From my cellar: Parker 96, “A totally compelling Climens and to my mind, every bit as good as the 1988, the 1986 is probably the best Climens made since their spectacular 1971. It is still light gold in color, with an expansive bouquet of new oak, oranges, pineapples, and other tropical fruits. In the mouth, the great richness seems all the more impressive because of the wine’s remarkable clarity and definition. There is as much botrytis in the 1986 as in the 1988. Despite the intensity and extract levels, this sweet wine comes across as crisp and relatively light. The 1986 is a stunning example of Climens at its very best.”
Really great Sauterne and at its peak maturity. Like rich honeyed nectar.
“Chocolate Drug: Armedei Chuao chocolate in the syringe, single original coffee gelee, Ethiopian cappuccino gel, tarragon hoja santa absinthe, caramelized brioche and creme whipped with salted butter and caramelized blood orange peel.”
Overall, this was a spectacular dining experience, as good as my first Roberto meal, Dark Illuminated Forest. Sometimes there is a “chasing the dragon” effect to repeated events, but on all levels tonight was truly outstanding. The most similar (non-Roberto) meal I’ve had was this one at 2-star Calima in Spain — but this overall experience took everything to the next level. I think my wine-Nazism payed off to good effect too, helping elevate the whole sensory experience.
Roberto is like a Toscanini of food. It’s mind-boggling. Every single dish worked. Some were a bit better of course, but all were great. They show technical virtuosity, but more importantly, they show his incredible talent for predicting the nature of sensory experience. Like a Mozart symphony, the notes were all harmonious. Really, Food as Art.
This year I am taking part in the fangtabulous Coffin Hop Blog Extravaganza. Over a hundred masters of horror all sharing their work with the world.
In the meantime please take the opportunity to go and hang out with some of my horror writer pals by taking part in this year’s Coffin Hop Blog Hop.
You’ll discover some amazing reads and very talented writers along the way.
First off, if you want to be really creeped out, just pick up my dark fantasy novel The Darkening Dream. The book fuses intense action with a love of history and all things supernatural. On the eve before creation God created ten special things, among them the Archangel Gabriel’s horn, destined to sound the End of Days. But what happens if you’re a seventeen year-old girl and an ancient evil thinks it’s hidden in your basement? Find out here.
Or you can check out for free the sinister origins of Pastor John Parris, warlock and lover of all things demonic.
Location: 1104 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 395-0881
Date: October 17, 2012
Cuisine: California French
Rating: Awesome. Something the same, something different!
The Foodie Club was inaugurated at Melisse, and as such, it holds a unique place in our fatty little hearts. This week the restaurant is doing a special “guest chef” tasting menu with Michelin starred Christophe Dufau of Restaurant les Bacchanales (I approve of the name).
From my cellar as usual, Parker 96, “From this cru’s steep, riverside slopes, the Fevre 2006 Chablis Bougros Cote de Bouguerots reveals its oak in lanolin, toasted almond, and spice aromas, along with notes of chalk dust, sweet lime, and heady, lily-like floral perfume. With enveloping richness, luscious juiciness, and flattering creaminess, yet underlain by a vivid sense of crushed stone, this saturates the palate so completely and intensely and with such a palpable sense of extract, that the finishing stain seems almost severe. This remarkably concentrated and polished wine should be worth following for 15 or more years.”
“Truffled Brandade. Radish, Carrots and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” This reminds me a bit of the elfin cuisine at Red Medicine. Underneath was a very Portuguese salt cod and potato blend that was very pleasant.
Then with the dashi added. This dish is very N/Naka and totally delicious. I love dashi.
This older Grand Cru Burgundy had an initially funky nose but then opened up into a lovely example of mature pinot noir. Every time I have a good Grand or Premier Cru Burg with some age on it I remember why it’s my favorite wine.
“New Zealand John Dory. Hokkaido Squash, Shellfish and Passion Fruit.” The fish was perfectly done and moist, perhaps in the sous vide. I would have expected the the passionfruit to have more kick, but it was still good.
To go with the entrees and desert, Parker 95, “As I stated last year, there is no Hommage a Jacques Perrin in 2006, but Beaucastel’s 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape is performing even better from bottle than it did last year. Its dense plum/ruby/purple color is followed by a big, sweet perfume of black truffles, camphor, earth, incense, new saddle leather, and loads of peppery, blackberry, and herb-infused, meaty, black cherry fruit. Deep, full-bodied, and dense, with sweet tannin, this explosively rich Chateauneuf is a stronger effort than the 2005, 2004, or 2003.”
We added in this “bonus desert,” the “sticky toffee pudding.” Not bad, but I prefer this dish pretty straight up like at Waterloo & City.
“Cracker Jack. Popcorn Sherbet, Peanut Butter Crunch, Caramel Water.” On the top is a homemade cracker jack and below was a light caramel syrup. Really pretty nice and refreshing, not to mention reminiscent of the cheap snack.
We’ve been several times for the full on Chef Josiah Citrin treatment and it was interesting to get this variant mixed up with Chef Dufau’s take. Very similar and compatible, I suspect they alternated dishes. Melisse has two Michelin stars, and it deserves every ounce of them. The service is amazing too. The setting is not as fully formal as some French three-stars, or the service quite so orchestrated (that level is more amusement than actually pleasant), and there are no zany carts for teas and sugars, but the food and creativity demonstrate Melisse’s deserved position as one of America’s top kitchens.
Title: Sons of Anarchy
Genre: Crime Drama
Watched: October, 2012
Summary: A dramatic juggernaut 10/10
Sons of Anarchy could be loosely described as The Sopranos with bikers. Fundamentally it’s a focused kind of gangland ensemble piece set in a fictional hick town not too far from San Francisco. But like anything, it’s execution dependent, and in this case the execution is pretty f***cking awesome.
Against all odds, the larger character structure is based on Hamlet. We have a prince, haunted by the ghost of his father (here, his dead dad’s writings). His mother married the new king. The prince is torn by doubts. There’s nothing wrong with classic structure. Hell, The Lion King did this too. It works and adds a helluva a lot of gravitas.
This show is impossible to put down. I watched all four and a half seasons in about ten days, staying up late into the night (enough that I was continually exhausted the next morning). The writing and acting are all fantastic. We have a lot of great characters here, and despite the fact that many of them are killers, you really care what happens. And what happens is a lot of bad shit! Most episodes end with a twisty cliffhanger that makes it really difficult to resist letting Netflix (which has the first three seasons) role into the next episode. NOTE: This feature, added perhaps two months ago, is a break-thru for TV watching.
Just as interesting as the characters is the whole biker milieu. In the same way that The Sopranos took you inside the modern Mafia, SOA opens up the inner working of the MC (Motorcycle Club). And unlike the Jersey Italian thing, I knew little to nothing about bikers. In the show they operate in a similar thugy fashion, but instead of being so strictly hierarchical, the biker gang functions as a kind of heroic democracy. And by heroic I don’t mean super hero, I harken back to the way in which men behave in warrior societies. This is a man’s world, where personal honor and toughness count for everything. A man’s ability to “protect his own” (be it women, property, or whatever) is paramount to his status.
Television exaggeration aside, these characters ring of truth. And isn’t that what great drama is all about?
As readers of The Darkening Dream are aware, nothing is ever black or white. Certainly this is the case with Pastor John Parris. Is he a villain or victim? Well… villain, but even the most evil come from somewhere. In this short story, which began life as a chapter in an older larger versions of the novel, we explore some important questions about the creepy little man: 1) How did he come to dabble in witchcraft? 2) Who was Grandmother Grace, and what was the manner of her unpleasant death? 3) Is shit really useful for spellcraft? And most importantly, 4) When did Parris meet his succubus lover, Betty?
It turns out, one weekend reveals all four.
I bought the game at launch but didn’t start playing until 2005. Once I did, I was instantly addicted — truly I’ve never been so addicted to a game in my life — and I’ve played at all stages of the game’s evolution. In Vanilla, my main (Undead Warlock) raided everything except for Naxx. Even my Night Elf Rogue wore Bloodfang. In Burning Crusade, my Warlock tanked Illidan and cleared all but the last bosses of Sunwell. My Paladin and Druid healed and tanked Karazan. In Wrath of the Lich King, I raided through to and including Icecrown with both my Warlock and Holy Paladin. But at the end of LK my guild fell apart and I didn’t have the willpower to apply to another, so with Cataclysm I merely leveled my Warlock, geared him for raiding, then gave up.
After almost two years hiatus, I swore I wouldn’t bother with Mists of Pandaria. Of course, this didn’t stop me from buying the collector’s edition. I have all the others except for Vanilla. I didn’t even log in for a few days.
When I finally zoned in, I was daunted by the effort needed to revamp my interface before I could play. All the spells had changed. I had to pick new talents from the completely redesigned (non) talent trees. I had to update all my addons, glyph, and layout my action bars nearly from scratch. I’ve long preferred Destruction on my Warlock, with a minor in Demonology, only having briefly played Affliction during LK.
I found the new Destruction spells make for a much tidier toolbar. A lot of abilities are gone or moved to other specs and so all the main combat spells actually fit on convenient keys for the first time since vanilla. I’ll eventually have to see if this is true on my Paladin. Historically, the Pally’s obscene collection of roles and buffs has meant the default action bars don’t even have enough slots for all the abilities.
Anyway, the new Destruction rotation didn’t take long to learn — although it’s really weird not to have Lifetap and Corruption which were such longtime Warlock staples. The new Destro Lock is more Mage-like than ever with only a single DOT. But the burst is pretty awesome and thanks to a bunch of defensive cooldowns and heals, survivability is excellent. I didn’t choose either Howl of Terror or Shadowfury so my only problem is if I get mobbed by 5+ tough enemies.
I’m not sure how I feel about this new talent system. Broken as they were, I liked the talent trees back in the old days of Vanilla and BC. But the compressed Cata trees felt a bit lame. And most importantly, what seems to be missing now-a-days is the feeling of upgrading while leveling. Between 85 and 89 nothing happened. No talents. No new abilities of note (one minor passive change to Backdraft). All rather anticlimactic. I liked slowly depositing points into those trees and eventually gaining new abilities.
Pandaria looks gorgeous. From the trailers, I was initially skeptical of the whole Kung-fu Panda thing, but it actually works. The Asian look, and the shear dramatic verticality of many zones can be breathtaking. They are easily the best looking yet. I liked the look of BC and LK, but Cata never did it for me. Most of those zones were flat, and far too dislocated.
Jade Forest is a great place to begin and it’s really lovely. Valley of the Four Winds is tongue in cheek, but reminds me (in a good way) of Nagrand which was my favorite BC zone. Kun-Lai Summit is another favorite. This has a high Tibetan feel that is really cool. Being on foot/mount is great, as the scale when you crest some of these mountains wouldn’t work if one was flying. Krasarang Wilds and Townlong Steppes are a little less exciting, but certainly fine. I haven’t played the Dread Wastes yet.
The music is top notch.
I played Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang Wilds, and Kun-Lai Summit in that order, completing 100% of the quests in each before moving on (I’ve had Loremaster since two weeks after LK shipped, so this is no surprise). I turned 90 just as I finished up Kun-Lai. I’ve always wondered why Blizzard paces the XP so that you usually have two zones left over when you hit max level. In LK it was three! The Pandarian zones are the biggest yet. Jade Forest and Kun-Lai are almost heroically big. Too big perhaps, as I was starting to feel a little weary moving into the final sub zones of Kun-Lai.
The whole process took me less than a week and I wasn’t playing that hard.
Overall difficulty was very easy. Similar to Cata, but much easier than BC and Vanilla. In those old days you used to die while leveling. Sometimes a lot. I probably died 2-3 times from 85-90.
This was the best leveling experience in a long time, but I can’t help but think it would have been even better with 10 levels, and with the pacing spread out so you hit 90 right at the end of Dread Wastes and with more spell and talent rewards per level.
The quests seem hugely improved. There are still plenty of kill and gather quests, but they are doled out in a really efficient way. You almost always get about five quests at a time all concentrating on a single area. They usually mix collection and kill quests. You head back and pick up a new crop. There is no sense that you might miss some. It’s extremely easy to do them all and feel that you got 100% of the quests. This is in marked contrast to the haphazard nature of old vanilla quests. There is a total absence of postal (long distance delivery) quests and long back and forth quest chains. They also seem to have toned down those giant story chains that took a lot of time in Cata. I’m talking about the Bronzebeard one and that weird vision quest thing in the tedious and way-too-big Vashj’ir. I don’t miss these. Replacing it are some fun chains like the odd but funny monkey/sniper adventure and the highly amusing kung-fu training. It’s all pretty light hearted but enjoyable.
For perhaps the first time ever, the quest rewards were actually useful. I pretty rapidly replaced my blues and purples with green (and the occasional blue) quest rewards. The huge thing is that the rewards are ALL for your class! In the old days, particularly as a DPS only caster, 90% of the rewards couldn’t even be equipped, or were useless healing gear. Plus the rapid step up of base stats (dare we say runaway inflation – my level 90 Lock has 400,000 HP, at 60, in raid gear, I had 6k) means that in MOP, a level 87 green is probably better than your level 85 raid gear, at least for leveling.
Interestingly, there are almost NO socketed items until the endgame. Blizzard doesn’t seem to want you to have to deal with it. There is no need for enchants. The game is easy anyway, and the same scaling means that old cheaper enchants are a waste of time and new endgame MOP enchants too expensive to bother with on leveling gear. You grab and go.
Bag space, at least for a hoarder like me, is still a problem. I need to move some more crap into void storage. The asian look of some of the armor is cool, although I’ve been stuck at 90 with a dumbass looking green hat and need to transmorg it.
My Warlock is, and always has, been Herbology/Alchemy. I’m going to write up a separate post later on the level 90 endgame where I will discuss the bigger changes in the skills, and confine myself here to the experience while leveling. It’s clear that Blizzard is currently thinking that you should concentrate on crafting skills at 90.
Gathering nodes are, however, available in almost obscene quantity. This is in stark contrast to LK where there was barely an herb to be found. I hit 600 with Herbology about half way thru. At first I thought there was a crazy overabundance of Green Tea Leaf, but then I realized this holds for every Pandarian herb except for Golden Lotus. It’s nice that you get XP from the nodes as this rewards you for the 30 seconds spent chasing them down.
Alchemy right now is also very straightforward and doesn’t even require ANY return visits to the trainer or grinding of reputations. This is perhaps boring, but more on this in the next post.
Cooking and Fishing are clearly intended to level at the end as they are both tied to level 90 daily quests. First Aid is, as usual, trivial, and I find Archeology too tedious and am stuck at about 250.
There are only four leveling dungeons: Stormstout Brewery, Temple of the Jade Serpent and at level 87: Mogu’shan Palace and Shado-Pan Monastery. These are all really great leveling dungeons. The quest givers are inside and there are exactly two quests for each. They take about 15-20 minutes and are easy but fun. They feel different enough. They don’t require any sort of crowd control or marking. You just pull a pack and whack away at it and then pull another. Even adds won’t wipe you.
The XP and gear rewards are very good. The gear for sure is better than from quests. The overall balance and length of these instances is very consistent. All four are fun and there is no frustration factor.
If I had a major criticism I think that all the MOP dungeons should have been leveling dungeons and the heroics reserved for 90. I hopped right into heroics without ever playing the level 90 normals (and had no problem) so these are wasted. The designers would have been better off making the Palace and Monastery available at level 86 and the two bug dungeons available at 88 in normal mode.
Overall, the instances serve as nice breaks from the tedium of questing. Now-a-days, with the dungeon finder, you can just queue and keep questing, hop into one, and then back out to questing. It’s all very efficient. You don’t even have to walk in once like in Cata. At some level, I miss the cool interweaving of the world and dungeon quests that Vanilla and BC had, but in practice, back when I leveled vanilla, the time it took to gather a group and run the ludicrously large dungeons was not adequately compensated by the rewards. It was much faster to quest on past them.
I’m also of two minds about the dumbing down. It began with Lich King, saw a frustrating reversion in Cata, and is back in full force. I guess for leveling dungeons, where one is in a hurry, this is a good thing.
Despite the fact that I collect vanity pets (I had over 175 even before this expansion), I haven’t dealt with the whole battle pet mini-game yet. It doesn’t turn up XP or gear, so I figured I’d save it for when I run out of normal stuff to do.
I keep meaning to play a Pandarian (Monk) through the turtle zone, but I haven’t yet.
While there is nothing radically new about MOP, it feels a hell of a lot better than Cata. I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. It was fun to level again and Blizzard has cleaned up a lot of stuff that after four expansions had become a little messy. This “new” game is still very much World of Warcraft. They have not reinvented the wheel, but they continual the usual iterative improvements. I suspect that Cataclysm suffered from the redoing of the old zones, which was a lot of content that continuing players like myself never saw.
Anyway, the real meat of the matter is in the end game, and I’ll discuss that in a second post.
Lately I’ve become more and more obsessed with gazpacho, southern Spain’s cold vegetable soup. This dish had its origin in Ancient Rome where (minus the tomatoes, which are a new world fruit) it served as a kind of vinegar, salt, stale bread porridge for the army. Ancient army food was notoriously nasty and served only the most practical of functions. In this case, some calories and salt replacement in the hot Iberian sun. Nowadays, it’s basically a liquid salad and a whole lot better.
Then, because this is a salad, you need olive oil and vinegar to taste. You MUST use Spanish ingredients for the proper effect. Fine Spanish olive oil from Andalusia and Vinagre de Jerez (sherry vinegar) are the only acceptable condiments. Plus throw in a little salt (and pepper) if you so desire.
One of the best things about the incredible Blendtec is that it can handle ANYTHING. It’s like the Bas-o-matic.
At a dinner party I have dressed the bowl with cucumber, onions, tomatoes, chives, and olive oil fried bread and then poured the soup in.
Jose Andres presents it like this at The Bazaar.
Recipe doesn’t really matter so much here, you can pretty much wing it, but if you feel the need, you can use Jose’s recipe. Adjust anything for taste. It’s important to chill the soup well, but it keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days. My little experiment with the Jalepeno worked, but I don’t really think the burn is an improvement. I prefer the garlic and vinegar tang, so next time it stays out.
Location: 872 Via De La Paz. Los Angeles, CA 90272. (310) 454-8228
Date: September 14, 2012
Cuisine: Frozen Yogurt
Rating: Diabetics beware!
A while back I review the new frozen yogurt place in the heart of the Pacific Palisades Village, now apparently it was so popular that someone decided to build a second one just a block away! The newcomer, Toppings, appears to be part of a two joint chain and its claim to fame is more toppings. A lot more toppings!
The yogurt part itself is similar. You choose a cup, and then fill it up yourself from any combination of the ten soft-serve machines. The flavors don’t seem to change too dramatically or often, but I have on occasion noticed a few switch-ups.
Here begins the toppings buffet. Not only is the selection enormous, but they are very neatly kept and organized thematically! This is the “sugar candy section.” I adore sugar candy, and its one of my secret weaknesses, but actually they don’t work so great in FroYo because they instantly grow hard as rocks in the cold.
Cereals, sugar and not so sugar. Plus a few misc things like coconut and yogurt coated pretzels.
Cookie bits have they own section! Look at all those types, including “Mom’s Animal Cookeis” Yum!
Then chocolate bits, sprinkles, and chocolate covered candies!
And a whole section with “real” candy bars like Snickers, Butterfingers, Milky Ways, Heath Bar, etc. No major american candy is left out here — except I’m not sure I saw peppermint patty (which I actually like on a sundae).
Then fruit. We have both the natural versions and on this side a host of funny mochi and flavor ball types. There are even pickles in the corner for desperate pregnant women.
A closer look at the real fruit.
Then the sauces. Cold chocolate, hot chocolate, caramel, butterscotch, marshmallow, all that good stuff.
A full view of most of the toppings bar. It curves around like an L in the back and over to the far side. Very neat and modern too.
My masterpiece, which is pretty much drenched in caramel and marshmallow sauce. Underneath are all sorts of the heavy candy bars like Snickers and Butterfingers. This is about as remote from the “healthy” FroYo with tart unsweetened yogurt and a little fruit as you can get! So, which of our two yogurt joints is better? Hard to say. Clearly there are more and better toppings here at toppings but many people think the yogurt itself is better at The Yogurt Shoppe. Really, I seem to end up with something very similar at both. Sweet as bejesus!
For more high quality Westside dessert, check out Sweet Rose Creamery.
Title: The Cabin in the Woods
Genre: Horror Spoof
Watched: September 20, 2012
Summary: Gory self-referential glory! (8/10)
Joss Whedon loves his post-modern! The Cabin in the Woods is both a clever and moderately scary classic teen horror film and at the same time a self-referential reinvention of the genre. In short, we have the classic startup: Five college kids head to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun and are beset by supernatural mayhem. We have the classic stereotypes: the whore (the movie’s language, not mine), the jock, the scholar, the fool, and the virgin.
But from the start, we know it isn’t so simple. Some mysterious government or corporate agency (shades of The Initiative from Buffy season 4) seems to be running the show. The film — and even many of the characters in it — are in on the joke. And this, in classic Whedon form, is what makes for a lot of the humor. The “fool”, deliciously played by Dollhouse‘s geek Fran Kranz is a major case in point.
Jock: “I think we should split up.”
Scholar: “Good idea.”
Fool: “Wait… Really?”
The fact that you know the basic progression of the horror doesn’t make the “Redneck Pain-loving Zombies” (apparently, a totally different species from regular Zombies) any less frightening. But, for the viewer, the fundamental mystery comes from wondering what the hell is going on with the agency. Having seen all of Whedon’s oeuvre I guessed by about the 25% mark. The whole meta premise is a very Whedonesque one. He certainly treads heavily on this territory in both Buffy (season 7 seal?) and Angel (shades of Wolfram and Hart), but I won’t say more because this film is best enjoyed unspoiled.
The last quarter of the movie comes dangerously close to jumping the shark as it inverts the post-modern thing and goes nuts, but the production pulls it off with a certain zany pizzaz and just the right tone in the form of a Sigourney Weaver cameo.
The script is witty, with lots of good snark, and the acting is good for what it is. The girls are hot (the wolf smooch is a classic moment) and the cast is packed with Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse returnees. There are some really good laughs in here, like when the agency crew teases a creepy old redneck with the speakerphone (you have to see it). Plus one of the zombies fights with a bear-trap!
A definite must for any horror fan.
In honor of the coming invasion of demons, witches, and the like, I and The Darkening Dream are participating in Fiction Frolic for All Hallow’s Read, an event supporting Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read.
Each of the participants is doing three different themed posts. My first one is about reading in school:
Reading doesn’t separate the men from the boys, it separates the educated from the ignorant. Seriously. There is no other conduit for absorbing information and broadening oneself that is so accessible and so efficient. Every medium has its advantages, but the book has it all in regards to breadth and depth. There are books on more topics, and more specific topics, than any other format. Probably by several orders of magnitude. And nothing holds as much information in as few bits…
And — almost as cool — is an awesome Rafflecopter running (click the link or the banner to see) where you can win oodles of juicy swag from yours truly and the other participating authors!
Restaurant: La Paella
Location: 476 South San Vicente Boulevard. Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 951-0745
Date: September 27, 2012
Rating: Really tasty traditional Spanish
Since spending a month in Spain in 2010, I’ve been addicted to Spanish cooking, so when the hedonists decided to head on over to this Hollywood staple I jumped on board for another evening packed with great wine and great food.
This “bonus wine” (thrown in by Lana at the last minute) was drinking beautifully. “The Grande Cuvee is scented of croissant, buttered cinnamon toast and warm strawberries with a hint of smoky bacon. Muscular and still very taut in the mouth, the densely packed flavors are refreshed with a pure, crisp acid line. It finishes long with plenty of toast and nut layers.”
I brought this boutique Spanish white. Parker 96. “The 2009 Sketch, an Albarino sourced from a parcel harvested 1-2 weeks later than all the other vineyards. It was fermented and aged (without malolactic) in two 700-liter barrels for 12 months followed by 60 days of aging in the bottle at 30 meters under the sea. It offers up an enthralling bouquet of mineral, saline, floral, tropical, and marzipan elements. Intense, complex, impeccably balanced, and remarkably lengthy, this is as good as Albarino gets. Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez is the hangout of Spain’s most visionary vigneron, Raul Perez. These latest releases only reinforce the legend.”
Parker 95+, “The 2006 Brunello di Montalcino flows with gorgeous layers of dark red fruit. This is one of the more muscular, virile wines of the vintage. Slow to reveal its character, the Valdicava Brunello will require significant patience, but I have seen the wine blossom beautifully, even in the smallest of vintages. A blast of iron, smoke, tar, licorice and new leather inform the deep, intense finish. This is a hugely promising, brilliant Brunello from proprietor Vincenzo Abbruzzese, but it needs to be buried in the cellar for at least a few years. Readers who can’t wait should open the wine a few hours in advance, which will allow the fruit to emerge.”
“Patatas Bravas. Fried potatoes tossed with spicy tomato sauce.” In Spain, these would usually be coated in a spicy mayo. I liked these better, as the sauce was more like that used on hot wings and had a nice spicy vinegar tang.
This was incredibly smooth and seductive. Parker 92, “Dense plum/ruby/purple-colored, with a sweet perfume of earth, herbs, jammy black fruits, and oak in the background, the opulently textured, round, fleshy 1994 Gran Reserva possesses full body, moderate tannin, and an accessible yet structured personality. It should drink well for 12-15 years.”
The front was a little flat on this ancient Rioja, but the middle and finish were very interesting, almost like a Madeira. “The 1948 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from a great Rioja vintage spent a mind-boggling 40 years in American oak barriques before it was bottled. Dark cherry red in color with a garnet rim, it offers up a splendid perfume of earth, mineral, lavender, incense, and black cherry. The wine’s vibrant acidity has kept it youthful and complete.”
Parker 91, “The dense ruby/purple-colored 1997 Valbuena reveals a deep, sweet nose of black fruits intermixed with earth, leather, smoke, and fruit cake. There is sensational texture on the palate, seamlessly integrated tannin and acidity, and moderate quantities of oak. While young, it is already showing exceptionally well.”
“Gazpacho Andaluz. Tomato, garlic, bread, cucumber, celery, pepper, olive oil.” A nice gazpacho. I’m rather the gazpacho whore and I make it myself using Jose Andres’ recipe (modified by me). This one was tasty, but didn’t have enough vinegar for my taste.
Gorgeous! Parker 97, “Aged 18 months in 100% new French oak from 75-year old Tempranillo vines, the 2001 Pagos Viejos is one of Spain’s greatest wines. A singular red of extraordinary stature and intensity, it exhibits an inky/ruby/purple color as well as a luxurious bouquet of lead pencil shavings, black and blue fruits, espresso roast, and floral notes. This full-bodied, dense 2001 possesses layers of flavor, a sweet integration of tannin and wood, and a finish that lasts for nearly a minute.”
From my cellar. Young, but a total fruit bomb. Parker 96, “The 2008 Flor de Pingus had been in bottle for 2 weeks when I tasted it. It offers up an enticing nose of smoke, Asian spices, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. On the palate it displays outstanding volume, intensity, and balance. Rich, dense, and succulent, it has enough structure to evolve for 4-5 years.”
Another youthful fruit bomb from my cellar. Parker 96, “The flagship, the 2007 Clos Mogador is made up of 40% Garnacha, 20% Carinena, 20% Syrah, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is purple/black-colored with a sensational bouquet of mineral, truffle, espresso, black cherry, blueberry, and licorice. Dense and Reubenesque on the palate, it has great concentration, loads of savory fruit, impeccable balance, and several years of aging potential. Accessible now, this lengthy offering will be at its best from 2013 to 2027. It is one of the stars of the vintage in Priorat.”
This Sauterne isn’t textbook, but it was drinking very nicely as a dessert wine, almost like a honey mead. Parker 84, “Nairac’s 1980 is a well-balanced, light golden-colored wine that displays a good level of botrytis, a spicy, tropical fruit, oaky bouquet, medium body, soft acidity, and a fat, tasty finish. It is fully mature.”
There was also “Arroz con Leche” (rice pudding) that I missed a photo of. I’ll have to try their flan too, because I’m such a flan fiend.
I love Spanish cooking, and La Paella has a really nice traditional kitchen. It reminds me of Botin in Madrid at the opposite end of the Spanish culinary spectrum from modernist Calima and the ElBuli school. Personally, I love both and I need to head back to La Paella to sample even more of their menu. Some of my favorites I must try are Gambas Pil Pil, Anchovies en Boccerones, seafood paella, and, of course, the flan.