Restaurant: Brandon DiFiglio at the Villamalka
Location: The Villamalka
Date: January 23, 2016
Rating: Best “home cooked” meal I’ve had
January 23, 2015, my wife and I hosted a second annual special fund-raising dinner at our house. And given our penchant for details, things were bound to be off the charts epic. Last year was a blast, so we had really high standards and wondered how to take it to the next level…
Our “solution” was Chef Brandon DiFiglio (right), formerly head chef of Maude, and before that at elBuli, the French Laundry and more! Brandon (and I) came up with a staggering menu, and then he worked like a dervish all week brewing up a storm of components to generate this amazing meal. Brandon is a highly technical chef with a passion for combinations and textures. There were literally hundreds of ingredients. When he arrived at 10 in the morning the day of the party his entire car was packed with them! And so soon was our kitchen.
I might like modernism in my food, but when it comes to the decorative arts my wife and I agree things have been on a downhill slope since the mob stormed Versailles. We’re both history buffs and have gone to some length to recreate the fantasy of a 1730s Italian villa. So, in that vein, guests are welcomed into the Chinoiserie Drawing Room for champagne and snacks.
NV Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée. AG 94. The NV Grande Cuvée is absolutely stellar. This is one of the very best Grande Cuvées I can remember tasting. The flavors are bright, focused and beautifully delineated throughout, all of which make me think the wine will age well for many, many years. Lemon peel, white flowers, crisp pears, smoke and crushed rocks race across the palate in a vibrant, tense Champagne that epitomizes finesse. This release is based on the 2005 vintage and was disgorged in winter 2012/2013. The blend is: 44% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 19% Meunier.
Smoked Salmon Toastie, smoked salmon & cream cheese, everthing bagel crumble.
Malt Pain Perdu, salmon roe, crème fraîche, fingerlime, chive.
NV Pierre Gerbais Champagne L’Originale. 92 points. Strange to be 100% Pinot Blanc; waxy richness, full, seemingly vanilla; firm palate, long finish, big mid palate; different.
Artichoke Croquette, liquid center.
Gougere, french pâte à choux, carmelized sunchoke puree filling.
The table is set, and with Riedel Sommelier stems too, as it should be. The walls of the dining room were painted by my mother from photos we took in Italy.
All wines are from my cellar and served by 2/3 Master Sommelier Chris Lavin. By 2/3, I mean he’s passed 2 out of the 3 of those torturous tests detailed in the Somm documentary. Which really means he’s an amazing Sommelier.
This year, I just sent Chris off to browse my cellar (virtually) and he picked 2 wines per course to pair — a massive volume and some phenomenal pairings.
2013 Prager Grüner Veltliner Stockkultur Smaragd Achleiten.
2010 Borgo del Tiglio (Nicola Manferrari) Collio Studio di Bianco. AG 95. Weightless, crystalline and pure, the 2010 Studio di Bianco appears to float on the palate. White pear, crushed rocks, oyster shells and lime jump from the glass. A beautifully delineated, vibrant wine, the 2010 captures the best qualities of the year. Stylistically, the 2010 is brighter and more focused than the 2011, with a bit less body but more sheer drive and personality. What a gorgeous wine this is.
Cauliflower Custard, cauliflower cous cous & chips, curry foam, raisin & almond soil. An awesome start to this awesome culinary journey.
2004 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune. AG 95. Pale, bright yellow. Ripe pineapple, liquid stone and exotic honey on the nose, with a spicy lift that suggests an oak influence this wine does not possess. On entry, this is sweeter and creamier than the Frederic Emile, but it livens up quickly in the middle, showing powerful minerality and sharply delineated flavors of liquid stone, pineapple and citrus peel. Still, this conveys a distinctly glyceral impression that suggests more sweetness than its 5 grams of residual sugar, no doubt a function of the 20% or so botrytized berries (in contrast to the Frederic Emile, which included no botrytis). Communicates an impression of power with elegance, finishing minerally and long but not austere. Pierre Trimbach compared this wine to the estate’s great 1990. This is already showing more Rosacker terroir than riesling character. About 9,000 bottles were made from 1.5 hectares of vines.
2011 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Bruck. 96 points. First beautiful straw chablis like color, nose of oil can like and lead pencil, the finish is very long smooth and lasting for over a minute. Awesome wine.
Cured Ocean Trout, crisp ocean trout, radish, wasabi. This dish was amazing. Sashimi grade fish and fabulous bright flavors.
2005 Luneau-Papin / Domaine Pierre de la Grange Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Le “L” d’Or. VC 94. Opens nice and light, saline, with that curious note you often get in older Muscadet that suggests oxidation, but goes away with some air time. Elegant, refined, medium-light bodied; not a ton of depth and complexity, but well-integrated and health-giving. A good bottle.
2012 Domaine Comte Abbatucci Cuvée Collection Général de la Révolution. 92 points. Full yellow. This was also a large scaled white wine but not nearly as satisfying as the Diplomate d’Empire. For one, it has an underlying core of oxidation.
Beet Salad, glazed, roasted, chip, merengue, salted, paper, Lenora cheese, hazelnut. Tasted like a great beat and goat cheese salad — but super interesting and complex testimonies.
2011 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Saarburger Rausch Riesling “Diabas”. 92 points. Justin brought this because he knows I like it. As usual, very crisp and precise on the nose – light and pure: powdered stone, light citrus. Gentle now with just the right touch of sweetness to round it out a bit while still having it stay exciting. Lemon and stone, nice balance. This is great. Spicy nose: cinnamon, nutmeg, petrol and apple. Quite dry on the palate. Gentle, balanced, spicy with good acid. Apple. Apple/spice finish.
2009 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese. VC 96. Tantalizing aromas of papaya, sweet herbs and incense. A discreet but intense apricot flavor rises from the mid-palate, accompanied by a subtle acidity. Animated, finely spiced spatlese with a deep, long finish.
Tuna, avocado, kimchi pear, puffed rice, lime. A nice deconstructed tuna/avocado dish.
2007 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro. 96 points. Still amazing. Today it showed more cumin herbal notes, anise, black licorice, and orange peel. Still powerful, integrated, complex, and dynamic in the glass.
2010 Azienda Agricola Montevetrano Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT. AG 96. The 2010 Montevetrano is flat-out gorgeous. Vibrant, floral aromatics lead to layers of beautifully delineated fruit in this finely sculpted chiseled Montevetrano. A wine of extraordinary beauty, the 2010 impresses for its clarity and nuance. I don’t think I have ever tasted a young Montevetrano with this much pure silkiness and finesse. There is a level of precision and delineation in the 2010 that is truly marvelous. I can’t wait to see how it ages. The 2010 is also notable for a much higher percentage of Aglianico (30%) than has been common in the past, while the international varieties are less prominent in the blend. In 2010 Montevetrano is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Aglianico and 20% Merlot, which means the Cabernet Sauvignon now plays a much smaller role in the blend.
Carrot and Smoked Parsnip Soup, carrot crumble, herb puree. A smokey / interesting complex soup.
1985 Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet. 88 points. A little tired, but not oxidized at all. In great shape considering it’s 30+ year old Chardonnay!
1995 Pierre Morey Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières. 96 points. Liquid butterscotch. Arguably WOTN. Just an amazing MP, drinking on point.
Challah Crusted Branzino, parsley, saffron, whipped tofu. This dish was an 11. The fish was incredibly moist and soft, and the blend of the pseudo chili sauce with the cool parsley and interestingly sweet tofu were awesome.
2000 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. 94 points. Light in colour with cherry, stalks, floral spice and musk – really quite bright and appealing. So refined on the palate, this steps it up to the next level. Beautifully layered and with great depth. Superb – an effortlessly great wine. The other contender for WOTN.
2001 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. VM 95. Saturated red-ruby. Explosive, superripe aromas of black raspberry, boysenberry, black olive tapenade, licorice, coffee and smoked meat. Wonderfully opulent and voluptuous in the mouth, with a texture like liquid silk. Coats your mouth, cheeks and whatever other surfaces it can find. Finishes with extraordinarily fine tannins and great sweetness and persistence. The best bottle of Pavillon I’ve tasted in at least a decade.
Toasted Bread Cavatelli, cured tuna heart, zucchini purée, braised little gem. Awesome chewy texture on the pasta.
1999 Forey Père et Fils Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Gaudichots. AG 90. Medium ruby. Nuanced aromas of raspberry, Oriental spices, espresso and mint. Powerful, closed and severe in the mouth; boasts strong fruit but comes across as rather dry today. Finishes with huge tannins but also very persistent dark fruit flavors. My score assumes that this wine will benefit from another four or five months in barrel.
2002 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts. Burghound 92+. More elegant and finer than the Brulées though this doesn’t have the raw muscle, spicy exuberance or power. As is usually the case, there is an appealing note of minerality on both the nose and the slightly chalky, sappy, very stylish flavors that build in intensity to an astonishingly long finish. This too is blessed with impeccable balance and undeniable class.
Hen Egg, baked potato. This basically tasted like baked potato. The egg added a lovely richness, but there was also sour cream and the like. Really nice.
2004 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Le Brunate. AG 92. There is notable clarity and detail to be found in the 2004 Barolo Le Brunate. The wine possesses lovely density and richness, with very typical balsamic aromas and flavors that swirl around the dark fruit. This shows terrific purity and balance, yet the firm style will require quite a bit of patience.
2004 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. AG 98. Just as impressive as it was at the outset, the 2004 Barolo Cannubi Boschis remains fresh, vibrant and absolutely impeccable. Black cherries, plums, spices meld into mocha, menthol and leather as this plush, inviting Barolo shows off its alluring personality. As good as the 2004 is today, it truthfully still needs time to show all of its cards. The towering, statuesque finish is a thing of beauty. I hope to do a vertical someday with the 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 just to see how the vintages stack up. There is little doubt the 2004 is one of the best vintages of the Cannubi Boschis in recent memory.
Crisp Salmon, liquid center polenta, caper, cured egg, truffle. The gnocchi here are “sphereized” in the elBuli style.
1995 Louis Jadot Echezeaux. 92 points. Impressive deep ruby-red. Perfumed, slightly candied aromas of red berries and smoky, charred oak. Supple and sweet, but a wine of only moderate intensity. Finishes with slightly dry tannins.
2002 Louis Jadot Echezeaux. Burghound 93. Strong oak spice presently dominates the nose with round, sweet, rich and impressively complex flavors that deliver stunning length. This is quite a powerful wine yet there is almost no rusticity and I very much like the obviously high quality material. As with several wines in the range, my score awards the benefit of the doubt regarding the oak.
Australian Barramundi, ramen gnocchi, mushroom consommé, pickled fungus. Super yummy smoky consommé.
2007 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc Le Méal. AG 94. Pale greenish gold. Orange, pear, hazelnut, sweet butter, truffle and minerals on the nose, with a slow-building floral quality; like a serious Chassagne-Montrachet. Palate-staining sweet citrus and orchard fruit flavors are underscored by smoky minerals and talc. The minerality seems to gain power on the finish, which is strikingly pure, focused and persistent. More energetic than the l’Oree, and in need of more patience.
1989 Troplong-Mondot. Parker 96. The 1989 Troplong-Mondot is an extraordinary wine. It is slightly less evolved than the 1990, with more muscle and tannin, but equally rich and compelling. The color is an opaque dark ruby/purple, and the wine offers up aromas of licorice, prunes, black cherries, and sweet cassis fruit intermingled with high quality toasty new oak and smoke. This is a full-bodied, rich, layered, concentrated wine that should evolve more slowly than the 1990. It is a spectacular achievement in this vintage!
2000 La Fleur de Gay. Parker 94-95. I have always thought this was the best Fleur de Gay since the 1989 and 1990, and it showed extremely well in the 2000 horizontal tastings. Dense ruby/purple, with notes of melted caramel and mocha, along with raspberry and blueberry, the wine has that endearing combination of elegance and power. Layered and multi-dimensional, with silky, sweet tannins, the wine seems to have hit full maturity, where it should last for another 20 or more years. This is a beautiful wine.
Cheese plate. Not only were all four cheeses great (We made a family outing of tasting — I mean selecting — them at Andrew’s Cheese Shop), but the chefs arranged and decorated to great effect. The plate is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen!
Grapefruit Mousse. As a palette cleanser.
1946 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Convento Selección. Parker 100! The 1946 Don PX Convento Seleccion produced with Pedro Ximenez grapes dehydrated under the sun at the time of the Second World War, was only bottled in September 2011. This is an extreme wine, my first descriptor was ultra-mega-super concentrated. It is unbelievably powerful, both in the nose and the palate, full of umami, with sweet cinnamon, Christmas cake, camphor, petrol, lemongrass, Belgian chocolate and butter. Incredibly complex and rich, sweet, balanced and smooth in the palate, it is both very sweet and somehow salty, and with time it develops a black olive note. It combines the texture of the 1962 and the elegance of the 1949. It is as decadent as it gets. 825 bottles were produced. This wine will survive all of us. These wines are kept for generations and offered in very small quantities, but it’s amazing that you can still buy and drink something so old, and I’m even tempted to say that it might represent good value for what it is. A real tour de force sweet wine. Drink it if you ever have the privilege to do so from 2013-2060.
Comes in a cool box too — with a vial of the stuff for “sampling.”
Blood Orange Cheesecake. Very much deconstructed cheesecake. Tastes like it too.
Black Forest. Deconstructed black forest cake. Yummy! You dig down to get all the elements.
Gelatti, chocolate grapefruit, szechuan peppercorn.
Sorbetti, blood orange campari, blackberry madeira.
I made these myself for the dinner. You readers might not know, but I’m fairly serious about my gelato/sorbeto fetish. I’ve made perhaps 70 flavors. These were all interesting and quite excellent. Most are my own variants/inventions. The chocolate grapefruit has an awesome creamy texture. Somehow it tastes like chocolate orange, even though it was infused with grapefruit rind. The szechuan peppercorn is my unique creation and was actually rather incredible with a spicy citrus character and a bit of mala numbing heat. The blood orange is tangy and bitter and refreshing, and the blackberry madeira uses the fabulous Bual from Marcel Vigneron!
They even blend well together.
Mignardises. pate de fruits, macarons, nougat, brigadeiros. I love these little desserts, so we sourced all this stuff ourselves.
Roy Rene Nougat de Provence, flavored with honey and lavender.
Francois Doucet, Pate de Fruits. apricots, “Orangés de Provence” and pear “William des Hautes Alpes”.
Brigadeiros, Brazilian chocolate/dulce de leche deserts in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla coconut, pistachio, and lime. Sourced from Simply Brigadeiro.
Macarons from ‘Lette Macarons. Chocolate, vanilla, coconut, raspberry, and almond.
Bundt cakes to go from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Can’t have a truly epic dinner without “parting gifts.”
7.5 hours — 28 bottles for 18 people!
But what was really epic was the length. Over 7 hours for dinner! A marathon of gluttony, but everyone had a fabulous time. Brandon’s cooking was on point and inventive, and no one went home hungry. In fact, the “wafer thin mint” joke was bandied about more than once.
Everything was amazing, and we ironed out a few kinks from last year. But the food was just crazy good. I was staggered at how efficiently Brandon and his team (who only met that day) were able to churn out so many complicated dishes. A lot of it was due to Brandon’s multi-day prep. And they really tasted great. There wasn’t a miss amoung them. Probably the “worse” was about an 8 on the 10 scale. Some, like the Branzino, were 11s. Just really interesting and memorable.
The wine pairings were really amazing too. These weren’t always the easiest dishes to pair with — modernist cooking can be tough — but Chris pulled all sorts of unusual stuff out of the cellar and all were dead on.
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