Does Jiro Dream Only of Sushi?



jiroI finally got around to watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the documentary about famed Sushi chef Jiro Ono and his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, where diners pay the equivalent of $300 for a 15 minute meal. (Jiro discourages lingering or socializing–its all about the food)

It is a well-done documentary with scrumptious shots of sushi, a behind the scenes look at a fish auction, and music by Philip Glass. But the main attraction is Jiro Ono’s character. Now 86 years old, and a perfectionist with extraordinary discipline and dedication, he still goes to work each day, detests holidays, and, despite being the best sushi chef in the world, dreams of making better sushi. His sons seem to be happily following in his footsteps.

He pours over every detail of his operation from how long fish is marinated to the placement of place mats and seating arrangements. His apprentices spend weeks learning how to slice an egg and decades perfecting a dish. He apparently has no other interests, eschews all recreation, his home life is never mentioned, his wife never appears.

He has a mission, the value of which he is absolutely sure, and each moment of his life is aimed at carrying it out. His self-certainty pervades the film. No doubt driven by an exquisite form of love, his life embodies Nietzsche’s  stirring paean to single-mindedness:

O thou, my Will! Thou change of every need, MY needfulness! Preserve me from all small victories!

Thou fatedness of my soul, which I call fate! Thou In-me! Over-me! Preserve and spare me for one great fate!

And thy last greatness, my Will, spare it for thy last–that thou mayest be inexorable IN thy victory! Ah, who hath not succumbed to his victory!

Ah, whose eye hath not bedimmed in this intoxicated twilight! Ah, whose foot hath not faltered and forgotten in victory–how to stand!– (Zarathustra, Part III, 56)

There is something to be said for having only one goal in life—a kind of simplicity and absence of doubt. Jiro enjoys the inherent  satisfaction in achieving excellence and deep although limited aesthetic appreciation. But daily life is repetitive and perhaps lacking imagination, and human relationships seem constrained and circumscribed by his singular goal.

And so the film starkly raises the question–is such a life of dedication and obsession a good life or is it too unbalanced?

I’ve been thinking about this issue for 40 years and I’m still not sure.

Nederberg Cabernet 2011 Winemaster’s Reserve Western Cape South Africa



nederbergSouth Africa makes some fine Cabernet but at the low end of the price range quality is uneven. Nederberg has two centuries of winemaking behind them but this entry level Cab is ordinary.

It does have the characteristic South African herbal quality. A mélange of eucalyptus and smoke with coffee background and red current give the nose some interest. But this is not fruit driven and suggests a lack of ripeness.

On the palate, simple cherry flavors dominate with a touch of candied sweetness, but the body is meager and the finish tart, like a new acquaintance with a bright smile and a sour disposition.

Refreshing with good acidity but the medium grain tannins grip a little  and with the burst of acidity give the wine an impression of rusticity.

This is old world winemaking—California-trained palates will find it austere. It will go well with pizza but is a little overpriced.


Score: 85

Price: $12

Alc: 14%

L.A. Cetto Zinfandel Guadalupe Valley 2011



la cettoThe Guadalupe Valley is producing some excellent wines especially in the premium price range. But the few bargain wines from that area that I’ve tasted have been uneven in quality.

L.A. Cetto is the most recognizable, large production wine brand in Mexico. They have been making affordable wines since 1928, and they have plenty of fans. But I’ve yet to taste one of their wines that was not over-ripe, and this Zin is no exception.

The nose gives raisin and dark plum with some funky earth hidden behind the tomato paste and a strong whiff of alcohol.

On the palate, prune and chocolate dominate. Yet, despite the ripeness there is plenty of acidity that makes this a lively drink. Full bodied and viscous with a peppery finish and very little tannin.

This is a stimulating wine but, then, not all stimulation is good. It’s bold and invigorating but when you give it your undivided attention the resemblance to prune juice overwhelms.

Score: 83

Price: $10

Alc: 14%

Feeling Umami



Umami Burger

The idea that there are four basic tastes—sour, salty, bitter, and sweet—was widely accepted until 2002 when the taste receptors for glutamate were discovered which gives food the flavor called “umami”. (Bacon, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and tomatos have lots of it.)

But of course this 5-taste model describes only the tastes detected by the tongue. Most of the flavors we identify in food come from aromas. Some research suggests that the average human can distinguish millions if not trillions of distinct odors, some of which emanate from food. So the range of flavors we can detect is quite large.

It is then strange that taste sensations but not flavor sensations are used extensively as metpahors. We routinely use taste sensations to describe emotions, personalities, facial expressions, etc. A person is a sourpuss, a smile is sweet, resentment is bitter, language is salty.  But we don’t describe persons as fragrant, minty or herbal. It is curious why taste rather than aroma is the source of metaphorical association.

But at any rate, now that umami is officially a taste I suppose it will eventually acquire metaphorical associations.

So what is it like to feel “umami”?


Hipsters And Food



This article in the Guardianhipster, “The end of the hipster: how flat caps and beards stopped being so cool” got me thinking about current trends in food consumption. (The article is London-centric but it translates well across the pond.)

The title of the article is misleading—it is really about how the meaning of “hipster” changes once ordinary people start to adopt hipster style (and it becomes a commodity exploited by capitalism). The real trend setters will move on to something new once their innovation is no longer a badge of distinction.

Part of contemporary hipster culture is caring about the provenance of your food and drink. If beards, flat caps, and tattoos are on the way out, will locavorism and the whole phenomenon of wanting a personal connection with what we consume go with it?

I hope not because that movement is a form of resistance to the industrial food complex, and it is important to keep up that resistance.

Has locavorism transcended the stage of “fashion trend” to become more firmly rooted in culture?

What say you hive mind?

Ingredient List for Wines?


Andrew Jeffords of Decanter Magazine has a beef:
If you add acid to a tin of tomatoes, you have to fess up. If you add acid to wine, you don’t. I want to know if a wine has had acid added to it, so that I know I am tasting a corrected industrial wine rather than a vin de terroir. It’s more serious than tomatoes!
I’m with Andrew on this. Although the list of ingredients for wine would seem to have fewer dietary consequences than for food, we should leave it up to the consumer to decide. Many wine lovers today are concerned with whether the wines they are drinking are “manipulated” or not and would prefer to know whether what they are tasting is the product of the grapes and their location or chemicals added to correct flavor.
Of course, a list of ingredients would not give you the whole picture; processes matter as much as ingredients. A wine that has undergone micro-oxygenation would not have to list oxygen as an additive. But it would be interesting to know whether sugar, acid, tannin, or color was added.
I’m not quite seeing a compelling argument against it. If you know of one let me know.



Altipiano Tempranillo NV California


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altipianoThe culture of wine signifies romance. From the idyll of the farming life, to the artisan winemaker coaxing a palette of flavors out of her grapes, to lazy, sun-drenched afternoons spent sipping wine with good friends sharing a meal, wine symbolizes the good life even if the reality of the wine business is sometimes less enchanting.

But the “personality” of the wines themselves are not always so fanciful. Some are powerful, some brooding, some ostentatious; others are severe,pert, vulgar, or pretentious. Wines present almost as much variation as the human personality, which is one reason we find them so interesting.

But then there are the wines that really do seem to capture enchantment and bottle it; with an erotic allure that brings to mind Gable and Leigh (or Scarlett Johansson and anyone)

This Tempranillo has that character.

Warm and sweetly sensuous on the palate, medium-bodied yet full and succulent. The evolution in the mouth is like a languorous, meandering, boat ride down a long river showing fruit first, then a mildly acidic phase, and turning leathery just as soft tannins ease you into a medium-length finish that shows the lingering after-flavor of cherry capped with a little milk chocolate.

The nose has complexity and focus with black cherry, pencil shavings, and earth vying for attention over subtler intimations of smoke and  new leather.

This wine is non-vintage and made from grapes from somewhere in California so it is likely to be a blend. Props to the winemaker for this lovely effort.

Altipiano Vineyard and Winery are part of San Diego’s burgeoning wine scene. Their first vintage of estate grapes—Sangiovese Brunello clone and Barbera–is now in the bottle and is being poured at their winery along with this Tempranillo and several other varietals.

(My bottle of their Sangiovese is in storage acquiring a bit more of the patina, which every good Brunello-style wine needs) If you are in San Diego it is worth a visit to their beautiful Escondido property where Peter and winemaker Denise will greet you enthusiastically and talk about their wines.

Score: 91

Price: $35

Alc: 13.4%

Budget Wine: Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tupungato Valley Mendoza

domain bousquetAnother wine that requires some patience to appreciate. It had a distracting metallic aroma when first opened that gradually dissipates as the wine aerates and was gone by day two. Otherwise simple black cherry and blackberry aromas with some green notes in the background, a hint of menthol and subtle oak. The palate opens with simple dark fruit, but strong acidity and a core of minerality give the wine a lifted quality. It is sinewy and taut, not round and full as if all the flavor is being funneled and concentrated in the mid-palate. I enjoyed this quality. The tannins were soft; the finish peppery and acid driven.

Not extraordinary but sufficiently unusual and tasty to make it worth the price.

This is winemaker Jean Bousquet’s entry level wine made from organically grown grapes.

Score: 86

Price: $9

Alc: 14%

Your Coffee and You


This is hilariouscoffee and you. Entitled “What Your Coffee Order Says About You”, the writer proceeds to identify a unique personality description for every variation on the menu at your local coffee shack.

Here is a taste:

Skinny latte

The Diet Coke of coffee. You mouth your order to barista mid-phonecall and leave in a click of Manolos, clutching venti flagon w/ left hand, little finger extended, arm crooked by designer handbag. You work in something high-powered (publishing? Finance? Fashion?) but the high-milk content of your coffee order is symptomatic of your need for comfort and escape. Incidentally, skimmed is more fattening than whole milk, so the ritual self-denial is pointless.

So what does your coffee order say about you?

Oh, probably nothing but writers need something to write about on a slow news day.


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