10 Questions With…
Michael Nagrant, Chicago-based food writer
Apparently, Mr. Nagrant likes to eat…and talk about it. Michael Nagrant never met an organ meat he didn’t like. He hopes to meet many more. In the meantime he writes regularly about food and drink for Newcity, CS, Chicago Sun Times, and Time Out. If you are sniffing about, you may catch an article or two at Serious Eats, www.seriouseats.com. He’s also the founder/editor of Hungry magazine www.hungrymag.com.
What is the best thing you drank in the last week? What about in the last year?
Last Week: Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2007. I hate to be a cliché, but like most sommeliers and wine wonks, there is nothing better than high acid, good sweetness, and great fruit and/or minerality with the way we eat today. I was skeptical that like similar bottles with drunken snowboarding lizards on the cover that this might suck. It did not, and at 11.99 even if it had, I would have been ok.
Last Year: I know there are some folks who dig that barnyard funk in their wines, but I’m not really a Brettanomyces freak. That being said, I was lucky to have some funky La Jota 16th anniversary Cab Sav, Napa 1997 recently (that ironically Grant Achatz of Alinea put in the bottle when he stinted as a winemaker back in the day). The La Jota was crawling with wild yeast, but up against this sous vide beef, sour cherries and horseradish pudding dish, it was killer.
What do you think is the most underrated grape varietal or region? Overrated?
Overrated: F—ING merlot! No seriously, it’s a great grape. I’m so tired of everyone bad mouthing it because five million people saw Paul Giamatti opine in a Hollywood movie. Get your own schtick. Actually, I think Bordeaux, particularly high end is very much ado about nothing. Yeah, occasionally there are some bottles out there that are magnificent, but generally the market where you’re paying 10,000 dollars for a recently released vintage is a smoke and mirrors proposition fueled by the testosterone and witless one upsmanship of people with too much money. I didn’t feel one ounce of sorry for that dude who paid $156,000 for a supposed Thomas Jefferson Lafite and got schooled by wine fraud Hardy Rodenstock. That dude brought it upon himself. Instead of hoarding thousands of bottles like a drunken pirate, most of which he will never or could never drink, just so he could wank off at the glinting glass in his basement cellar, he’d have been better of with a case of good grower champagne, a tub of Harold’s fried chicken and surrounding himself with good friends on a regular basis. Spend the rest on saving the world.
Underrated: I wonder if anything’s underrated in our hypermedia driven world. People still think Malbec, which is really the Coca-Cola of South America these days, is under the radar. That being said, because of the snobbery listed above, people definitely overlook northern Michigan. Unfortunately there are still a lot of people making bad swill up there, so it gets overshadowed. I’m not saying it’s Napa or Willamette yet, but Brys Estate makes a killer Cab Franc and Pinot, Black Star Farms a great sparkling apple, Larry Mawby incredible sparklers including a beautiful Cremant D’ Alsace style called Cremant, and some dry reisling and pinot grigio from Left Foot Charley.
Who are your favorite food and wine writers?
Wine writer – Jay McInerney because he tells the stories behind wine and winemakers instead of navel gazing on his umpteenth glass of Bordeaux.
Food writer – For the same reasons, i.e. they tell stories instead of reminding you how lucky they are to have foodie expense accounts: MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman, begrudgingly Alan Richman (I can never tell if he’s being contrarian to get readers, but his recent GQ piece on Schwa shows the man can tell a story) Mike Sula of the Chicago Reader
What are your three favorite food cities?
Chicago, Montreal, New Orleans
Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago?
Spoon Thai – Lincoln Square, Hot Doug’s in Avondale, and Khan BBQ on Devon
What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?
I’m pretty sure I haven’t had it yet, but dining at Uglesich’s in New Orleans on soft shell crab and bbq oysters the week before it closed, experiencing the Thomas Keller/Grant Achatz dinner at Alinea last year, and any visit to Montreal’s Au Pied Cochon will do for now.
Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?
Sometimes I reach for each all at the same time. I try not to restrict my drink style to particulars, because I’ve learned that all three can generally match with any type of food and none is more superior than the other. If anything I’d like people to be more open minded about drinking wine with their hot dogs and beer with their four star restaurant meals, and well, bourbon, anytime.
What is the best thing about your job?
Though it means I have to work at night a lot, that I have the flexibility to spend two days a week sharing in the childcare and watching my 21 month old son.
If you had to describe yourself as a certain wine, what would it be? (i.e. Australian Shiraz – spicy, bold, and seductive. German Riesling – sometimes sweet (but hard to predict if it will be), elegant, and requiring of patience.)
Boone’s Farm – cheap and highly alcoholic. Seriously, I think it’s the best comparison though, because as you can imagine I don’t take myself too seriously and I think too many “foodies, gourmands, and wine snobs” need to loosen up. One thing you can say about Boone’s Farm is it’s always a good time.
You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?
Breakfast dim sum at Shui Wah, whatever Martin Picard wants to feed me for lunch at Au Pied de Cochon, afternoon snack tour in New Orleans, dinner in Chicago with Pizza at Pequods, Al’s beef on Taylor, and dessert at Pasticceria Natalina.