Monday, September 21, 2015

Pâte de Fruit

I am often a curmudgeon on my days off. I adore my line of work, and am un-sarcastically living my dream. That being said, sometimes the act of working a full week on the floor of the bar leaves me feeling spent emotionally.

It takes something out of the ordinary to bring me back to reality. Nothing expensive or lavish, just a little thing to treat myself.

This Tuesday I was beat down, but feeling better after Julie and I had Guadalupana for lunch. I was feeling better, but I needed something else.

I needed candy.

Not just any candy, but candy made by the brightest minds of our generation. I needed candy made with the bleeding edge of science that pushes the limits of deliciousness into unimaginable higher planes of epicurean enlightenment.

I am not talking about drugs.

Just admit it: candy is fucking great. Everyone in the world has had a moment where they felt down, someone gave you something sweet, and you felt better. When you’re a little kid, you don’t have the resources to get candy yourself, you have to beg. But as an adult, saying to yourself “I’m going to get in my car for the sole purpose of getting candy”, is just exhilarating. What kind of candy do you want? You’re a grownup, and you can get any candy you feel like. I am done begging for candy. I’ve spent 12 years of my life in the service industry so that when I feel like it, I can obtain the most horrifyingly delicious candy the world has ever seen. Candy you’d be scared to speak it’s name aloud. Candy that would make my younger self weep uncontrollably from the crushing and incomprehensible satisfaction it would cause.

Legally speaking I am considered a grownup.

I had to think hard for the candy I wanted most in the world. Price? No object. Caloric value? Sky is the limit. Rarity? I’m prepared to get on an airplane for the right nugget of sugar. I’ll say it again: I am a grownup, and I will have candy. My mental well being is at stake here, and I will pull a knife on a stranger if it means getting the perfect bite of candy.

Luckily Common Bond was just right down the street.

I knew they had sweet stuff but it took a second for me to remember: an instagram photo of Christine Au packaging one of my favorite things in the whole goddamn universe.

I wanted Pate de Fruit.

When I first started formally working with Justin and Karen, Karen’s Mignardises always fascinated me. Mignardises are like dessert dessert, a smaller, more final sweet thing after your actual dessert. This is how I came to love Caneles (tiny little cakes that taste good as fuck), and this is how I came to love Pate de Fruit. What is Pate de Fruit? It literally translates to “fruit paste”, a vulgar phrase to denote what is essentially a tiny, edible happy feeling. When I first discovered this, I would receive one every year or so, whenever Karen felt like making them. Now that there’s nothing to regulate my consumption, I’m in danger from choking to death from eating them too fast- like a puppy.

Pate de Fruit will make you throw your gummi bears in the trash.

The fastest analogy I can use to describe Pate de Fruit is really, really good gummi. People are weird and devoted to certain types of gummi: bears, worms, sharks, brite crawlers, peachy-O’s, etc. Pate de Fruit doesn’t need to take the form of cute animal or even a novel shape beyond just a block. It’s just a fucking block. It tastes so good that it doesn’t have time to try and catch your attention with a fun shape. Pate de Fruit knows that it is delicious, and doesn’t need your validation. I see a bag of brite crawlers and I pity their zany desperation.

All confection shops should be legally forced to sell Pate de Fruit.

They had two flavors: Blood Orange Vanilla, and Peach Vanilla. They taste like hyperreal expressions of their base fruit. Like a nuclear holocaust of peach goodness, its interior transparent like a jewel, with tiny black flecks of real vanilla pulp. This is so much better than one of my childhood gummi favorites, Peachy-O’s that I fantasize about breaking into the Ferrara Candy CEO’s house in the night, and threating them with a machete. I imagine I’d only be able to hiss rhetorical accusations like “Who do you think you are?” and “What gives you the right?”. I bite into the blood orange pate de fruits, and they’re so good I can’t even picture my gummi revenge fantasy anymore. I’m just going to eat candy with Julie in this refreshingly chilly bakery until I slip into a diabetic coma. At this point, Brad Wilcox will brew a pot of strong, spicy black tea, and pour it on my face to revive me. There will be no need to summon the paramedics.

I cannot overstate the unreal decadence of Pate de Fruit.

I refuse to believe that humans invented Pate de Fruit without the help of aliens or perhaps time travel. It just doesn’t make sense. The perfection of its squishy texture, the bracing clarity of fruit flavor. People say things like, “thing X is so tasty it feels wrong.” But I actually fear for my safety when I eat it. It feels like candy that only royalty would have access to. As I make my way through the box, I mentally prepare for a SWAT team to kick down the door, taser me, throw a black bag over my head and drag me to a dungeon where I’d waste away. The Pate de Fruits would be brought back to their rightful owner, some Russian oligarch on a yacht with his shirt unbuttoned, breathing heavily. It never happens, and I sigh with relief through a mouthful of candy.

Pate de Fruit is not expensive.

The true price of an object is how much someone is willing to pay for it. In my case, Pate de Fruit is extremely valuable since I’m willing to kill for them. This was never necessary, as Common bond sells a smartly packaged little box for five dollars. Five dollars is a steal for what those ten perfect little blocks of pleasure hold for your mouth. To get more enjoyment out of such a small container you will have to buy drugs.

Say no to drugs.

Isn’t that what mignardises (and thus, pate de fruits) are about anyway? Because you can’t deal with dinner coming to a screeching halt after dessert, we create another, smaller dessert. It feels like escapism to me- I don’t want this meal to end, please keep bringing me candies, I’m not ready to return to the wasteland of reality. Surely I’m not the first person to ask: what’s to stop us from having something after the mignardises? Why do we waste time on Mignardises that are not Pate de Fruit? How are other sweets considered superior? Can you put alcohol in Pate de Fruit? Would we be able to air drop crates full of Pate de Fruit in wartorn regions of the globe to promote peace?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. The world is full of mysteries. Go to Common Bond and eat their Pate de Fruit.

Monday, January 13, 2014


A while back, my friend Wiley asked me if I could pen a political manifesto for him. I didn't get as far as a full-fledged manifesto, but hopefully this letter convinces you to donate to his cause. You would probably know him from his street art projects all over Houston.

Dear Resident,

The world is a cruel and hideous place. What remains of our cherished democracy is run by special interests and corrupt politicians. Perhaps its impossible to imagine a human left alive who has retained their integrity, one who hasn’t been seduced into selling their principles for money or power. Many of us have forgotten the promise of the American dream, and we are taunted by its caricature in our children’s social studies textbooks. Sometimes it’s enough to drive a good person completely insane. I beseech you to take that pistol out of your mouth, friend. There is a beacon of hope in the gloom, and his name is Wiley.

 Wiley has arrived to bring America back to its former glory.  Wiley hates problems and will eradicate them with a vengeance. Wiley is a legendary peacemaker and team builder. He will roll up his sleeves and confidently do away with whatever is upsetting you at this exact moment. Wiley will clean up your neighborhood and drive the drug dealers out. Unless you like drugs, in which case Wiley will use taxpayer money to give you drugs for free. Wiley will create a complex and beautiful bureaucratic system to satisfy drug lovers and opponents simultaneously. Maybe you don’t see how it could be possible, because you do not possess the staggering genius that Wiley wields like a giant golden samurai sword, gleaming in the sun. Wiley will make sure you do not feel self conscious about being less intelligent than he is. He will give you a hypoallergenic puppy and you will forget why you are upset.

Do you hang your head in shame at the sick, twisted future you’ve created for your children? Wiley will make it better. He will drink the poison from the rivers, and breathe deep the smog blanketing your impossible, sprawling metropolis. He will consume your mistakes, and excrete precious metals that have great scientific utility. Or in the case of the smog, Wiley will exhale a decadent cloud of potpourri that will also cure asthma in chronic sufferers. Wiley’s body chemistry doesn’t work like yours. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what Wiley is, but what is clear to us is that he is thousands of years old, and smells like freshly cut cucumbers at all times.

Wiley despises war, unless you like war, then Wiley is totally into war. Wiley will wipe the Middle East off the face of the earth in a nuclear holocaust. Or he could bring the war torn peoples together under the same roof, and host an imperial banquet, where enemies would throw their arms around each other, feast on otherworldly delights, and sing ancient drinking songs well into the morning- with a newfound understanding of love and compassion for their fellow man. Or he could create a virus that kills incredibly specific swaths of the human race. Wiley could engineer a virus that kills only people with blonde hair, or a nerve gas that only paralyzes Christians. People would vomit in horror and disgust at the ease and speed with which Wiley could end the human race. Or they would totally ask for his quiche recipe at a church fundraiser in a poor third world neighborhood. Wiley would build playgrounds with the money he raised from puppet shows and Baklava eating contests at this church fundraiser. Wiley’s humanitarian efforts would make the Peace Corps look like a fucking joke. Or he would go down in history as the most horrifying and insane mass murderer that walked the earth. It’s really whatever you want.

Wiley is a family man, and a man of god. Whichever god you worship, that is the one that Wiley grew up with. He was married to his wife in the church you’ve attended your entire life. Don’t get him wrong- Wiley respects all religious beliefs. But your traditions are the ones he holds closest to his heart. Wiley’s family is perfect, and closely resembles yours. Your kids don’t have time to love Wiley more than you, because they’re busy playing with the hypoallergenic Labradoodle that Wiley gave you. Even if they were self aware enough to know that they should abandon you for Wiley, Wiley would lovingly explain that normal people (you) need love too.

America needs Wiley. The world needs America to need Wiley. It is said that Wiley is the nucleus of the universe, and that all creation revolves around and originates from him. Wiley will lower your taxes, unless you would prefer that he raise them. Wiley will immediately raise your taxes, if that is what you desire.

Please vote for Wiley. Please also make a donation at our website Break into your parent’s house and steal their jewelry so that you might pawn it, and donate that money as well. Once you have emptied your bank accounts and exhausted all of your material options, please consider having sex with strangers for money that you would immediately donate to a VoteWiley representative standing outside the dirty motel room you now live in. Please also donate blood. Your blood, your children’s blood, even that drifter passed out by the dumpster (nobody will miss him). Wiley also accepts blood plasma, locks of hair longer than ten (10) inches, bone marrow, sperm, eggs, teeth in good condition, and large patches of human skin, if fresh.

In certain circumstances you may be asked to carry out tasks for Wiley under cover of darkness against his opponents. A VoteWiley representative will supply you with a security guard uniform, a duplicate keycard, and a silenced pistol. If you are captured, please use the cyanide pill that a VoteWiley representative has surgically implanted in the roof of your mouth while you were last sleeping. Under no circumstances are you to be captured alive. Please be careful as you help us build America as Wiley sees it.

Can you picture the opulence of Wiley’s America? If you concentrate hard, perhaps you can see the mountains of treasure that you will dreamily lounge on.  Can you see your palace that you purchased in cash earned from an unprecedented economic boom? Can you feel the warm glow of accomplishment, from knowing you played a role in ushering a new era of prosperity? Imagine the riot of joy as Wiley walks out onto the court and pitches the first ball of the sportsmatch to celebrate the oncoming eternal utopia! Can you hear the wails of the doubters, the naysayers, as they sob uncontrollably, digging their own graves at gunpoint? Isn’t it beautiful?

Vote for Wiley.

-Justin Vann
Senior Campaign Manager for VoteWiley

Saturday, January 4, 2014


            The world is being torn apart, as far as you can tell from twitter. In Cairo, the streets are drenched in gallons of blood, spent shell casings, and the dead. Far away from the horror in Egypt, you swerve to avoid killing a bicycle courier in the rain, and you spill painfully hot coffee on your inner thigh. You can tell it was brewed too hot, a pity considering this is Esmeralda Gesha that the roaster would be furious to know was being mistreated. You’re on your way to a big wine tasting. Perhaps it’s the coffee that’s making your heart race, but you know better.

The notion of interacting with hundreds of other wine professionals is making you feel nauseous.

            It fills you with dull panic, with a gentle hum of anxiety. You come to a stoplight and look at the beautiful flowers the city planted in the median. You note the attention to detail, right down to the crushed oyster shells that surround the flowerbed. You would never know that the landscaping company gets much of their products from overseas. The crushed oyster shells came from Sudan, but they aren’t actually oyster shells. They’re human teeth. You will never learn this truth, because you’re counting the syllables in your boilerplate answer to “Hey man how’s it going?”

            In the hotel ballroom, salespeople will grab you and enthusiastically drag you to a table full of their wine, the way a coyote might drag a mortally wounded, struggling calf. You HAVE to try this Manzanilla Pasada. This petillant Naturel Pineau D’Aunis. This Carbonic Macerated Nerello Mascalese. You will try them, and you will let them talk to you about the slope of the vineyards. They will tell you the story of the soil, the majesty of great tangled roots stretching infinitely into the earth for a drop of water, for a sense of place. They make this wine sustainably, responsibly. They let the earth guide their hand, and coo into their ear softly. When our earth mother has made physiological ripeness known to us, the vineyard workers gently pluck the grapes under cover of darkness, and gently wipe the dew away. They set only the finest clusters in ancient hand-woven baskets, gently.

            The national sales manager for a company that sells wine with cute animal names like “Wild Weasel” and “Sidewinder” will pause, choking on tears, on the beauty, the enormity of it all. You too will choke on your true feelings, and out of respect, you will not express them. The truth is you don’t care.

            The truth is that you only care about what produces results. If dumping boiling hot liquid mercury into the soil made the wine taste better you would do it. If you had to stick a dagger in a baby goat’s heart and pull it out to worship Satan at the stroke of midnight to save the grapes of champagne from the bitter frost of January, you’d do it. Bull’s blood was once used to filter particle matter out of red wine. Why stop there? We use the blood of our vineyard management team. Every year we bleed them out, and bury them, dying but still alive in the vineyard. Their weak death throes till the soil and allow for better aeration and drainage. The cycle of life is complete, and all that is left after centuries, is their teeth.

            You have terrible visions.  You have impulses that rise up inside of you, which you haven’t acted on, thanks to what is left of your self-control.

            You friend asks, Hey man, how’s it going? Great! I just came back from Barolo; a distributor paid for the entire trip and set my itinerary, because I sold three pallets of their second label, the one with the parrot on it. Anyway get this, I hired some manual laborers to help me salt the vineyards of the top five Barolo producers. Nothing will grow in those soils for a millennia! I got em good! Your friend will be speechless in horror, because they aren’t exactly sure what the top five vineyards in Barolo are. Not knowing the answer to a question is very shameful in your world.

            Are you going to take your next big test? What level are you? You answer something like Oh I’m a class C. You’re staring at something in the distance, and your friend is visibly flustered, is that a new system? Is that the new beer test? Mixology perhaps? I mean previous spirit exams were more focused on base ingredients, but is this more uh, mixing-centric? You remember a time when it all mattered to you this much. But now you are jaded and losing it, and this is where you wish you could just rip your dick off, limp and bloody, and hand it to them without an ounce of formality. And you would just cryptically mutter, mixology. Here are my mutilated genitals, mixology.

            You slither over to a table of California reds, the winemaker is telling you that this wine spent 18 months in new French oak, in house cooperage of course. You decide to act out, and you widen your eyes and almost shout THAT SOUNDS EXPENSIVE I’M PRETTY SURE I CAN’T AFFORD IT. You back away slowly, in mock horror. The winemaker is pleading with you; it gets down to 40 dollars a bottle by the glass.

            In your head, you’re burning down the biggest distributor warehouses, full of pallets of wine they’re either aggressively incentivized to sell, or small parcels of actual good wine that they didn’t know they had in stock anyway. It's not anyone's fault, this is just how it has to work you say, as you would place huge cans of gasoline strategically. You breathe deep in the ballroom and smile, imagining the smell of a burning warehouse full of wine. Picture a great spire of black smoke rising up from the warehouse. You imagine a swarm of police cruisers surrounding you in the parking lot and you greet the police with terrible news. Some of our stock has been heat damaged, check your orders carefully!

            You’re fantasizing about storming a dining room with a machete, snatching away iPad wine lists, and smashing them on the corner of tables. Hey asshole! I was reading that! I was looking at a map of Vosne-Romanee motherfucker, what gives you the right? You powerwalk towards the angry guest, and you’re gibbering apologies. What where you thinking with all this violence? Here you say, try this instead. You grab their hands and clasp them around a flashbang grenade, after suavely removing the spoon. This is a token of my appreciation. Please enjoy.

            You’re never going to get your moment of angry indulgence; you’ll never receive catharsis. Are you sure that your industry is broken? You seem to be the only one here that hasn’t moved in 30 minutes, you’re the only one flushed and sweating, with heart palpitations. What are you missing? Maybe you should become a brand ambassador for a liquor company. Maybe you should become a mercenary for KBR. Maybe you should stick your finger down your throat and vomit on the guy who is making sure everyone who comes to his table knows that this particular rose dessert wine is known as an “LPR”. Before he can say “liquid panty remover” you would grab him by his thin, fashionable tie, and vomit blood on him.

            A little girl holding an AK-47 is rummaging through the ruins of Muammar Gaddafi’s palace in Libya. She finds a bottle of 2001 chateau Pavie. Does she understand what it is? You are not there to explain to her that 2001 is drinking REALLY well right now. If you were there, you could help decant the wine (which is mostly Merlot, with a healthy dose of Cab Franc) into a decanter or a filthy broken coffee cup. You could tell her how the wine was recently upgrade from Premier Grand Cru Classe B to preimer grand cru classe A, a huge honor. Maybe she would be crying because at the age of five, she had been robbed of any semblance of childhood, the only reminder of happier days is a cookie monster flashlight duct-taped to her AK-47. You would lean in and comfort her, telling her that everyone knew Pavie was pretty much a class A, and she should feel better knowing that it is now formally recognized as such.

            None of this can happen though, because you are being slowly crippled by anxiety at this wine tasting in a large air conditioned hotel in North America.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Brass Knuckles

Today I bought a sensibly priced set of brass knuckles at a gun show in lieu of buying an AR-15 like I wanted to. Legally speaking it’s a solid brass paperweight that coincidentally resembles a controlled melee weapon. They feel nice on my hand, and much to my delight, I can hold a glass of wine with the same hand. A glass of 2013 Valdespino en rama sherry is the same color as the brass now, I worry that the delicate aromatics of this fragile wine are already starting to die, in step with its deepening in color. As an experiment, I transfer the glass of wine to my right hand and with my left (brass-knuckled) fist I punch my bedroom door as hard as I can. It leaves a satisfying indentation that confirms brass knuckles are really dangerous. To an outside observer this probably looks pretty crazy, but in my defense the landlord says he’s going to demolish our duplex after we move out. It’s a miracle we don’t start throwing axes through the walls, being the way we are.

I feel like the brass knuckles are quickly becoming one of those objects that will meaningfully punctuate this point in my life. Other seemingly pointless and dangerous objects serve as bookmarks in my story: the blowtorch, the saber, the flare gun. What exactly do these knuckles represent, that is the question.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Client Profile: Mala Sichuan

We’re delighted to announce that Mala Sichuan has a shiny, pretty new beverage program courtesy of PSA Wines. In contrast to our work with Paulie’s, which was a tune-up, this project was the creation of a new list from the ground up.  

Sichuan cuisine was a fascinating challenge to us, because most people don’t try very hard to pair beverages with it. The Sichuan peppercorn - which causes a tingly, palate-numbing sensation, has the ability to confound almost all wine and beer pairings. This is why few diners ever venture farther than Tsingtao lager with this cuisine. When we first learned about Mala Sichuan, we thought it would be thrilling to take a crack at pairing with this distinctive, intense style of food.

In terms of food and wine pairing, our researched indicated Sichuan cuisine was still largely an untamed wilderness. Much of the work done with pairing wine with Sichuan food was being done on a BYOB basis (as many wine and Chinese food pairings are). A Sichuan restaurant with a built-in beverage program that explicitly flattered the food was almost unheard of.

Our imagination was tingling, like we had sprinkled Sichuan Peppercorns on the surface of our brains. Someone needed to do this. We asked husband and wife team Heng and Cori if they were interested in letting us work with them. They accepted, and we did our best to not squeal like children with glee. Heng asked initially, “I like sweet wines. Are those considered good?”

Doing my best to conceal my excitement, I said “We’re gonna get along just fine, you guys.”

German Riesling with considerable sugar content was the only easy choice. Sugar and acid can tango gracefully with the peppercorn, and we settled on Leitz Dragonstone as a value-driven option to combat the hurricane of spice some 3 alarm dishes deliver. We also found a nice demi-sec vouvray from Pinon (which may change based on availability, but it’s a hell of a good producer to start with). Things get trickier when you remove sugar from the playing field. We knew champagne tested well, but we needed a more affordable option- not counting on champagne prices to work well. We summoned Treveri brut sparkling chardonnay from Washington as our sparkling wine. Finally, we rounded it out with an herbaceous, crispy Gruner Vertliner from Domane Wachau in Austria.

I was forgetting something, maybe on purpose. I tried to sneak by without a red wine. Heng and Cori insisted, and they were right to do so, I’m just stubborn. We brought in a cru Beaujolais from Jean-Paul Brun, which has intensity, but not so much tannin that it would be discombobulated by the Sichuan peppercorn.

We had wine down, but wine can’t carry a massive Sichuan meal by itself. It was time to call the loose cannon that gets results at any cost: beer.

We sighed a breath of relief that hops worked well here. A classic California IPA like Stone worked wonders across the board with the spiciest dishes, but came off a little heavy-handed with delicate dishes.

Wheat beer was the last thing we expected to work well. Convention says that wheat beer is meant for low flavor-impact dishes like salads and white meats, not so much the capsaicin avalanche that is Sichuan food. We were delighted to find out that it not only worked well, but it worked as well as IPA did. What’s more, the wheat beer showed more versatility than IPA: showing its delicate side with mild dishes, and capably wiping the palate clean when dishes got rowdy. We went with a pair of classics, Ayinger Hefeweizen from Germany, and Blanche de Bruxelles Witbier from Belgium.

The last thing we were floored to discover was how well cider worked with everything. It demonstrated stunning versatility that might be unrivaled on the list. It was the dark horse of Mala’s program. Samuel Smith’s organic Cider was a classic that we loved for this untraditional context.

More than the list, we have had so much fun teaching the staff about the new wines and beers. Cori warned before the first class, “Many of our employees speak English as their second language. You may need to slow down and let me translate at certain points.” Everyone had a good poker face for the first class, and while I was hopeful, I wasn’t sure if everyone got something from it. When differentiating between German and French pronunciations, I assured several staff members, “Don’t worry, I don’t speak French or German either. This is difficult for me too.” Cori pointed out that I spelled “Gruner Veltliner” incorrectly on the menu, proving my point.

My concerns were put to rest days later, when one of Mala’s beer reps texted me excitedly, “They reordered 3 cases of the Ayinger and one case of the stone!” When I returned later that week, bottle sales had surged. The staff was selling wine and beer, and I was bowled over by the palpable excitement of everyone about their new beverage program.

We definitely feel an emotional attachment to this project.

Not only did the owners let us in, not only did the staff pick up this incredibly complex subject matter quickly, but (most importantly) the guests have enjoyed the program immensely. Even guests who were bummed by the disappearance of certain adjunct lagers were won over by their introduction to Hefeweizen (the official favorite drink of Mala, it seems). Even guests who shun sweet wines enthusiastically enjoyed the demi-sec Vouvray.

We will continue to advise Mala Sichuan moving forward. We are so lucky to have them as a client. They are some of the nicest people we have ever met, and we are honored that they have taken us into their business.

And yes. They still serve Tsingtao, because it’s good.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Client Profile: Paulie's


So maybe this won’t come as a surprise to anybody, but PSA’s first restaurant client is Paulie’s Restaurant, over on 1834 Westheimer. It shouldn’t come as a surprise because we eat there almost daily. We adore everything about Paulie’s: the outrageously friendly and attentive staff, the fresh pasta rocked out of an extruder daily, the cookies, the coffee program tricked out by the loveable nerds at Greenway Coffee Co, the eggplant parmigiana, the osso buco that sells out in like ten minutes, and sweet jesus: those cookies. Down to the health benefits of ginger listed on the chilled carafe of ginger lemonade, it always seems like Paulie’s is thinking one step ahead.

If you’ve been looking closely you’ll notice that Paulie’s has always had a strictly Italian wine list. Italy is a great country that encapsulates just about every style of wine, and we love lists that feature a single country. We have always wondered what it would be like to work with them. As the idea of PSA came to be, the first restaurant on our mind was Paulie’s. Paul loved the idea, but was quick to note that he already has a capable wine buyer: Matt Zaldivar.

Matt works full time as one of the managers at Paulie’s. A jack of all front-of-house trades, Matt enjoys cigars with his father, plays bass really well, and is expecting a baby with his wife Amanda very soon.

Paul said, “I haven’t had to touch the list. Matt has really taken ownership of it, and brought sales up over a short time.” Matt has actually been doing fantastic work since his stewardship of Paulie’s winelist began a year ago. His original list is more impressive considering he is relatively new to the art of wine buying. We’re glad Matt was on board to work with us, because we have had a blast working with him for the past six weeks or so.

Some of the work we did with Matt, you will never see as a guest. We helped create an inventory spreadsheet and protocol for counting inventory on a regular basis. While they were doing fine without it, a precise inventory spreadsheet allows Matt to analyze his cost of goods with microscopic precision, and keep detailed records of what sells well and what doesn’t.

The part that is more pertinent to consumers is the list. Matt had already concentrated on brilliant value-centric Italian selections, our main objective was to tighten up the selection. We asked “how can we get the best selection from this category for a reasonable price?” We tapped wine portfolios from importers like Empson, Dalla Terra, Louis Dressner, Dark Star, Vias, and AI Selections for the most bleeding edge selections possible... that we could sell for under 45 dollars a bottle. It wasn’t easy, but price and limiting ourselves to just Italy made it easier (and more fun).

Here are some suggestions for how to play with the new items on the wine list:

-Pieropan Soave with any cream based pasta dish. Pieropan is perhaps the definitive benchmark producer of this wine style. The grape here is Garganega: it tastes like green tree fruit, apples, pears, with a hint of marcona almond and white flowers. It’s high acid and intense minerality will cut through the richness of Canestri alla Funghi like a chainsaw would rip through a piñata.

-Opera Dry Lambrusco with any marinara-based dish. Classic Lambrusco bears no resemblance to the sweet, evil “Riunite” plonk. Just to spell it out, Opera is a full-bodied, dry red wine that is carbonated like a champagne, and served chilled. It is one of the most versatile and overlooked Italian wine pairings, because admittedly the category of sparkling red wine is a little bizarre. We encourage you to kick routine to the curb and try this wine with spaghetti and meatballs. Or rigatoni Bolognese. Or just drink a whole bottle by itself and pass out in the street.

-Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Asti with the sugar cookies. Yes, we’re the kind of nerds to pair wine with cookies. YOLO.

-Zucca Amaro as a sidecar with espresso. Oh yes, that’s right, amaro. With this pleasantly sweet and bitter digestive available, you have something to take the edge off of the 5 espressos you should enjoy after a good meal here.

-Green Flash IPA with the legendary Bucatini all'Amatriciana. This pasta is spicy, rich, and fatty. Hops are one of the most effective and untraditional ways to beat down that spice. An alternate pairing with the Bucatini you may not have considered: Sparkling Nerello Mascalese rose. Please enjoy.

That’s all you get. We can’t tell you everything. Get in there and mix it up. Try to find a better pairing, or break the rules and pair whatever the hell you feel like.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Hold up, I though David Keck was buying wine for Paulie’s?” David Keck is in the process of writing the wine list for the Camerata wine bar next to Paulie’s. PSA is involved with Paulie’s in that we are an advisor to Matt Zaldivar in the actual restaurant. They are two separate wine programs, but the gist of this situation is this:

Paulie’s is a wine destination.

It’s only going to get better, as we continue to work with Matt on wine and beer. We are pumped to have started this relationship, and we are even more excited to see David’s wine bar, Camerata, this summer. See you there, gang.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adventures in Consulting

I don’t usually write because I want to. It’s a kind of pressure release mechanism. When I see enough things that I think are noteworthy, I weave them all into a blog and post it. Hopefully the contents don’t get me arrested. Ladies and gentlemen, I am writing this blog for you today because I have seen some things in the past few weeks.

For the first time in my life, I am working for myself. I have always been really good at focusing on a singular task, while someone else ensures the trains generally run on time. I no longer have the luxury of someone else watching over me. I am pulling wires out of my brain and rearranging them so that I might become the organized, proactive person I never was.

This new job is exhilarating. That’s a word that encapsulates fear and excitement happening concurrently. I like wine a lot. But I love talking to people about it. I knew I loved selling wine to people, to guests on a dining room floor. Now my path has taken on new dimension. I am selling wine to other wine buyers and salespeople.

Selling wine in retail is different from selling wine on a restaurant floor. On the floor, you get to see the guest taste the wine, and if you did your job, theirs eyes get wide and they tell you they love it. Retail deprives you of that moment of joy from the guest. I’ve had the discussion with people like Antonio Gianola- we like that validation, and we miss it when it’s gone. Since I left the floor at Ox, I have been hunting for that moment.

About 2 weeks ago, I held my first staff training class for a client. Easy enough, but the twist was the entire staff spoke English as their second language. The owner told me, “You talk fast and you use a lot of big words. Don’t talk like that in front of the staff. Talk very slowly, and I may ask you to stop from time to time so I can translate.” Nice. If I talk too fast I’ll lose them, and if I talk too slowly, I’ll worry they think I’m being condescending. I could not be more desperate to gain the trust of these incredibly nice people, because my destiny is now linked with theirs.

Watching people try IPA for the first time is a trip. Everybody’s face twists in agony as they experience the bitterness, and they’re turning angry eyes towards me, like I tricked them into trying this beer that sets off the evolutionary alarm bell for poison. Stammering and gesturing wildly, I defend myself, “Now try it with the food! Quick!” They reach for the food and chew, suddenly everybody’s expressions lighten. One server blurts out excitedly, “I hate the IPA less with the food!” I pound the table with my fist, causing the lazy susan to tremble, “Hate it less! I’ll take it! I told you IPA would work!” We’re all laughing hysterically. All I can think to myself is oh my god, this is actually working.

The gangly one next to me is grinning with the bottle of IPA in his hand. “You like the pairing?” I ask. He’s searching for the words, and his emphasis is wonderful, “This beer is... baDASS!” I ask him if he wants more, and he politely refuses. Later after class is done around midnight, he walks up to me and says, “I sorry I not drink very much. I only have driver’s permit. No driver license. Zero tolerance if pull over.” Then it dawns on me: I just taught a 15 year old about pairing hoppy beer with spicy food. I also introduced the staff to their new favorite drink: Hefeweizen. As for the wine program? The staff unanimously agreed that Riesling was the best pairing with the food, and my wine geek heart swelled with pride.

A dull panic grips me these days as I move my carefully sourced funds around, and watch them begin to shrink. But a roomful of heartfelt thank-yous after my first wine class broke my heart, and made me forget every ounce of stress this job has created. This is the only thing that could possibly supplant the validation I got from the guest. That feeling that I did something pure and wholesome, not for money but for the sake of making the world a better place for my favorite drink. This is what got me through the punishing 15 hour days in the beginning weeks of Oxheart. I have rediscovered my validation from a bizarre and wonderful source: my consulting clients.

I worry that maybe my master plan won’t work, that it’s all going to blow up in my face. Then I get a text from a beer rep, “Hey man! [Horizon Firestorm] reordered three cases of wheat and one case of IPA today.” I’m cheering to myself in my truck as I race back to Montrose. Across town, I’m sitting down with another client, showing them that a more prestigious wine producer that has a more delicious wine than the restaurant’s current selection that is actually cheaper. I’m helping them design an inventory spreadsheet that lets them analyze their cost of goods with surgical precision. I’m especially fond of showing people how to make more money with their existing program (in a way that doesn’t screw over the guest!).

The empty space between client meetings is filled with video brainstorming. How do we teach something that isn’t common knowledge, but make it fun to watch? This is a much more daunting task to me than writing a wine list. Many of our videos are shot in a single take, which means onlookers get to see me repeat a monologue about twenty times before I get it right (even then, I’m still looking slightly awkward). Clayton doesn’t have years of formal video editing or camera job experience, but I am floored by his ability to pick up any technical subject and master it in a matter of weeks. His custom-designed, battery-powered wireless audio setup is a marvel of engineering. I can tell he’s slightly annoyed that he hasn’t gotten to use any special effects yet (like green screen technology, helicopter mounted cameras, or slow motion). Let me assure you that when we’ve mastered our content, we will flex our technical muscles. God help me, Clayton is probably designing a bullet-time camera setup as I write this.

Many people have helped me along the way. As I said before, I am a massively disorganized person, and the fact that I even have the minimal framework of a company to announce is thanks to a lot of people. The following is a list of the people who are not formally listed on our website as collaborators.

-Thanks to Jay Rascoe for designing my first logo for me. Ultimately I let Matthew Tabor create our final logo, which is featured on the website. However Jay’s logo was a major catalyst for me actually visualizing the company, and not thinking of it as some far-away goal.  More than that, Jay has always encouraged me when I was self-conscious about my writing on Weapons Grade and now Battlesong. I would like to take this moment to encourage him in a similar fashion: Jay, you had better keep writing, because you are one of the funniest writers I’ve ever met. You could probably create an HBO series around all the insane stuff you’ve seen, and I insist you share it with the world. Jay’s blog is You should read it.

-Thanks to Bob and Paige Martin. Bob and Paige are some of the most hardcore Oxheart fans ever. When I told them my ridiculous plans, they immediately helped me secure my domain name, and confirmed that I could indeed create an LCC named “PSA Wines”. Bob has created numerous businesses, and he helped me set up the initial framework of PSA WAY faster than I could have on my own. Beyond the actual help they have given me, they have been cheerleaders for every project Justin, Karen, and I have even remotely been involved in. More than THAT, they’re a frustratingly perfect and picturesque power couple that radiates positive energy like exposed plutonium reactor rods. No seriously, downtown magazine named them in a list of badass power couples:
Also, Paige Martin is a relator in the same way that a member of SEAL Team 6 is a soldier. If you are looking at property downtown, you’d be crazy not to reach out to her:

-Finally, thanks to Justin and Karen at Oxheart. They have supported me immensely as friends and as bosses. They have lent me critical support in helping me create the framework of PSA, and then the logistical knowhow to execute it, respectively.

It’s probably too early to start thanking people, but I am already getting something amazing out of this. Thanks to everyone for helping me create my dream job out of thin air.

If you’re still reading, it means that you’ve learned well from certain movies to stick around after the credits, to catch a glimpse of a critical piece of spoiler information. So here it is: On Friday, May 31st, PSA will reveal our first restaurant client. It’s a doozy.

Love you Houston,

-Justin Vann