A Sparkling Yellow Brick Road at Pastina – 12/3/23

Pastina, Delmar, NY

Article by Ilona Weisman, Vice Chargée de Presse

Photos by William Harris, Bailli

A yellow brick road in the Capital Region leads not to The Emerald City, but to a jewel of an eatery—Chef/Owner Mike Pietrocola’s popular Italian restaurant Pastina, the scene of the Albany bailliage’s Mondiale on December 3rd.  With a name that recalls tiny star-shaped pasta, Pastina stands in Delmar’s Four Corners, a stone’s throw from yellow pavers laid down in the late nineteenth century to ease travel in horse-drawn carriages.  Local lore has it that L. Frank Baum saw the brightly hued roadwork during a trip to Albany, hence the fanciful yellow path in his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In line with the educational mission of the Société Mondiale du Vin, Vice Echanson Rob Brass came equipped with a large screen for a tutorial on Champagne and Prosecco.  We learned that Champagne starts with pressed grapes—typically pinot noir, pinot meunier or chardonnay—and a few months in a vat.  Next yeast and sugar are added, the mixture is sealed in bottles to ferment slowly and produce carbon dioxide, which in turn creates bubbles.  After some years the bottles are placed upside down and shifted 1/8 of a turn each day by a ‘riddler.’ (Here Dr. Brass’s presentation sported a photo of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler.) In a stage called ‘disgorgement’ the bottle’s neck is frozen to keep the spent yeast in place, the frozen plug then expelled under pressure.  Next ‘dosage’ adds a mixture of white wine, sugar, and brandy in formulae kept secret by each winemaker.  The bottles are corked for the last time and wired to preserve  high internal pressure that keeps Champagne effervescent. 

Prosecco by comparison is made largely from glera grapes in the charmat method, where both fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks.  The process is quicker and less costly, yielding a fruitier carbonated beverage without the biscuit and yeast flavors in Champagne.

Did shades of Oz linger beneath the surface—or behind the, uh, curtain?  Because Chef Mike, a much-admired veteran of 40 years in local kitchens, made dreams of delicately sliced prosciutto, crusty parmesan, and deep-fried green olives come true, chased by Prosecco and Aperol spritzers before dinner.  A first course of lasagna arrived in a novel presentation: sheets of pasta layered with ricotta, romano and parmesan, furled like a jelly roll, sliced in cross sections and baked in Bolognese until barely crisped edges appeared.  The first of two nebbiolos, Produttori del Barbaresco 2019 matched wits with the pasta, a full-bodied wine with violet and red berry notes seated in rocky earth. 

The second course placed a pair of seared tuna medallions on a bed of white gigante beans dressed with chives, red wine vinegar and cherry pepper juice.  Plated on a silken red backdrop of roasted bell pepper mustard, it was served up with an energetic Whitaker Mozia Grillo 2022—crisp, redolent of peach and apple with a racy streak of minerality.  The final savory course of veal loin au jus consorted with finely diced turnip prepared as one would risotto, the root vegetable a creamy foil for fork-tender meat.  Add to it Sordo Barolo “Gabutti” 2012: ripe fruit and deep garnet color, tannins tending toward sweetness.  Apple sauteed in Amarone, butter and nutmeg with Madagascar vanilla ice cream added a pleasantly melting finish paired with Zenato Amarone 2018—plum, spiced cherries and even a layer of nutmeg to complement dessert.

Notes on the Cast

Vice Echanson Provincial Hon. Joel Hodes and Chevalier de la Chaîne Rick Miller found bromance yet again, the two deep in conversation about what?  Mondialian minds want to know, though I suspect they were planning wines to bring from their respective cellars for a dinner to be held the following week by a rival wine and food group.  I’m feeling a bit like Lady Whistledown here…

Maître Rôtisseur Paul Dimm and wife Deborah, both CIA grads, joined the festivities at Pastina. The Albany Chaîne will hold its Induction Dinner on April 28th at their restaurant, the Scarlet Knife in Watervliet, New York.