In honor of Mother's Day, we present Chef Steve's favorite recipe from his Mom, Anna.
BEYOND THE VOLCANO: THE WILD WINES OF CAMPANIA WINE TASTING
WHEN: May 23, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
When we called our May 23 food and wine event "Beyond the Volcano," we had a very specific volcano in mind: Mt. Vesuvius, a still active volcano that looks over the city and bay of Naples. When it comes to the classic wines of Campania (the region that claims Naples as its capital and cultural center), many people believe mistakenly that the wines are grown in and around the ancient city, in vineyards that lie near the sea and that bask in the hot Mediterranean sun. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Yes, it's true that easy-drinking grapes like Piedirosso (red) and Biancolella (white) are grown a stone's throw from the sea, often in sun-drenched coastal towns in chic Amalfi. And since most tourists and culinary travelers only make it to the coastal areas, it's only natural that they assume that Campania's wine country is limited to these jaw-droppingly scenic areas, where chic crowds enjoy some of Campania's best food and foodways.
But if you head north along the coast, past Naples, and then make a hard right on the freeway that leads up into the mountains, you soon find yourself on the other side of the volcano, where few tourists venture, party because there isn't much there to see and there's virtually no tourist infrastructure.
Beyond Mt. Vesuvius lies a plateau in the sky bordered by volcanic mountain chains on every side, although Vesuvius is the only currently active one. Here you have all the elements that you need to grow fine wine grapes and make fine wines with enormous character and nuance: Volcanic subsoils (nutrient poor and excellent for creating vines with vigor), cooler temperatures thanks to elevation, and a continuously flowing breeze that provides the ventilation you need for freshness and purity in flavor.
It's an unforgotten and wild country where there is no other industry than the wine trade. Ancient medieval villages dot the landscape here and there but in between there is only vineland. And it is here that a handful of courageous and brilliant winemakers produce Greco di Tufo (my personal favorite), Fiano d'Avellino, and Taurasi — some of Italy's best wines.
If I had an old lira note for every time someone told me these are "hot weather wines" grown at the beach, I'd be a rich man today.
$85 per person with optional $45 wine pairing
Must purchase tickets in advance. To purchase, please contact email@example.com or call 310.277.0210
Jeremy Parzen is a food and wine historian, Italian translator, rock musician, Ph.D, and— as if it wasn’t enough— author of “Do Bianchi,” a highly regarded wine blog offering readers a humanistic perspective into the world of Italian wine and food. He also happens to be our Wine Director here at Sotto. Through his writing on Do Bianchi, Parzen’s mission is to offer non-Italian speakers otherwise inaccessible insights into Italian gastronomic culture. Consider it a success; Parzen’s blog is held as a leading resource for information on Italian food and wine in the US in addition to being featured in numerous literary works, scholarly essays, and magazines such as Wine & Sprits Magazine, Gastronomica, Men’s Vogue, and La Cucina Italiana, among many others. Parzen was also named last year's “Master of Place” by Wine & Spirits magazine and is currently in the running for the Corriere della Sera “Best Wine and Spirit’s Blog” award for 2017.
As fellow Italiophiles, we are incredibly lucky and gracious to be partnering with Parzen for our monthly wine blog series. Read below for the first many thoughtful posts with unique insight, and a cogent historical perspective into cultural value of Italian wine and food
When we first opened, the availability of Southern Italian wines in California was extremely limited. Today, six years later, we are proud to have had a hand in the "new wave" of these delicious and value-driven labels.
In the years that followed the Second World War, Italy was literally in ruins and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And so was the once vibrant Italian wine industry. In the late 19th century, as phylloxera aphids decimated the vineyards of France (the Great French Wine Blight), Italy and southern Italy in particular had become Europe's fine wine growers. But the war changed all that: Nearly all wine production, save for farmers who made their own wine for personal consumption, was halted by the international conflict.
During the rebuilding of the wine trade and the replanting of the vineyards, a generation of growers followed the advice offered by French enologists and opted to go the "international" route by repopulating their vineyards with French grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but also Malbec and Chardonnay.
But a handful of courageous winemakers in the late 50s and early 1960s decided instead to replant using indigenous grape varieties of southern Italy: Aglianico, Casavecchia, Greco, Fiano, Pallagrello, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Nerello, Nero d'Avola, Frappato, etc. Another generation would have to adolesce before wine lovers began to take note of these wonderful varieties and the gorgeous wines they deliver. But even after the "renaissance" of Southern Italian wine began to take shape, few in the U.S. took note and even fewer appreciated the caliber and quality of these excellent wines.
When we first opened Sotto six years ago, we had guests who were nonplussed by our wine list.
"Where are your Tuscan wines? Your Chianti?" they would say. "Where's your Barolo? I don't drink Southern Italian wine."
It took some time and some patient hand-holding. But it didn't take long before diners started to appreciate these excellent value-driven wines, red and white.
Although the wine program at Sotto was initially devoted exclusively to Southern Italy when we first opened, we've strayed from that formula over the years. Notable "featured" regions have included Friuli, Liguria, and most recently, Piedmont "Anything but Barolo and Barbaresco," a focus on wines beyond the region's most famous.
As we head into our sixth year, we've decided to return to our original mission of sharing the joy and value of Southern Italian wines with our guests. When we first opened, many of the wines on our list today weren't available in California. And we are proud to have had a hand in bringing some of our most exciting labels to the state for the first time. Now, more than ever, Southern Italian wines are enjoying a renaissance among wine lovers throughout the U.S. We're thrilled to have been part of that movement and we're eager to get back to our roots.
When we decided to open Sotto in 2011, it was never a question that we were going to focus on Neapolitan pizza. Since Naples is located in Southern Italy, we decided to focus on true Neapolitan pizza and celebrate the regions of Campania, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata, and Calabria.
At the time, we were proud to have one of the first Neapolitan wood-burning pizza ovens in Los Angeles. Also, our oven was one of only ten ovens built by Stefano Ferrara onsite in the United States.
In honor of National Pizza Month, here is a look back at how our 15,000-pound oven made it into our little underground space on Pico Blvd.
Chef Steve Samson with Stefano Ferrara (and his wife Francesca) in his studio.
And on the 7th Day...
Yes, it took Stefano Ferrara 7 days to build Sotto's pizza oven. That's not including the two-day wait to replace broken pieces that had to be overnighted on a Fed-Ex plane. Here’s a recap of how it all went down:
Day 1: 15,000 pounds of equipment and supplies from Naples were imported into Los Angeles. We could barely watch as the truck almost tipped over.
Day 2: Stefano and his apprentice, Enzo, worked non-stop. This was taken at 2:10am.
Day 3: Stefano worked in a cramped space with low ceilings. His back was killing him but he stayed on task.
Day 4: Because of our low ceilings, Stefano had to build a custom external dome which makes the Sotto oven a real original.
Day 7: Ready to burn. We started treating the oven by burning it every day for a month. The week we opened, the oven was still sweating from all the moisture still held within it's walls.
Here we are five and a half years later, so lucky to continue to burn our oven every single night.
Laureano was working in a theater in Santa Monica five years ago when his friend, Anna, called him to come work at a new restaurant in Beverly Hills, Sotto. He has been the resident dishwasher at Sotto ever since.
He was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and loves Salvadorian food... he says the best Salvadorian food in Los Angeles is at Los Molcajetes (located at Hoover and 7th). He also enjoys going to Alahambra to eat a lot of Chinese food.
He has a tattoo on his arm of a flower and the word "Margarita"... which was for an ex girlfriend in La Paz!
Laureano is constantly snacking on crickets and brings them into Sotto for the rest of the team to snack on.
He loves Winchells Coffee and when he goes he will bring home chocolate doughnuts for his two little grandsons to eat.
Born and raised in a small rural town in Washington state alongside little farm animals and a half acre garden, Brynn was around nature and beautiful produce her whole life. As a kid she used to experiment with making natural perfumes and concoctions, which she now realizes was her own form of mixology. Luckily, Brynn has brought her talents to the big city, where she enjoys cooking, bad reality TV and A LOT of Britney Spears... Just to give you an idea, Brynn has seen Britney in concert 14 times "and counting!" She also has a pretty awesome Bartending blog, check it out here
Q: HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO MIXOLOGY?
"I got into mixology by responding to a Craigslist ad when I was unemployed that read "Want to learn exciting and new bar techniques and work for a growing restaurant group?". The next thing I knew I was at Rivera with all the best bartenders in the city one being Julian Cox and the rest is history! I really enjoyed the showmanship and fancynessof the way the bar veterans bartended. I had never seen it before!"
Q: WHAT COCKTAIL CREATIONS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
"I am proud of all my cocktails... it is like saying one of your kids is your favorite! That being said, I do like a nice Tequila aromatic and always love making delicious dessert cocktails"
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST UNDERRATED SPIRIT AT THE SOTTO BAR?
"Definitely Amari. It is a personal goal of mine to teach people how amazing and special amaro can be. I am very inspired by the different flavors in every different amaro, it is endless inspiration. I make it a point to put them in a lot of my cocktails so that I can teach my guests about it and so they can really enjoy and be transported to what Italy tastes and feels like. Well at least that is my goal!"
Q: IF YOU WERE A COCKTAIL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
"If I was a cocktail I would be a Spritz! Something like the Bitter Bubbly on my recent cocktail list... easy going, bubbly, complex, refreshing with a touch of bitterness. Ha!"
Q: WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING IF YOU WEREN'T BARTENDING?
"If I weren't a bartender I would be so sad! I really like making drinks, hosting people and making sure that they have a great, one of a kind experience that they will remember forever! I would probably still be auditioning and struggling as an actor so I am really lucky that I found my calling. I love that mixology gives me the opportunity to be creative and I am kind of putting on a private show for my guests. I can still be somewhat of a ham!"
Meet Skylar Hughes. You may have seen him in an art gallery, walking on the streets of Silverlake, or with a pen and notepad taking your order at Sotto. Many people like working in restaurants because they meet interesting people— many of whom are working to support their dream. Skylar is one of them, and he has brought this dream into Sotto as the creator and curator of the restaurant’s art. Traditionally a painter, Skylar had the idea to experiment with collage as he played around with the idea of layers, the old and the new, and the middle ground between representation and abstraction.
“Collage works well for this project because it draws on different images and inspirations to make something new. Chef Steve has done a great job of translating traditional dishes of the region and bringing them into a contemporary environment. Sotto is an invitation into that great line of tradition— these collages are meant to do the same.”
The backgrounds to these collages are paintings by notable Italian artists including Pontormo and Giotto that Skylar actually had the opportunity to see while studying painting and art history in Italy
“I don‘t expect people to be able to identify these images, most won‘t. They are just meant to be accessible and striking images that ground the work in a historical context, a nod to the past to show that we know where we come from and that we are moving things on down the line. That idea speaks to the cuisine, wine, and cocktail programs at Sotto, which celebrates Southern Italy through honest expression.”
"The actual collage elements come from many sources: books, magazines, packing materials, etc.— all found in second hand shops and flea markets. I draw and paint directly onto the materials and then flip them over so that the impression of the ink that has bled through is face up, therefore showing the “below“ or “beneath“ side of the image— the “Sotto” side (in Italian). This technique was discovered as a kind of happy accident in the studio when I dropped one of the drawn pieces and it landed upside down.”
"Sotto is very much a family. We work, eat, and spend a lot of time together. Everyone has a role based on their strength and has been given the opportunity to cultivate those talents. This is mine."
A native of South Central Los Angeles, Juan has cooking in his blood. The oldest of three kids, he grew up helping his mom and cooking for his little sisters. The whole house was always filled the aromas of the Mexican comfort food his mother would offer anyone walking in her door. To this day, Juan can always be soothed with a warm bowl of frijoles after a long day. Juan went to UCLA and was planning on going Pre-Med and becoming a plastic surgeon. What was supposed to be a short break from school turned into a career when Juan went to San Francisco to help at his family‘s restaurant. He had caught the bug. Starting as dishwasher, Juan got more and more interested in cooking for a living. In 2010 he was part of CCAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) and was working in the kitchens of Neal Fraser. Since then, he has spent time at Vibiana, Short Order and Tender Greens, to name a few. In 2012 he joined Steve Samson at Sotto, cooking his way through the ranks to become the essential part of the team he is today.
Q: IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE WORD OF ADVICE TO AN ASPIRING YOUNG CHEF, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
JT: “Passion or……Finesse”
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO COOK?
JT: “Pasta (Casarecce)”
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT YOUR JOB?
JT: “People. My co-workers…..and making great food, of course.”
Q: WHO WAS A MENTOR TO YOU?
JT: “Elderoy from Tender Greens…..he really taught me that the little things matter, along with humbleness, and communication. He is a beast.”
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT?
JT: “Coni‘s Seafood in Inglewood…aguachiles, so good!!”
Q: WHAT MUSIC DO YOU JAM OUT TO WHILE IN THE KITCHEN
JT: “Everyday is switches…..from Motown to Usher to Ice Cube….to Celine Dion”
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT BEING A PART OF #TEAMSOTTO?
JT: “There is something about this place that is magnetic….it drags me here and I don‘t mind it!”