By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
"This is my favorite movie of the year," I realized as I watched Sideways for the third time with the same sense of delight and pleasure as I had the first time, six weeks earlier, at the Toronto Film Festival. Not that I hadn't expected something incisive and moving from Alexander Payne, whose first two movies, Citizen Ruth and Election, had amazed me with their wit, power, and extraordinary performances. (I found his third, About Schmidt, to be slightly curdled, slightly patronizing, but hey, two masterpieces out of three is batting .666. And I would still rather see About Schmidt for the second time than most of the dreck I see for the first.) All I knew about Sideways before I saw it was that Payne had abandoned his familiar hometown setting -- Omaha, where he even relocated Schmidt from its Manhattan and Hamptons locale -- for the Santa Ynez Valley wine country (well, I guess there is no vinous equivalent in Nebraska).
San Francisco, CA 94111
Fried calamari $7
Baby-back ribs $10
Steak with chimichurri $12
Pigs' trotters $7
Coconut bread pudding $6
Beckman grenache $8/glass
Open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday until 11 p.m., and Saturday from 5 until 11 p.m. (Limited menu between 3 and 5 p.m.) Closed Sunday
Muni: 1, 15, 41
Noise level: moderate to high
So I was entranced to see what is nominally a road movie, but actually a delicate chamber piece for four unbankable actors (can it really be true that Payne had to let Tom Cruise down gently, over lunch, telling him that he really couldn't believe him in the role of a failed television actor so bravely incarnated by Thomas Haden Church?), which swirls its story around in the yeasty scene of wine and food. OK, I've always had a weakness for movies with a gastronomic setting. (Probably my favorite movie seen on tape this year was Julien Duvivier's 1956 Voici les temps de l'assassin, with Jean Gabin as the chef/owner of a bistro in Les Halles.) But remembering my own semidisastrous meal of ostrich ("Very lean, locally raised," just as semi-intolerable wine-and-food fetishist Paul Giamatti says in the movie) and bizarrely portioned, overcooked steak at the Hitching Post, an important locale in Sideways, or gasping at the disrespect shown local wine god Andrew Murray (his syrah is casually dismissed by waitress/aspiring horticulturist Virginia Madsen with, "I think they overdid it; too much alcohol, overwhelms the fruit"), or laughing knowingly at Giamatti's impassioned recollection of his amour fou with his ex-wife ("We drank a '95 Opus One with smoked salmon and artichokes, but we didn't care!") is just the icing on the cake.
You don't have to be a foodie to identify with the Apollonian and Dionysian pair of old college buddies wining and dining their way through a weeklong bachelor party. (Oddly enough, it's Giamatti, the Apollonian one, who's really into the grape, overidentifying with the thin-skinned, hard-to-grow pinot varietal that he prefers.) In fact, vinophiles may cringe a bit at Giamatti finding "a little citrus, maybe some strawberries ... the faintest soupçon of asparagus ... and just a flutter of, like, nutty Edam cheese" in a whiff of an otherwise naive local white wine that might amuse you with its presumption, to paraphrase James Thurber's famous cartoon.
I think we should cringe, a little. In Adam Gopnik's alternately hilarious and stern piece "Through a Glass Darkly" (subtitled "What do we talk about when we talk about wine?") in the Sept. 6 food issue of The New Yorker, after subtly eviscerating Robert Parker, the man who turned wine into baseball cards, and quoting with measured approval ("He is offering a metaphor") another oenophile's even more dreamy judgment of a bottle of Krug ("intense empyreumatic fragrances of toasted milk bread, fresh butter, café au lait, and afterthoughts of linden join in a harmonious chorus with generous notes of acacia honey, mocha, and vanilla"; hey, I'll take two), he offers this cutting insight: "Remarkably, nowhere in wine writing ... would a Martian learn that the first reason people drink wine is to get drunk."
We can't forget this salient fact while watching Sideways; scratchable right under the surface of Giamatti's sensualist is an alcoholic who returns from hearing his ex-wife say, "Don't call me when you're drunk," to the cleareyed question of his friend: "Did you drink and dial?"
I defy anyone not to want to drink and dine after seeing the movie, which ends on a note of nonvinous elation (I got teary-eyed every time I saw it, despite knowing what was coming). Robert, Gail, and I knew exactly where we wanted to go: Bocadillos, where they'd had a happy supper a week ago after seeing Maria Full of Grace (the Embarcadero validates parking at night, making it an easy evening), and whose nighttime tapas menu I'd been looking forward to trying since my own happy lunch there, heavy on the little bocadillo sandwiches for which the place is named, but light on cooked food. (The place does a single tapa of the day at lunch.)
It had also been a lunch too light on wine. One of the most intriguing aspects of Bocadillos is its insightful, wittily written wine list, in which each bottle gets a poetic yet brisk description ("imagine Meyer lemons, bottled," for a 2002 De Santé sauvignon blanc; "rich, generous, like drinking Washington red apples," for a 2001 Scandella chardonnay); maybe more usefully, the wines are also simply categorized as dry or fruity and light, medium, or bold. In the event, we took a couple of cues from the movie and chose a 2001 Beckman grenache ("rich, warm, red plums") because it was from Santa Barbara, and a 2002 Russian River Patassy pinot noir ("tiny new producer making delightful wine") in homage to Giamatti's character's obsession, and the '99 Condesa de Leganza tempranillo from La Mancha, because we were in a Spanish-style tapas bar, after all. And Robert chose one of his favorite whites, the Txomin Extaniz ("try drinking a couple of glasses, then pronouncing it"), which came in a squat stemless glass that I thought was adorable, and perfect for a casual yet chic tapas bar, but might earn the scorn of humorless wine snobs (you warm the wine up by holding the glass).
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