Some of you out there may know me, Miriam, General Manager, and friendly face behind the scenes here at Lula Cafe. Some of you out there may not know that my passion for wine, already ignited before I started working at Lula two years ago, skyrocketed as I took on the duty of choosing wines each week to match with our ever changing Monday Night Farm Dinner. I'm so excited to share this passion with you, our beloved customers and fans, by including you in the process of how I make my wine-pairing selections. This way, everybody can make the most of their LC experience!
Each week I meet with the sous chefs as they plan the next Farm Dinner to get some background information about the menu, which helps me start thinking about choices for wine-pairings. Farm Dinner is usually written around a central theme (and this can be a region, an ingredient, a cooking technique, or any other culinary whim), and many times I make pairing decisions according to the theme. For example, if the Farm Dinner has an Italian spin I'll pull Italian wines to match.
On Monday afternoons, the staff and I taste each Farm Dinner course with my preliminary pairing selections and as a group we pick the wine that works best. Every Tuesday I'll post the Farm Dinner menu, my short-listed wine-pairing contenders, and our group favorites here on this blog. I hope to keep these wines (usually listed only by the bottle) open to sell by the glass on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as the Farm Dinner items make their way onto the Dinner Specials menu.
All of us at Lula Cafe would love for you to stop in and sample our latest creations, brought to you in part by the genius of Jason Hammel and Lea Tshilds (co-owners and the cutest married couple around (and parents of the cutest 18-month-old around as well)), in part by the tireless efforts of Nicole and Duncan (sous chefs), and in part by the most gorgeous locally cultivated produce and meats in the midwest (and thank you to Mick Klug, Greg Gunthorp, George Rasmussen, the Werps, the Slagels, and all the rest of the hard-working farmers out there).
So here goes: the first ever Farm Dinner Food and Wine Pairing Post:
Course 1: Chickpea fritters with wild arugula, green olives, tomato conserva, and caprinella
Preliminary Pairings: NV Bele Casel Prosecco, 2007 Di'Antiche Terre Greco di Tufo
"Fritter"? 'Nuff said--sparkling wine. (Have you ever tried Champagne and fried chicken? If not, get thee to a Harold's immediately). Our Prosecco--a juicy sparkler with slight citrus notes by Bele Casel, would lend itself beautifully to the richness and crunchiness of those little fried bits of goodness. High in acid, the Bele Casel can also stand up to tomatoes and green olives, which are characteristically quite acidic as well.
Greco di Tufo is a white grape varietal from southern Italy which has its roots in ancient Greece (hence the name). The '07 Greco di Tufo actually has many of the same qualities as the Bele Casel Prosecco (high acidity, slight citrus quality) but with a touch more mineral flavor, and it is still, not sparkling. Interestingly enough, however, the Greco is so high in acid that at times it appears to be a little effervescent, so it is often my go-to suggestion for people when my original idea is bubbly but someone would rather have a non-sparkler.
Favorite: Bele Casel Prosecco
Course 2: Pan roasted alaskan halibut with snap peas, radishes, capers, risotto, and nasturtium beurre blanc
Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Blanc, 2007 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rose, 2007 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge
Hmm..... Fish. Always tricky. Folks usually choose white with fish, but often the depth of flavor of red wine matches the accompaniments on a dish more closely. Many times a good compromise is a rose wine, but rose still has a bad reputation in some circles for being too sweet or simple. Lucky for us at Lula, our roses are always awesome (usually small batch productions and often times organic) so they are some of our favorite wines to pair.
Anyway, I decided to choose a white, a rose, and a red to taste with the second course. The accompaniments definitely said "white or rose" to me (especially the nasturtium beurre blanc with a rose--how great does that sound?), but I did want to present a red choice for those guests who don't enjoy white wine. Also, I had an inkling that the pan-roastiness of the halibut (not to mention that halibut is a heartier, meatier fish) would taste delicious with a juicy, earthy, and light-bodied red (and the Ambroise is all three).
So the two Cheverny wines (From the Loire Valley):
The Cheverny Blanc is a 90% sauvignon blanc / 10% chardonnay blend, with the sauvignon lending most of the fruit and the chard adding a little bit of extra body and backbone. As with most Loire wines, the Cheverny Blanc has a super-aromatic nose but tends to be fairly restrained on the palate with plenty of slatey mineral flavors and high acidity. I thought that the floral aromas would buddy up to the nasturtiums in the beurre blanc, and the acid and citrus flavors would showcase the halibut and its back-up singers to their best advantage.
The Cheverny Rose is 100% pinot noir (remember, the color of wine has to do with grape skin contact during fermentation), and contains many of the qualities we associate with fully red pinot--some cherry fruit, a little earth, maybe some crushed violets.... But the Chev Rose certainly doesn't let you forget it is from the Loire Valley--notes of honeysuckle and slate are also present. This wine is a Lula staff favorite and it didn't disappoint this time around. All the elements were perfectly in sync, especially the floral qualities and the juicy fruit.
The Bertrand Ambriose Bourgogne Rouge came as a bit of a surprise, as it was our first time tasting the 2007 vintage (the 2004 and 2005 vintages have been on the wine list at Lula and long time pairing stand-bys). All of the usual Ambroise attributes were there: delicate flavors of cherry and earth (not exactly barnyard, but definitely something a little dusty or musty), juicy mouthfeel, and slight dried flower notes. But there was also a little hint of cola (a characteristic often find in Oregon pinots) as well as a little bit fuller body and complex layers. Yay! This wine is fantastic and totally allowed the halibut dish to shine.
Favorites: Cheverny Rose, Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge
Course 3: Prairie Fruits Farm sheep's milk cheese cake with dried apricot and basil
Preliminary Pairing: 2008 Saracco Moscato d' Asti
Wow. Cake made from artisanal sheep's cheese? Hell yeah. Melissa (pastry chef extraordinaire) told me she folded a bit of meringue into the cake batter to change the texture of the final product from your typical uber-creamy cheesecake into something a little more spongey or souffle-like. Cool. So my thoughts (as they so often do) turned to sparkling wine. (If the cheesecake had been traditional in texture I think I would've gone in the direction of still wine... but maybe for a different day...) Of course, it is dessert so the sparkler has to be sweet. Our Saracco Moscato did the trick! Yummy lemonade and juicy melon flavors made a party-in-the-mouth with the light-as-air cake (Melissa added lemon juice to the batter, too, so the citrus notes matched up there as well) and the apricot sorbet on the side. I cannot verbally do justice to how good this pairing is.
Favorite: Saracco Moscato
For those of you who got to eat Farm Dinner before we sold out, lucky you. For those who didn't, come on in this week and have a taste of the Bele Casel, the Greco di Tufo, the Bourgogne Rouge, and the Saracco (we sold out of the Cheverny Rose but we have plenty of other lovely roses to offer). I'm not sure whether or not the Farm Dinner items will be on the Dinner Specials menu yet, but check lulacafe.com for updates or just give us a call!
That's your week in wine! Until next Tuesday, e-kisses to all.
Lula Cafe 2537 n Kedzie Blvd Chicago IL 60647 773.489.9554 lulacafe.com