Monday, June 29, 2009

O, Say Can You Eat

I swear I didn’t plan this—I’m not America’s most patriotic daughter (read: I’ve seriously considered moving to Canada in recent years)—but in apparent honor of impending Independence Day I appear to be experiencing latent home-country pride in my wine choices. Call it relief that we finally got it right in the White House, call it support of the resuscitation of the farming industry, or just call it gratitude to live in a place where we can still choose who and how we want to be and live . . . Last night’s feast and the wines that loved it remind me I’m still glad to hail from the heartland.

Monday, 6.29.09

Course 1: Spring garlic and semolina soup wih swiss chard, charred red onions, balsamic, and poached chicken

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Koehler Chardonnay, 2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris

Chicken soup in late June? Yes, please. This one has plenty of light, bright flavors to summer-ize it. Gunthorp Farm chicken stock was thickened with organic semolina, which resulted in a consistency close to miso soup and was surprisingly refreshing, with a perfectly salted broth poured over Green Acres Farm swiss chard leaves, stems, and spring garlic puree.

My “soup and chardonnay’ alarm went off again (remember the Rully Blanc with the mushroom consommé?) and the 2007 Koehler from Santa Ynez Valley, California seemed like the right choice. Super crisp and clean, with only half the fruit seeing oak (and only 10% of that in American oak), and the rest aging in stainless steel to preserve the natural varietal characteristics, Koehler is an interesting animal. Quite frankly, I feel the Koehler is a French poseur due to the pristine flavor and unopposing mouthfeel; a California wine with Burgundian sensibilities. I might also say that the Koehler is an American in French clothing; in other words, the girl next door wearing Christian Lacroix. But I digress. The garlic and semolina soup took center stage when we tasted it with Koehler and I can only describe the result as mellow. As we often say at Lula, this pairing showcased the food rather than the wine.

2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris is American all the way, with its happy, juicy, honeysuckle fruitiness. No restraint or haughtiness here, no Burgundian stylings, and this no-holds-barred sunshine optimism can only come from the land of priviledge and plenty, a place where everything is gonna be OK. Yeah, it sounds like I’m talking about Beverly Hills 90210 or The OC or something, but Big Fire is actually from Oregon. I hear the Pacific Northwest has a pretty Zen vibe; a little less New Age-y than Cali but just as chilled-out. The wines aren’t half bad, either. Anyway, all those bright green flavors in the garlic and semolina soup just sung with the Big Fire. This pairing showcased wine and food equally, and we were all amazed at just how good the wine’s fruit tasted and how flavorful the soup was, too.

Favorite: 2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris

Course 2. Whole pan roasted Rushing Waters trout with a summer vegetable and new potato salad, soft herbs, and toasted almond vinaigrette

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Mas de Gourgonnier Rose, 2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier, 2007 Ladairo Mencia

Rushing Waters is a supplier of the freshest, healthiest, most natural trout in the midwest. The only unnatural aspect of the fishery is that the farmers don't allow any outside chemicals or toxins into the trouts' environment. Neat, huh? Rushing Waters takes a eco-friendly approach to farm raising fish and the trouts enjoy a clean place to swim until humans enjoy the trouts. Circle of life.

Jason Hammel likes nothing better than to display the Rushing Waters trouts to their full glory by serving them with their heads still on. Whole pan roasted trout can be a bit rich and hearty and often times takes on a wintry feel, so the challenge for the sous chefs was (as with the chicken soup) to lighten and brighten up the dish. Enter a smattering of soft herbs (tarragon, parsley, chervil) stuffed inside the trout, real new potatoes from Nichols Farm (as opposed to small, round potatoes calling themselves newps, these puppies are the actual first potatoes of the season) slathered in almond and spring garlic aioli, and sliced Green Acres snap peas and pea pods, asparagus, leeks, and toasted almond vinaigrette around the plate.

Having just paired Bertrand Ambroise with halibut a few weeks ago, I needed to be cunning choosing a red for the trout (Ambroise being my go-to fish red). Hm.... light bodied, but with darker sensibilities to stand up to pan-roasting, juiciness to cut through aioli but with enough structure to stand up to crisp veggies . . . Ding! Mendocino County's 2006 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier! (As Hunter, one of the line cooks, would say, "Done, son."). What's great about the Saint Gregory is that it takes a bastard grape, a previously unsung blending varietal, and pimps it (sorry, JH) into star-turn, kick-ass juice that is wonderful with food or simply sips happily on its own. How American is that? Yeah, it may not be the most fancy, or of the finest pedigree, but it tastes terrific and doesn't bother you with snobbery.

I like to tout the '06 Saint Gregs as "the darker side of pinot noir" (the varietals are, after all, cousins). Pinot meunier is known for the fine white hairs on the underside of the leaf which from a distance resembles baking flour, thus it was named the miller, or meunier. I think pinot meunier is a little feistier than pinot noir in flavor, also a little heartier, and not as finicky on the vine. The SG is full of juicy berry fruit but also shows a certain brooding quality, perhaps lent by herbal aromas, or maybe the result of oak. The smokiness of the trout, the tanginess of the new potatoes and almonds, and the refreshing burst of the snap peas and company all had a little mouth-party with the herbal notes, the juiciness, and the velvety tannins in the Saint Gregs respectively.

As you can see above, readers, we tasted Mas de Gourgonnier and Ladairo Mencia with the trout as well. Mas de Gourgonnier is delicious, already BTG on Lula's list and a total no-brainer. Ladairo was overpowering and I like it too much to delve into why it didn't work last night. You'll be hearing about Ladairo at some point on this blog and you'll see why it was worth trying.

Favorite: 2006 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier

Course 3. Vanilla panna cotta with sumer fruits and cardamom sugar cookie

Preliminary Pairings: NV Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato, 2005 Oremus Tokaji

If I may say so, I was very proud of this dessert because I helped Melissa plan it. A bit. As in:

Melissa: "What should I make for Farm? I have rhubarb."
Me: "What about rhubarb soup? With vanilla? Um, and a cookie?"

And she outdid herself with a taste explosion, a perfect vehicle for all the amazing summer fruit coming to us from Klug Farm, and the ingenious addition of cardamom. The panna cotta sat in the middle of a chilled broth (made primarily of rhubarb and champagne) dotted with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. So good, so refreshing, so elegant. And red, white, and blue! Naturally (ahem) I wanted to try sweet (pink) bubbles. Innocent Bystander isn't domestic but it looks like a confected soda in a coke-sized bottle with a cap to boot . . . C'mon! Soda pop moscato? Americana at its (adult-themed) best. I liked the Tokaji, too, but fizzy lifting drinks just proved to be too good.

Favorite: Innocent Bystander

You know the drill for Wednesday and Thursday nights. July starts tomorrow and I've never felt luckier to be in the present, eating great food and drinking great wine with friends and family when time and distance allows, and celebrating the life we all share. Years move fast, life is short, and reflecting on those things I enjoyed last night, the weeks before, and the weeks to come inspires me to savor every moment. E-kisses and Happy Independence!

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