Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lula Pret-a-Manger 2009

Last night's Farm Dinner was kind of like Prada's Spring 2008 Collection. Lush and voluminous, with watercolor splashes of dark greens, purples, and pinks, Farm Dinner was a three-course otherworldly landscape of swirls, dots, and doodles, textures and flavors, and like Prada in 2008, remained firmly rooted in elegance and tradition. (And England. In the '70's. Kind of.)

Monday 07.06.09

Course 1: Prairie Fruits farmstead goat cheese tart with roasted summer vegetables

Preliminary Pairings: NV Joseph Perrier Champagne, 2007 Dopff au Moulin Pinot Blanc

Tarts always seem kind of brunch-y to me (maybe because I spent almost every weekend for 2 years managing brunch at Lula and I saw a lot of tarts come and go . . .) and in my, ahem, humble opinion, nothing goes better with brunch (and fried chicken. and french fries. and pate. and sushi. and salads with egg yolk. and . . . Readers, my love of Champagne is deep and undying and utterly enmeshed with a fierce passion for high fashion and celebrity gossip. In my younger days, a $6 bottle of Charles du Fere from John's Grocery, Sex and the City Season 3, and an US Weekly were enough to render me incandescently happy) than a very dry Champagne.

Of course, Farm Dinner isn't brunch but I trusted my insticts. Prairie Fruit's Farm is our latest favorite cheese maker and their fresh goat cheese is light and tangy and was a perfect foil last night to smoky sauteed Green Acres kale. Remember the Prada-like watercolors? A salad of Nichols Farm broccoli, Green Acres radish and caramelized onion, pickled Klug cherries, purslane, and frisee sprawled ravishingly across the plate. Banyuls vinaigrette added acid and a little sweetness.

Some folks don't want bubbles (not sure why, but to each his or her own) so I needed a still option with acid and a touch of fruit (to stand up to the flavors of all the vegetables). Alsatian whites are known for their aromatic bouquets and clean, light, food-friendly palates. 2007 Dopff is a really wonderful wine, great with food (it tends to hang in the background and let the dishes do their stuff) and also nice and interesting on its own. Refreshing in summer, and lovely in winter, too, owing to its fairly substantial body. Anyway, we used to sell Dopff by the glass at Lula but do not anymore, so last night was an opportunity to open it back up!

I didn't grab any reds (or even roses) this time around (at least for Course 1) because I just couldn't shake the notion that the tart dish was slightly breakfast-y and called for super light wines ( and just for the record, I have absolutly no problem with breakfast for dinner!). So the JP Champagne was a total no-brainer (at least for me) and we all loved the Dopff. Here's where personal taste enters in, because (as I'm sure everyone is well aware by now) I love Champagne and would pour it over my Rice Krispies if I was allowed, but certain members of my staff opined that the Dopff was more flavorful and a better match over all. I think the upshot was this: JP cut through the fat of the goat cheese and interacted nicely with all the grilled flavors, the acid of the pickled cherries, and the crunchiness of the frisee. Dopff is a fruitier wine and brought out the natural flavors (can vegetables be fruity?) of the vegetables, and was a little more mouth-coating and viscous, which is pleasurable with food.

Favorites: JP, Dopff

Course 2: Grilled Swan Creek Farm hanger steak with summer squash gratin, roasted baby beets, and chicory butter

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah, 2005 Dara Ode Red, 2007 Ladairo Mencia

Didn't I tell you I'd bring back the Mencia? This time, it was our clear favorite, and that's saying something considering the competition. Alright. So first of all, George's hangers were marinated in tons of herbs, lemon, anchovy, and olive oil, and grilled to medium rare perfection. Duncan took Nichols zucchini and summer squash and layered it in a pan with parsley and shallot (diced and mixed in duck fat and butter) and a parmesan-style cheese from Wisconsin. He baked it and called it a "gratin" (I said this Farm Dinner was rooted in tradition), as squares were cut from the pan and individually seared. Yum. Finally, roasted City Farm baby beets nestled up to each slice of gratin, a chicory (radicchio, mostly) butter sauce surrounded all, and hard-cooked egg yolk and sea salt was sprinkled on top of the hanger. Dude!

I was so psyched to see steak on the menu; after weeks of lighter entrees (halibut, sformato, olive-oily pastas, trout, etc) we all needed something manly. (Thanks, Duncs. Get awesome). Plus, my full-bodied reds have been languishing on the shelves, waiting for their moment in the spotlight. Perhaps I went a little overboard in choosing wines to pair with the hangers, but I was so thrilled to be able to open up some inky, smoky, bold little numbers. I think in the back of my mind I knew we would love a medium-to-full bodied, spicy, food-friendly red (hello, Ladairo) but I also wanted the staff and customers to be able to taste some hidden gems.

Ex Umbris syrah has a certain mythology amongst Lula staff members; it's been on the list for years under different vintages and remains mysteriously alluring: deep, dark, and expensive. I'm longing for rabbit or venison or something soon so we can revisit Ex Umbris with a more suitable dish. It was actually quite nice with the hanger--a little too full bodied, but tasting lighter than expected and a terrific choice for a larger group to share with Course 2.
Dara, with its tiny bit of petit sirah, is even bigger than the Owen Roe, but also a little fruitier, too. None of us were quite sure what to make of this pairing. Tasty, to be sure, but a favorite? Nothing magical happened. I think the Dara, like the Owen Roe, would taste better with gamier meat. Ladairo, on the other hand, was a study in subtle elegance. Juicy cherry fruit, pepper and clove spice, and that perfectly food-loving Spanish medium body was simple and delicious with the hanger. Parmesan cheesy seared summer squash, the chicories in the butter, and the tanginess of the beets complimented the fruitiness and acid, the spiciness and Spanish zip. Yay!

Favorite: Ladairo

Course 3: A bowl of Mick's amazing blueberries with shortbread and zabaglione

Preliminary Pairings: Alvear Solera Cream Sherry, Novaia Late Harvest Valpolicella

Best. Summer. Dessert. Ever. Last night Jason informed us that 2009 has yielded the best blueberries in recent history (thanks, Mick Klug!) and in order to celebrate them properly we need to eat them practically naked. (Um, the blueberries, that is, unadorned . . . not, like, sitting around wearing nothing but socks). So a bowl of blueberries, with a dollop of zabaglione, a couple shortbread cookies (think Pepperidge Farm chessmen) and a nice reduction of Novaia sweet valpolicella and Chapoutier Banyuls. I was a little stumped about the pairing, I mean, how do you not overpower the delicacy of fresh fruit? And (for once) I didn't want to pair a sparkler (just to give the other wines a chance, you know?) . . . tough. I do love that cream sherry and it goes with practically everything, including the vanilla-ness of zabaglione, and since blueberries are a darker fruit, it seemed worth a try. Jason had made the reduction using the Novaia, which is fantastic but really quite strong, but we brought it to the meeting for a try as well.

As it turns out, the sherry was terrific and totally unobtrusive, which sometimes is nice for dessert because you're already dealing with so much sugar and flavor. Again, I thought Novaia was too big, but the flavors were really great.

Favorite: Alvear Sherry

Come in and try 'em! And wear your Prada. E-kiss noises.

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