My mother, whom I've mentioned several times in this blog, happens to be visiting and was delighted to experience her first ever Lula Cafe Monday Night Farm Dinner. Before arriving in Chicago, however, she expressed the dietary guidelines she would like Jason, Duncan, and Nicole to follow for her meal:
"No beef cheeks. No halibut cheeks. No cheeks. No urchin, roe, or raw fish. No pork. No Wagyu." (She thinks it tastes "gamey.") "No game. No rabbit. No butter or cream."
"Oh-kay . . . . Sure, Mom." Loathe to admit it, Sharon is what you would call a "picky eater" (sorry, but it's true). I feared asking what the chefs had planned for the coinciding FD and was relieved to discover it would be vegetarian (at least I could eliminate the unfortunate prospect of having to tell my mother she would be eating confit boar's neck). Nervously I anticipated whether or not the liberal dollop of whipped farm cream placed ostentatiously in the middle of the soup garnish would send her into conniptions, but she was on her best behavior and smacked her lips after finishing every last bite.
Delectable Farm Fresh Cooking: 1 point
Calorie Counting: Zero
Score one for the Hedonists! What a night last night--here it is, Wednesday, and I sit bleary-eyed at my desk recounting Tuesday evening's antics. Let's just say Sharon and MJ's rendition of "Fever" at Alice's Karaoke Lounge will go down in history as one of the worst of all time. I did promise to deliver the deets on the Monday FD tasting, so here goes, although perhaps with slightly less gusto. After a nice detox this week, by next Tuesday morning my brain will be nice and limber once again.
Course 1: Summer corn bisque with smoked tomato, red onion confit, pinenuts, farmstead cream, and pine bud nectar
Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Domaine Couly-Dutheil Les Chanteaux Chinon Blanc, 2007 Prager Wachau Federspiel Hinter der Burg, 2008 Triennes Rose
What is summer without sweet corn? Just a few weeks ago I had my first corn-on-the-cob of the season and it was amazing. Didn't even need butter--that's how sweet the sweet corn is this year. So this incarnation is brilliant, with the fresh natural sugariness of the Nichols Farm corn and confit onions perfectly complementing the smokiness of the local Juliet tomatoes and pinenuts fried with parmesan cheese and crumbled. Mugolio (Italian pine cone bud syrup) added a vegetal note and whipped Kilgus Farmstead cream lent tang, earth, and body. The Kilgus story is interesting: Duncan informed us that the Farmstead has the only Midwestern dairy bottling license. It is so fresh and pure that it remains slightly green in color due to the grass that feeds the cattle producing the milk. Wow.
Bisque is tricky, wine-pairing-wise. Bisques definitely call for high acid wines, but thoughts diverge on whether a crisper or more unctuous texture is best. In my opinion it depends on the flavors in the soup. Seafood bisques are salty, so malolactic chardonnays (which contain muted fruit but clean secondary characteristics and feel creamy in the mouth) taste best, while vegetable biques are sweeter and pair nicely with fruity, refreshing wines like Alsatians. 2007 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc, a chenin blanc from Loire Valley, has lovely aromatics of honeysuckle and peach in the nose and a flavorful, fruity palate packed with loads of Loire minerals. 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner might be my favorite white wine on the Lula list--a clean, bright food-lover balanced by notes of light citrus and mineral. Finally, 2008 Triennes is a staff-favorite with refreshing tart berry fruit.
The staff and I are working on our 3-part breakdown of wine flavors, so I'll do it here with the pairings:
CD: pronounced vegetable flavors, full body, overpowering
GV: mellow, mineral, fruity
Triennes: fruit and vegetable complementing, fun, refreshing
It seems that the Couly overpowered the soup slightly, but did have an interesting vegetal flavor when paired with the bisque that is usually not evident in the wine. A challenging choice. Gruner did what Gruner does best, which was to let the bisque take center stage and the flavors truly complemented. Finally, Triennes just tasted good, a nice burst of all types of flavors balancing and swirling together.
Favorites: All! But the true favorite was Triennes.
Course 2: Braised celery heart with burrata, calasparra rice, fresh shell beans, grilled peaches, and watercress
Preliminary Pairings: All of the above, Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge
A unique take on "beans and rice," Course 2's standout was the grilled Klug Farm peaches. Texturally, the dish was fantastic, with the meaty braised celery, soft peaches, and crunchy bread crumbs atop the paella-inspired calasparra rice and Green Acres borlotti beans. Cayenne added kick to the peaches while Greek olive oil lent earthy notes to the plate.
High acid wasn't necessarily a priority here, but I figured my Course 1 whites would do just fine here and I was right. Couly wasn't nearly as vegetable-y and the honeysuckle notes paired beautifully with the peaches. Gruner, ever the strong, silent type, was a pristine counterpart to the amalgam of flavors and textures, and the Triennes' refreshing crispness balanced its fruitiness and allowed the dish to shine.
I did need a red and went for trusty Bertrand Ambroise, whose quiet, dark fruit, crushed violets, unobtrusive earthiness, and light body I thought would match nicely. Well, that crashed and burned! It must've been Ambroise's strong character and substantial flavor that did him in, although those characteristics have always been qualities, rather than faults. Truly, I don't think that this week's FD was a red wine one, because if Ambroise tastes dirty and brackish (which he did) then no red wine is going to be good.
We did end up liking our by-the-glass Cotes du Rhone, a very light, fruity sipper that is slightly insubstantial by itself but stands up well to food.
Favorite: Both whites again, Triennes, NOT Ambroise (try the Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone instead)
Course 3: Mascarpone stuffed crepes with Klug Farm plum jam, sweet corn ice cream, and poached apricot
Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Saracco Moscato d'Asti, Chambers Rutherglen Muscat
I have 3 words for you: sweet corn ice cream (technically 4 words, but you get the idea). Crepes, stuffed with mascarpone studded with candied corn and poached apricots, Klug Farm plum jam, and perhaps the largest apricot (Klug as well) half you ever did see. Simple, elegant, so fresh. Delightful. How could I not try yummy peaches-and-honey in a glass Saracco? It didn't disappoint. Chambers Muscat was a little more challenging, slightly stronger than necessary with the lightness of the dessert but the smoked citrusy, deep candied flavors proved an interesting counterpoint and I urge you to try it.
See you this week! E-smooch. Now, a nap.