Monday, August 31, 2009

Groggy Bloggy

Having been doped up with fairly heavy anesthesia during yet another cortizone shot for my herniated L4 and L5 discs this morning, I'm still feeling a bit out-of-it. Forgive me for the lateness of the posting as well as if I start rambling into oblivion. No surprises last night--all of the wines we tasted are oldie-but-goodie Farm Dinner faves. That's ok, right? After all, if it ain't broke (or herniated) don't fix it.

Monday, 08.31.09
Course 1: Fingerling potatoes and heirloom Italian braising greens with sunny side quail egg, bottarga, and baby leeks

Preliminary Pairings: NV Joseph Perrier Brut Royale, 2007 75 Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc

Duncan's haute potato salad was tangy and rich, with a hint of earthiness and a pleasing texture . . . pretty much like regular ol' potato salad, but better ingredients. The Green Acres Farm fingerlings were dressed in dijon and olive oil and tossed with Windy Knoll baby leeks, Living Waters red dandelion greens, and Kinnickinnick Farms minestra nera (an heirloom Italian brassica (broccoli) family green), all with lemon juice and lemon vinaigrette. A sunny side up Swan Creek Farm quail egg (and Mom and Dad, I know you bemoan the recent proliferation of quail eggs on all your favorite dishes, but you've gotta jump on the bandwagon here, they are delicious) provided fat once sliced and interspersed, and shaved bottarga (dried tuna roe) added crunch.

A "fancy" dish needs a fancy wine, right? Hence my old reliable Joseph Perrier Brut. Like I've said before, beautiful golden bubbles with toasty oak and zippy acid. Perfect foil for the richness of the egg and the starch in the potatoes, not to mention the subtle fruit lent lovely balance to the earthy greens. Part of me wonders if we like Champagne with fatty foods for the same reason we like Coke with burgers and fries--for the way the carbonation diminishes and cuts through the fat. Anyone? 75 Wine SB is all lemon and lemon peel, with a slight salinity, fresh herbs, and beautifully proportioned acid. Absolutely a must with the lemony vinaigrette and the tangy dijon. We seem to be enjoying a nice equilibrium lately with our Farm Dinner wines--some we like as a counterpart to the dish, and some we like as a complement.

Favorites: JP as a counterpart, 75 as a complement

Course 2: Rose poached Coho salmon with Israeli cous cous, fennel, black olive, saffron, and Michigan grapes

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 75 Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Triennes Rose, 2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier

Jason asked me to recommend a rose for his salmon poaching (ah, poaching the filets, not, like, going out to illegally fish for salmon . . . but you guys knew that . . . ) Anyway, my first thought was the grapefruit citrusy and lightly spiced Triennes, but I asked JH for a bit more info and was delighted to hear that we were both barking up the same tree. I asked him where he felt Course 2 originated (as in California, or Morocco, or Bora-Bora) and he said Provence! Brilliant, for Triennes, too, hails from Provence. So, wild-caught Cohos were poached sous-vide with the Triennes, vegetable stock, tarragon, and some other herbs-du-you-know-where. Underneath the filets, a bed of Israeli cous cous thickened with pureed white beans. On the side, a salad of Kinnickinnick spigarello (another heirloom Italian brassica), Klug Farm jupiter grapes (gigantic, juicy, purple numbers), lemon confit, and fennel. Finally, two different purees swooshed up the sides of the plate: saffron-orange and black olive. A very light and well balanced dish, with fennel and black olive layering the flavors and adding depth.

75 and Triennes were pretty much no-brainers, with the citrus aspects of both complementing the lemon confit and saffron puree, and providing tartness and crispness to balance the salmon and cous cous. Saint Gregory, as we all know, is a smart little alternative to pinot noir and a favorite of mine with richer fish and earthier flavors. Saint Gregs is light in body but substantial of flavor and juicy fruit, as well as possessing a slight brooding funkiness and zippy spice. We could truly taste Gregs with the salmon dish, not just sense it, and in this way it became not only the most challenging pairing with Course 2, but also a way to showcase a truly special wine. (And it showed--we practically sold out of it!)

Favorites: All three, but Saint Gregory was the special favorite

Course 3: Roasted plum and frangiapane tart with almond-plum ice cream

Preliminary Pairings: NV Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, 2005 Oremus Late-Harvest Tokaji

Frangiapane isn't for everybody, but die-hards are obsessed with it. Frangiapane is basically the cake form of almond paste (controversial marzipan is the candy form). I think frangiapane is deeeeeelish, and absolutely wonderful with fruit. Course 3 was fairly straightforward, with Klug Farm plums as the main component in the tart with a light-as-air shortdough crust. Melissa swirled plum sorbet into almond brittle ice cream to create the dreamiest dreamsicle. Bugey, oh Bugey, will you ever disappoint us? Probably not. If any of you out there have not been to Lula to experience the Bug, shame on you. Two recent converts (ladies at the bar with the bundt cake, can I get a what-what) can attest to Bugey's power as an aphrodisiac. The juicy sweet red fruit notes enhanced the sugar-plum-fairy tart while standing up to the rich and buttery crust and ice cream components. Tojaki was just good--definitely not bad, but didn't complete the package as well as Bug. I think that the citrus notes in Oremus were slightly overwhelming and didn't quite mesh with the almond flavors as I had hoped.

Favorite: Bugey, natch. And Frangelico, which Kendal and Dave were kind enough to sample for us.

I should be up and running (or, at least, making the rounds in my low-healed pumps) by tomorrow, and hopefully I'll see many of you sampling the goods. E-kisses!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Old Favorites, New Twists

Everything that's old is new again, right? The eighties are back in fashion this fall, with power-shouldered jackets and leather pants waltzing down the runways. Singer-songwriters the Avett Brothers sound, at times, suspiciously like the Everly Brothers, and even seventies-style wallpaper is suddenly chic. Last night, Lula Cafe decided to jump on the "retro" bandwagon with some old-timey culinary standbys receiving shiny new treatment.

Course 1: Pumpernickel and black truffle panade with Klug Farm nectarines, pistachio, pickled red shallot, and banyuls vinaigrette

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Hopler Gruner Veltliner, 2007 Rudolph Muller Riesling Spatlese

Ah, pumpernickel. The word brings back memories of various incarnations of the heartly black bread in my youth. Pumpernickel loaf, pumpernickel bagels, tiny pumpernickel toasts with cheese spread and smoked salmon . . . growing up, pumpernickel often made an appearance at breakfast, or better, at cocktail hour (more commonly known as "post-time" on my mother's side of the family), usually in the toast-and-lox form. Last night, pumpernickel arrived at dinnertime and served as the bread in "savory bread pudding," (aka "strada" or "panade) and was layered with tasty black truffle and Prairie Fruit's Farm sheep's milk ricotta. Keeping with tradition, Nicole (in her last-ever Lula Monday Night Farm Dinner . . . sniff) added cocoa nibs and espresso to the batter (remember, bread pudding is egg-yolk soaked) as is often done to American pumpernickel (Germans (and Jews) usually just stick with the rye).

So the panade was baked in a pan, and then sliced and seared to-order, resulting in a satisfyingly toasty texture. Next to it, a lovely salad of Werp Farm mustard greens and red oak lettuce, Green Acres Farm pickled shallots, Klug nectarines, and toasted pistachios (bathed before toasting in the same egg batter as the panade and echoing the flavors of cocoa and pistachio), all dressed in nectarine vinaigrette, added tangy acid and sweetness (especially delightful next to the earthy truffles). Truffles chopped with cocoa nibs and espresso dotted the plate.

Interestingly (at least to me), my wine selections were decidedly Bavarian, even though nothing on Course 1 (besides the pumpernickel) particularly reflected such roots. I chose both the gruner and the riesling due to their high-acid contents (with the fatty bread-pudding in mind) and the mutability of both varietals. 2008 Hopler, from Burgenland, Austria is new to Lula and I was itching to test-drive it as a lower-priced alternative to spendy staff-fave Prager GV. Hopler is a fruit-bomb, with juicy apricot and peach flavors and a briny minerality. 2007 Muller hails from Germany's Mosel River and is Lula's first-ever spatlese (late-harvest) riesling. Muller has sugary components, to be sure, but is backed by balanced acid and spice. Muller won out, as the sweetness proved to be an asset. Absolutely fabulous with the nectarines, and nicely subtle with the panade, Muller was the clearly the best.

Favorite: Muller Spatlese

Course 2: Swan Creek Farm skirt steak with sweet corn and lobster aioli, lobster mushroom, parsnip, and seared market peppers

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Stoller Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, 2007 Mackenzie Merlot

Folks, you never thought you'd see the day, but Lula Cafe offered up a Surf-and-Turf with a side of creamed corn. Huh? Turf: skirt steak (without all the usual toughness, Bravo!). Surf: lobster meat, delicately interspersed throughout a serving of this summer's MVP, Nichol's Farm sweet corn (off the cob). How was the corn "creamed"? A dollop of lobster aioli on top. Clever. Cheeky (Duncan), but clever indeed. Underneath the steak, as if the dish wasn't rich enough, a silky puree of parsnips and yukon gold potatos, and on the side (Dad, you'll like this): grilled local peppers of all kinds: melrose, hungarian wax beans, and more. (Incidentally, the same peppers, charred and pureed, served as the marinade for the steak. Yummy). Lula Cafe also offered up "Chef's Humor" last night, adding lobster mushrooms (milk cap mushrooms, mutated due to some beneficial bacteria, to take on a creamy, lobster-like flavor and the appearance of the pinkish-red crustaceans) on the same dish as real lobster. Hilarious. Dorky (Duncan), but hilarious . . . or, at least, mildly amusing.

It may seem odd to have chosen pinot noir to pair with steak, but in my experience at Lula, even dishes that sound like they might be heavy will still err on the lighter side. Considering all of the nice summery additions of corn and beans, not to mention the Surf aspect, I decided not to go too heavy-handed on the wines. I like to call the 2007 Stoller (from Willamette Valley, making its first appearance here on the blog) a "savory wine" because many of its flavors do not reflect fruit, but rather soy sauce, iron, leather, and spice. Just the right amount of confected cherry sweetens the palate, and the tannins are integrated and unobtrusive. I have been dying to break out Mackenzie for awhile--really a dynamite Merlot, and very reasonably priced. Truly a layered wine, with vanilla-oak, aromatic berries, and nice acid, and a little fuller-bodied in case pinot noir was overpowerd by steak.

I think Stoller prevailed due to its complexity, and it was an inspired pairing--both food and wine showed off their best assets. Also, my staff got a chance to revisit Stoller and decide they might actually like it, because some of them have been riding the fence on it for ages.

Favorite: Stoller

Course 3: Roasted corn and blueberry ice creams with johnny cakes and blueberry syrup

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 M. Chapoutier Banyuls, Alvear Solera Cream Sherry

Johnny cakes, readers, are delectable little cornmeal pancakes with absolutely no leavening that, when fried, are tiny little crispy circles of golden delicousness. Pair them with blueberries and repeating sweet corn flavors and you've got an absolutely slam-dunk dessert. Melissa's sweet corn ice cream should be placed in the annals of decadence and excess along with Louis XIV's Palace at Versailles and Celine Dion's wedding gown (although to be honest, much more tasteful than the latter). Last night's incarnation was creamy and almost savory, and a delicious foil to tangy blueberry and sweet corn sherbet (made with buttermilk) and refreshing bluberry sorbet. The warmth of the just-fried johnny cakes melted the ice creams just slightly, in a good way, and home-made candied corn added crunch.

Last time Melissa made a blueberry dessert, Alvear Sherry tasted deelish. Not the case here--too light and too nutty in flavor. Banyuls was all jammy berriness and couldn't have been more perfect. Perfect texture, perfect flavor, perfect body. You must experience this.

Favorite: Chapoutier Banyuls

Skirt steak may not make an appearance on the dinner specials menu for a few weeks, but it'll be there eventually. I'm not sure about the panade, either, but my suspicions are that it's too good not to keep around for awhile.

All the wines mentioned tonight will be open Wednesday and Thursday. Come on in!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Port in a Storm

The Chicagoans who braved the maelstrom last night were rewarded with a smorgasbord of delights from those crafty Lula chefs once again. Jason, Nicole, Duncan, and Melissa hit another one out of the park with no particular aim in mind other than to present beautifully prepared farm-to-table cooking, and so they did. Utilizing more of this summer's bounty, Farm Dinner was an exercise in classic dishes with slight tweaks to keep us all up-to-date and on-our-toes.

Course 1: 60-minute egg with tomato-leek fonduta, guanciale, and parsley pastina

Preliminary Pairings: NV Joseph Perrier Champagne, 2007 Rudolph Muller Riesling Kabinett

Here's an SAT-style analogy for you: Champagne::poached egg as riesling::BLANK? Tomatoes. Course 1 had both, and I wanted to show each off to its best advantage. Here's another SAT-style analogy: Champagne::Miriam's Farm Dinner Pairings as riesling::What Miriam Could Be Pairing Each Week With Farm Dinner If She Didn't Like Champagne So Much. Get the picture? So choosing between Champagne and riesling as the favorite for Course 1 is like choosing between my Chanel Rouge Allure lipstick in Lover and my Nars Allover Bronzer Duo in South Beach--each is equally flattering but for very different reasons.

Cherry tomatoes were slowly cooked with leeks, resulting in a melty (is that a word?), brothy concoction. Parsley pastina (house-made baby pasta) added mouthy texture while a balsamic vinegar-olive oil sous vide Living Temple Farm egg and guanciale (jowl bacon, yo!) lent fat and smoky flavors. Nice. As indicated above, if I'm eating a poached egg I like Champagne, and riesling with tomatoes is usually a fool-proof combo (acid loves acid). As usual, my staff were divided about favorites, although with none of the zealousness of last Monday. JP Champagne, with all of its clean mineral and citrus cut through the fat of the egg and bacon, and stood up to the juicy acid in the tomato-leek combo. Muller Kabinett (off-dry) riesling provided a complement to the tomatoes with its slightly juicier mouthfeel, and stony minerality melded nicely with the smokier aspects of the dish.

Some of you out there might think I'm reaching here, but I might say that the Nars South Beach bronzer::JP Champagne as Chanel Lover Rouge Allure::Muller Riesling . . . the first pair are glittery and luminous, designed to complement the warm, sultry tones in both face and dish, while the second pair bring out the juicier, just-bitten aspects (not kidding. Ladies, if you don't own Lover go buy it immediately--your lips instantly achieve that "I just bit into a strawberry" pout we all desire). Anyway, I'm digressing . . .

Favorites: Both!

Course 2: Summer bean cassoulet with duck confit, meatballs, and potato chips

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Merlin Cherrier Sancerre, 2007 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Blanc, 2006 Domaine d'Aupilhac Coteaux du Languedoc

Nichols Farm romano and yellow beans and haricot verts were the stars of the dish, replacing white beans in a traditional cassoulet. A rich, yet delicate broth of chicken stock and cavolo nero supported the beans, duck confit and lightly spiced pork meatballs dotted throughout, and all was bread-crumb topped and served in a bowl with a side of a lightly-Champagne vinaigrette dressed salad studded with to-order potato chips. Yowza. In a way, Course 2 was easier to pair, with so many flavors and textures amalgamated together I just pulled some French faves (cassoulet, after all) and had a go. One item of note: the Aupilhac Coteaux du Languedoc comes from the Southern Rhone, where wines are imbued with that always-evasive yet ever-present flavor profile aspect of (Lula Staff: all-together, now) GARRIGUE. And what is garrigue? The word for the earthy notes in the Southern Rhone and Provence reflecting the brambly, shrubby, herbal terroir of those areas. Naturally, Duncan had used at least one of the herbs du Provence in his cassoulet, so the dark-fruited-yet-lightly-herbaceous-and-velvety-tannined D'Aupilhac was the clear winner.

Cherrier Sancerre, with its pristine mineral and light citrus fruit, came in second and provided a reasonable counterpart to cassoulet without being intrusive, and Colombo was too fruity, so:

Favorite: Coteaux du Languedoc

Course 3: White peach tart tatin with creamy caramel and white peach and creme fraiche ice cream

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Saracco Moscato, Maculan Dinarello, Alvear Solera Cream Sherry

Peaches, caramel, puff pastry: a trifecta of happy flavors, and each dessert wine brought its own game. Saracco was a natural, with the bubbles cutting through fat as they are supposed to do and fruit and acid complementing as usual. Maculan Dinarello did the same as the Saracco but was a still alternative, and Solera Cream Sherry (you all know how I feel about it) brought out the dark, buttery nature of the caramel.

Favorites: Maculan, Alvear

Ok, I love you all, but it is late and (in honor of having just seen Julie and Julia, which everyone must do) Andrew made Lyonnaise salad and pan-seared pork chops, and I've (naturally) got Provencal Rose chilling, so I truly must dash . . .

but come in and taste the amazing wines we've opened. You know the drill.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taste 'em and lemme know.

Pre-shift meeting Monday afternoon was a little bit like "Wine Hour with Miriam." The stars aligned and we had quite a few to taste; our Vinos de Terrunos Tempranillo is now 2008 instead of '07, we have a new Vacqueyras on the list . . . also, I pulled out some obscure wines from Lula's list to taste with Farm Dinner, which presented an opportunity to reintroduce those wines to the staff and and shake them from their "dog days of summer" ruts, when the only booze they seem to sell is Sangria, the occasional malbec, and Sangria. And did I mention they sell an awful lot of Sangria?

We certainly had a time of it, especially given the intensity of our discussion and the fact that we had some new faces at the table (or, some old faces doing new things). Brent, our trusty foodrunner, will start training as a bartender and actually has to start paying attention at the meetings and adding his own opinions at wine tastings. Jonathan (hipster heartthrob and Lula brunch server) will replace Aaron on Monday evenings, and at his first Farm Dinner shift found himself thrust into a heated argument about whether or not the earthiness of the Woollaston Pinot combated or complemented the delicacy of the quail (but more on that later). Miguel, our new foodrunner trainee, had to sit back and laugh at the impassioned assertions flying around the table (after all, it's only wine. Giavanna.).

Monday, 08.10.09

Course 1: Heirloom cucumber and smoked sablefish with spicy watermelon, fennel, radish, and basil

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Palmina Pinot Grigio

I knew I had it made when, in describing this dish, Jason mentioned he added quite a bit of lemon juice. Strange, I know, but I had chosen the Palmina Pinot Grigio which goes best with one thing: citrus. '08 Palmina is middle-of-the-road all the way: soft fruit, slight mineral, food-friendly acid, and crisp, but not tart. We don't sell a lot of it, probably because (like rose) pinot grigio has a little bit of a bad rap. Palmina hails from Santa Barbara, California, and is a very well-made wine, best in summer (in my opinion) on a patio. Easy, easy drinking, not sweet, not oaked, not super-challenging. My staff tends to like their wines (at least the ones that they sell) to be a little on the unusual side (which creates talking points with guests--totally understandable).

I just couldn't shake the notion that we should give Palmina another chance, especially with a dish as light and refreshing as the sablefish. The black cod (one and the same as sablefish) was smoked over applewood and served with Green Acres and Nichols farm peppers, fennel, pickled watermelon rind, and diced watermelon soaked in arbol chile honey. Fennel aioli added fat to the plate. Deeelish. And Palmina was right-on . . . some said it was "boring." (Bartender Dave adamantly felt that Sattler Zweigelt was the best pairing for Course 1, contending that the smokiness of the fish needed a red to stand up to it. My opinion was that white wine would be a more balanced pairing). I thought Palmina was light, refreshing, and delicate. Delightful. The salty minerality brought out the smoky fish notes, while the citrus aspects matched nicely with all the fruit and acid in the dish.

(My) Favorite: Palmina PG (Dave's Favorite: Sattler)

Course 2: Quail with summer corn and bacon stuffing, caramelized broccoli, white grits, and scallion 'sauce soubise'

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Sattler Zweigelt, 2006 Woollaston Nelson Pinot Noir

So Course 2 is where it got real interesting. First of all, these quails (from Georgia) are no teenie-tiny little birds but their flavor is delicate and subtle. Perfect for pan roasting (as grilling would overwhelm them) they become inbued with the flavors of their partners in any dish and picked up lovely bright notes from Nichols Farm scallions and sweet, earthy aspects from Three Sisters' corn. Local melrose peppers (long Italian frying peppers) added a bit of bite. A fresh salad of Nichols Farm sungold cherry tomatoes, Werp Farm pea shoots, summer herbs, and fennel rested atop creamy Three Sisters' white grits and next to caramelized Sweet Earth Organic's caramelized broccoli. Lots of flavors and textures competing to take center stage, but all totally balanced by the quails' tenderness and mutability.

I knew Sattler Zweigelt would be a no-brainer (pretty much anywhere tomatoes make an appearance, Sattler should also come to the party). Zweigelt is a most curious little grape. Grown in Burgenland, Austria, and distantly related to pinot noir, zweigelt loooooves food, and like the quails on Course 2 takes on the characteristics of whatever it accompanies. I like to call the Sattler a "chameleon wine" due to its ability to change appearance based on what's around. If the flavors of a dish are bold, Sattler tastes bold. If the food is juicy, Sattler is juicy, and if delicacy and subtlety are the orders of the day, Sattler follows suit. (You just have to taste it to believe, and you'll understand. In fact, a couple who had never drank zweigelt before last night took home an extra bottle for themselves--we had to uncork it at Lula to make the whole thing legal). And yes, Sattler loved the tomatoes, sweetened up to the corn stuffing, stood back and let the quail strut its stuff, and cut through the polenta. Plus, Sattler is seductively round and supple, with perfectly ripe cherry fruit and a slight hint of pepper and spice. (Can you tell I adore this wine?)

Woollaston Pinot Noir proved to be the most contraversial pick of the night (and possibly in the history of Farm Dinner tastings). First of all, Woollaston is a difficult wine to begin with. New Zealand pinots are always peculiar, with "band-aid" being the most unanimous description of its flavor profile (huh?). (Brettanomyces (beneficial yeasts) are often added to New Zealand pinots during fermentation to enhance the secondary characteristics of the wines. Often, these yeasts produce earthy scents that take on notes of . . . well . . . band-aids. Smell one, and get back to me). Anyway, Woollaston is a big pinot noir. BIG. It is a fantastic, complex, totally intelligent wine with tarry dark fruit, peppery earth, integrated tannin, and a long, spicy finish. But elegant and refined, with none of the unrestrained New Zealand-y new worldiness at all, except for its defining flavorfulness. A little French oak adds a slight woodiness to the background flavors. I mean, this is layered juice. And what better dish to pair it with than the quail, with its harmonious and mosaic juxtoposition of smokiness, juicy creaminess, and heady richness? Some of my staff (Giavanna) refused, point blank, to accept Woollaston as a worthwhile pairing, claiming it was simply overwhelming. I, on the otherhand, championed how multifaceted both the wine and food became when tasted together. Various aspects of each came in and out of focus, as deeper into glass and dish we all went. I could only vehemently insist that if any guest wanted to be truly engaged in his or her meal, Woollaston was the way to go.

Favorite: Undecided. Sattler, I guess, but undecided.

Course 3: Cream cheese terrine with watermelon and cucumber granita

Preliminary Pairings: NV Innocent Bystander Muscat, Limoncello

Bystander. Pink (adult) soda pop! Like I said before, Bystander is one of those fun, totally summery drinks that can only enhance flavors. The terrine was basically cheesecake, but earthy and flavorful, and completely balanced by the crunchy flav-r-ice-ish watermelon and cucumber granitas. Fresh versions of both added depth to the plate, and lemon balm provided needed acid. Melissa had used a dash of limoncello during cooking, so I thought the staff and I could try it (especially because we so rarely taste liqueurs). Um . . . nobody liked it, except me (of course, because I always see the good in everyone and everything . . . or maybe I'm just a sucker). For those readers out there who like limoncello, I think you'll find it nice with the terrine, for those of you who haven't tried it . . . stick with the Innocent Bystander, mkay?

Favorite: Innocent Bystander


Monday, August 3, 2009

No, it's not autumn (yet).

Over the past few months, Chicagoans have experienced quite possibly the strangest weather in recent memory. Cool, crisp mornings, followed by hazy intermittent sunshine, tons of rain, warm afternoons and almost chilly breezes at night? Such lovely fall days we've had this summer. Boutiques around town are debuting their autumn collections and I am dying to get myself into Nanette Lepore's bias-cut tweed blazer with scalloped lapels. As if channeling September already, Farm Dinner last night took on an almost faux-harvest feeling, with carrots, zucchini, apples, and the like. Might as well pull out my cozy turtlenecks and fuzzy scarves, drink some cider and declare summer officially O-V-E-R.

Course 1: Mortadella with pickled vegetables and housemade cultured butter on baguette

Preliminary Pairings: Joseph Perrier Champagne

Italian people (and French people, and Portugese people, and . . . well, pretty much all people except Americans) are lucky, because they can say the foulest things in their native languages and sound like they are reciting the most beautiful words of poetry. Mortadella, in Italian, means baloney. Well, not really. It actually is just another word for bologna, as in "Oscar Mayer." Mortadella / bologna is an Italian emulsified meat-product (usually pork, but sometimes beef as well) originally from the town of Bologna. In America, Mortadella became known for the town from whence it comes, hence, baloney. Leave it to us rednecks to bastardize mortadella (rolls off the tongue so musically) into baloney (kind of makes you think of an old car horn). Mortadella, in its truest incarnation, should be encased in beef intestine, can be studded with bits of fat or pistachios, and is spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne. Mmmmm. Jason and Nicole chose to wrap the blended Gunthorp pork in plastic (fresh out of beef intestine, unfortunately) in order to poach it sous-vide.

I love a challenge, and I grappled with the wine-pairing for Course 1 quite a bit. With earthy pork-based pates I do love a Rhone red, but to blow my wad like that so early in the game seemed unwise this time, especially considering the accompaniment of so many tangy pickled Nichols Farm summer squash and haricot verts, Werp Farm thumbelina carrots, and Green Acres zucchini and radishes, and the bright crispness of fresh cilantro. Also tricky was the head-scratching addition of a baguette slice smeared with housemade cultured butter. (All you need to know about cultured butter--and believe me, to make it Nicole went through quite the process--is that it is basically Plugra . . . you know, the really super-fancy European butter you find at gourmet grocery stores and in rich people's refrigerators).

As usual when I don't know what to do, I grabbed Champagne. (And this is true in life as well, folks, so don't present me with a difficult decision or next time you see me I'll have a hangover). This is what I figured: the zippy pickled vegetable salad provided the necessary acid to cut through the fatty mortadella, so I needed a wine that would simply complement both aspects of the dish. Joseph Perrier is Champagne in its truest sense: crisp, dry, and citrus fruit-driven, with a slight background of toasty oak vanilla, and cinnamon. Really lovely, with delicate bubbles and a gorgeous golden color. The baking spices complemented the spices in the mortadella beautifully, and as promised, the acid mellowed the fat and stood up to the pickles.

Favorite: JP

Course 2: Lake Superior whitefish with market carrots, almonds, braised pork, cipollini, and leek-summer apple mustard

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Domaine La Folie Rully Blanc Clos de la Folie, 2007 Dopff au Moulin Pinot Blanc, 2008 Verdad Rose, 2007 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge

Fish with braised pork? Another challenge. Actually, though, it makes sense: fatty and salty to provide a counterpart to the crispy lightness of pan roasted fish (adhering to the summer-into-fall theme, kind of like this vintage light grey Calvin Klein jacket I own that I can pretty much wear with anything from shorts and heels to a chunky sweater and jeans tucked into boots). Definitely a white wine necessary here, although I decided to see if my go-to Bourgogne Rouge would again surprise me with its versatility (kind of like this vintage light grey Calvin Klein jacket . . .) First, a breakdown of the dish: The whitefish sat atop a layer of the braised pork interspersed with Werp Farm red, yellow, and purple carrots, roasted cipollini onions, and cooked almonds, under which laid a swoosh of Nichols Farm summer apple-coriander puree (whose flavor echoed the cilantro in Course 1--after all, coriander and cilantro are of the same plant). Around all of this: a City Farm baby leek and summer apple mostarda, which again reflected the cilantro flavors with its green coriander and fresh coriander seed.

So I pulled the Rully, whose juicy light fruit is balanced by its creamy malo-body, and who I thought would provide a complement to the summery-fish-cilantro aspects of Course 2, and the Dopff, whose stone fruit and clean mineral, not to mention high-acid, would pair well with the autumnal braised pork, carrots, and apples. Well, I was right. Rully won out simply due to its mellowness--the same feeling as last week's Gruner and celery happened here, with the Rully showcasing the food. Dopff tasted a little sweet and obtrusive. Verdad didn't do much--it was a little bitter--and we didn't have enough time at the meeting to taste Ambroise, but the red drinkers of the night seemed to enjoy it, and I felt satisfied that B.A. redeemed himself after last week's fiasco.

Favorite: Rully

Course 3: Chambord and milk chocolate mousse torte with blackberry buttermilk sherbet

Preliminary Pairings: Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon Rose, 2004 Novaia Late-Harvest Valpolicella

Bugey, Bugey, how do I love thee . . . ? Surprise! We liked Novaia best! Here's why: this dessert is SERIOUS. Not for the faint of heart, with lots and lots of layers, different notes of earthiness in the mousses (thanks to Melissa's use of heavy creamery cream) and many shades of chocolate in various forms. Buttermilk in the sherbet lent tang, and a milk-chocolate and Chambord glaze added texture. Novaia, for all of its body and weight, stood up perfectly to this dessert. Nothing can compare to the right chocolate and wine pairing, and this one should not be missed.

Favorite: Novaia (finally)!

It's still summer, don't worry, but I think the fall preview might get us all excited for the change of season while still appreciating the days left in August to swim at the pool, barbeque, ride bikes, and drink wine on the patio . . . which reminds me, I'm starving after writing about all this food, and Andrew has made brandade, I've got a Bandol Rose chilling . . . E-toodles!