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!

1 comment:

  1. I love your description of the 2008 Hopler Gruner Veltliner from Burgenland as a "fruit-bomb" with a "briney minerality." I like how you can taste the minerals from the soil within the wine.