Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Girl Who Cried Houndstooth Finally Puts on Her Coat

Ok, so I know I've been going on and on about autumn coming early to Logan Square and me being ready to bust out my cozy scarves and sweaters and stuff, and then it was totally hot and summery for like a month . . . Well, autumn came to Logan Square yesterday, officially (according to the calendar) and unofficially, as Farm Dinner ushered in fall with a culinary tour-de-force of the changing seasons' bounty. It is really quite challenging to do summer-into-fall with class, trust me. How does one gracefully segue (sartorially in any case) from a 50-degree, golden honey-crisp morning into a blazing 80-degree afternoon and then back again to a chilly sunset? By knowing your own closet, ladies. It's all about the right layering. Well, last night the Lula sous brought-it with intimate understanding of a just-right juxtoposition of early autumn's offerings with late summer accents.

Monday 09.21.09
Course 1: Grilled Spanish mackerel with porcini mushrooms, raw autumn vegetables, and white miso

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner, 2007 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone La Redonne Blanc, 2007 Sattler Family Zweigelt

Mackerel is an oily fish, grilled to perfection here and tempered, texturally, with bright, raw vegetables. Porcini mushrooms were pureed with white miso to add earth and a little bit of that elusive umami to serve as a bridge between the fishy mackerel and the clean flavors of local butternut squash, chioggia beets, celery root, and shaved pear. Mustard oil (an amazing product--not mustard infused olive oil, but the actual oil of mustard seeds) added subtle heat.

I needed wines that wouldn't overpower the delicacy of raw vegetables but could stand up to the rather pungent mackerel and support the earthiness of the porcinis. Luckily, Prager GV has all the right components: a pristine, mineral driven palate with hints of austere citrus fruit and the necessary acid backed by crisp bursts of near-effervescence. Perfectly tart with the uncooked vegetables and possessing just the right amount of unctuousness in the mouth, Prager GV was a dream come true with the mackerel dish. Jean-Luc Colombo, whose Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc is a Lula staff fave, has just a tad too much honeyed-fruit not to clash with the mackerel, although it was lovely with the squash and beets and truly allowed the spicy mustard oil to shine. Finally, Sattler Zweigelt (another pairing stand-by) showed off its versatility yet again by mellowing out next to the mackerel and mustard (while still providing delicate, yet prevalent flavor) and matching up brilliantly to the juicy, refreshing vegetable salad.

Favorite: 2007 Prager GV

Course 2: Slow roasted Gunthorp Farm pork shoulder with brussels sprouts and shell beans, hazelnut butter, pancetta, and ground cherry 'choucroute'

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Sattler Family Zweigelt, 2004 Patrick Lesec Selections Chateauneuf du Pape Pierres Dorees

When sous-chef Mike told me that a prevalent flavor idea behind the pork shoulder was
"forest floor" I immediately thought of Chateauneuf du Pape, especially considering the herbs-du-provence triumph of this summer's 3-D bacon moment. Like Costello Tagliapietra's elegently draped silks and velvets of Fall 2009 in the most gorgeous hues of muted slates, aubergines, and mustards as a direct response to their flashes of brightly colored taffetas for the season before, the forest floor characteristics of garrigue (that ever-controversial description for the terroir of the Southern Rhone and Provence) are autumn's darker, headier answer to the golden, late-summer-afternoon-sun-soaked qualities of its herbs-du-provence counterpart (remember: lavender, thyme, rosemary, etc).

First, a bit about the dish: Gunthorp Farm pork shoulders were cured in caraway, garlic, and thyme, and roasted and rolled around a farce (which is basically a stuffing) of braised red cabbage, dried cherries, and hazelnuts (it's like you can feel the leaves falling and that autumn afternoon chill already, eh?). Brussels sprouts and cranberry beans were cooked in a hazelnut butter and lent lovely textural layers and pops of green, vegetal flavors, while the ground cherry choucroute added tang and acid. "What is ground cherry choucroute?" do I hear you say? Choucroute is a traditional Anglo-Germanic (Um, I made that up: just think Alsace) accompaniment to many meats, especially sausages, and is, in layman's terms (the only terms I use, incidentally, when it comes to cooking) a hot sauerkraut cooked in FAT (this time, pork fat, of course) and seasoned with all sorts (in this case, caraway, juniper, Hendrix gin, amongst other things), and ground cherries are little bursts of flavor that look like caperberries but are most likely a cross between a tomatillo and a gooseberry. Finally, crispy pancetta and pork cracklins provided more textural interest and depth of flavor.

So due to Course 2's Bavarian origins, the Sattler Zweigelt seemed a natural contender and an interesting foil to the Lesec Chateauneuf du Pape. The thing about Sattler is that he's just so darn food-friendly, and his juicy acid did wonders with the tangy choucroute. Dark cherry fruit echoed the dried cherries in the farce and soft tannins mingled well with the crispy pancetta and cracklins. Sounds great, right? It was, but Lesec was better, if you can believe it. Simply the presence of garrige, in my opinion, rounded out the flavors and gave CdP its edge as the true winner. It is difficult to explain the magic that happens in the mouth with the right wine-food match. Some wines are simply made for some foods, as was the case with Lesec and Course 2. I will say that perhaps the age difference between Lesec and Sattler could've lent an advantage--after all, Lesec has had time for the tannic qualities to mellow and integrate, the fruit to become silkier, and the garrigue to take center stage.

Favorite: 2004 Lesec CdP

Course 3: Dark chocolate gianduja torte with salted caramel buttercream and Frangelico ice cream

Preliminary Pairings: Frangelico, Warres 10yr Tawny Porto, Alvear Solera Cream Sherry

Gianduja is not fancy nutella (ok, it is). Seriously. The torte was dense and rich, with an almost flourless chocolate cake consistency. Pulverized hazelnuts were studded throughout the cake and it laid atop a swoosh of chocolate-caramel sauce. Salted caramel buttercream lightened up the plate a bit, as did Frangelico ice cream, and a yummy hazelnut touille added crunch and echoed the hazelnutty flavors in the gianduja.

Frangelico was a no-brainer, but some people don't like liqueurs and I was curiuos to know which of our dessert wines would be best. The staff was divided (again) between Warre's and Alvear, but it seemed that in the end, Alvear showed himself to a slightly better advantage. After all the sherry has those nutty qualities that perfectly echoed the hazelnuts in the dish, as well as a slightly less raisinated flavor profile as compared to Warre's.

Favorite: Alvear Sherry

So there you have it: Fall's first offical Farm Dinner. Harvest season is upon us and it's only gonna get more hearty, rich, and comforting. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to stare into my closet for the next 45 minutes so I can figure out what to wear that won't be too hot for the next 2 hours until the sun goes down and the temperature plummets. Love it!

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