Maybe I'm obsessed with shopping, but to me, Farm Dinner was the gastronomic equivalent of this year's must-have early fall fashion staples: 3.1 Phillip Lim's gauzy, lightweight slub-style boyfriend t-shirt layered under a luscious, rich, chunky-knit Chloe sweater coat with Brian Atwood's gorgeous cognac-leather platform ankle booties. Sounds delicious, doesn't it?
Course 1: September market salad with chicories, apple, turnip, marcona almonds, fiore sardo, and goat milk yogurt dressing
Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Blanc, 2007 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc Les Chanteaux, 2006 Monticello Vineyards Pinot Noir
So this salad was rare for Lula because of its (non) composition: a plate of greens, dressed, with fruit, nuts, and other ingredients interspersed. Generally, Lula's chefs like architectural or deconstructed salads (2007's potted confit beets, anyone?) but new Sous Mike continues to push the envelope and keep us on our toes by challenging our ideas of what we do.
The salad was light-as-air in texture and color with crunchy escarole, curly endive, and arugula, and raw shaved Nichols Farm apples and Werp's turnips; deceptively hearty, filling, and earthy, however, as the Swan Creek goat's milk lend heady, tangy grassy notes to the house-made creamy yogurt dressing. Marcona almonds, deliciously spiced with autumn-in-a-mouthfull cinnamon and ginger lent tooth and bite, while golden raisins (pickled in another fall-spice favorite combo of cinnamon, star anise, and green coriander) added acid and sweetness. Finally, in an inspired move, Fiore Sardo (Sardinian goat's cheese) was delicately shaved throughout. This brilliant addition of the smoky, rustic aspects of Fiore Sardo truly achieved balance and depth in the dish.
Unexpected happenings, wine-wise. I was fairly certain that C-D Chinon, known for its honeysuckle, stone fruit flavors and balanced slatey minerality (from the Loire, after all) would echo and complement the raisins and vinaigrette (which, in addition to the yogurt, was comprised of a fair amount of local honey for body) while balancing and tempering the earthiness of the goat flavors. Also, chenin blancs are nice with smoked cheeses due to the slight petrol notes on both nose and palate. Well, I was right, although the actual taste of C-D with the salad wasn't as mellow as I had predicted--both wine and food flavors changed a bit when tasted together, but in an altogether pleasurable way. It seemed that C-D enhanced the grassiness in the salad, which was nice, while fruit flavors in the wine seemed to slightly eclipse the minerality.
Domaine du Salvard was a wild card for me that did not pay off. I wanted to counterbalance the very flavorful, large-scale smells and flavors of the Chinon Blanc with a slightly cleaner, more austere option. I had originally pulled a pinot blanc but decided against it in the end, fearing that I hadn't gone too far opposite C-D. Salvard is still from the Loire so I figured simply a regional similarity would keep us from straying too far off the mark. A sauvignon blanc / chardonnay blend, Salvard is all citrus fruit and brine with the typical Loire wet stone. Very fruity and round in the nose, Salvard tends to be bright and tart on the palate--too much so for the earthiness of the salad. We actually tried Salvard first, and while quite nicely balanced at the start of a bite, the Salvard finished bitter and we vetoed it on the spot.
Finally, the dark horse of the three preliminaries of Course 1: Monticello PN. We loooooooved it. First of all, Monticello is new to Lula's list and already offered as a glass pour alternative to O'Reilly's Pinot Noir (which is younger, and more inexpensive). The staff and I are super-excited to sell Monticello, which is from Napa but feels refined like a Burgundy, with subtle dark fruit, savory herbs, and integrated tannin, while maintaining a juicy, food-friendly mouthfeel and balanced acid. I think the gorgeous velvety fruit-herb flavors truly balanced the goat yogurt's barnyard funkiness while matching the Fiore Sardo and complementing the spices in the almonds and raisins. YUM.
Favorites: C-D Chinon, Monticello
Course 2: Pan roasted Lake Superior trout with sweet potato pommes anna, caramelized broccoli, chorizo, and px sherry vinaigrette
Preliminary Pairings: 2004 Bodegas y Vinedos Conde de San Cristobal Tempranillo / Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot
First we pulled on our gauzy t-shirt and now we need to dress for the weather with our toasty sweater coat. Folks, say hello to pan roasted lake trout with apples. A study in reds, Course 2 was beautifully presented and the flavors matched the artistry of the dish bite-for-bite. This trout had a pretty pinkish hue and a meaty texture (so much that some might have mistaken in for salmon) but a delicate, mild flavor that no salmon could ever hope to achieve. Basted in butter, chorizo, and garlic clove, the trout had the requisite crispy skin and sat atop local caramelized broccoli. On the side, the piece de resistance of pommes anna: sweet and wax potatoes layered lovingly with celery root and pear butter (red wine poached pears served as the base) took the place of a cheese in a gratin. Finally, a small but substantial-in-flavor salad of beauty heart radishes, purslane, caperberries, and dry cured chorizo, dressed in px sherry-pear vinaigrette, added acid, sweetness, crisp bursts of flavor and visual interest. I should say here that Course 2 really was a sight to behold, with colors and textures truly delighting the eye. Even in the salad, the patterns in the shaved radishes mimicked the striations and marbling in the chorizo. Cool.
It was the chorizo, in fact, that inspired my wine selection for the trout--Spanish cured meat as a theme throughout the dish? OK, let's try a Spanish wine. The San Cristobal is another Lula newbie and one of the best wines I feel I've tasted this year: Again, a little older vintage means mellow fruit and subtle, velvety tannin, and delicious tempranillo lends its spice and slightly darker fruit with mineral and herbal earth. Sweater coat, indeed. Let's wrap ourselves up in this one and sit by the fire drinking it, right? Anyway, San Cristobal's fruit did wonders with the pommes anna, the perfect-food-wine medium body (the Spanish are truly adept at producing food-friendly juice) balanced the fish, and the spice and mineral complemented the chorizo wonderfully. Deelish.
Favorite: San Cristobal
Course 3: Klug Farm poached pear with autumn ice creams
Preliminary Pairings: Warre's 10yr Tawny Porto, Alvear Solera Cream Sherry
Autumn ice creams: sweet potato lightly spiced with black pepper, ginger, and cinnamon, brown-sugar brandy ice cream studded with brown sugar-macerated raisins, and pear sorbet. Atop all of these, a brandy, cinnamon, ginger, root, and black peppercorn poached pear, with sweet potato and raisin compote and a brandy gastrique (more sweet than sour with just the slightest hint of vinegar for balance) around the plate. As if the dish needed more amazingly complementary flavors and textures, a brandy soaked semolina cake added a mouthy component. Writing about this dessert cannot in any way do it justice, but just imagine the luxurious, fabulous, sexy shoe-fetishistic pleasure of those color-so-deep-you-could-swim-in-it Brain Atwood cognac-leather booties and you can begin to get the idea. (Plus, cognac=brandy which is what Melissa used in the dessert . . . am I pushing the metaphor?)
But no cognac for pairing. Dave and Tracey tried Calvados but my suspicions were confirmed when they both agreed it was overpowering. I really wanted the Warre's to work this time, but no dice: too strong, again. Alvear proved itself again to be the most versatile dessert wine we seem to have on the list at Lula, which its lovely nutty, slightly caramely bright raisin flavors providing a perfectly balanced sweetness with the ice creams and semolina cake.
Favorite: Alvear (I swear, next week we won't even try it)
I'm fairly certain all these dishes will make an appearance in the next week. You must try Monticello, and please do yourselves a favor and if you miss San Cristobal by the glass, come in and order a bottle--really, it is the perfect autumn wine.