Sometimes Chefs just want to play with cool ingredients and have fun with cooking. I think Farm Dinner last night exemplified what makes Lula's brand of cuisine so enticing: esoteric (Mom, I know you're cringing) centerpieces made accessible when coupled with farm-to-table sensibilities and artistic expression.
Course 1: Grilled baby octopus with spaghetti squash, bordeaux spinach, house cured lardo, capers, and cranberry vinaigrette
Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 75 Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Tenuta Garetto Barbera d'Asti In Pectore
Baby octopus is, in the main, fairly straightforward--slightly mouthy in texture, with a definite seafood flavor. Lemon and octopus are constant companions, as with many other fish--high acid and slight astringency cuts through the fishy flavor and texture. Last night, lemon took the form of a neat-o puree as the base for the accompaniment to the octopus--a mosaic (thanks, Mike) of local raw cranberries, spaghetti squash, pinenuts, and fines herb sat underneath the baby octopus interspersed with Werp Farm Bordeaux spinach (dressed in a warm cranberry vinaigrette), cranberries, plumped raisins, and tangy capers. Finally, house cured lardo dotted the dish, adding salty richness and depth of flavor (it is a testament to Lula Cafe's popularity and Jason Hammel's pied piper-esque abilities for folks to follow him blindly into the world of dry cured pork fatback. I'm just sayin'.).
So anyway, with lemons on the brain, I pulled Lula Farm Dinner fave 75 SB to pair with the octopus dish, counting on its (all together n0w) high acid and lovely citrus flavors to complement the lemon puree, cranberries, and lardo, and the refreshing qualities of 75 to stand up to the seafoodiness of the octopus. I also wanted to try Tariquet, which we always serve BTG at Lula and which I thought might be a fall-back in case we sold out of 75. Tariquet possesses many similar qualities to 75 but with a less refined air (a younger wine, and less expensive)--the citrus not as mellow, the acid more effervescent (which isn't always a bad thing, but in the case of Tariquet speaks to a case of unbalance). Finally, we've loved TG Barbera with capers before and I couldn't resist test-driving in again with the capers on Course 1.
All the acid and lemon stuff worked as predicted with both SB's, but with a small twist: 75, which I was sure would remain as crisp and refreshing as usual, changed in the mouth and took on a creamy consistency, almost like a malo-chardonnay. Why? Perhaps the lemon puree or the lardo muted the high-acid qualities a bit and the fat in the dish overpowered 75's ability to cut through. Tariquet, whose flavors appeared a tad unbalanced in comparison with 75, suddenly became a more elegant, clean-tasting wine when drunk with Course 1. Hm. The harsh citrus tasted softer, and the acid seemed less over-the-top. Awesome. Finally, the TG Barbera made it all come together, with its delicate red fruits and integrated tannin, plus violet-y spice, tasting delicious with the amalgam of flavors in the octopus dish. I would be remiss not to urge each and every one of you to try TG with a caper. Perfect harmony.
Favorites: Tariquet for white, TG for red
Course 2: House made cavatelli with black mission figs, black olive, braised pork cheek, feta, and cipollini agridolce
Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Tenuta Garetto Barbera d'Asti, 2006 D Cubed Napa Valley Primitivo
Ah, braised pork face. I mean cheek. What earthy, gamey flavors you lend, yet what richness, what comfort? Truly lovely here, with the sweetness of the figs providing a counterpoint to the earthiness of the Slagel Farm pork cheek, black olive and cipollini agridolce (with lemon vinegar and cardamom) adding tang, zip, and savory, sheep's feta adding fat and depth, and handmade yogurt in the cavatelli rounding out the dish with grassy, slightly sour components.
TG Barbera, with all of its elegance and austerity, was simply too prim and proper to hang with the cavatelli. Not enough gusto, not rustic enough. D Cubed Primitivo, however, brought the rock with a heady combo of dark plummy fruits, sexy spice, leather, and tobacco, not to mention a knock-your-socks off structure of juicy fruit backed by eye-opening tannin. The cavatelli dish was deceptively rich, I think, light in color with tiny dots of black (olives and figs) and pure white (feta) but the pork cheek hiding inside added so much powerful flavor that the Primitivo stood up with flair.
Favorite: D Cubed
Course 3: Bitter chocolate meringue tart with mocha ice cream and espresso bark
Preliminary Pairings: 2004 Novaia Recioto della Valpolicella Le Novaje, 2006 Clos la Chance Late Harvest Zinfandel
Shortbread crust, dark chocolate ganache, Italian meringue, and mocha ice cream. Simple as that, yet an exercise in both power and delicacy, with the dark, bitter chocolate acting as the perfect foil for light-as-air meringue.
I was nervous about how the fruitiness of both late-harvest reds would taste with the mocha and espresso aspects of Course 3, but the staff and I were pleasantly surprised, as the bitter chocolate took center stage and both Novaia and Clos la Chance were able to perform to their best advantages. We liked Clos la Chance just a titch more, as the Novaia shows so much juicy red fruit but not as many deeper smoky qualities, it didn't quite "get there" with the meringue tart, while Clos la Chance's layered dark aspects provided a bit of a better match with the chocolate.
Favorite: Clos la Chance
Until next week, thanks for reading!