Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lula Cleans House

Getting ready for winter means clearing out space in one's pantry for all the winter staples that must keep through the leaner months. Lucky for us Chicagoans in the know, at Lula it means playing around with extra pork bits and fall harvest leftovers.

Monday 11.09.09
Course 1: Pork consomme with crispy pork belly and smoked trout dumplings

Preliminary Pairings: NV Joseph Perrier Brut Royale, 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner Fiederspiel

Naturally, as soon as I heard the word consomme the "wine pairings" section of my cerebral cortex zoomed into overdrive. French, surely, with clean flavors and balanced acid. The inclusion of smoked trout dumplings in the garnish, however, threw a bit of a curveball into the proceedings. It's been awhile since I broke out the bubbly at Farm Dinner, and smoked fish and sparkling wine are a classic combo, so I figured we'd test drive old Joseph P (or J-Pee-Pee, as one Lula staffer once dubbed him) to make sure he's still up to snuff. Also, keeping in mind that a table full of Lula line cooks and their favorite bartender would be joining us, I figured it was as good a night as any to get a little celebratory. Having since dispensed with my go-to consomme pairing (the Domaine de la Folie Rully Blanc), I turned to my clutch "pristine flavors" wine--Prager GV Federspiel--as a still alternative.

It's always nice to have extra pork scraps lying around. Hints of apple and maple flavored the consomme, and maple cured pork belly was crisped to order and layed in the bottom of the empty bowl (you know, Lula Soup-style). Finally, the twist: rather than smoking the belly to add that "bacon-y" flavor, the strips were left unsmoked and the "bacon-y" flavor was lent by the smoked trout, which was made into a mousse and blanched like little gnocchis. A salad of radicchio, chive, and chervil was lightly interspersed as an additional garnish, and paprika salt added a bit of earth and bite.

J-Pee-Pee was a no brainer--super toasty and dry flavored on the palate, with a contrasting juicy mouthfeel to cut through the fat of the pork stock and belly and the pungency of the trout. The slight fruit allowed for a bit of floral spice to come out when interacting with the paprika. Prager was also delightful and perhaps a bit more challenging with slightly more pronounced citrus fruit to add an extra element of flavor. Also, a wine with such crisp, balanced acid provides such a necessary complement to the heartiness of a pork based soup with additional fatty aspects.

Favorites: J-Pee-Pee AND Prager GV

Course 2: Grilled arctic char with peeky-toe crab-celery root fritters, apple, and turnip

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Domaine Merlin Cherrier Sancerre, 2007 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge

An interesting fact: arctic char is a sustainable choice. Cool. About the dish: The char was grilled on one side while basting on the other in a yummy butter-celery-onion-herb mixture, so one side retained a "grill-y" flavor while the other, a more "poached-y" one. Green Acres turnips were cooked sous vide and laid willy-nilly (in an arty way) on Puy lentils cooked in chicken stock and studded with mirepoix for flavor, texture, and color. Peeky-toe crab and yukon potatoes were rolled with horseradish, cayenne, a bit of bay leaf, and beer-battered and fried to a golden crispness and rested atop an onion-soubise style aioli (are you getting this?Lula does crab cakes!) Finally, a chopped salad of Grannysmith apples and celery root was dressed in verjus, horseradish, honey, and mustard and lent mellow acid and tang, not to mention fresh-fruit texture and sweetness.

Domaine Merlin Cherrier Sancerre is Loire Valley all the way with its honeyed green apple and slightly sulfuric chalky minerality. All the lovely acid in Cherrier truly complemented Course 2, especially the aioli-fritters part, and the flavors didn't do any harm either, as green apple was a major component in the salad and a major player in the palate of the wine. Interestingly, old Bert Ambriose was a leeeeeeeeeeetle bit too tannic for the char dish, (usually BA's soft, soft tannins don't become too pronounced) but the flavors were right on--light juicy fruit corresponding well with the meatier char and mellower crab. (Incidentally, BA was absolutely perfect with the consomme, further proving my assertion that all you need with clarified broth is a wine from Burgundy).

Favorite: Sancerre

Course 3: Klug Farm Cortland apple strudel with preserved cherry ice cream and Calvados

Preliminary Pairings: Innocent Bystander Muscat, NV Vin du Bugey-Cerdon

Baklava-style strudel, with as many sweet-pack preserved cherries as Melissa could muster into a single plate. Preserved cherries everywhere!: in the filling, the gastrique, in the compote! All delicious. Apple spice cake crumbs bolstered up the strudel-filling and calvados added a bit of heat and tang. What better wine with cherries than . . . . you guessed it! Bugs! Haven't seen him since we killed the wabbit this summer. Well, Bugs didn't disappoint; just have it sometime with cherries and you'll see what I mean--the same flavors. Innocent Bystander Muscat was also delicious--a little lighter, sliiiiiiiiiiightly less sweet version of Vin du Bugey that essentially covers the same bases. Deeelish.

Favorites: Both!

Do me a favor and come in with friends, order a bottle of Sancerre and eat the Char. It's somthing special.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yodel-Ay-Hee-Holladays Are Approaching!

Seems like just yesterday I was waxing on about autumn in Logan Square, and the hot days and cool nights. Well, post-Halloween everything seems a bit more wintery, including our culinary proclivities. Despite my certainty that 97.9, Chicago's favorite Lite FM station would already be broadcasting its "All Christmas All the Time" programming (as if on November 1st little magical elves take over the radio, burn all the Belinda Carlisle, and replace the albums with Bing Crosby and Burl Ives) it seems that our little town isn't quite ready for the sparkly white canopy of Yuletide frost that I'm already eagerly anticipating.

Of course November brings its own brand of holiday cheer with that controversial little number we alternately like to call Thanksgiving, The Harvest Celebration, or Let's Ignore the Fact that Early American Settlers Pretty Much Committed Genocide. Either way, when a pork chop makes an appearance, you know dinner's going to be good.

And naturally (as I did in September) I'm getting ahead of myself by already gearing up for the holidays. It's just that there was an undeniable air of things to come on Monday night and I couldn't help but imagine us all gathered around the hearth, warming our nip-bitten hands by the fire, and generally enjoying the warmth of friendship, good food, and good booze.

Monday 11.02.09
Course 1: Risotto with romanesco cauliflower, guanciale, farmstead cream, and arugula from Green Acres Farm

Preliminary Pairing: 2007 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Blanc La Redonne

Did you know that there are more kinds of risotto rice than simply arborio? Jason used the "sleeper hit" vialone nano rice for this risotto--a more refined, delicate grain. Housemade cultured butter and Green Acres arugula, folded into the risotto, provided richness and a little bite. Romanesco cauliflower looks like "broccoflower" or "cauliccoli" (which doesn't sound so good) and aesthetically recalls the spikes on a Triceratops (yes? anyone?). Again, a very delicate mouthfeel and flavor without all the bitterness of broccoli or the dryness of cauliflower. Crispy guanciale added texture and savory aspects while parmesan and cultured cream again upped the richness factor. Juuuuuust a touch of lemon juice lent the necessary balancing acid and tang.

So I was sure that Colombo (everybody's favorite loveable curmudgeonly private detective roussane/viognier . . . sigh. Just kidding.) would totally work here. Wrong! Too much honeysuckle and petro, and tart, tart citrus fruit, and not enough juicy fruit to back it up. Bummer. It was just a little too bitter, a little too sour, and a little too tart for the delicate and savory amalgam of flavors in the risotto. Moving on. The Chinon (originally meant as a contender for Course 2) saved the day here, with it's gigantic juicy mouth of stone fruit and slately minerality stealing the show. Absolutely a lovely match for the slight lemon aspects of the dish, and truly clean and palate-cleansing when tasted with the salty, heady guanciale and parmesan cheese.

Interestingly, I thought that Colombo would pair better with the lemons, after all, citrus is part of his flavor profile. Perhaps a more pronounced lemon flavor in the dish would have served Colombo better, because his citrus components overpowered those of Course 1. Live and learn. Arugula is very difficult to pair with red wine (again, a bitterness issue) and both of our red contenders possess slightly too much tannin and spice to allow arugula to shine.

Favorite: 2007 CD Chinon

Course 2: Slagel Farm pork chop with mutsu apple and swiss chard baked in house-made phyllo, celery root puree, and pork jus

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc Les Chanteaux, 2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier, 2007 Stoller Family Pinot Noir

Ye Olde Porke Choppe. Tricky, because ordinarily my go-to would be a riesling, especially given the apple-swiss chard-celery root combo, but I was truly curious to see what Chinon would do. First, about the dish: the chops were brined in brown sugar and allspice, sugar, and thyme, and then roasted, and sat atop a lovely salad of swiss chard stems and celery root which were dressed in a horseradish vinaigrette to add a bit of balancing bite. On the side, a strudel-esque invention of phyllo dough (made in-house) wrapped mutsu apples, swiss chard, and raclette cheese, and underneath, an olive-oil celery root puree. I mean, swaddle me in cashmere and sleigh-ride me through Rhineland. Are you kidding? It's like Sound of Music meets Heidi (Klum, that is) if her costumes were commissioned by Juicy Couture. Wait, what? You just had to be there.

So CD (which is quickly gaining status as another Chameleon fave) was all green apple and juicy honey with the pork chop, doing wonders with the sugary brininess of the chops and balancing the earthy-grassy aspects of the celery root puree and bitterness of the chard. Pinot meunier (as we all know) is like the goth cousin of pinot noir and the Saint Greg's brooding dark fruit and zippy spice was quite challenging and lively with Course 2, standing up to the chard and tempering the salt and fat in the pork chops. Stoller Pinot Noir, which I pulled in case we sold out of Saint G, ended up as the dark horse of the night, with the savory-soy sauce characteristics in the palate adding a non-fruity counterpoint to the apple strudel and the light, curranty fruit lending a complementary flavor profile.

Favorites: CDChinon, Stoller

Course 3: Pinenut tart with white cornmeal, meyer lemon, and olive oil ice cream

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Pacific Rim Vin de Glaciere, 2006 Kracher Berenauslese Cuvee

It's widely known about Lula that Jason Hammel eschews olive oil ice cream. "It's so . . . 2002." Well, lucky for all of us, Melissa used some Ligurian stuff that possesses slightly less grassy aspects than your usual, so what comes through in the ice cream are the lovely green, vegetal characteristics of the oil. When combined with Meyer lemon, eggs, and cream, the result is (again) delicate, refined, yet complex in flavor while deft-handed in texture. Really lovely. It accompanied a 3 Sisters Organics' cornmeal crusted meyer lemon tart studded with whole pinenuts, and light but confident use of that crazy mugolio (the nectar extracted from pine cones) lent just enough zippy herbaceousness. Meyer lemon curd and mugolio dotted the plate as well.

Kracher Berenauslese was simply too honey-fied for this dessert and really rather drab. Not enough citrus, in my opinion, to stand up to all the Meyer lemon. Pac Rim, with all of it's fancy flav-r-ice citrus-ness stepped in and did the trick, adding the requisite amount of sugary balance and tangy counterpoint.

Favorite: Pac Rim

Sadly I think this was a one-off, but stay tuned . . . Winter season promises to bring us hitherto unforseen ways to eat well at Lula while the rest of the world dines on canned soup and green bean casserole. We've got the wines open, so come on in and taste!