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.

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