Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beef: It's What's for Farm Dinner

I won't bother much with preamble here: Spring, my trench coat, yada yada yada, steak!

Farm Dinner 03.08.10
Course 1: Heirloom red corn polenta with black trumpet mushroom agridolce, stinging nettles, fromage blanc, and ash-baked fennel

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, 2006 D'Antiche Terre Greco di Tufo

Vegetarians, get ready: at last, something other than a salad to whet your appetites before the mains. Jason and Mike are consciously trying to provide at least one non-meat appetizer for our herbivorous diners, and this premiere offering is nothing short of inspired. The polenta took center stage on the plate and was courtesy of Anson Mills (out of South Carolina) a producer of organic heirloom corn varietals that are ground on site on a Civil War era stone mill. Buttery and bolstered with parmesan cheese, the red corn polenta was baked and then pan fried to order. Accompanied by a black trumpet mushroom agrodolce and sauteed stinging nettles (the first of the season, from the West Coast), the polenta was topped with mustard greens interspersed with our own line cook Nathan Whittaker's home made fromage blanc, which, texturally, was a cross between cream cheese and chevre and possessed a tangy, creme fraiche quality that provided a perfect foil to the brightness of the agrodolce and the savory, crispy polenta. Finally, to add a bit of earthiness and depth to the plate, fennel was cooked low and slow in ashes from the smoker, which lent a campfire-y flavor and brought out all the fennel's low notes.

My preliminary picks, both white wine, worked for disparate reasons but both were enjoyable. As a side note, I would also recommend drinking a light, fruity, juicy red wine with the polenta dish. Old staff fave 2007 Prager GV, of the clean, austere citrus flavors and steely minerality, was a lovely counterpart to the smoky fennel and creamy cheese. D'Antiche Terre G di Tufo, whose near-effervescence makes it a shoo-in for food pairings, brightly complemented the agrodolce and cut through the richness of the crispy polenta.

Favorites: Both! And any juicy, fruity red. Try our 2006 Protos Roble!

Course 2: Dietzler Farm Ribeye with beets and celery root, rosemary, and a caramelized onion-sweetbreads tart

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Tierra Divina Old Vine Malbec, 2008 Crios Cabernet

Dietzler Farms: 100 % grass fed. Yowza. Amazing what happens when the focus is not longer on fat content and tenderness but on flavor: a much more interesting, complex, and interactive steak experience, at least in my book. The ribeyes were cooked sous vide with red wine and aromatic herbs and then pan roasted to order, and sat atop rosemary aioli dressed roasted beets and celery root, which were adorned with watercress lightly sprinkled with a white anchovy vinaigrette. The little surprise on the plate was a tartlett of caramelized onions and sweetbreads accompanied with juuuuuust the right helping of taleggio, that stinky ole Italian cow's milk cheese. The sweet onions, funky cheese, and tender sweet breads, inside a piping hot puff pastry shell. The trick here, ladies and germs, is that half the butter in the tart shells was replaced with . . . (drum roll pleeeeease) . . . BONE MARROW. As Jorge (illustrious PM server) would say, "Oh f*ck yeah." Delicious.

As is quite often the case, one of the wines provided a complement and one provided a counterpart. In the situation of Course 2, '06 Tierra Divina Malbec's jammy, stewed fruit, integrated tannin, and baking spice-tinged oak acted almost as a cushion for the amalgam of flavors on the ribeye dish, particularly with the onion and taleggio combo in the tart and the earthiness of the steak. '08 Crios, on the other hand, is actually quite light for a single-varietal cabernet and possesses bright fruit and soft tannin, both of which were evident, even in tandem with all the aspects of Course 2. Again, both wines worked for their own mysterious and seductive reasons, which is always cool for us here at Lula because we just get more stuff to talk about.

Favorites: Both (again!)

Course 3: Apple, Calvados, and raspberry ice creams with ginger cake and crabapple broth

Preliminary Pairings: Maculan Dindarello, Chambers Muscat

Apple sorbet, Calvados ice cream, and Klug Farm raspberry ice cream atop a ginger cake (like a molasses-free gingersnap cookie) and steeped in crabapple-raspberry broth. Sounds like a dream confection, and it was truly delicious--light in the right places, rich where it counts, with spicy ginger and tart crabapple providing moments of interest. Calvados poached dehydrated apples and candied ginger floated in the broth. Maculan's sweet citrus and honey flavors stood back and allowed the ginger to shine, and acted as a supplemental aspect for the broth, while Chambers took the ginger flavors by the hand and did a nice little two-step, complete with twirls and dips. This was a great combo. Chambers' nutty, caramely aspects also did nice things for the apple and raspberry flavors respectively.

Favorites: Both!

Well, there wasn't a loser in the bunch (score for Miriam) and we're serving them by the glass all week, so come in and see what I'm talking about!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicago Needs Sustainence: Lula Cooks Whole Boar, Feeds Entire City

As winter’s chill settles into our bones, Chicagoans seek out rich and hearty foods to sustain our bodies and feed our souls. Just as we would swath ourselves from balaklava to Sorel boots in MicroFleece and goosedown, so do we seek to pad our persons with a thick coating of nutrient-driven insulation. Catch my drift? Just a few days ago I sauntered into Lula’s prep kitchen hoping to be the lucky recipient of a scrap of something or other delicious before banishment to the dustbin when I found myself staring into the cold, unfeeling eyes of a deftly beheaded porcine creature. Startling, yes, but intriguing nonetheless, as I suspected the unfortunate animal’s presence indicated Farm Dinner menu experimentation and finalization. Indeed, LouisJohn Slagel (meat farmer extraordinaire and, incidentally, bearer of probably the most epic name this side of the Mississip’) had dropped off an entire boar for Lula’s disposal—a wily, wascally guy who had escaped castration but eventually met his end in the name of nose-to-tail cooking.

Course 1: Crackling salad with frisee, poached egg, pickled beets, housemade testa, and beet vinaigrette

Preliminary Pairings: NV Joseph Perrier Brut, 2006 D’Antiche Terre Greco di Tufo

Some of you may think that my absence from the blogosphere would have given me some time to formulate new favorite wine pairings. Not the case—I still like the bubbly. Sorry, but how could I not bust out our old buddy J-Pee-Pee for a first-course salad based around fried boar’s skins (read: pork rinds)? I mean, it’s almost as classic as the Champs and Popeye’s Chicken combo . . . not to mention the addition of a poached Genesis Farm egg, malt vinegar pickled Nichols Farm beets, and crunchy Swan Creek goat ricotta cheese curds? Duh. The whole thing screams for the crisp, toasty mouthfeel and juicy citrus flavors of NV-JP. Perfection. As a still alternative we tried Greco di Tufo, known by the staff as an almost-effervescent, high acid still wine—a terrific alternative to sparkling if a guest is wary of the bubbly stuff. The clean citrus mingled beautifully with the pickled beets and poached egg, while the slightly petrol-tinged, briny minerality provided a nice counterpart to the malt vinaigrette and, of course, the testa.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the main event of Course 1: Boar’s Head Cheese.

“Pray tell,” I hear you say. “What, may I ask, is head cheese?”

“Well ladies, you’re listening to coffee talk. ‘Head cheese’ is neither ‘head’ nor ‘cheese.’ Discuss.”

If you must know, head cheese is the amalgam of some less glamorous pork parts* braised, tenderized, picked off of bone, and packed in a terrine under gelatinized, cooled braising stock flavored with (in this case) apple cider vinegar. The whole thing is served room temperature and is easy to slice, like a block of cheese. I suppose the name “head cheese” is derived from the presence of pork cheek and the dish’s sliceability.

Honestly, Chef Mike’s is delicious, delicate, and flavorful, with a pleasant texture and a beautifully marbled appearance, and it’s addition to the salad of Course 1 was delightful.

*Cheek, tongue, trotters, tail; someone get my mother a drink

Course 2: Milk poached pork loin and boudin blanc with chard, butter braised radishes, marcona almonds, pink lady apples, and parmesan croquette

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, 2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier

For LouisJohn’s boar’s second act, Jason Hammel poached the loin in milk and used the shoulders for boudin blanc, an emulsified sausage. Course 2 was a study in pink, with the milk-poached loin, butter braised radishes, swiss chard stems, and caramelized pink lady apples taking on various hues of rose, white the boudin blanc, marcona almonds, and a parmesan “grit fritter” (made from white cornmeal) added creamy notes. The poaching milk and boar’s stock comprised a lovely dark sauce on the plate.

For such richness I needed the standard high acid and clean fruit flavors, and I considered carrying the Greco di Tufo through from Course 1 to Course 2. In the end, however, I wanted a more substantial body than perhaps possessed by Greco, so I selected elegant Prager GV with its austere fruit, zesty minerality, and juicy acid. Prager didn’t disappoint with Course 2, standing up to the fatty meats and buttery vegetables, not to mention the crispy croquette. Pretty much a no-brainer.

More of a sleeper hit was the red wine choice for Course 2—2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier. Often refered to (by me) as the “Goth Sister” of pinot noir, or as the “Sith Lord” to pinot noir’s “Jedi Knight” (by Dave Thompson, resident Star Wars nerd), Saint Gregory possesses similar weight, delicate earth, and fruit to pinot noir but with a slightly darker, more rustic edge. I thought that the substantial flavor of Saint Gregs coupled with its lightness of body and integrated tannin would provide a challenging and engaging pairing, and the staff and I were delighted with the results. The earthy, vegetal chard and radishes, the bright, tangy, marconas, sweet and smoky apples, and creamy boudin blanc and boar’s loin all brought out Saint Greg’s earthy notes, juicy acid, dark, brooding red fruit, and refreshing tannin respectively. Truly an enjoyable experience.

Course 3: Rosemary crème caramel with Klug Farm pear and peppercorn brittle

Preliminary Pairings: Chambers Muscat, Maculan Dindarello

I had quite a time deciding what dessert wines to try with Melissa’s rosemary-tinged crème caramel. A dessert light in color and airy in texture, with substantial echoes of fragrant rosemary and tingly black pepper, not to mention the natural sweet-fruit characteristics of poached pear adding a bright, juicy counterpoint. Mostly I was stymied by the rosemary angle—it’s simple to find wines to pear with honey, or chocolate, vanilla, or brown sugar . . . The perfumed pungency of rosemary threw me for a loop. I decided to sniff a sprig of rosemary and systematically sniff certain wines and see what I found most pleasurable, and the short-listed contenders ended up being quite delicious. Chambers Muscat, with its caramelly brown sugariness, proved to be a bit overpowering, but Maculan Dindarello, a slightly honeyed Muscat with clean minerality and (as I discovered through my sniff-test) a touch of herbaceousness, turned out to be a beautiful complement to the crème caramel, especially when tasted with a bit of the black-peppery brittle!

So come on in, grab a glass of wine and indulge in a bit of the best way to warm up this winter!