Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birthday Week

While half the customers in the place resemble a Match.com commercial, Tanta, a Peruvian vittles, wine and cocktails restaurant downtown, has the pleasant aspect of not feeling like anything in Chicago. The rooftop bar feels like Spain and the restaurant feels eerily Californian in scope, minimalism, pop and chatter. Get anything ceviche-related, don't get the beef cheeks. Get the cocktails, don't look at other customers  - they're looking around enough for both of you. Eat the plantain chips, make sure your servers and bussers don't take away things that aren't finished. We went to Mr. Gastón Arcía's restaurant in Madrid and liked it muchly. Very similar punch here. We'd go again, which is saying something in our restaurant visits of late. Best thing: the rooftop opens at 3pm, has a full drink menu and enough lil noshes to make it a meal. That's probably our next play, should we return.

This week's food:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mid-August Mishmash of Meals

Waiting...

Still waiting...

Don't skip a spring vacation and then book your fall vacation five months ahead of time. The lack of a spring vacation, with all the attendant annoyances involved with that, along with the taxed anticipation that morphs into "GET HERE!" for the upcoming vacation is just too much. Screw you, time! Move it!

We're waiting, but it's almost here. Should be good.

A quick round-up today, mostly chronicled to make sure the Owen Roe Cabernet Franc gets a write-up. Oh, and to remind ourselves to not make Anne Burrell's falafel recipe. Too much work for too little pay-off.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Goat Rendang With 2011 Luis Pato Fernão Pires Beira Atlântico

Indonesian goat rendang with a Portuguese red that's made with 94% white grapes.

Goofy? Nuts?

Nope.

This was a perfumey, delicious meal unlike anything we've ever had.

Saveur recipe, using goat (from Farm City on Devon), macadamia nuts, jarred lime leaf and low-fat coconut milk. Otherwise, everything else followed to the letter. Put over a pearl barley-farro mixture, topped with pomegranate seeds and mint, served with a side of roasted, multi-colored carrots spritzed with the juice of roasted lime.

We were mostly shocked with how perfumey everything was, in a good sense though, abutting the property of "Holy crap, that's perfumey!" but never falling into that lawn (really stretching it with that metaphor. Screw it. I'm leaving it).

Light, bright goat that never became overwhelmed by the healthy amount of fresh spice and four-hour simmer. This was balanced food offering fireworks in our mouths without becoming a spice bomb. Pomegranate seeds and mint freshened things up, pearl barley-farro starch tamed the rough edges. Just everything you'd want from new food. If we went to a restaurant for the first time and I ate this, 10 more visits would follow to chase that great first experience.

Served with 2011 Luis Pato Fernão Pires Beira Atlântico ($29 - Lush), a blend of 94% fernão pires and 6% baga. So...94% is the white grape, ferñao pires, and 6% is the red grape, baga. Yet this wine is a red with the color, strut, and complete feel of a floral red wine. Smelled like Oregon pinot noir (ringer for Ponzi), tasted like the fruity-floral first half of a Beaujolais, and had a bass guitar background beat of a Loire cabernet franc. Red berries and white flowers, with bitter cacao nib notes. Wet tobacco leaf at times. Medium-to-light but with wild guts and verve in every sip. Pretty finishing lift that summarized everything that came before quite beautifully. Read about it here. Luis Pato is a wonder. We might be taking a side trip in a month or so.

See that Nat Decants food and wine pairing widget to the right? Put in beef rendang and baga shows up, so we ran with it. Fernão pires is a spicy, floral white grape (maria gomes by another name). Baga is a red grape with high acidity and produces wines with surprising structure for how light it can come off. Mix those two together and we got a wine that stood up rather admirably to the spice in this dinner. It retreated from the challenge for a split-second with every bite and sip, only to come back stronger and more fully than it was by itself. It was complete, lifting, refreshing and entirely interesting with this food, changing into about eight different expressions with each slightly different food bite combination, with every expression very much welcome and fascinating, with a great Portuguese dirt note throughout.

I don't know how this worked at this level, but it did.    

Eat more goat, people. And drink wild Luis Pato wine with it.

It makes both better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lunch With 2012 Do Ferreiro & Dinner With 2009 Yves Leccia Domaine d'E Croce Patrimonio

Quickie today.

Lunch of mozzarella and tomatoes in olive oil with basil and Aleppo pepper, served with baguette to dip, top, and dunk.

House lunch favorite. It's been awhile.

The 2012 Do Ferreiro Albariño Salnés ($20 - Vin Chicago) isn't the Cepas Vellas from this winery, which is ethereal magic in a bottle. This is their basic albariño offering that gives delicate cantaloupe melon-like fruit upfront, followed by a citrus and Asian fruit number, ending with a touch of salt. Bright, tasted like a melon shooter right after opening, then transitioned to something more complete and complex as it warmed up. Do Ferreiro always seems to shoot for a more fancy, lacey acid and minerals and a more delicate albariño overall, without losing the signature guts of the grape. Saw that here. Nice. Nice with the food, as mozzarella/tomato and albariño is a frequent house pairing. Still like Orballo for all its in-your-face acid goodness more.


Dinner of Jamie Oliver piri piri chicken a side of roasted sweet and regular potatoes with feta, dill and mint. It was just chicken but, as with most Jamie Oliver things, this meal hit Every. Freakin'. Note. In his recipe, Mrs. Ney has always forgone the roasted potato side in favor of some sort of veggie salad and baguette to sop up the delicious piri piri juice. Not this time, though she roasted, instead of nuked, the potatoes (1/2 hour for sweet, hour for regular) to give them a crusty exterior. Topped with feta and a healthy amount of dill and mint, it was a crispy-crunchy, creamy, herby, fresh party in our mouths. Doin' that again, cuz it's chockablock with awesomeness. Typically happy piri piri with its spike of heat that didn't overwhelm the meatiness of the peppers and chicken. Just all-around great food.

Served with 2009 Leccia Domaine d'E Croce Patrimonio Blanc Corsica ($42 - Lush). 100% vermentino, five years old, imported by Kermit Lynch. So...yes, yes and yes. Started out rather basic and fine, offering more simple vermentino notes, but sort of exploded into a funky gooseberry and smoked apricot wonder once it had some time to open/warm up. Solid, sturdy stuff with the acid pumping along quite nicely, keeping everything right and proper. Spritely, happy, bright - creamy at times. I have a strange obsession with vermentino but, at times, it can be a bit too...vermentino-y. ALMOST saw that here. $42 is steep for what it gave, but a nice one-off. Pairing fine-ness with certain bites that didn't contain so much heat and we should have saved it for a Farmers' Market jubilee, but not too much regret here. Opened a 2013 Caves de Charmelieu Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc ($10 - Trader Joe's) as well. In terms of the price difference and overall enjoyment, close race, as this Saint-Bris has been the house white for the better part of the last year. We just love the snot out of it.

Up Next: Goat curry

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chimichurri-ed Hanger Steak and Arancini with 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo Calaveras County

Vacation soon, so it's "empty out that freezer!" time.

Menu:

* Recently purchased Whole Foods hanger steak (cumin, coffee, pepper rub)

* Not recently made pumpkin-Rogue Smokey Blue-rosemary arancini, leftover from a huge batch made in March for flap meat and arancini with 2004 Two Hands Beautiful Stranger (best wine of the year)

* Chimichurri from who knows when, slathered on the meat, with...

* Leftover freezer bacon and parsley added

Served with a wine given blind that, given a thousand years, I never would have guessed was California tempranillo. Well, not a thousand, that's a long time. And I'd be dead.

Delicious, juicy, medium-rare hanger with a great cumin-coffee hit, mixing and mingling beautifully with the chimichurri and bacon. Arancini that lost its pumpkinness but gained a "look at me!" rosemary number, which was surprising and so gosh-darn good. Star of the meal. Arugula salad to finish, cuz meat and fried food needs a lil somethin'-somethin' to move things along.

Meat and starch in a happier, better form. Good stuff.

A 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo Calaveras County ($15 - Lush), bought at Lush because it was $15 and California tempranillo and $15 and 2004. And $15. Little lost if it sucked. It got lost in the wine storage shuffle. I didn't even remember it was in the house. Mrs. Ney knew what it was, socked it up, and gave it to me blind. Round and ripe. Formerly full-bodied, now wandering into a happy "middle-aged man who still routinely whips my ass in tennis" medium number.  Fading but not faded in the least. Huge, alive, black fruit hit. Blackberry and blueberry. Purple Sweet Tart number, indicating to me that this HAD to be Australian shiraz. Just had to be. Guessed 2004 Pirramimma. Nope. Calaveras County tempranillo (with 12% cabernet added). We love Twisted Oak, mainly because they love Spanish grapes. May I suggest The Spaniard with Romanian skirt steak and scallion sauce? Or with lamb osso buco in anchovy-garlic sauce, charred green beans and fried haloumi? Those were GOOD meals.  

The Twisted Oak found its perfect self with the arancini, turning all complete and layered and deep. Less so with the hanger, as a touch of oak separated itself from the pack and went rogue, but still decent stuff.

Big surprise here. Mrs. Ney had few expectations for this meal. Turned out pretty great.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chicken With 40 Cloves Of Garlic & Tomatoes Provençal With 2012 Scholium Rhododatylos

Food.

It's good.

Mrs. Ney last used the recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for guinea hen a few months ago. We had a bottle of 2007 Vin de Monsieur le Baron Chateau de Montfaucon with that meal, making for a meal of Frenchy-French on crack and It. Was. Stunning. One of the best bottles of wine this year. And a very good meal.

This was better. Something about the chicken being just chicken that allowed the GARLIC sauce to be some darn delicious. Chicken is a vehicle. A great vehicle. When used well, like here, it elevates food to long, slow, meandering specialness.

Garlic utterly IN the chicken. Sauce that's ALL about garlic. Tons of softened garlic that's delicious simply to pop in your mouth all by itself. And Pugliese bread to dip, dunk and drag through all of it.

Simplified tomatoes Provençal using yellow Campari tomatoes, herbes de Provence and breadcrumb topping, roasted off. Elderflower cheese that's been around awhile on the side.

This was "Hot Damn!" good. One of the best dinners this year. Feed this to a Frenchman and that'll be one happy Frenchman.

It's funny how if I did a top-50 meals list, chicken in various forms would occupy 10-15 spots.

Chicken. Vehicle. For all that is good in the world. Like garlic here.

The wine fell short.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Three Winners Of Jury Duty Week

Sequestered Jury Duty Week!

Coming home to Jamie Oliver Greekiness and Matthiasson Tendu White washed all the exhaustion and mild frustration that comes with sequestration right away.

Greek chicken, from Jamie Oliver's new CBS Saturday morning show, 15 Minute Meals. It's loud and flashy and boom-boom-boom, cut-cut-cut, but it's Jamie Oliver making quality food that speaks to our stomach. As per usual.

Swapping out the regular couscous for whole-wheat Israeli and adding avocado and sweet corn to the salad were the major changes from the above-linked recipe. The result was punchy, herby chicken, a big mound of couscous salad consisting of ten different delicious flavors dancing in step with each other, a minty tzatziki to slather on anything we darn well pleased. This was good as 15-minute lunchy food gets.

The last time we had the 2013 Matthiasson Tendu White ($20 - Vin Chicago), about six weeks ago with chicken Milanese, it was deliciously simple with echoes of complexity that allowed it to go deeper with the food. Completely different this time. Where we maybe missed a briny, ocean quality that comes from good vermentino last time, at its core this time were seashells, minerals and herbs all over the place! Framed by its citrus but defined by a distinct, attention-getting ocean-mineral center. Loved, loved, loved it. Bought four more. It's a liter bottle, it's 12.8% alcohol, and it's pretty great stuff. With the food, it fit like a glove. When the 2014 round-up happens a few months from now, this will be on the list as one of the best of the year, at the top of the 'perfectly simple and perfectly perfect' category.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brandade, Crostini & Tomato Salad With 2013 Laurent Miquel Albariño & 2012 Perfum de vi Blanc

Read Matt Kramer's piece in Wine Spectator on the dogma from both sides of the 'natural' wine debate. We couldn't agree more, as is the case with most everything that comes from Matt Kramer.

Last night's meal checked off all of the boxes in terms of goodness. Substantial without being gut-busting? Check. Fresh and clean? Check. Twenty different flavors that mingled well together? Check. Wines that played right into those flavors? Check.

This was utterly satisfying food. Some of the best this year. But if we'd eaten this without wine, it would have been a meal that fell into the category of mere consumption, instead of the long, lazy, slow, indulging event that it became.

Plus, some people say they could eat bacon every day. I could eat fish in some form and drink albariño with it every day of my life and never tire of it. That's my bacon.

Should have taken a picture, cuz this was pretty food. Jacques Pépin Brandade de Morue au Gratin, substituting celery root for potatoes, rice milk for milk, and white balsamic for lemon juice. House favorite. This one shed its dairy-and-potato heft that sometimes wanders into heaviness, becoming something quite lifty and light. Charred bread to dip. Tomato salad - one of the best things I've eaten this year - of campari and yellow grape tomatoes, lightly charred garlic scapes, celery leaves, red chile and fresh oregano. One ounce leftover Dante sheep cheese shredded on top, mixed, and then put over arugula dressed with lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic.

Top-10 meal this year. Spectacular brandade and a tomato salad that brought the new and new with a side of new. The way the sheep cheese and fresh oregano mingled with the tomatoes was a perfect bite of food. All of it together felt oh-so vacationy. We're counting the days until vacationy turns into  vacation. Please get here. Please.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rib-eye, Onion Rings, Potatoes & Cheese Sauce With 2006 Venge Cabernet Family Reserve

We don't eat rib-eye, we don't have cheese sauce, and we don't drink cabernet.

It's not what we like. So we don't eat or drink it.

Cabernet always feels like a bully to me with food, injecting itself into the pairing conversation to a point of forced inclusion that ultimately leads to utter domination.

I hear people talk about wines at cabernet tastings and say that 'this needs a thick, fatty steak. I'd buy a case!'

To that, I say, "How many steaks are you eating? Cripes!" There's a point of diminished returns. Steak of that ilk is a once-a-year thing in our book. It's like eating Chicago pizza. I shouldn't have to plan my food coma BEFORE I eat.

That said, last night was that once-a-year time, accompanied with a once-every-five-years cabernet drinking. And we got a good one.

Loosely based on Sam Sifton's Steak Mock Frites. Rib-eye bathed and basted in butter and bacon fat, seared a rather gorgeous medium-rare. Delicious juicy suck-age. Fatty. Sloppy. Happy. Fried onion mound of goodness. VERY thinly sliced onions, battered, fried. Potatoes followed to the letter from the recipe, coming off like twice-baked potato boats. Cheese sauce made with 8-year white cheddar to dip, dunk and slather where and when we chose.

Not a green veggie in sight. It was weird, wrong, and utterly delicious. And we'll be having it again in about five years. We say if you're going to take the dive, you TAKE THAT DIVE. Here, that's exactly what we did. Fat on fat on fat. G - O - O - D, Good.

Served with a bottle of 2006 Venge Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve ($60 - Binny's), marked down from $120 for some odd reason three years ago.

Decanted about an hour before eating, as the tannins needed settling and the tartness needed to be better integrated. We hit a very fine spot with that hour of air. More red currant fruit than the blackberry so many reviews said. Ripe, but not bombastic in the least. Herbal with pretty hits of sage. Wood fully integrated and bringing a pretty roundness. Thicker but never viscous. Pretty wine. Only complaint was the lack of a long finish. Most of the joy came from the mid-palate with a ordered, but rather dramatic tapering off to the end. We wanted more length, but were happy with all the joys that came before.

Happy pairing here, as expected. Fatty meat, Cabby weaving. They're best buds. Toss in the cheddar-cab hug and we had a pairing cuddle and embrace. Not our bag, but we respected the two-step.

Tasted like the fanciest that Applebee's could hope to achieve.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lamb Flank Steak, Sardinian Fregola and Mint Pesto With 2006 Palmina Nebbiolo Honea Vineyard

Bargain product alert!

Paulina Meat Market is selling rolled-up and skewered lamb flank steak for $13.

Want lamb but don't want to blow a Jackson? Want lamb and don't want mess around with bones and roasting? Wanna simply take some lamb, throw a marinade on it, toss it in the fridge for a bit, and then sear it off and go to town?

Buy Paulina lamb flank steak.

Maybe serve it with this Saveur recipe that's been printed out and put in the "maybe" file for seemingly years.

Maybe drink a bottle of wine that's been in the "someday" file for seemingly years.

It's food and wine housecleaning and the result was something wildly beyond the goodness Mrs. Ney expected.

Lamb flank steak skewers marinated in leftover balsamic-rosemary-onion marmalade (from Pintxos), seared medium-rare. Sardinian fregola followed to the recipe letter. Zucchini salad with Fresno chilies, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Mint pesto (more hazelnut heavy) to slather on lamb and mix with the zucchini salad. Flavors galore! And good flavors, mixing well - not just flavors. Delicious lamb, nutty pesto, and a fregola salad I could devour an entire bowl of and love every second. Stupid currants. They're delicious.

And the 2006 Palmina Nebbiolo Honea Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley ($70-ish - Winery) made it a complete meal. Dark sour cherry, blackberries and balsamic-ed up strawberries (?). Tar. Hint of wilted flowers. Some sort of root related to sassafras but not sassafras. A little weight here but never heavy. Lifting finish. Went through a tar phase about an hour in that came off oddly light and distinctive, like someone was mucking about with zinfandel and found a strangely light, low-alcohol zinfandel place. But this was all nebbiolo in many ways, with a lilting bounce that threatens to devolve into something larger but never does. No decant. Just left open for an hour or so. Perfect place. And plenty of life left with this one.

We futzed over what to serve this wine with, thinking some Italian fall stew might be its bestie. In the end, we found a winner with this meal by saying, "Let's just drink the damn thing! It can't be bad with this." And it wasn't in the least. Quite happy with it, as it emphasized the glaze on the lamb and currants in the fregola rather joyously. The wine found a balance and played with the food like a person that very much wanted to have a good time. Can't ask for more than that.

Big, fat, happy meal here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ginger-Sesame Hanger, Tomatoes & Sweet Potato Fries With 2013 Tendu Red

We don't see much Matthiasson here in Chicago.

So when Vin Chicago had both the red and white Tendu sitting there - wines I nearly ordered last week through the interwebs - it felt like a wine miracle!

Well...maybe not a miracle...wait...yes, a miracle! My wife and I are now embracing the YOLO/serendipity lifestyle. Anything mildly convenient that happens to us will now be seen as a sign that we are indeed special and that ____ (insert whatever hastily compiled philosophy/personally created deity/this month's best-selling self-help book focus/aura here) loves us, specifically and wholly.

Brace yourself, people. It's about to get ugly up in here. We're going to take "How can I make this about me?" to unforeseen heights (As you can see, I have to work on my Instagram skills. CUE UP FILTERS!).

Not really. But it did feel like one of those moments that make a shopping excursion entirely worth the hassle.

Food: Ginger-sesame hanger steak, tomatoes and sweet potato fries with mayo for dipping and arugula salad to finish

While not enormous beef eaters anymore, we like it. Sometimes love it, but over the years it's devolved into "let's just marinate some hanger, grill it up, throw some easy starch with it and pair it with a cheap New World blend. It's what we like." Particularly Whole Foods hanger. What used to be $8/lb. is now $12/lb. but it's still worth every cent. Not a sinewy bite in the stuff, ever. Just pure meaty, gnarly, hanger-y goodness, though it's now in the Paulina price realm. We'll see.

Recipe from this month's Saveur. Marinade of ginger, sesame oil, honey, lime, garlic, salt and pepper.   Seared a very pretty medium-rare. Tomatoes halved, doused in the same marinade and tossed in the oven for three hours at 275º. Tomatoes on top of hanger, rosemary tossed on top, aged balsamic drizzle over all of it. Alexia sweet potato fries crisped up, mayo for dipping, arugula salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pomegranate seeds to finish.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Scallops in Brillat-Savarin Sauce with NV Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny

It's a satisfying thing when you make a recipe you've been thinking about making for years and it turns out to be quite good, even when the concept made your body shiver.

Cheese sauce on fish? Really?

The recipe comes from Lincet. They make this cheese so they wouldn't toss out a recipe like this willy-nilly, you'd think.

Scallops substituted for sea bass because if this wasn't good, as least it wouldn't have been "We spent HOW MUCH ON THIS?" And rice milk substituted for cream, because we're dippin' our toe in lightly here. Cheese sauce and seafood isn't our bag, baby.

Big mound of pea shoots, snap peas and chervil. Scallops lightly seared. Cheese sauce with saffron drizzled over the top of everything (because Melissa Clark says cheeses like Brillat-Savarin and peas are besties). Pan con tomate to bring some carbs to the party.

The result was a delicate touch of Brillat-Savarin coming through in everything; the kind of flavor where you get the slight funky essence of this cheese in all its glory without feeling like you just bathed in it. Big winner. We were quite happy with this. Spring-like, refreshing, ample, and quite tasty.

Mrs. Ney isn't making it again. But for a recipe that won't be made again, this was happy stuff.

Served with our favorite Champagne, NV Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny ($48 - Binny's). 100% pinot meunier and 100% delicious, always. It took a few punches to the gut with this food, hollowing out a touch on the mid-palate, but bounced back on the finish with a rather complex farmhouse breeze taste to it. Nothing great in the pairing realm, but nice to have Champagne, though. Seemed like it had been too long.

Finished with tofu pudding (WTF?). Bittman thought the same thing until he made it, saying he wouldn't offer this recipe if it wasn't good. And it was. It's like spicy, deep, thick and rich pudding without the dairy "gack!"

One final note: Homemade ginger beer, from Saveur. "Pret-ay, pret-ay, pret-ay" damn good. And easy. Big fan.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Avocado Fattoush With 2011 Ponzi Arneis

Monday lunch.

Avocado fattoush from NYT, based on a recipe from Einat Admony, incorporates much of the goodness from fattoush, with a lot more stuff in it.

The result, for me, was the best salad-as-entrée I've had in a long time. I can't count Niçoise as a salad. It's more than that, mostly because when it comes to the essence of "a lot of stuff in it," Niçoise takes the cake. It's a salad defined by its 'stuff.'

With the addition of scallions and pomegranate seeds, which are ingredients added in this house whenever possible when Mrs. Ney feels that it won't screw up the delicate balance of a good recipe from a good person, we felt it only added without distracting.

Oodles of mint and creaminess from the avocado and (Bulgarian) feta here, and every bite brought all the flavors from the recipe without becoming a big bucket of "TOO MUCH!"

Great balance with each nibble and forkful, and for a total of about $7 per plate, no restaurant salad-as-entrée is going to touch this. It's just not. You can try, you can pontificate, you can say, "NOOO! You haven't had this salad I once had in Park Slope, and I know, because I know..." Stop it. The world needs less of you. Everyday. All the time.

Served with a 2011 Ponzi Arneis Willamette Valley ($25 - Winery w/ shipping). I was a bit leery of its 2011-ness but no worries in the least. Fruit is fading but all the secondary happiness that this wine has shown in the past was all there. Nice tension still present, a rocky note at times, touch of peach fuzz, pleasant, long enough, gassy finish. Even some nice pauses between transitions. Nothing earth-shattering, just a wine that both (1) never got in the way of our food enjoyment and (2) extended our love of the salad by weaving into the mint and sumac just enough to feel like a third flavor emerged.

Ask for more and you're just a greedy f&#k.

And believe me, in our world, very few people ask for this much.

They should.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pissaladière With 2007 Didier Dagueneau Silex

My favorite wine?

This.

I know you didn't ask.

It is, though.

Not necessarily this vintage, just this wine. It's magic. Pure magic.

2007 was the last vintage Didier Dagueneau took to the end. He died in a small plane crash in September of 2008. His son, Louis-Benjamin, took over and, at only 34 years old, the domaine seems to be in great hands for a long, long time. The 2009 was more magic at Etxebarri a couple of years ago.

Rustic French pissaladière and arugula-tomato salad to pair with the 2007, we felt, would have garnered a nod of approval from Didier. The result was stunning deliciousness overall and a wine that simply couldn't be summed up with a few descriptors.

Pissaladière of a bucket of onions cooked in Muscadet, garlic, olive oil, lemon thyme and white pepper, then mixed with anchovies and black olives and thrown on top of Syrian sesame bread. It's a house favorite and every time we've had it, we wonder why the hell we aren't eating this twice a month (and how the hell I never did a full write-up on it stumps me).

Silex is the benchmark of sauvignon blanc, yet it's unlike any sauvignon blanc on the planet. And the 2007 Didier Dagueneau Silex Pouilly-Fumé ($140 - Flickinger) is still pumping along, showing zero gray hairs, drinking so utterly sparkly and beautiful we could barely stand it. Some descriptors, I guess, though it won't tell the story: gooseberries, dark-dark-dark minerals (so much liquid rock it made my mouth sweat), garden notes (like sucking on tomato vines), creamy slate, more dark minerals, teeny-tiny citrus perk here and there, maybe asparagus, explosive but focused, never heavy but good heft, clean, beautifully meandering, gave about 12 different flavors with each sip, in different orders, each with such precision, purity and unique angles that, once again, it jettisoned itself to the top of the list of the best wines we've had this year, with the nod going to the 2004 Two Hands Beautiful Stranger for Mrs. Ney and this Silex for me.

It was a pairing we couldn't have been more happy with. Nothing diminished in the least in the glass or with the pissaladìere. Both the food and the wine remained themselves perfectly, with enough interweaving to bring a boatload of pairing enjoyment.

Hot damn! This is a stunning wine!

Silex, Mas de Maha and Arnot-Roberts Trousseau. Geesh! Good wine week.

We're not counting Monday's dinner of (weird) shrimp escabèche and (delicious) Peruvian potato salad with a grilled stone fruit and lavender liqueur sparkling sangria that tasted as strange as it sounds.

Ropa Without the Vieja And Elotes With 2008 Villa Creek Mas de Maha

We thought we wanted ropa vieja and yuca fries last week with one of our favorite wines, particularly with said Cuban-y food.

In the end, once we were eating it, we found out we really wanted Mexican street corn and Mas de Maha with a side of ropa vieja.

That result was mainly because, oddly, the spring corn was so good with the queso fresco-herb-spice slather. And because Mariano's hanger steak got its third and last chance. It's barely acceptable. Has no depth! No grizzle! No anima! It's limp, tired beef that has no place in our house no matter how close Mariano's is to our abode now.

With the cumin and oregano from the beef marinade and cinnamon-led red and green pepper-onion-tomato business below it, we got enough in the way of goodness to drive the wine right into its sweet spot, which was all we really wanted.

Because Villa Creek Mas de Maha Paso Robles ($35 - Winery) is love in a bottle. Last year, I mused, as I tend to do, that Mas de Maha might lead the category of "if I could only have one American red for the rest of my life, this might be it." I said that because it would have to be (1) a wine that was fairly cheap, (2) probably a blend to catch the wide range of flavors we typically eat, (3) possess a grace, freshness and lift, and (4) not shirk from its duty with food. Since $25-and-under in the U.S. is a big, bloated mess of 'meh' with some exceptions, the $25 to $35 range is the happy place in the U.S. Not cheap, but not ridiculous either. Mas de Maha fills that bill, with such perfect New World tempranillo freshness supported by grenache, mourvèdre and carignan to give it some guts.

Showed virtually the same as last year. "Fresh upfront, more dirty, darker, deep, licorice-y and olive-y in the middle, with a cinnamon finish that jazzes up all of that without becoming too ridiculous. It's a wine that tastes like it knows what it's doing. Smooth tannins, pop and pour, perfect in every respect for our liking." This isn't ripe or sweet in the least. It's a savory, delicious wonder that takes its time to reveal all its layers. And while it's not the best red wine I've ever had, it IS a red wine I could drink every couple of weeks for the rest of my life and I don't think I'd grow tired of it.

Nice with the corn, but it strutted beautifully with a cinnamon-heavy pepper-onion bite. This was an example of a meal that might have made us angry due to the meat blah-ness, but Mas de Maha and good corn only made us think about the good things happening on the plate and in the glass.

Wild Boar Rillettes, Pickled Mustard Seeds And Baguette With 2012 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau

Monday lunch involved taking rillettes out of the freezer, slicing a baguette, putting arugula on a plate, and going to town. Easy.

Homemade wild boar-pork belly rillettes, last had with the Andrea Calek Blonde, pretty much destroyed the wine with its freshly-made brawniness a few months ago. Here, the rillettes had some time to mellow out, allowing the fat to ooze into every crevice and tame some of its bigger boar notes. We liked both versions, but this version allowed the wine to play a bigger part in enjoying the meal.

Slice of baguette, topped with a lil rillettes, then topped with pickled mustard seeds. Eat and repeat.

Arugula salad with pomegranate seeds for a break between bites and to finish. Don't need much more for a Monday lunch.

I thought the 2012 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau North Coast ($38 - Zachy's) was stretching our limits of ethereal enjoyment with Indian lamb and carrot salad a few months ago. Mrs. Ney took down the spice level in the food that time to give the trousseau a chance. Ended up being fine enough but wasn't the best showcase for this wine. With more toned-down flavors here and a slight chill on the wine, the wine stretched its legs a bit and took its time, showing pleasant floral notes, pretty earth and light raspberry fruit, with a touch of grip at the right times and a delicate structure that held together right to the end.

It played with the food quite nicely, making for a breezy lunch with perfect weight across the board.

Happy.        

Friday, May 16, 2014

Deconstructed Provence Herb Goat With Cornelissen Susucaru & 2009 Sella E Mosca Cannonau

"GOAT DAY!" followed by The Wines of Portugal tasting. We were shocked, shocked I tell you, that Quinta do Vale Meão AND Quinta do Vallado was in attendance at our favorite tasting of the year. Old friends in the bottle, as they say. Wait. Nobody really says that. Good time though.

But "GOAT DAY!" the day before, made for a deconstructed Provence herb explosion of flavors, served with our biggest wine surprise of the year in Frank Cornelissen's Susucaru 5 Rosato Etna ($35 - Red & White), and a wine with a French sensibility wearing an Italian suit in the Sella E Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna ($15 - Binny's).

Deconstructed in the sense that each element had varying levels of Provence herb representation in it.

Like this:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Barbacoa Short Rib Tacos With Hibiscus Tea Sangria






























Extremely subtle flavors to start last night that surprisingly turned into juicy, deep deliciousness after the short rib shred cooled down a bit.

A Food & Wine recipe, short ribs dusted with salt and cumin, put into a roasting pan over a mirepoix and dried chiles, roasted for 3 1/2 hours, then seared and shredded.

The mirepoix-ancho business, with all the marrow and silk from the meat slopped over all it from the roasting, puréed to become the sauce.

Salsa verde cruda, an add-on recipe from the above link, for some green tomatillo happiness.

Pickled onions, swapping out fennel/mustard seeds for cumin seeds, so it would link up with this food (Michael Symon master pickled onion recipe).

Heavily charred tortillas, because that's what's good. Sour cream, cilantro, lime. And start building!

This approached the deliciousness of mahi mahi tacos, serving as a solid - if a bit spendy - alternative (Whole Foods short ribs ain't cheap). By the third taco for both of us, this hit a street food sweet spot, turning all meldy and balanced. Sorta loved them.

Served with Bobby Flay hibiscus tea sangria, a fine enough, dry, and medium-deep quaffer that almost lived up to how pretty it was in the glass. [The best use of Picton Bay sauvignon blanc we've found, Ms Simmons.]

To start a May mini-vacation, a pretty big success here, particularly since we thought it was a bit boring after the first bite.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Asian Bison, Momofuku Ginger-Ramp Sauce & Barley-Basil Business With 2013 Arnot-Roberts & Julia's Dazzle Rosés

A rosé throw-down made with REALLY non-indigenous grapes (or with grapes most people wouldn't think even existed in these AVA's...well...the Portuguese grapes actually have a long and somewhat forgotten history in California so...and sangiovese seems to really be catching on...OH, HELL, you get my drift!)

Arnot-Roberts uses touriga nacional and tinta cão from the Luchsinger Vineyard in the Clear Lake AVA for this rosé. Portuguese grapes from California gets a big 'yes' in our house every time. Sousão from Silvaspoons? C'mon! Where do I get that?

Julia's Dazzle, a joint project between Long Shadows owner Allen Shoup and winemaker Gilles Nicault, is 98% pinot grigio and a 2% splash of sangiovese, all from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington.

Served with Asian flavors toned down, to make sure it didn't scare the bejesus out of the wines.

And it worked...mostly. We got food and wine with opinions, which is all we ever really want.

Food: Asian bison flat-iron with Momofuku ginger-ramp sauce, cold barley-basil salad, and Asian blend greens

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lamb & Ramp Flatbread & Zucchini Fries With 2009 Tampesta Finca de los Vientos

Prieto picudo.

It's a grape that demonstrates yet again that anybody who says Spanish wine all taste the same doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.

This is our third wine from Tampesta. The rosado, also 100% prieto picudo, is cheap and all sorts of delicious. The Maneki Blanco - 100% albarín - was unfortunately corked.

Located in southern Léon, Tampesta is a joint venture between Noelia de Paz and Raul Pérez. Noelia makes the wine, Raul consults. Local grapes. Fresh wine expressions. A blend of old-style winemaking and modern techniques.

We've dabbled in the lower end of the spectrum of Tampesta wines and it's only made us want to climb the ladder to see just how good it can get.

A dinner of lamb sausages, ramps and manchego on Syrian sesame flatbread with Trader Joe's zucchini fries and a tomato mayo for dipping. Simple, solid, good dinner.

The wine made it better. The 2009 Tampesta Finca de los Vientos ($17 - Binny's) came off like a Vaucluse and a Portuguese red had a baby. Dark red and black fruity fruits, yet dry. Medium-bodied, yet long. Figs, pepper, licorice, earthy, nutty, and slightly toasty at times - all that without ever giving too much of any one thing. In other words, a balanced wine that masquerades as a table wine, only to show you so much more as you work your way down the bottle. And it's still young. Happy, proper, grown-up acid all over the place that never got in the way. The best sip was the last sip.

Tons of concentrated guts here, but it was always light on its feet and kept getting better.

Big fan.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beef Cheeks, Chickpea Purée & Kale Salad With 2005 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro

Perfect food.

This tasted like an entrée from a tucked-away, tiny restaurant that the locals know is the best food in the region and feel leery about letting every tourist know about (which it is).

So you ask a shopkeeper or hotel person what their favorite restaurant is. They look you up and down, determine if you're worthy, you try not to look like the tourist that you are, and they decide to give it up. You ask what you should order. They say, "beef cheeks." You inquire more. They gently put their hand up and say, "Just get them."

So you go, and you get them. And they live up to hand-up and "Just get them."

It's perfect food.

"Just make this."

Food: Beef cheeks braised in barbera, chickpea purée and kale salad

Recipe from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes In The World, taken from a ten-year menu staple at Boccon di Vino in Montalcino, Italy. And it's still on the menu. € 17,50.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hanger Steak with Post-Grill Marinade, Curly Fries, Calçots & Kale With 2010 Mouton Noir Horseshoes & Handgrenades

Quick note on an under-$20 Oregon red that turned into something rather delicious, full and complete after time in the glass.

Modified post-grill marinade for medium-rare hanger steak, using coffee, cinnamon and smoked paprika to the meat-rub to grizzle and link it up for a syrah-tempranillo blend.

Arby's bagged curly fries with mayo for dipping (delicious - if you don't agree, I will fight you), calçots and baby kale salad with pomegranate seeds.

We craved red meat and potatoes so we had red meat and potatoes.

The 2010 Mouton Noir Horseshoes & Handgrenades ($18 - Zachy's) is a syrah-tempranillo blend, sourced with southern Oregon vines, with a little cabernet and merlot from Washington tossed in for good measure. People complain about U.S. wineries not having an under-$20 red that's any good. Here's one that's rather sound with varietal character that evolves quite nicely over the course of an hour, thank you very much.

Started out with a boatload of upfront acid that mimicked a Chianti from the same price range, only to morph into something more packed with goodies, teeming with bright raspberry notes and tempranillo-style leather that jumped with the cinnamon in the marinade. Medium dry, medium length, refreshing and almost light. Zippy and pure. Turned into a wine that would sit in the upper third of the table wine world. And it kept an enormous mound of fatty goodness on the plate moderately peppy and less gut-busting.

Nice.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Za'atar Shrimp, Bread And Mâche With 2011 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas & 2012 Quinta do Casal Monteiro

Overcooked shrimp put us off shrimp for months.

Perfectly cooked shrimp makes us want to eat it by the bucket, particularly when slathered in za'atar.

Mrs. Ney opened up a bag of za'atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend led by thyme with sumac, sesame seeds and salt served as back-up, and found it lacking in freshness and guts.

So she made her own from this simple Alton Brown recipe.

And bagged frozen shrimp can be a bit sad, but uncooked Trader Joe's Wild Blue Shrimp is back after an extended vacation. In our world, this is quality stuff when you don't want to drop a 20-spot on the fresh stuff. This used to be about $9/lb, is now $16, and worth it.

Use this Spanish-style shrimp recipe, toss it a bunch of za'atar, add a few Thai bird chiles, whip 'em up in a cast-iron, and you got yourself a bustin' shrimp dinner!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Smoky Tea Lamb, Tomato Vinaigrette, Grilled Potatoes & Asparagus With 2008 Domaine Tempier Rouge Bandol

BROWN FOOD!

The last time we had the 2008 Tempier Rouge, it was a big bowl of tannin.

This time, three-and-a-half years later, we found a medium-bodied, deliciously simple country wine that reminded us why wines that scream OLD WORLD (!) need to get back into our rotation.

Another New York Times recipe, lamb with a smoky slather, using lapsang souchong tea leaves to give it a distinction, tea earth, and depth. Subbed loin chops for the leg, skipped the sauce from the recipe. Tomato vinaigrette using golden tomatoes, a drinkable Spanish condiment to douse and spill on everything (house fav). Grilled potatoes that Mrs. Ney wished she'd cut in half before grilling because wet-ish potatoes suck. Tasty, fresh asparagus. Had to use up a turnip so...a grilled turnip, sliced.

As Anne Burrell says, "Brown food tastes good." As you can see. It's brown. And good.

Lamb-potato-tomato-asparagus-turnip-acid-char-tea-cumin-garlic-thyme. So...flavors.

Nice meal with flavors that were restrained enough to allow the Bandol to dance its old-style Bandol dance. Funky to open, with dusty, poopy black fruit and licorice. More medium-bodied than I expected, never wandering out of that realm. Medium length, sparkly, lifted finish. Tasted like a happy table/country wine in the best sense. $40? With the utterly welcome funkiness and the reminder of why Frenchy funk is so good, it tasted worth the price tag. Not all the time, but with this meal, it worked.

Mourvèdre-dominant wines have such a loveliness as they're settling down, kicking their feet up in their favorite chair, and coasting into retirement. They're rarely crabby, just confident. With this food, it allowed the wine to embrace its confidence and eschew any crabbiness. So, success, I say.  


Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Roast Chicken With 2012 Orballo & La Cana Albariños

I've always loved Synecdoche, New York.

It's such a glorious mess, with that mess coming together to create something pretty great.

Easter roast chicken resembled that last night. The garbanzos were overcooked, the chicken a touch overdone, April corn that barely tasted like corn, avocados that we were looking forward to were simultaneously underripe AND brown so we ditched 'em, all sorts of slight missteps.

Yet, in the end, we got a dinner full of Easter goodness on a rare beautiful day in Chicago, giving us everything we could want.

Dinner: Green goddess chicken with a mustard green, garbanzo, kumato and corn salad, and Pugliese garlic bread, served with 2012 Orballo Albariño Rías Baixas ($18 - Binny's) & 2012 La Cana Albariño Rías Baixas ($13 - Howard's)

New York Times recipe here. Herby, garlicky, anchovy-laden Green Goddess dressing slathered all over the halved chicken and roasted at 500º. The addition of dill turned it into the best version of this great dressing-sauce we've had. Used it on the chicken, to dress the salad and top the garlic bread. This is a rip, top, layer and dunk meal; making lil open-faced sandwiches with various combinations to create different bites.

Mustard green-garbanzo-kumato-corn salad. Fresh, clean, happy. Mustard greens packed a mustardy punch, which helped things along quite nicely.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Salads Days With Prager Grüner Veltliner And Andrea Calek Blonde

After our initial euphoria over a Mariano's opening up mere blocks from our house, reality has set in over just how much we'll be shopping there.

This week's "Explosion of Salads" serves as a good example.

Salad #1: Sea bass with garbanzo beans, mustard greens, barley, farro, mint and celery leaves, served with 2009 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein ($40 - Vin Chicago)

Fish over salad that tasted chefy, like someone experimented with these combinations 15 times until they got the balance right in every bite. Outside of the goat, this was probably the best meal this year.

Based on this recipe, swapping out fava beans for utterly cheap, fresh garbanzos from Harvesttime, leaving out the fennel flowers, including some pecorino in the barley/farro mixture, adding mint and roasted garlic to the vinaigrette, and putting celery leaves on top of the sea bass.

With a nod to a spring that won't f'in come to Chicago, this meal, with the greeny greenness and an underlying earthiness from the barley/farro business, was a party in our mouths and everyone was invited. It was WOW! food. As good as sea bass a la Veracruzana, a house favorite. Both meals use the fattiness from the sea bass perfectly by staying in the realm of light and clean without ever seeming too light and clean. A gravity and substantialness exists with every bite offering something different and deep. We became sated and satisfied by the flurry of flavors and sheer abundance of everything. Great Meal. Tasted like Zuni.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Quick Hits: This Week In Food And Wine

Light red wine week.

With a Champagne followed by tempranillo mixed with Coke tossed in. That's how we roll.

So...funky week. We liked it.

Monday Lunch: Salad of avocados, tomatoes, edamame, pea shoots, arugula, parsley, cilantro, sunflower seeds and standard dijon-tarragon vinaigrette, served with NV Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($30-ish - Trader Joe's)

We initially thought this salad would be fine enough, then two bites in, phrases like "this is awesome!" started to get tossed out. Fresh, of course, but also woodsy-seedy-gardeny with the pea shoots and sunflower seeds. Strangely came off like a mid-winter salad eaten to remind you that 'the winter of your discontent' isn't a permanent thing. Fresh, bright AND brooding can co-exist together. Served with what might become our new cheap Champagne. Ayala has become too specific and food-moody in our world. The 'Peeper' gave flinty minerals and smoke first with a broadness and happiness without ever being so eager to please. Both of us thought it could have been a Blancs de Noirs. Chardonnay didn't seem to be playing any role whatsoever except for a small tangerine peel lift on the end. Only 15% of the blend is chardonnay and I think that's what we prefer. The bubbles exploded with the sunflower seeds and sprouts, turning even more broad and round while still being focused and refreshing. Big Monday lunch winner.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Quick Hits

Three meals, three $20 wines.

Many people think $20 is the sweet spot for wine - that place where quality meets price.

I think that's mostly true. Sometimes though, that $20 place can leave you wanting more from the wine. Just a touch more. It's so close.

Here's three.

Meal #1: Celery root brandade and fennel-blood orange salad with 2012 Mark Herold Acha Blanca Albariño California ($21 - Binny's)

Jacques Pepin brandade, swapping out most of the red potatoes for celery root, just for funnies, and using rice milk instead of dairy. The result was a lighter, less POTATO!-y brandade with subtle hints of celery root mingling with salt pollack (Devon Market) in pleasant ways. Fennel-blood orange salad mixed with arugula and topped with pecorino. We loved this salad before mixing it with the arugula. Big blast of licorice freshness. The arugula took that down a notch. But this salad will see a lot of play this summer if blood oranges are somehow still around. Baguette to dip and dunk. Happy meal here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Goat Inspired By Komi With 2006 Prager Riesling Smaragd Bodenstein And 2012 Bastianich Rosato di Refosco


Last year, we had two meals out in the world that brought us such utter face-slapping joy, when we received the bill and saw what they were charging us for the face-slap, we both screamed, "I need to pay more!"

One was in Cihuri, Spain, at El Trujal del Abuelo, where a five-course meal featuring the best fat-slathered beef I've ever had and two pitchers of their stunningly fresh rosado cost a stupid-cheap 75 Euros. For both of us.

The other was in D.C., at Komi, a place that, if we were into ranking stuff, which we do on occasion just for funnsies, sits mere baby steps behind Etxebarri as the best meal of our lives. If you should be in D.C., eating at Komi will remind you--and if it doesn't, you're doing it wrong--why eating out can be an experience that feels like a gift, a feeling that seems to be fading in the current restaurant environment that too often feels like a calculated cash grab. "This chef wants out in....6 1/2 years...and he's retiring to...Majorca."

In our one experience there last June - a number that will change to two within the next year or so - Komi is the furthest thing from that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Flap Meat, Arancini And Kale With 2004 Two Hands Beautiful Stranger

"What the hell is that?"

"Olives! Olives everywhere!"

"That's...sparkling wine acid!"

"Grapefruit. Geesh! Grape. Fruit."

"Like grilled grapefruit."

"Tons of it."

"My God. There's so much acid and it's freakin' awesome!"

"All acid and still balanced at tens years old!"

"Didn't get this the last time."

"Is that chinotto? Some sort of weirdly delicious bitter peel."

"It wouldn't be a white wine if I drank it blind but...maybe an orange wine?"

"Yeah...there's dark cherry at its very narrow core but..."

"Sassafras."

"Ash."

"And olives. So many black olives!"

"This might be my favorite wine ever. Probably not but it might be. It's up there."

"It's real close. So strangely delicious!"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Week Of One-Offs

This week's food and wine is brought to you by the letter 'P.'

And taking days off work.

One of those days including working the coupons to get $45 off a Target trip. Another was making pasteis de nata, little Portuguese tarts  brought to you by a shortcut Jamie Oliver recipe, resulting in silly-great little nuggets of delights that for some ungodly reason we didn't get while in Portugal. So...winner week in our book.

Plus, there was partridge, peas, pancetta, pearl barley, all paired with a potent potable from Pfalz. And pizza.

"Don't practice your alliteration on me!"

Sunday "Off for Oscars" Dinner: Chorizo-stuffed dates, Uruguayan baked cheese, baguette and arugula, served with 2009 Pingus PSI Ribera del Duero ($35 - Binny's)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quick Hits


Bocadillos, Basque shrimp, chicken-sprout sandwiches, lemon-dill hanger steak & Sun-Wah Beijing duck and fish balls. With the wines above, in order.

We ate and drank fine enough this week, but thoughts on food, wine and their pairings were gobbled up by this comically terrible winter. If this shifting jet stream business has any validity, that this TYPE of winter is here to stay...we might have to live someplace else. In Chicago, it's going to be cold, it's going to be gray, and it's going to last you the rest of your life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Boar/Pork Belly Rillettes & Guinea Hen Hash With 2009 Quinta do Vallado Tinto Douro

Hash.

Souped-up hash.

Leftovers made fancy.

With a $20 wine that we thank all that is holy nobody purchases at Binny's, yet some buyer there keeps stocking it year after year.

More for us.

Check that. I'm convinced there's one other customer in the city that's wise enough to know the deliciousness of Portuguese wine. And we jostle with him or her for the city's stock. They sit on the shelf for months after we've procured enough for us, and visit after visit they remained seated, until one day they're gone. And one day, we're going to meet that person. And it's going to be like grabbing the last Cabbage Patch.

There will be a stare-down and there might be a fight.

Food: Boar/Pork Belly Rillettes & Guinea Hen Hash

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fish Cakes, Chermoula, Beet-Carrot Salad & Dill Rice With 2010 Forlorn Hope La Gitana Torrontés

We drink well in Chicago.

The selection has been fine enough in many respects. Most of the time, we feel lucky to be offered more than so many places in the country.

Then I read Jon Bonné's book, The New California Wine, and I got a bit irritated again. I go wine shopping now and (again) all I can think about is how there's so much sameness on the shelves in the city.

So when we took a trip to Lush recently and saw a bottle of Forlorn Hope Torrontés on the shelf, even if it was a 2010, I bought it.

Bonné wrote about Matthew Rorick (Chronicle profile here) and Forlorn Hope in that book. I'd heard of the name, never tried any of his wines, and certainly wanted to after reading Rorick enjoys making small-production wines from grapes rarely grown in California.

That's one of our wine loves, drinking wine from grapes not typically grown in a particular wine region.

"California torrontés? What? Put it in the cart!"

And we drank it with food that Mrs. Ney never thought would be this delicious while she was making it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Frenchy-French On Crack & Rillettes, Salumi, Cheese & Andrea Calek Blonde

Drink wine from great importers like Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, Cream and such, and you're going to end up drinking a boatload of organic, biodynamic and natural wine.

None of them stock their portfolios based on whether the wines are org-bio-nat or anything in-between. The wines they carry are wines they like that typically come from small producers that put a premium on subtlety, grace and good farming. That usually means not dumping a bunch of crap on their crop to some (or all) extent.

We don't drink org-bio-nat wines because they're that. We buy wines from good importers (mostly) and their wines happen to fall in that realm. We're not dogmatists. Dogma is "RIGHT OUT!" in our house.

But over the course of our wine drinking, our taste for wines that we like and want has been developed by those great importers, in a way that's almost like having a good hitting coach. It's become, in a small way, a cross-section of our own jones and how those importers can satisfy it. Not always but rather significantly. Heck, I liked the Yellow Tail sparkling rosé so there's that.

So as we wade deeper into the natural wine world, something that's been a big jones of mine lately, we're finding some limits in our tastes, but we're also finding wines chockablock with interesting interestingness. Which is all we ever want. Give me something interesting. If it's interesting, you're constantly engaged. If it's interesting, true surprise is possible.

Drinking the same thing night after night is boring.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Indian, Epic Chicken-Bread Salad & Lebanese With Trousseau, Sancerre & Susucaru

There's something about having 40-degree weather in the long-range forecast that brings an optimism not felt in months.

And then I go against one of my deep philosophical beliefs in life, a tenet so integral to my day-to-day happiness that betraying it, even briefly, brings such a deep, rusted patina to my being that it can take weeks to shed.

I read internet comments.

This week's Asimov column. Comments. Don't.

For the record, it's never really been a problem finding many of Asimov's picks in this house. It's called the internet, email or (gasp) a phone.

But I digest. This was "We finally got the hemp bedspread!!!" week, something that's been over two years in the making. But here's what happened in the food realm.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Salami-Haloumi! With Luis Pato Cheap Goodness



Apparently I'm taking pictures of our food now. Feel free to scold me on the street, should you see me. I deserve it.

Haloumi cheese, fried low and slow in olive oil and oregano. Olympic Provisions Greek salami, arugula with dill and pomegranate seeds. Baguette to dip, dunk and top. Served with 2012 Luis Pato Maria Gomes Vinho Branco Beiras ($10 - Lush). 

Haloumi = bestest of the best in the cheese realm right now. Don't like it? You're a moron. Olympic Provisions Greek salami = not the best. We love that shop. This product is herbed-up butter upfront and salami underneath. Ratio is off, to our taste. Best batch of arugula in a winter with poor arugula.

We met Luis Pato at the Bin36 Portugal tasting last spring (look at us, we're so neat!) and he was the nicest man on the planet that was suffering through a barrelful of stupidity in that room. If his name is on the label, we're buying it since that experience. This one, his basic Maria Gomes wine, was marked down at Lush, an oddity for a shop that can feel a little spendy at times (I have "feelings" about small wine shops in Chicago lately after being ripped off on three Sicilian wines recently).

Here's citrus peel and woolliness in the glass that became freakin' delicious as it warmed up. Bet he's proud of this one. Bet he drinks it often. Look at this picture up there. Stare at it. That's a Portuguese face. They don't want to be known. Don't want to get all these interviews. Don't want anything other than being left alone. Think about how that mentality translates to wine. Think about how that would translate to good, cheap wine. That's this Luis Pato Branco. And all of his wines.

$10? You're f'in crazy.

Solid Monday lunch because haloumi is the shit. Happy arugula with dill and pomegranate. Delicious wine. What more do you want?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Green Goddess Chicken & Endive-Tomato-Avocado Salad With Uruguayan Albariño & Palmina Arneis


New York Times recipe, part deux, for the week.

Coming off Monday's Florence Fabricant Chinese chili, Melissa Clark chimed in last night with a marinade we've had before a few times in dip form. Mrs. Clark likes food. She particularly likes salt-acid-herb-driven food. So we like her.

Green goddess chicken recipe here. Ours looked like their picture. Except for the professional photography, as you can see. Should have put it through a grainy filter, like everyone else. Wouldn't that have been neat? We all need a heightened sense of reality thrust onto the mundane, don't we?

Recipe followed to the letter. Smoked up the house something fierce, but the result was delicious, summertime chicken and freshy-fresh salad that gave the middle finger to this "fun" winter that Chicago is experiencing.

So...delicious half-chicken for each of us, crispy-roasty-deep with fresh flavors vacillating back and forth with the char in beautiful ways. A salad of endive tossed with the green goddess dressing, chopped; grape tomatoes, scallions and sliced avocado. Handful of parsley dumped on top of both plates. Garlic bread on the side. More dressing to dip and dunk as we saw fit.

This was stellar. So expletive-ly satisfying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chinese Chili & Asian Cornbread With 2011 Trader Joe's Reserve Syrah

We expected very little.

"Meat in a bowl" and cornbread.

Not the most inspiring impression to start the meal.

But as with most New York Times recipes, the bar on its minimum level of happy-goodness is raised.

Toss in green chili cornbread and this was an enormous surprise, with a wine that shocked both of us with its savory change-y-ness throughout the meal.

Chinese chili recipe here.
Green chili-cilantro cornbread recipe here.

TJ's brisket ($20) used, resulting in a large bar-raise in terms of meat. Look at the list of ingredients in the recipe. If you want to be a happy cooker, making even the simplest of meals that satisfy, surprise and just all-around feel like teeny-tiny mini-vacations every night. You have that stuff on hand at all times. It's not expensive, most of this stuff lasts forever, and if something is "on the verge," cook something with it. Simple.

I just had Taco Bell for the first time in probably three years, as I was sucked in by the "loaded grillers" commercial and I'm a weak man at heart. I feel like I just ate a soapy chemical bomb, mostly because there were no herbs and acid. The tummy wants herbs and acid. And garlic. And pop.

This meal had that. A swirl of Asian flavors, always staying light, always offering something different with each bite, always feeling like we were eating something purposeful and substantial. It went from a meal when plopped down that screamed "just eat it!" to something slow-down, pretty, deep and delicious.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

French-Spanish-American With French-Spanish-American, Plus Other Stuff

Jolly good food week.

We had wine and food that matched up with their countries, something somewhat rare for a string of three meals in our house.

Usually, there's some crossover or playing around, just to keep it frisky.

#1 Chicken thighs, fennel and olives with crispy potato roast, served with 2010 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau Blanc ($58 - Saratoga)

French and French. Thomas Keller recipe. Last had here with the exact same wine and vintage.

It's $8 food with spendy wine. Two changes to the recipe. Tarragon added and thighs marinated in leftover Michael Symon salsa verde (from meal below).  It is what the name of the recipe says it is, except when it comes together, it tastes like food that's been eaten and refined over the course of 200 years. That's what Thomas Keller recipes taste like. He makes food that taste...so...perfectly...in proportion. Everything serves a purpose at just the right level. That's what we found here again. Cheap food. Fairly easy food (that's saying something for Keller recipes). Utterly delicious food. This wine with this meal can't get better. Just can't. It's slap-to-the-face good.