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..."



"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


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 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.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Quick Hits

Quick Hits in a true quick-hit manner.

1. Enough Said occupies a rare place in film, particularly of late. It shows all the natural sloppiness, resulting terribleness, and enduring hope that comes with...existing. And living with the history of being yourself for so long, a unique thing in an age where constantly reinventing yourself and TEDTalking your way to happiness seems to be the path to...something. Enough Said is genuine without ever shining a light on its attempt to portray that. I've always thought, in the discussion of older women not being able to land juicy roles in Hollywood, that looking to Juliette Binoche and Kristen Scott Thomas (who's done amazing work in a slew of smaller films) should be the template. Both have aged so damn gracefully as actors by taking roles that never shy away from being juicily complex and flawed as characters. James Gandolfini is very good here, and gets much of the press as this was his last film, but this is a star turn for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She lets so much in and, as a result, gives so much.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 Snowpocalypse Food Week

A roundup of first-of-year food heavily influenced by the fact that leaving the house for more than five minutes might have resulted in death.

Well, not quite death but...geesh!

Monday Dinner

Sausage, grapes & tomatoes with kale salad and baguette, served with 2012 Trader Joe's Reserve Barbera Mendocino County Lot #88 ($10 - TJ's) 

Recipe from Orangette, though we add grape tomatoes and rosemary in the roast.

Previous Pairings: Great with wild boar sausages and a bottle of 2003 Pirramimma Shiraz McLaren Vale. To lesser but nice effect with weisswurst and 2009 Ponzi Dolcetto Willamette and Trader Joe's sweet sausages and 2010 Centonze Frappato Sicilia IGT.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Neyers Vineyards Spotlight - Grilled Sirloin Skewers, Posole and Grilled Rapini With 2010 Neyers Mourvèdre

Jon Bonné's new book, The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is doing something to me.

While it's certainly connecting loose nuggets, disconnected facts and vague geographical notions collected while drinking and reading about California wine, it's also debunking some lazy prejudices that have metastasized in my brain over the years.

It's been a flurry of "What? Nooo. He's that guy?" and "Well...that's explains why we liked both of those wines. The same person made them!"

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Year's Food Week

After a complete car breakdown ("She's gone! The CR-V is gone! Oh, the humanity!"), the hardest work week of the year for Mrs. Ney, family Christmas visit, and now weather that resembles something out of a post-apocalypic sci-fi movie, easy food made its way to our (coffee) table this week.

The pic over --> there was one of the best. Moroccan carrot purée, sheep feta in Indian honey and pink peppercorns, Syrian sesame seed bread, arugula, dill, lemon thyme, parsley and pomegranate seed salad with Frank Cornelissen Surucaru #5 ($22 - work), a red and white grape field blend fermented together on their skins for 45 days. The result is a dry rosato wonder that's as floral as it gets. It's as if bright earth and cloves were thrown up in the air above about 40 dozen roses. Great stuff and want so much more, as it reminded us of the more conventional sangiovese rosé at 2 Amy's in D.C., with all its dryness and roses jumping around everywhere, frolicking away. Where that one was all delicious happy fun in the glass, the Susucaru #5 has on more of a thinking cap.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Utterly Haphazard, Completely Unreliable, Probably Not Complete List of Our Favorite Food and Wine Of 2013

Our Best of 2013 list, chronicled by month.

Criteria for this list: Good food, good wine, buggy-bear pairing love, something unique, something we very specifically loved, just whatever struck our fancy and deserved a list-type spot.

In short, some big impressions of the year past.

So...good, very good and great are listed, with the meh, huh?, and terrible not listed. Because who has the time for the bad in life? Just move on.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hanger Bo Ssäm & Scallion Pancakes With 2008 Rôtie Cellars Southern Blend + One

Ridiculous wine savings alert!

All Dagueneau Silex is $25 off at Binny's right now. You won't see a better price for the best wine on the planet (not just white wine) in my book.

Mrs. Ney just gave me the 2010 and 2011 for Christmas! Mrs. Ney knows what Mr. Ney likes.

And Mrs. Ney had a "fun" time picking up one of the vintages. We're not snobs about pronunciation of wine-related things. Call it what you want, pronounce it how you must. It should never stop a happy wine conversation. Just don't get all uppity and be entirely wrong at the same time. It's...

Oh, and this is the furthest thing from a trophy wine.

Strange customer service experience all around in Chicago of late. Happens every year when it's extremely hot or extremely cold. People get cranky and weird.

Two meals this week that reinforce the idea that food and wine together don't have to be GREAT in order to feel necessary, happy and important. Many times, it's about raising the floor of meals instead of shooting for some enormously high ceiling. If your seemingly average, everyday meals can attain unique levels of satisfaction, you've won.

And you'll be fat and happy.