Friday, December 19, 2014

Duck Legs, Grits, Brussels Sprouts And Serrano Ham Red-Eye Vinaigrette With 2009 Domaine des Tours Vaucluse

A $14 Aldi duck was turned into three quarts of duck stock, Christmas duck pâté, and this duck leg dinner.

And what a good duck leg dinner it was. The smells alone!

Duck Legs, Grits, Brussels Sprouts And Serrano Ham Red-Eye Vinaigrette

"Cheater's" duck confit from Anne Burrell (with a decent amount of duck fat drained off and saved for future endeavors). It's duck confit without the "Yes, we get it. It's cooked in duck fat," leading to simple, delicious duck that can mingle with other flavors on the plate instead of screaming, "I'm cooked in duck fat!"

Bob's Red Mill white corn grits, based on Sean Brock's instructions for cooking grits in 'Heritage.' Since Mr. Brock uses what's probably the best corn on the planet, his one-hour cooking instructions didn't apply to Bob's Red Mill. Half-hour was perfect. Soak the grits overnight and DON'T USE MILK! Subtle corn goodness with perfect texture. Hello, grits. We'll be getting to know each other more intimately from here on out.

Charred Brussels sprouts that were nice to have around to fill out the plate but got very little attention.

Thomas Keller serrano ham vinaigrette, modified into a red-eye vinaigrette with the addition of a 1/2 cup coffee, reduced. Duck broth used instead of chicken broth, duck fat used instead of vegetable oil. Added sherry vinegar. This concoction "really tied the room together," bringing a third, fourth and fifth level of deliciousness.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anne Burrell Chicken Milanese With Argus Cidery Tepache Pineapple Wine

Click to embiggen and read
Drinking this pineapple wine with chicken Milanese is like going to the ballpark to see your favorite team with a bunch of friends and your team gets beat 10-2.

You don't care that your team got their booty kicked, because you went to the ballpark, with a bunch of friends, and had a good time.

In this scenario, the actual score of the game is the pairing. Not. Good. The wine overwhelmed much of what was on the plate, even the ONIONY! pickled onions, which was surprising.

But good food was on the table, and in the glass was chugalug happiness: The Argus Cidery Teach Pineapple Wine ($15-ish - Lakeview Liquors).

Anne Burrell chicken Milanese recipe here. Panko-parmesan crust on the pounded chicken cutlets. Quick-pickle onions. Dry gremolota, this time consisting of toasted pumpkin seeds, lemon zest, garlic, mint, basil, parsley, whatever herbs in the crisper that HAD to be used up. Cherry tomatoes in _______. Kale salad with pomegranate seeds. Mini ciabatta buns and butter on the side. Dump a bunch of pickled onions and germolata on top your chicken. Dive in. Just keep eating. It's a once-a-month meal in this house because it's boss.

When we went to Minero in Charleston two months ago, we had this pineapple wine and thought there's no way Chicago is going to have it. Probably a Southern thing that won't reach us. Nope. Lakeview Liquors on Addison has it. Buy it. It's delicious summertime goodness with oodles of verve, complexity, refreshment and swagger. Lightly charred pineapple, savory spices everywhere, touch of white pepper, bit of fizz. We love it.

Not good with this food, but we didn't care one bit. Tacos is its home. Picnics. BBQ. California-style burgers. Big plans for this one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Suquet alla Ca L'Isidre with 2004 López de Heredia Gravonia Blanco

This is our first 2004 López de Heredia Gravonia Blanco.

The 1996 was our first love, and a wine that probably did more to get us into Spanish wines in general than any other bottle. The 1999 mostly lived up to the 1996 when it came to acid and echoing the original goodness, but fell short a bit. The 2000 emphasized freshness more than the typical Gravonia nutty depth. And the 2001 was all class. Everything you would ever want from Heredia. No write-up for the 1998, but it came pretty close to the 1996 in terms of completeness, if I recall correctly, and a shame there were so few of them on the market.

Early meals with Heredia Gravonia involved some variation on chicken, many times with saffron risotto. That migrated to Spanish-ed up fish, and it's been a good migration, one that makes the meal feel kinda special.

Like this one.

Suquet alla Ca L'Isidre, local fish stew that has its origins in Catalonian fisherman's Sunday dinner, made with whatever fish they had left. Taken from Barcelona's Ca L'Isidre restaurant. Recipe here, chronicled in Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes In The World (great book). No changes made to the actual cooking. Swapped out red snapper for Icelandic cod and langoustines for lobster tail.

Boiled down, this is deconstructed Spanish stew, with two types of seafood - and all the complementing and contrasting that comes with that - potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, fish stock, parsley and chile. Depth from flamed-up brandy. Garlic-d up mayo for dipping. And a spectacular hazelnut sauce for drizzling over everything. Super-duper Spanish in every bite and done right. It's not the easiest meal to make, but this was the first time Mrs. Ney made it. She expects subsequent ones (which there will be) will be easier.

Hot damn, this was good. Want Spanish food? THIS is classic Catalonian Spanish food.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Salsa Verde-d Lamb Rosettes And Panzanella Salad With 2012 A Tribute To Grace Grenache

"Is someone making frappato in Oregon?"

That's how the 2012 A Tribute To Grace Grenache SBH tasted at times, a wine that's been a darling of the Jon Bonné New California movement, a wine I've been trying to get since I read Bonné's book, and a wine that was just given the top spot on Bonné's list of Rhône-style reds in the San Francisco Chronicle.

And when you want the vitamins and goodness that comes with a summer salad in the winter, "Just put bread in it!"

Paulina Market lamb flank "rosettes" marinated in Michael Symon salsa verde, seared medium-rare to medium. Rosette form is our lamb going forward. It's so darn easy, you get the lamb you're looking for, and it's so less a pain in the ass than rack. Green bean-sundried tomato-charred scallion-parsley-mint salad with panzanella-style bread soaked in pickled mustard seed-fennel seed dressing, with more dressing drizzled on the salad. Simple. Substantial. Full of the vitamins and greenness. Clean. Delicious. Happy.

And the wine helped bring some unique interest to the meal, but missed just a bit in being broad enough to capture our full attention.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, and a good time after, means easy meals in this house. One of the worst work weeks of the year and an impending family visit makes that necessary for sanity and general well-being. So, a round-up of such.

#1 Red-wine-rosemary hanger steak (Martha Stewart recipe) and potato pancakes with crème fraiche for slapping on top, served with 2004 Chateau Faugères St.-Emilion Grand Cru ($22 - Binny's)

Baller meat. Just the best. One of those rosemary meat preps where the rosemary gets into the medium-rare meat and juice so perfectly. Trader Joe's potato pancakes (ideal starch for such a week) with a whipped-up horseradish/blue cheese crème fraiche to slather. Very good meal.

Bordeaux is in the house. Gotta drink it. We stated that this may be the winter we gulp down a good amount of all the Bordeaux sitting on the shelves. After this one, like so many in the past, we may have to backtrack a bit on that statement. This bargain St.-Emilion brought an earth-first joy, with a medium body, happy textural presence, everything one would want in this price range. Unfortunately, it was schizophrenic with the food. Mildly interesting at times; tinny, backwards, limp at others. Sometimes, it was super concentrated but short. Other times, it was almost quite good. But it was too all over the map to find that place of pairing enjoyment. We never knew what food step to take in order to find its happy place.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TWIB Notes: This Week In Bottles

Wine-Searcher does a fantastic job with their 'Producer Portraits.'

I learn buckets with each one. Ponzi this week (40% of their production is pinot gris?). La Rioja Alta last week (They make albariño in O Rosal?). Good stuff.

Quickie round-up. It's 'clean out the freezer' time again.

Monday: Mustardized chicken and asparagus with mashed potatoes, served with 2008 Domaine Fourrier Bourgogne Blanc ($30 - Vin Chicago)

Take freezer breasts, try a "velveting" technique because you hear that's a thing, make a pan sauce with whole grain, dijon and ground mustard, broil the asparagus in the leftover fond, make mash (leave the skins on, you fussy-pants people - skins be good for ya). Put all of it on a plate and go to town. Simple. Basic. Good.

Fancify it with good wine. Frenchy-focused food, so open Frenchy-French wine. It works. This entry-level bottling from Domaine Fourrier has been sitting in the house for over three years, slowly getting lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, the wine you have starts to lose its cachet. You forget why you bought it, why it was a good value, why the person selling it to you thought it was so good (feels like an Amy or Sean rec.). It becomes just another bottle in the house. Then you open it, jus' cuz, gotta drink it, and say, "Holy Hell!"

Jumpy minerals, sparkly Asian fruit mixed with French pear, and a creamy, slate-like accent that makes quality, simple white Burgundy so damn good. Still young. Throw this one in with Domaine de Roally, serve them to people who don't think there's value to be had in France, and show them why they're thinking like a silly person.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dirty Rice With 2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py

Chicken livers, andouille chicken sausage, and ground pork.

Onions, scallions, wild rice, garlic, celery, green pepper, bay, thyme, and pecans.

Good flavors we like.

And onions and chicken livers were key with this delicious dirty rice recipe from Susan Spicer. Beaujolais likes onions and chicken livers provided the iron-y, blood-like background that matched up with similar notes in this Morgon, turning this next-level Beaujolais into a matchy pairing wizard with the food. While it sucked with an andouille bite, it was so "gee-whiz!" delicious with everything else.

Some alterations. This recipe serves 10. We're not 10 people. So less rice, less chicken stock, and fewer chicken livers. Added pecans, which beefed up the dish but added little in terms of flavor. And the aforementioned chicken sausages (Whole Foods) that brought more beefiness, but just didn't match up with the wine.

The result with dirty rice with more girth, yet stayed in that realm of "this is utterly filling, completely delicious, strangely complex, kinda magical, and I don't feel like I need to buy bigger pants."

We both loved it. Anyone want chicken livers? Cuz we have tons.

Tuesday dinner is the one meal of the week that Mrs. Ney makes certain has a certain swagger-newness-fanciness to it. This meal, on its surface, might not seem like such. We ate it on Tuesday and it lives up to the house Tuesday standard.

And it's easy enough to whip out on a weekday night. Gluten and dairy-free to boot, if that matters to you.

The 2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py ($41 - Lush) helped make it that way. This isn't spicy food (though the homemade Scotch bonnet hot sauce we brought to the table...don't go to the bathroom right after you've handled hot sauce THIS hot...jus' saying) and this isn't heavy food. Good Beaujolais has guts inside its medium-light body. Good match.  Crunchy dark raspberries and a touch of smoke, hint of dark chocolate, floral-rosey aroma, and tons of pretty dark forest-y dirt. But really, it was defined by the texture. Silky smooth, almost like thinned out blood that matched up with a touch of iron in very defined and memorable ways.

We don't drink a ton of Beaujolais for some inexplicable reason. Always loved Marcel LaPierre. And we have a few 2011's, a great vintage for Beaujolais, particularly Morgon. Need to drink more.

This was lovely, shockingly light dirty rice with deep flavors. The Jean Foillard made it complete.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thomas Keller Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Biscuits With Trader Joe's North Coast Sparkling

I really should take better pictures...

You can buy Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home, or you can simply search for the recipes. But you really should buy it, because it's enormous (and fussy), and detailed (and fussy), and gets you into the head of the guy who makes damn good food (and fussy), and kinda awesome.

This is our third time taking a fatty-delicious dip into the TK buttermilk fried chicken waters (last two). A lesson to be learned with TK BFC is that you might have the urge to pop a spendy Champagne with such meticulously prepared and somewhat laborious fried chicken. You might. You say it warrants such things, you put in hard work and should be rewarded. Well, you resist that urge. We've done it and the buttermilk gobbles up much of the nuance. You end up separating bites from sips, taking a pause between, in order to find the Champagne goodness, instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting all down-and-dirty with the chicken and bubbles. Thinking about how much you spent on the wine should never enter the equation here. You want to become a remorseless eating machine with chicken like this.

Buttermilk fried chicken recipe here. Buttermilk biscuits here. A frisée salad with Rogue blue cheese, roasted tomatoes and croutons to mimic wedge salad (Ad Hoc recipe as well), because frankly, iceberg lettuce in wedge salad form is something I crave about once every two years, then I have three bites and I'm pretty much done. Frisée is a better choice here. It does a better mop-up job on your throat and tummy with the buttermilk bounty.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It's Been Six Weeks...

Husk Restaurant
This blog isn't dead and I haven't been busy.

FAR from busy.

Which is too bad in ways, because I've forgotten many of the details of some very good meals and solid pairings that should have been detailed.

But let's try in stream-of-consciousness form.

Ten days in Portugal in September left us wanting, even bordering on annoyed. There just wasn't enough 'vacation' in it, not enough 'holy crap!' to it. So with our first round-number anniversary approaching, getting the heck out of Dodge again was necessary. Personally, I think Portugal might have been fine enough if not for a couple of meals that put the nail in the Portuguese food coffin. "Wait for it, wait for it, I bet we get potatoes AND rice and overdone meat again. Here it comes. Put your bets in. YEP!" I'm a snob and Spain spoiled me. Plus, it might have been fine - it WAS insanely relaxing - but that Newark passport-control line. Oh, that line. 300 people and four booth attendants. Screw you, Newark! Screw you! I no longer love you!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Harissa-marinated Skirt Steak and Cornbread With 2011 Three Wine Company Mataro

Or mourvèdre, by another name.

Yotam Ottolenghi is the chef du jour in our house. If we find a recipe he wrote, Mrs. Ney will probably make it. He makes flavors we like, while putting a bit of a tweak on what we like.

This harissa-marinated skirt steak was a good example. Both of us loved the simplicity of the marinade, which allowed the harissa to just be harissa. It was beef and harissa playing with each other, without anything else getting in the way. Place it on top of the tomato-red pepper simmered stew that was bright, sweet, light, and deep, and we got something akin to Moroccan ropa vieja.

Recipe. Halsted Whole Foods skirt instead of sirloin. Fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Preserved lime instead of lemon. Coarsely ground caraway and cumin added. Cornbread as the side. Arugula-parsley-pomegranate seed salad to finish. Fusion-ish but not really. Just good, clean flavors that left an impression. We'll be having this again.

Quality pairing as well. Served with a bottle of 2011 Three Wine Company Mataro Spinelli Vineyard Contra Costa ($20 - Binny's). Tasted EXACTLY like a bargain California mourvèdre done well. Like if the winery tried to fancify these grapes and make something more structured and long-lasting, something would be lost in translation. Opened herby, transitioned to a blackberry/black cherry bitter-dry sassafras soda quality, and finished light and easy, but with enough guts to finish right. Overall bright and happy. It's not trying to be anything but what it is and that was welcome. Matched up quite nicely with the food, offering that extra dimension and depth with a bite and sip, sip and bite, while showcasing this wine as a bargain keeper with food.

This was a good example of buying a wine blind, never having anything from the producer before, and wanting to try more from them after having it. Served with stewy food flavors that was still bright and chiseled, like Moroccan ropa vieja, this was good surprisingly stuff.

Charleston soon. Charleston? Yep. Charleston. Sean Brock Charleston mini-vacation. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

After Portugal, Two Meals With More Flavor


(Portugal, Portugal, Portugal)

We have conflicting feelings about 10 days in the Douro and Porto. Blank brains, plenty of pool time, lots of lounging, and a general sense of Vacation was nice. And needed. Very much needed.

But timid food lacking the aggressive flavors we like - food with pop, depth and surprise - left us without an element to our day that brings us joy.

Our weekends at home revolve around good food and good wine. We need it with the jobs we work. In the food-wine world, we like our vacations to be on par with our weekends. It's the essential cherry on top to all the relaxation and away-ness. Portugal wasn't that.

We dearly missed spices and herbs and the proper use of salt and pepper. And we won't be eating ham, cheese and bread in any form for months.

So two meals after our return to bring back The Flavor.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birthday Week

While half the customers in the place resemble a 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


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?


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.


* 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


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?


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.


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.


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


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.