Yesterday, we finally went to and I can recommend Big Star in Wicker Park, Paul Kahan's take on Mexican street food. The hipster quotient was a bit through the roof but the staff is wonderful.
But it didn't touch plantain chicken and saffron risotto with two of our favorite wines. Not. Even. Close.
It's an absolute shock to me that we hadn't had this meal since starting this blog. We took a bit of a hiatus since the discovery of wine can chicken.
Food: Plantain chicken with saffron risotto and spinach
Plantains mashed and wrapped with sandwich ham, then wrapped with chicken pounded flat, forming a sort of roulade in a way. The roulade-style concoction was then rubbed in rosemary, salt and pepper and then braised with an orange. Leftover-spillover goodness in the skillet was finished off with lemon juice to create a goopy sauce to drizzle over everything. Peri-peri sauce to put on the chicken.
Saffron risotto made with almonds, saffron and finished off with parmesan. Probably better with pistachios but we didn't mind one bit.
Raw spinach as a base and parsley all over the entire plate.
It's a Cuban-Spanish fusion that's definitely on the short list on 'last meal' type talk. I don't know what else I can say. It has everything you could ever want from a meal and has to be tasted to understand its perfection. Even gluten and dairy free, if that matters to you.
And it was glorious with the wine.
Wine: 1999 R. Lopez de Heredia Gravonia Blanco ($22 - Binny's) & 2005 Királyudvar Tokaji Sec ($22 - Berkeley Wine Co.)
I THINK...this was the first time we had the '99 Heredia. We've had plenty of the '96 and '98 but I don't remember the '99, specifically.
100% Viura. Pale gold in the glass. Grilled pineapple and honey on the nose that followed through on the palate. Compared to the '96 and even the '98, this one has much more viscosity to it - especially with the food - along with a smoked pear note. Still the unique nuttiness that defines Heredia whites and good, solid, wonderful acid. A glorious wine. More volatile than previous years as it changed constantly throughout the evening and with the food. A smoky olive oil hint was a constant with more lively, meaty fruit than previous years - the sort of fruit that had a smokier overtone but still jumped out of the glass and stayed bright enough. Can't say it's better than the '96 or even the '98, just different. I love you, Heredia. And it was so nice to revisit everything that you are. Available everywhere.
The Királyudvar showed just as well. 80% Furmint, 20% Hárslevelű. A much lighter yellow in the glass than the Heredia with citrus on the nose. It's been three months since we last had it and while it's changed a bit, the lively acidity still carries the day. While the fruit last time showed more orange and exotic fruits, this time it went more into the world of lemon verbena and maybe peach with only splashes of orange notes and a tad more sugar on the palate than I remember. It's in the dry style (the grapes in Tokaj are naturally sweet) but Mrs. Ney found a Fresca note that nailed it, like a hint of slightly sweet carbonation with a grapefruit peel note. This one's five years out now and is still going strong. Tough to find but stupid good.
(A side note here: Királyudvar's vineyards are run by Noel Pinguet, head winemaker at Domaine Hüet, home of the recently drunk and utterly wonderful 2005 Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec. Pinguet was given sole control of Hüet in 2002 when Gaston Hüet died, but in 2003 he sold off majority financial control to the Chinese-American financier Anthony Hwang, creator and owner of Királyudvar, and the famed Tokaji winemaker István Szepsy, who used to own Királvudvar's vineyards until 2006.)
That's two $22 wines. Both were equally great. If you don't like white wine, try these two. If after drinking them and you still don't like white wine, I can't help you.
Pairing: 95 Only a 95 because 95-100 should probably be left for the unknown. I'll know it when I have it.
Perfect is such an arbitrary word. But it's probably our time-tested favorite meal everywhere, anytime, on any temporal plane. It's the one we enjoy the most, especially with two of our favorite wines, which these are.
The Királyudvar was better with the plantain chicken and the Heredia and risotto might be the best pairing of wine and food I've ever had. It's in the least the benchmark I've used to compare. When I first had that pairing, I kinda understood what perfect food and wine pairings were for me.
In the end, the beautifully graceful acidity in both wines cut through any fat/starch in the plantain chicken/risotto just enough to be able to enjoy both the food and wine exactly for what they were with flavors in each matching up perfectly. Even peri-peri sauce, something with an intense chili-herb flavor, worked great with the wines.
Everything was topped off with Portuguese almond liqueur bought in Cleveland. Cheapest label you've ever seen and even had a bit of crap coated on the bottle when we bought it. I'm not going to say it's delicious. I'm going to say it's freakin' delicious! Wonderfully subtle with barely an alcohol hit. Creamy almonds without the cream. Just glides down the throat and was a great finish to a great meal. Crap, that's good. All of it.