Wednesday, November 3, 2010

#128 - Venison With Juniper, Celery Root & Farro With A 2000 Côte-Rôtie

Maybe should have had chicken.

Mrs. Ney's impression: "Tasted like what I imagine French food tastes like at a mediocre British restaurant: Depressing."

My impression: Tasted a bit too matchy-matchy. Like what a young chef would think is the most ingenious thing ever.

Dead-of-winter flavors all cooked well, light enough not to leave a gut-busting feeling, wine that cozied right up to everything and entirely enhanced the meal and a general sense that everything was right and proper.

Just not surprising or electric.

Tasted like 1994 fancy or flavors we might have liked in 2004.

Mrs. Ney voiced what I've felt for awhile now: Screw meat with sauce.

Food: Venison with juniper berries in a blueberry-red wine reduction, chestnut farro and celery root purée

Paulina venison crusted with juniper berries, thyme, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, cooked rare to medium-rare.

Venison has a Butterfinger quality. I had plenty of venison growing up in Iowa. Like a Butterfinger, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Then you buy one, eat it and think, "Yep. That's a Butterfinger. See you in two years, my friend."

Alternating levels of gaminess that mingled nicely with the juniper and thyme. The ginny, drying aspect of the juniper offered a nice diversion and the thyme enhanced the freshness and quality of the meat. But unlike lamb, venison offers gaminess without the luxurious richness. And unlike duck, venison offers gaminess without the beautiful fatty secondary flavors. It's just too lean and the flavor isn't exotic enough or unfamiliar enough to match the ostrich/bison world of crave-able and unusual gaminess.

Fine and good meat. Just not our bag. Kinda boring.

A blueberry-red wine reduction made with blueberry preserves, copious amounts of butter, shallot and beef stock. Subtle and mild yet offered a rich butteriness, tied in with the juniper and thyme in relevant and proper ways but...

Meat and sauce reminded both of us that sometimes sauce as a integral "tie-in" component for Everything (!) on the plate tastes like a crutch. There's a fine line here. Of course sauces are relevant, important and often freakin' delicious. But it depends on what side of the fence the sauce falls. I think it has to be something that delivers a spike of surprise that elevates the protein but sufficiently separates itself from the other ingredients on the plate while only tying together with them in a "meta" way. Get too into the same flavor profile and it becomes akin to a run-of-the-mill action flick. A little too Predictable. Even as the sauce wanders into the other ingredients and you take a bite, instead of possible surprise, you know exactly where it's going to go and you're left with seeing how it's going to get to an already known ending. Might have some familiar surprise, just not new surprise.

And you begin to question the inherent purpose of the entire genre and why the hell you're watching it. Sort of like mental masturbation where the only joy is seeing if you can correctly guess what predictable lane the director is going to take.

If that makes any sense.

AND WE WANTED SOMETHING RAW ON THE PLATE! Something about everything cooked to the same level of warmness contributed to our general sense of boredom.

But the chestnut farro satisfied a part of the soul that tasted like fall and the celery root purée mixed with crème fraiche tasted gloriously silky, like a whipped, light, flavor wonder.

A very good, fine meal but one of those meals that straddled so many lines that it made both of us think about what we really like when it comes to food.

And the weird thing is...the wine was kinda great with it.

Wine: 2000 Tardieu-Laurent Côte-Rôtie ($60 - Howard's)

Grape: 100% syrah
Vintage (WS): 88 Clean and pure with good structure, but without the depth of top years

I can't really defend this purchase. Perusing the selection at Howard's on a random wine shop run last week, I thought it prudent to explore northern Rhône, a region we haven't touched yet.

Choice was a bit thin - at least with names I knew - I wanted one ready to go, one from a name I at least heard of and one of sufficient quality to get a representative example of northern Rhône.

Ah, the perils of going in blind. I overspent and knew it the second I walked out of the store.

But that's not to say this one wasn't good and I think we got something fairly representative.

Decanted for about a half-hour. Oodles of peppered bacon fat right away mixed with smoked cherries. Dry, like sucking on a cherry pit at times. Some red licorice notes occasionally. Tons of acid in a medium-bodied profile with a tart-ish finish and changed as the meal progressed, becoming a bit more substantial and plump but never getting out of its medium-bodied core.

But without food, it tasted like someone took grape and cherry Sweet-Tarts and boiled them down in Lipton tea. Not...good.

But with food, decent stuff. Not $60 good but if I'd have paid $30, I would have been happy enough.

Pairing: 87 A technically solid match, just not what we wanted

On an election night like that, this was far from the worst taste in my mouth.

In fact, I liked the meal despite everything previously said. Not one element of the meal felt technically wrong. The wine matched up almost perfectly and brought much to the overall feeling of the meal.

Nice with the venison, pleasant with the farro, kinda great with the celery root purée, oddly, especially when a little sauce wandered into it.

But not...particularly...remarkable...overall.

Funny thing is, if we jammed lamb into this exact preparation and force-fitted a big and fat Oregon pinot noir into it, we probably would have liked it more. Something about the clumsiness of it all would have offered more of a shock.

As it was, we knew what was coming at every turn.

Quick note: Hot Spanish tapas! Monday night meal of linguiça, manchego, patatas bravas, dates, Sicilian green olives, saffron mayo and honey and sherry vinegar-marinated asparagus finished with Spanish sea salt. Served with 2001 Altún Reserva.

Always a great, quick, fallback meal that needs to be revisited once a month. Always love it and in fact need it. It has a valuable purpose to our food world and always will.

The 2001 Altún Reserva Rioja ($30) was a wine we had at Piperade in San Francisco two years ago and wanted to revisit. Tasted like everything Rioja is. Sort of a blend between new and old-style Rioja showing vibrant, bright cherry with plenty of cedar and background tobacco and orange peel notes, even a wee touch of leafiness. Typical Rioja but with more bouncy verve and jump to the intermingling of the flavors, like a 3-D spazzy version of Rioja and a bit volatile. Might be in an odd phase right now. Was all over the map at times and turned raspy and undrinkable towards the end. Only the second bottle we've had and don't know the winemaker but tasted very alive, maybe a bit too much. Enjoyable, fit with the food and may revisit in five years just to see what a settled down bottle might taste like.

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