Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#132 - Thomas Keller Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Wedge Salad and Biscuits With '07 Királyudvar Sparkling

Some special stuff here.

Made special by "Ad Hoc At Home", a recipe book bought on a whim that may end up being used over the next year to full effect (the pickling section alone!).

When we went to Ad Hoc in July, something happened. Something along the lines of a restaurant experience that trumped anything I'd had before. It was like I'd found a place that, in some ideal world, I wanted to live next door to so I could have it any damn time I pleased.

I think about our meal there that night way more than I probably should. It's just food, but for me, it was something else, something more. Might not have been the best meal I've ever had in my life (in the top five, though), but it was the best total restaurant experience I've ever had (with the first Moto visit, Blackbird always and Colburn Lane in Toronto all right behind).

The Monday we were there in July was Memphis BBQ night but a frequent Monday menu is buttermilk fried chicken and it's always intrigued us.

Got the book, the recipes are in the book, why not?

We've only been to Ad Hoc once (with another trip coming soon) but to us, last night's meal tasted specifically like a meal that could only have come from that kitchen.

I can't really describe such things, only to say that it tastes like American comfort food has been perfected.

Food: Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Iceberg Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Buttermilk Biscuits

Like the Thomas Keller chicken that's been chronicled a thousand times on this blog, Keller doesn't do anything fancy or use ingredients only found in the backroom of some restaurant in Chinatown. He uses ingredients anybody for the most part can get and he uses methods that may come off a bit fussy but the end result is worth every second.

Nothing about the fried chicken skin was exotic, it just tasted like the best fried chicken skin I've ever had. Evocative to nth degree, deeply seasoned but never came off heavy, crunchy and thick but never oily and a taste that kept changing in my mouth alternating between paprika, cayenne, salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder in such a tremendous way. Never separated out, just changed beautifully.

The chicken itself proved original as well, which came from the brine (lemons, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, honey, garlic, black peppercorns and sea salt in a 12-hour brine). Became one of those times when you love something specific so much, like the chicken skin, and don't expect or even need the chicken itself to be anything great. You're good. But the chicken meat may have exceeded the skin. The breast meat in this recipe is the winner, sucking up the bay leaves and lemon perfectly and making for entirely original chicken goodness.

The iceberg wedge salad is a bit of a relic from the 70's steakhouse past in many people's eyes but I've always kinda loved it, finding value in the fresh crunch and good blue cheese/bacon/onion blend. We understandably took it off the menu of a restaurant I used to work at a few years ago (nobody ordered it) but it has a place. Done well, it can be a perfect compliment. Iceberg has few uses in this world except here.

With this one, it was in the blue cheese from the cookbook, substituting Greek yogurt for crème fraîche (buttermilk, onion and garlic powder, lemon juice, chives, parsley and mint). Mixed beautifully with the bacon, green onions and kumatoes along with oozing into the incredibly fresh iceberg with a spectacular crunch.

Buttermilk biscuits tasted like I was eight years old and our family got a bucket of Famous Recipe with all the sides, something I saw as fancy and special when I was eight. Loaded with butter but utterly delicious, they tasted like Love.

Tons of superlatives but all warranted. The book is worth every cent of the price tag.

Wine: 2007 Királyudvar Pezsgö Sparkling ($30 - Saratoga Wine Exchange) & 2007 Királyudvar Sec ($30 - Crush)

Along with Ad Hoc, I've rambled on about Királyudvar wines from Hungary on this here blog multiple times (site here).

The 2005 Sec was a bit of a revelation for us. The 2006 Sec less so but still wonderful.

Run by Gaston Huet from Domaine Huet in Vouvray, the wines are the definition of exotic yet familiar.

The 2007 Secs are starting to pop up around town (saw it at Howard's recently) but the Pezsgö is the first time the estate has bottled a sparkling and it's only available at Saratoga Wine Exchange in New York from what I can tell.

Alive, vibrant and loads of bubbles here with a nose of apricot fuzz, peach pit and grapefruit that followed onto the palate. Very little yeasty notes with this one and missing the signature orange blossom that comes with Királyudvar wines in our experience. What we found was a sparkling that was, structurally, very well put together, hitting all the right notes that one wants from a bubbly. Big body and solid acidity that tasted proper and delicious at every turn. May have wanted a bit more than the dominant grapefruit notes but utterly enjoyable nonetheless.

The 2007 Sec underwhelmed at the start, showing hidden fruit and something approaching a moldy water quality that quickly went away and opened up nicely. As it warmed up, solid and very supple citrus fruit basket notes and a wee hint of orange blossom water gave way to a pleasant nutmeg quality on the mid-palate and finish. Not as electric as the 2005 but better put together than the 2006, which has been a tad short and upfront for us recently. More depth with the 2007 compared to the 2006 but not as explosive as the 2005 with less vibrant acid.

Both were extraordinarily food-friendly.

Pairing: 92 The food was the star but the wines were great supporting actors

The sparkling, as expected, mixed and mingled with the chicken and chicken skin beautifully. Not a false note on the night, never turning strange and always bringing a tastiness, effervescence and refreshment to every bite.

Both wines were oddly delicious with a blue cheese bite, turning into a delicious taste of something I've never tasted before, like if somebody made a Maytag blue soda with some herbs and it turned out perfect.

The food was on the marquee but the wines allowed the food to shine.

Everything tasted like what people talk about when they talk about Home.

Gonna remember this one for a while.

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