Thursday, December 16, 2010

#141 - Bison & Vanilla Mash With '09 Wolftrap + Urban Belly

I continue to forget how bright bison is.

Incredibly lean, juicy, takes on spice and marinade in utterly original ways and...bright.

We've had some reasonable success in the past year with pairing wine with bison.

I seem to recall going with Australian shiraz almost exclusively before I started this blog but California mourvèdre served us well in August after a failed attempt with a dead Yalumba and a Vaucluse in June offered a respectable pepper explosion.

Much like the former, last night, we tried a dead something else (or was it?) before loving an cheap gem.

Food: Bison flank steak, vanilla mashed potatoes and sautéed spanish with a chestnut sauce not used

Whole Foods (Halsted) bison flank steak. $13 for 3/4 of a pound. Marinated overnight in a much more simple way than previous efforts. No juniper or harissa angles this time, just herbs, garlic, olive oil and balsamic, seared in salt and pepper, medium-rare. That's it.

Beautiful stuff, a pause after the first bite happened again over how bright and sunny bison is. Almost light. Dense meat, sure, but light.

Vanilla mashed potatoes (from #44 in March):
"Vanilla mashed potatoes was first discovered by Mrs. Ney about three (?) years ago after perusing some Thomas Keller recipes. And holy crud! That's sex on a plate! You'd think it's just mashed potatoes and you'd be wrong. These aren't mom's potatoes. These are the most silky, delicious, vanilla-spiked dollops of beauty incarnate I've ever tasted. And carry with them about 2,000 grams of fat. It's in the top 20 of things I've ever eaten. And they're freakin' mashed potatoes!"
Sautéed spinach cooked up in the bison pan juice.

Fancy food here. We went less fancy with the wine, instead taking a shot at a South African Bordeaux blend that showed well a year ago even if there were reports of its eminent demise.

This time, not so much. But another South African Rhône-style saved the day.

Wine: 2005 Capaia Philadelphia ($25 - WDC) & 2009 Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap ($9 - WDC)

The Capaia is a Right Bank ape consisting of merlot, cabernet and petit verdot, unfiltered. No decant due to Wine Spectator saying it was past its drinking window by two years. Which is too bad. I just had a sip of it after being open for 18 hours and it's opened up quite well. Last night, it came off as a bit tired, showing sleepy dark red fruits and dirt with not enough acid to think it could be anything else than unimpressive. Now, a nice blackberry note came through with more structure than last night, volatile red fruits in the middle and a pleasing bloody, hot finish. A second chance might have been in order.

But we were entirely pleased with the cheap alternative we cracked to compensate for what the Capaia was offering at the time. Totally surprised, actually.

The Wolftrap is a Rhône-inspired South African blend of 65% syrah, 32% mourvèdre and 3% viognier. It's $9 and easily falls into the category of one of the best reds under $10 we've had in a long time. Shocking structure for the small bills paid. Sunny blue and black fruits upfront that transitioned nicely to a graceful chocolatey mid-palate, finishing with a mocha-coffee bean and minerally, almost old lady perfume blended with black pepper coda. Admirable balance here, offering light earth notes and a touch of blood throughout with clean edges. Could have paid twice as much and been happy.

Pairing: 91 Take out the Capaia and this is a stupid delicious $27 meal for everything
Became a meal giving some dark depth here and there contrasted by the inherent brightness of the bison and the floral notes and lift from the viognier.

Just a different element jumping up at each turn. Seemed like we had 20 different distinct flavors on the plate and in the glass with all of them playing nicely in the sandbox.

But more dominantly, big, bright and almost creamy blueberries in the wine with the vanilla mashed potatoes and a coffee-infused chocolate bar hit with the bison.

Great stuff, going back and forth.

A Restaurant Note: Back to Urban Belly after at least a year. It took two bites to proclaim, "Shame on us." Seems we got stuck in our Semiramis and Indié Cafe ways in the past year when thinking about a good, cheap BYO meal out of the house.

Menu: #3 Asian Squash and Bacon Dumplings, #4 Duck & Pho Spices Dumplings (double order), #5 Pork & Cilantro Dumplings, #13 Rice Noodle: Hominy, Kimchi & Spicy Pork Broth and #16 Seasonal Kimchi

Wine: 2007 Hirtzberger Smaragd Riesling Hochrain ($35 - WDC) & 2005 Domaine Des Baumard Savennières ($26 - WDC)

Not going to discuss the food much, just to say that we'll be back, probably in two weeks. Deep flavors and great balance with recipes that seem to have been slightly altered for the better since our last visit. We always loved Urban Belly but this seemed like an even better version with less raw elements blended in, relying more on savory balance found in a more deft interplay of spices. We've had marginal success with pinot noir here but after this trip, it's Austrian riesling.

The Savennières had its moments but had to be kept in the squash dumpling box. Intensely floral and waxy. Bone-dry with big chamomile notes, like someone dumped chamomile tea all over old mossy peach skin and left it to dry for weeks. We've had a couple good Savennières and a couple of bad ones. This one fell in the middle. More in your face than the good ones with bitter wax upfront but got back on its feet nicely on the mid-palate with a jumpy flowers and gasoline. Rough, minerally finish that turned very bitter. All the jagged edges were smoothed out with the squash dumplings though, and the floral and tea notes turned more elegant and natural. Just didn't come close to the realm of acceptable with the other dishes, which probably should have been expected with the spice level.

But the Hirtzberger couldn't have been better. The spice needed a little sugar and the sugar in this wine couldn't be more inviting and playful. Tangerine fruit that, at times, resembled Five Alive (do they still make that?). Good structure with nice delineation, giving fine minerals in the middle and an oh-so subtle sweetness that went down the throat in pretty ways. The weight and grace fit like a glove with the well-crafted Korean feast. Pairing Score: 92

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