Sunday, November 10, 2013

We're Been In A Slump

We've been in a bit of a food and wine slump of late and I blame a certain Chicago restaurant that shall remain nameless.


Something about that meal left us deflated and annoyed.

Anne Burrell's chicken Milanese, though, thrust itself into our lives and won't be leaving anytime soon. Because it has the structure of food that we love most: meat + raw greens + pickled veg, all eaten in one bite. It's a party in your mouth! Pair it with a quality pinot gris, like the 2011 Owen Roe Pinot Gris Crawford Beck Vineyard ($20-ish - Winery), a pretty white that has the verve to bring a second and third level of pretty, and it's a slump buster, my friend! A 2012 Ponzi Pinot Gris ($15 - Winery) was less pretty/gutsy when this was revisited a couple of weeks later, but this meal, done this way, is why we like this food and wine crap.

A twist on said meat + raw greens = Goodness business, a kielbasa and lentil salad with warm mustard-fennel dressing over escarole with a 2011 Schwarzbock Grüner Veltliner ($10 - Vin Chicago - new name for Wine Discount Center) made for similar pauses of joy (recipe).

That's been the food and wine winner over the last month, but there have been other pairings with varying levels of success. With the open of red wine season, we've oddly been left wanting with many of the red wines we've had recently. That's gotta change.

Some notes on meals so we don't forget:

* Cuban pork (Cook's Illustrated recipe) ($1.69/lb at Harvesttime) in garlic brine, rubbed with garlic, orange and oregano paste, roasted. Mrs. Ney says, "People:  rinse off the brine!!!!!"  Mojo: more garlic (this time roasted), orange juice white balsamic vinegar, evoo, cumin and oregano. Yuca fries as starch. Eat Cuban food. It's happy food. This one a touch salty due to the un-rinsed brine but satisfied the Cuban yen nonetheless. Served with a 2008 Langmeil Grenache Barossa The Fifth Wave ($25 - Binny's), a burly red that stayed burly throughout. Meh. Nothing to report here. Move along. And frankly a syrupy mess by itself.

* Wolffish and Waxman braised endive salad (recipe), glorious with sea bass a year ago, was less so here. Liked it, though. Wolffish is some sturdy-ass swimmer. Meaty. Butter, dill, lemon zest and manzano pepper on fish. Manzano peppers are...HOT! Salad of Belgian endive, leeks, onions, tomatoes, tarragon, lemon thyme braised in lots of evoo and minimal amount of Muscadet, uncovered in a hot oven. Potatoes par-boiled and crisped in bacon fat. Served with 2010 Hiedler Kittmannsberg 1 November Grüner Veltliner ($18 - Vin Chicago). A fruity number that showed funky depth. The hotness of the pepper beat it up a little bit but it brought some surprising feistiness to the party. Almost opened a Dagueneau. Glad we didn't.

* On Hiedler, a 2010 Hiedler Kittmannsberg 1 November Grüner Veltliner ($18 - Vin Chicago) and a Picton Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough ($8 - Trader Joe's) at Urban Belly offered enough to allow us to enjoy our last visit to Urban Belly on California, as it's moved downtown next to Bill Kim's other venture, BellyQ. Sad in a way. It's now a "Downtown? I don't know. That seems like a lot." We love you, Urban Belly. Always have. It's original and deep flavors in a town that is becoming less so. But the Hiedler was all savory secondary flavors in the nice way. And the Picton Bay Pinot Noir is always an acceptable, cheap fallback for finicky wine food. Kim's food is just that.

* Flap meat. Learn it, know it, love it. Especially when Paulina Meat Market cuts it right off the freshly delivered cow right in front of you. Think you've tasted the essence of rusty blood in red meat? Not until you've had flap meat. Two flap meat meals of rare to medium-rare flap meat and potatoes in two forms (delicious home fries, one). Two wines, one with flap meat burgers, a 2010 Owen Roe Syrah Lady Rosa ($40 - Winery) moved a little more than it did a year ago, and we liked this showing, but I think we both want to like this wine more than we actually do. Delicate earth backed by admirably silky fruit, with an impression that evokes a Northern Rhône but it just hasn't transcended the compilation of the components in the glass for us yet. The other with post-grill marinade flap meat, home fries and 2008 Le Mistral Monterey County ($16 - Binny's), a 62% syrah, 28% grenache, 5% alicante bouschet, 5% petite sirah blend. For half-off the sticker price, I remember liking this wine with this meal. Never loving it, but enjoying it. And then forgetting it. Red wine for us needs a slump-buster. Maybe we gotta pop a good one soon.

* Zuni Café Tuscan-style chicken with a 2011 Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve ($20 - Winery) made for a boring pairing but it wasn't the chicken's fault. This is quality chicken, closely resembling Zuni Café's offering. Used dried cherries instead of currants. Recipe here. It's a bit of work but the two-day salting and refrigerating made for happy chicken. And dressed bread and raw greens is the goods. The Ponzi chardonnay came off...a bit perfunctory.

* Villa Creek Rosé is quickly becoming one of my favorite rosés. It's so fresh, yet dirty. Served with a severely overdressed grilled romaine and endive salad with pancetta, pine nuts and green goddess dressing, it saved a meal that tasted WET!    

* An ersatz version of duck leg confit, tea-smoked lentils and beet salad, done so much better by Mrs. Ney here, merely brought echoes of the flavors we love so much. A 2009 Neyers Syrah Old Lakeville Road ($20 - Binny's) did the same. Nice, but a bit disjointed with a grittiness hiding an underlying grace that seems to be there.

More coming. Maybe even a top 100 ingredients list. It's in the works.

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