Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beef Cheeks, Chickpea Purée & Kale Salad With 2005 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro

Perfect food.

This tasted like an entrée from a tucked-away, tiny restaurant that the locals know is the best food in the region and feel leery about letting every tourist know about (which it is).

So you ask a shopkeeper or hotel person what their favorite restaurant is. They look you up and down, determine if you're worthy, you try not to look like the tourist that you are, and they decide to give it up. You ask what you should order. They say, "beef cheeks." You inquire more. They gently put their hand up and say, "Just get them."

So you go, and you get them. And they live up to hand-up and "Just get them."

It's perfect food.

"Just make this."

Food: Beef cheeks braised in barbera, chickpea purée and kale salad

Recipe from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes In The World, taken from a ten-year menu staple at Boccon di Vino in Montalcino, Italy. And it's still on the menu. € 17,50.

Only four alterations: Trader Joe's Barbera Mendocino used instead of Brunello, meat seared before braising in the oven, chickpeas skinned (making for a shockingly smooth purée) and more rosemary, cuz we like it.

This is about as perfectly deep in braise-y flavor as it gets. Sometimes, braised meats are just too much. Its grizzly depth overpowers everything else, taking everything out of balance on the plate. Not here. The depth stops at the place where it dances with the chickpea purée in flawless, composed ways. Black pepper galore, clove-like expansion and linkage, green peppercorn pop, soy sauce glaze, wine-y goodness filling in all the holes and tempering the more aggressive flavors. And iron-y, livery beef cheeks making everything taste like a vacation.

NYT raw Tuscan kale salad with pecorino to finish. House fav.

There were about 8-10 bites in this meal, particularly the first five or so as everything was at a perfect temperature, that were some of the best bites I've had in the last year. It suffered a bit from the longevity of our sitting, getting a touch cold and congealed, yet it still retained its utter deliciousness throughout.

And bring extra green peppercorns to the table. They have a raw, green, peppery zing that deep wine wants. It pries things open.

Particularly one of our favorites -

Wine: 2005 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro ($75 - Liquor Pantry)

Last had here and at Chafariz do Vinho Enoteca in Lisbon (for $85 - I heart Euro wine list prices).
Half-hour decant and that might have been a mistake, as it became more 'simply Portuguese' towards the end.

Luscious, creamy, kirsch-like beginning that expanded so beautifully with the food. Funky Asian spice, Portuguese minerals, and earth that taste like the freakin' air in the Douro. Napa wine does taste like Napa sunshine, but only in a basic, travel brochure sense. Spanish wine tastes like Spain, but in a broader, more vague sense that can only sometimes be transportive. Douro wine takes both of us RIGHT back there, to the point where I can remember what I was wearing, how hot the air was, and where my mind was wandering. It's that silly-specific and 'of a place.'

Quinta do Vale Meão never fails in doing that. Such complete wine, every time. The first half of the meal of bites and sips led to wordless stares and gasps. And lots of "CRAP! This is stupid!"

Pairing: "Just make this and drink this."

I don't know if we'll remember the intimate details of this meal two months from now.

But I'll remember the first handful of bites and sips. I'll remember the lusciousness of the food and the integrity of the textures and their interplay. I'll remember how the wine went DEEP and expansive with certain bites, deeper than what I've experienced in a long time from a red. We'll remember the classiness of the Vale Meão; how it wouldn't be altered by the jokesters on the plate that occasionally threw out some bawdy humor, always maintaining its prim-and-proper posture without ever being stuffy. All class, all the time.

$30 total for both plates ($10 for the braising wine included) and $75 for the Vale Meão.

That's $105 total.

For this.

This wasn't the goat, but it was damn close.

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