Thursday, April 3, 2014

Quick Hits: This Week In Food And Wine

Light red wine week.

With a Champagne followed by tempranillo mixed with Coke tossed in. That's how we roll.

So...funky week. We liked it.

Monday Lunch: Salad of avocados, tomatoes, edamame, pea shoots, arugula, parsley, cilantro, sunflower seeds and standard dijon-tarragon vinaigrette, served with NV Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($30-ish - Trader Joe's)

We initially thought this salad would be fine enough, then two bites in, phrases like "this is awesome!" started to get tossed out. Fresh, of course, but also woodsy-seedy-gardeny with the pea shoots and sunflower seeds. Strangely came off like a mid-winter salad eaten to remind you that 'the winter of your discontent' isn't a permanent thing. Fresh, bright AND brooding can co-exist together. Served with what might become our new cheap Champagne. Ayala has become too specific and food-moody in our world. The 'Peeper' gave flinty minerals and smoke first with a broadness and happiness without ever being so eager to please. Both of us thought it could have been a Blancs de Noirs. Chardonnay didn't seem to be playing any role whatsoever except for a small tangerine peel lift on the end. Only 15% of the blend is chardonnay and I think that's what we prefer. The bubbles exploded with the sunflower seeds and sprouts, turning even more broad and round while still being focused and refreshing. Big Monday lunch winner.

Monday Dinner: Adobo chicken with yuca fries, served with tempranillo and coke

Saveur recipe of adobo chicken under a brick, instead making adobo chicken on a screaming-hot flat-top in a 500º oven. Recipe followed to the letter except for that. Good chicken. Nice chicken. Solid one-off. Probably won't do it again. The all-spice and paprika made for a pleasant chicken diversion. Not the best batch of yuca but it satisfied the jones. But the pickled red pepper-marzano purée added to a big glop of mayo for dipping and dunking was boss.

With that all-spice and paprika and not knowing how the hell this chicken was going to come off in the end, blowing too much on wine seemed like a bad choice Spanish wine mixed with Mexican coke and a slice of lemon! We're fancy. And it was delicious enough here for us to do it again, probably in the next couple of weeks. Cheap LaGranja Tempranillo from Trader Joe's. It's $4 and quite balanced for a $4 wine. Balanced for a $10 wine. We thought the sugar from the Coke would give us a RUSH! and make the meal feel heavy. Nope. This was cheerful stuff and quite fine with the food. Perfect for a meal we won't be making again in this exact form.

Tuesday Dinner: Cumin Lamb stir-fry, served with 2011 Arianna Occhipinti IL Frappato Sicilia ($40 - Lush)

The New York Times dining section does a sound job constantly dishing out recipes that are unique, flavorful and easy to make. We've made dozens, because they almost always sound like credible options for those times when the dinner ideas aren't flowing. The end result is nearly always satisfying food, but rarely "Holy Crap!" delicious. Something always seems like it's missing. Just one small thing to take it over that hump. Here, with cumin lamb stir fry, adding orange peel might be the play. Just a lil somethin'-somethin' to bring a lift. But we're not Chinese food lovers so...

Used lamb round, Szechuan peppercorns and Shaoxing rice wine (bought at Golden Pacific, my favorite Asian grocery that I thought was closed, only to find out they were just reorganizing!). Those flavors came through. This WAS unique and better as it cooled down a bit. It just wasn't memorable.

The Occhipinti IL Frappato was. I've loved this wine since the first time I tasted it. Great concentration of juicy dark red fruit at the center with licorice and a happy, very specifically Sicilian acidity serving as the sparkle. Very long. Quite seamless. Takes its time to reveal all its secrets. A juicy, ripe pinot noir was the beginning of the thought process for the pairing, something to match up with the lamb yet stand up to the spices. This Frappato fits that description, just in a different form. Oddly, this food didn't come off ultra-spicy. The Frappato stayed its great self, adding little to the food, but this meal, in the end, was about that - enjoying this Frappato. It's stunningly good.

Wednesday Dinner: Rabbit ragù over pappardelle with asparagus, served with 2012 Domaine Robert Serol "Les Originelles" Cote Roannaise Gamay ($13 - Vin Chicago) & 2009 Gilles Bonnefoy "La Madone" Cote du Forez Gamay sur Volcan ($12 - Vin Chicago)

Mrs. Ney made a Saveur rabbit ragù recipe last week. It involved a turnip. During and after the making of it, Mrs. Ney could only taste the turnip. Mrs. Ney put it in the fridge for an indeterminate "later eating."

Last night was that later date. Some alterations. One pound of ground rabbit substituted for the two small rabbits, white wine for red wine, rabbit stock for chicken stock, and four ounces of pancetta added.

This turned it more pasta-friendly, almost Bolognese-like in texture and presentation (not taste), with small chunks of meat surrounded by all the other slowly-cooked, tomato-y goodness. But didn't taste in the least Italian. It tasted French. Light and delicate with a rainy/misty day flavor to it. Tasted Alsatian (?). Maybe Brittany. Some French place that weirdly has some pasta dish made specifically for, like, the third week of February. Homey, but light stuff, with a nod to the coming rain instead of the dreariness of winter. We loved it, even though it wasn't particularly rabbit-y.

And the two wines were stupid-great. Both are gamey, both are from regions technically in the Loire but are closer to Beaujolais than the center of the Loire Valley, and both tasted like they could have been very light cabernet francs - licorice and autumn leaf notes were found in both to varying degrees. The Robert Serol came off much lighter, yet so pleasingly light, with a three-act play of fruit, spice and tannins that brought a long, spice-tinged entry and exit that hung around longer than expected. The Gilles Bonnefoy brought more brawn, more fullness and more pepper notes, with a finish that signified that, for a 2009, there's a few more years left here. Completely unique to us and, for $12-13, c'mon! These are the early favorites for the wine steal of the year!

Not a bad week of food and wine at all.      

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