Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Salads Days With Prager Grüner Veltliner And Andrea Calek Blonde

After our initial euphoria over a Mariano's opening up mere blocks from our house, reality has set in over just how much we'll be shopping there.

This week's "Explosion of Salads" serves as a good example.

Salad #1: Sea bass with garbanzo beans, mustard greens, barley, farro, mint and celery leaves, served with 2009 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachstum Bodenstein ($40 - Vin Chicago)

Fish over salad that tasted chefy, like someone experimented with these combinations 15 times until they got the balance right in every bite. Outside of the goat, this was probably the best meal this year.

Based on this recipe, swapping out fava beans for utterly cheap, fresh garbanzos from Harvesttime, leaving out the fennel flowers, including some pecorino in the barley/farro mixture, adding mint and roasted garlic to the vinaigrette, and putting celery leaves on top of the sea bass.

With a nod to a spring that won't f'in come to Chicago, this meal, with the greeny greenness and an underlying earthiness from the barley/farro business, was a party in our mouths and everyone was invited. It was WOW! food. As good as sea bass a la Veracruzana, a house favorite. Both meals use the fattiness from the sea bass perfectly by staying in the realm of light and clean without ever seeming too light and clean. A gravity and substantialness exists with every bite offering something different and deep. We became sated and satisfied by the flurry of flavors and sheer abundance of everything. Great Meal. Tasted like Zuni.

Whole Foods sea bass is stellar. This sea bass from Mariano's was quite good. And $5 cheaper. And two blocks away. While the fish was cheaper, everything else under the fish was about $4 total and came from Harvesttime. Buying the "underneath stuff" from Mariano's wouldn't have been $4. Double that at least. Example #1 of how Mariano's isn't the Holy Grail we initially hoped it to be because to its proximity.

The Prager Grüner Veltliner was frankly terrible by itself. Disjointed, metallic and watery, with fruit in the process of rotting. WITH FOOD, it became one of the more stark examples of late how wine changes so dramatically when fed the right food. This became integrated, complete, refreshing, bright, shiny, long and delicious. A quality grüner veltliner with its own personality. More emphasis on its sparkly, pure profile, maybe, instead of getting to the guts of great grüner, but good stuff. $40? A bit pricey for what we got but we didn't feel ripped off because it went so well with this food.      

Salad #2: Anise-flavored volatile compound salad, served with NV Andrea Calek Blonde Ardèche ($30 - Astor Wines)

A picture of what this salad looks like is here. Virtually identical. Loved it then, loved it this time.

Based on François Chartier's Taste Buds & Molecules, it posits that combining foods with similar molecular make-ups - or more like food with similar dominant molecules - create a meal more integrated, deep and broad by staying within the same realm of that make-up. Might seem counterintuitive at first blush, but in our limited experience, mostly with this salad, it's not. It's like exploring every nook and cranny of ONE THING instead of throwing a bunch of different stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Smoked trout + apple + fennel + golden beets + pea shoots + sheep feta + cucumber + mint + caraway dressing = an anise-flavored bomb in your mouth! It's fancy stuff; food that tastes like Ubuntu food (R.I.P.).

Golden beets from Whole Foods. Huge-ass bunch for the same price as a much smaller bunch from Mariano's. So there's that. And Whole Foods beets are always stuffed to the gills with beet-y goodness.

The Andrea Calek Blonde Ardèche, last had a couple of months ago with pork rillettes, salumi and Basque cheese, offered oodles more structure and precision this time than last. It tasted like an apple-fennel salad pulverized in a blender two months ago so apple-fennel salad this time seemed apt. "Let's get matchy-matchy and see where it goes," was the thought.

Had a swagger this time, a strut. A third level showed up. It still tasted like someone shot for "cider-wine" and nailed it, but this time we found a wine-like structure leading the way instead of an ethereal cider quality leaving us wanting more. Really great, extending, gaseous quality that was very much welcome. Much less precious than before.

Levi Dalton interviewed Andrea Calek recently for his I'll Drink To That! podcast. It's #158 and worth a listen.

In other news, Monti's on Talman makes a damn good Philly cheesesteak. And it's across the street from Harvesttime. So there's that.    

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