Thursday, September 18, 2014

After Portugal, Two Meals With More Flavor


(Portugal, Portugal, Portugal)

We have conflicting feelings about 10 days in the Douro and Porto. Blank brains, plenty of pool time, lots of lounging, and a general sense of Vacation was nice. And needed. Very much needed.

But timid food lacking the aggressive flavors we like - food with pop, depth and surprise - left us without an element to our day that brings us joy.

Our weekends at home revolve around good food and good wine. We need it with the jobs we work. In the food-wine world, we like our vacations to be on par with our weekends. It's the essential cherry on top to all the relaxation and away-ness. Portugal wasn't that.

We dearly missed spices and herbs and the proper use of salt and pepper. And we won't be eating ham, cheese and bread in any form for months.

So two meals after our return to bring back The Flavor.

#1 - Go to October's Saveur (issue too new for recipe links). Turn to page 70-71 for a photo spread of Lebanese tabbouleh and kefta bil sayniyeh (spiced lamb patties with tomato and onion). We saw that two-page spread and said, "I want that! It has FLAVORS!"

October's Food & Wine also mentions Yotam Ottolenghi messing around with zucchini instead of eggplant for baba ghanoush. Yep. Add that to the meal. We want that as well. It's Flavor (recipe from

Lebanese food because Lebanese has all of the stuff we want. Spiced lamb patties with tomato and onion (subbing reduced San Marzano juice for tomato paste - we were out), a parsley/mint salad with olive oil and lemon juice (adding a bit of arugula) that tasted like parsley and mint on crack. Silky smooth baba ghanoush in a new form. Pita for dipping. Back on the horse! This had EVERYTHING we wanted.

Served with a bottle of 2009 Antica Terra Pinot Noir Willamette ($40 - Vin Chicago). We've now had three vintages of this bottling of Antica Terra. A perspective of what Maggie Harrison is offering has started to emerge and we like it (previous drinkings - 2007 & 2008). If you're expecting signature Oregon pinot noir notes, you won't get it this vintage. Opened an hour before drinking and left it open. Tons of Old World earth that dominated every sip in a good way. Forest floor, muddy twigs, dark and brighter spices, all of that framed by brooding and reticent dark red fruit notes that weaved in and out. Intense, driven by secondary flavors, very individualistic, and a bit young. By the end, both of us found plenty to like.

After Portugal, we wanted juicy, fruity New World wine. This wasn't that, but we didn't care. Quality stuff here that skews Old World while knowing exactly what it wants to be.

In the pairing, we found basic lamb-pinot goodness and surprisingly happy sips and bites with everything else. This meal probably wanted a juicy, fruity New World GSM and other blend to counter instead of complement the darker spices in the food, but happy stomachs nonetheless.

#2 - Thomas Keller chicken thighs with fennel and olives and Martha Stewart crispy potato roast, served with 2012 Michel Gassier Costières-de-Nîmes Nostre Pais Blanc ($17 - Binny's). Recipe for chicken thighs here. Crispy potato roast here. The food looks just like the pictures in those links and tastes like Love. It's a top-5 house favorite, because it tastes thoughtful, contained, and everything that California-French can/could/should be. Thomas Keller does that. We first had it here.

When it comes to perfect pairings, this meal with Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Blanc La Crau Châteauneuf-du-Pape sits at the top of the heap with a handful of others in our pairing life. The problem with having one of the best expressions of white Rhônes on the planet (certainly the best one we've had) is that solid, bargain versions like this Michel Gassier inevitably get compared to it.

The Gassier is a fine-and-good Rhône white blend, texturally interesting, with plenty of pepper and white peach notes, and enough acid to keep things perky and alive. If I owned a wine shop and a customer wanted a white Rhône but didn't want to spend a lot of money, Boom! Here you go. It hits so many of the notes in that realm.

A more simple chicken dish for lunch with this wine and we may have been happy campers. With this Thomas Keller chicken with fennel and olives, it certainly didn't get in the way of our enjoyment but offered little in the way of complex and interesting conversation with the food. We missed the Télégraphe.

No comments:

Post a Comment