Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#171 - Bittman Chicken & Momofuku Soba Noodles With Two Demi-Secs

After the odd (read: bad) food week last week, this week's gotten off to a rollicking start.

The best puttanesca (also a Mark Bittman recipe like today's chicken entry) I've ever had on Sunday followed by a trip to Semiramis Monday brought things back into food focus. Good to have flavors again.

Unfortunately, none of the wines with those meals brought much to the table in terms of enhancement.

The 2008 Trader Joe's label Super Tuscan blend Trentatre (33 by another name - a third each of cabernet, merlot and montepulciano) with puttanesca was all cinnamon and wet leaves. Good stuff by itself, if a bit low on the acid front, but offered little with the explosion of dark creamy anchovy, black olive and caper deliciousness in the bowl.

Semiramis was its usual tabletop full of Lebanese wonders but the 2008 A to Z Pinot Noir (#75 on the 2010 Wine Spectator 100) isn't anything noticeably better than their previous offerings in our world. Worth exactly what we paid, in other words. $18 and a wine that asks the question, "If I'm spending about $20 anyway, why not go up a level and get some distinction?"

The NV Cantina del Taburno Falanghina Extra Brut, a new personal favorite, performed a bit better but really never got out of the realm of 'nice to have ya here, buddy'. Semiramis has always been a tough match.

Last night's dinner was no different when it comes to food and wine pairing love for the week. Very little enchancement to speak of and only made us think about we might have worked.

Food: Bittman chicken, Momofuku ginger scallion noodles and sugar snap peas

A black char on the Bittman chicken (chicken-under-a-brick) led to pronouncements of "At least the noodles will be good!" but an odd thing happened. The char actually brought some level of goodness to the plate. The chicken stayed moist and the rub of tamarind, five-spice and ginger came through in great ways with the char offering something more. Wouldn't recommend this path to your Bittman chicken but stuff happens in the kitchen.

But the Momofuku ginger scallion noodles were the star. A Saveur recipe from David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar (and four other restaurants in New York including Má Pêche, which is on our list of places to go soon and has the deliciously weird Arbois from last week on their wine list), it's a simple concoction of ginger, scallions, soy sauce, canola oil, serrano peppers (modified), sherry vinegar and salt and whipped into soba noodles (modified). Bright, hot, defined and probably one of the top three noodle dishes I've ever had. Explosive flavor happiness in the mouth.

By the end, the sugar snap peas (mint, cilantro, sesame seeds and szechuan peppercorns) and the chicken pulled off the bone were mixed together with the noodles and turned into a mélange of Asian wonders.

Good recipes make good food. I wish more people understood that.

Wine: 2005 Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec Domaine Clos du Naudin ($36 - WDC) & 2007 Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Semi-Dry ($15 - WDC)

Pop and pour on both. Much debate on the interwebs about a decant for the Foreau. Phillippe Foreau himself says not to decant. Even more debate on whether the Foreau is proper to drink right now. Again, Foreau himself loves the idea. So we're good.

Foreau: Honeyed pears, honeyed pineapples and honeyed peaches on the palate with a smoky apricot skin once it warmed up. A delicate, pretty, sugared edge showing a deft touch of grace and skill that utterly defines the wine. A touch upfront with a medium finish and enough acid to keep things focused. Liked it - almost loved it - but missed the mineral presence that comes from Hüet's expression of chenin blanc, something that would have made this wine silly good (and a critique that I'm sure every producer in Vouvray hates reading - no matter how good a wine turns out, Michael Jordan seems to always be in the room). It's that separation with chenin blanc in our experience, that entrance of pretty, lightly sugared, honeyed fruit washed away by a singular mineral mid-palate with pretty acid and a returning, darker, honeyed fruit to the finish that brings the three-act play that makes Hüet's so distinctive and wonderful. We got all of that but the minerals and we missed them.

Dr. Konstantin Frank: Less pretty with the sugared edges but more of a floral and lemon angle than the Foreau. Had moments of quince and spice as well. A nice riesling for $15, though, at three years old, has probably lost some of its acidic vibrancy and came off a touch weighty. Again, would have benefited from a minerality that just wasn't there but we came to like it over the course of the night.

All in all, we both admired how well the Foreau was put together and it certainly was the wine we reached for the most during the dinner, but the Dr. Konstantin Frank kept it shockingly close.

Pairing: 83 Missed the minerals

A flat pairing, nothing that said eat and drink me, more in the vein of having two nice wines with food in its most basic sense but feeling more like a wine tasting with random food sitting around than a chance to match food and wine.

And only made us think of what might have worked. A grüner veltliner with its basketful of minerals and lentil notes might have exploded with the soba noodle base. The roter veltliner left in the fridge felt like a missed opportunity.

Just wanted something more, something that felt elevated and we never got there, though the sesame seeds all over the plate did some admirable things with both wines.

Spicy, oniony Asian food should have matched the sugar in both wines. Seemed like a no-brainer and a foolproof pairing.

It missed.

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