Friday, April 1, 2011

#176 - Monkfish & Veggie Explosion With Two Whites

I recently had an amazingly bland risotto primavera dish at an Italian restaurant on Chicago's west side, which reminded me why, growing up, purely vegetarian dishes in the small town world of the Midwest never got ordered.

The vegetables came off 'healthy'.

I choked that primavera down, regretting my order upon first sight and really regretting it after the first bite.

Bland, bland, bland.  No care was taken to elevate the veggies at all.  It really was just risotto with chopped-up vegetables tossed in at the finish.

Last night's meal was not one of those.

We can thank you, Tom Colicchio and your recipe for making a heaping plateful of veggies taste wanted, needed and utterly delicious.

Food:  Monkfish and vegetable explosion with Mexican pearl municion pasta

About 10 ounces of monkish from Fish Guy on Elston.  Great shop and a grand total of $7 for very fresh monkfish.  Five ounces each, slathered in a blend of one head of watercress, two tablespoons of mayo and lemon juice, baked in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Meaty fish and mingled well with the watercress sauce.  Tasted like spring along with the rest of the plate.

Colicchio's Food & Wine recipe:  Sauteé leeks, fennel, celery, onion, carrots, celery, garlic.  Add artichoke crowns, Muscadet, water:  reduce. Add fava beans, asparagus:  warm.  Add diced tomatoes, parsley, chives, mint.  Low and slow.  Bringing the veggies up slow allowed every flavor to infuse into each other without becoming muddled, taking care to make sure the tomatoes were added last to finish instead of having the acid in the tomatoes change the dish completely into a broken down mush.

Great mixture of textures.  Went back and forth between fresh/herby and deep/sweaty.  Ate every bit of a very heavy plate.  Served over Mexican pasta of pearl municion.  Looks like baby Israeli couscous, tastes like a darker version of that in mini-pearl form with more resistance (and 49 cents a bag at Harvestime).

A meal that a pesco-vegetarian would swoon over and a meal that we completely loved.

A meal though that probably needed a sauvignon blanc, but we ended up just fine with a white that reminded us of Portugal in every way and another white that will be bought very soon.

Wine:  2009 Niepoort Tiara Branco ($29 - Binny's) & 2009 Matosevic Alba Malvazjia Istarska ($14 - WDC)

The Tiara, a wine we had at DOC in the Douro Valley and wanted to revisit, is a blend of the Portuguese white grapes Codega, Rabigato, Donzelinho, Viosinho, Cercial and others.  Tough to describe the allure of Portuguese whites.  Certainly full of wet rocks.  Green apple and citrus notes abound.  But it's how they combine in a unique way that draws us in, like every flavor is jammed together and the winemaker says, "Here.  I like it and don't care if you don't."  Sharp, mouthwatering acidity that signals it as a perfect hot summer wine.  Great grip with an edge of lime and rust in a great way.  A lot of grace and finesse here though, with an overall impression of lightness, even a bit steely.  Tastes intentional and refined.  $29 is a bit much, reminding me of the Do Ferreiro, a very good wine that I've thought about a lot since having it but left me wanting in terms of the price tag.  In the end, both of us thought we'd buy it again after much hemming and hawing.

The Alba, a Croatian Malvasia, took no hemming and hawing.  It will be bought very soon.  Herbs and citrus galore but all wrapped in a light package.  A three-act play here.  Blind, it could have been a lighter Királyudvar.  Touch of light honey and light cream around a citrus and apricot core but at the mid-palate it turns into shockingly refreshing herb-tinged water (rosemary?) with all of the fruit fading away, only to return in a more subtle form on the finish.  Refreshing as all get-out and interesting as hell.  Great stuff and a bottle that could be sucked down without food to great effect.

Pairing:  85  Nothing great, should have gone with a sauvignon blanc, but we were fine

No great enhancement, really.  The Alba seemed to work the best of the two bottles with its hints of herbs mingling nicely with the herbs on the plate, but the Tiara played well with the monkfish, tasting like a flashback to DOC.

Mostly, it came down to harkening back to Portugal in white form for the first time since our trip and trying a Croatian Malvasia for the first time.

Great food, interesting wine.

If nothing goes off the rails in terms of pairing, sometimes that's enough.

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