Tuesday, November 20, 2012

#308 - Crab Cakes w/ TJ's North Coast Sparkling & Moroccan Phyllo Pie w/ '10 Calera Viognier

All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown) and the sky is gray (and the sky is gray) California dreamin' (Cal-if-orn-ia dreamin') on such a winter's day...

I can't get the song out of my head! The Mamas & The Papas was splashed all over last night's film.

I'd put off watching Chungking Express for about 17 years. Probably rented it three times (speaking of Three Times, that film left Rain & Tears by Aphrodite's Child firmly implanted into my brain for about a month), but just never got to actually pushing play on the remote. No reason. Just didn't. My loss all those years. Gorgeous stuff.

But Slant Magazine's recent feature chronicling their top-200 films of the 90's has caused me to get off my butt (or on my butt, as it were, on the couch) and work the list, catching up on the films I missed, filling in the holes created by so much time wasted on silly things too numerous to list here (but I'm looking squarely at you, NFL).

So, as California Dreaming rumbles around in my head, I offer two California wines with food that made the California freshness sing.

Lunch: Crab cakes, shrimp corn dogs and kumatoes with scallions, served with NV Trader Joe's North Coast Sparkling Brut ($10 - TJ's)

Baltimore-style crab cakes from Andrew Zimmern (recipe here). Perfectly mayonnaise-y with the crab bursting through. Easy-peasy recipe, quick to make. Shrimp corn dogs. Trader Joe's frozen product! Good. Nice back-up to the crab cakes, bringing more substance to the plate. Kumatoes drizzled with olive oil doing what kumatoes do, which is offering up its particular brand of darker, meatier tomato-like awesomeness. Chopped scallions liberally dumped over everything.

Crab. Shrimp. Kumatoes. Bit of mayo, touch of deep fry, all cleaned up by the freshy acid of kumatoes and scallion goodness. Substantial lunch, filling but appropriately light.

Mild surprise at the level of goodness brought by the food but a bigger surprise brought by the wine. It's $10 Trader Joe's North Coast Sparkling, a chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc blend. By itself, nothing in the realm of distinction and goodness. Fine enough, a touch grapey, good backbone of bubbles, a few nice nuggets floating around but sorta "meh." What it offered with the food shocked us, turning into a creamy, slightly herbal wonder with the food, serving to lay down a great bass line to the poppy sort of head bopper on the plate.

Turned from a blasé bubbler to something that knew its place, backing up the creamy crab cakes in impressive ways, lengthening the pleasure of a bite by a good 20 seconds. Knew when to speak and knew when to shut up. It's $10! I wouldn't want it around for an afternoon sipper. Too basic and boring for that. But for a cheap meal where sparkling is appropriate (which is a lot of food), we might have something here that frugally fancifies. Given blind with a bite of crab cake, I would have paid $25 for the wine and been happy. Bar. Gain. Pairing Score: 93

Dinner: B'stilla (Moroccan phyllo pie) with arugula and pomegranate seed salad with 2010 Calera Viognier Mt. Harlan ($30 - Binny's)

About a year ago, we were introduced to the joys of Condrieu and Moroccan phyllo pie. Got a relative bargain wine there ($40, down from $70) that sang a delicious tune with the goopy, delicious, onion and chicken mess that is B'stilla (from Around My French Table).

To know B'stilla is to know what makes Moroccan food great.

From Mrs. Ney's previous description:
 "Take the meat from one whole roasted chicken. Make stock with its carcass.  Simmer three pounds of onions with a cup of stock and chopped dried apricots, diced preserved lemon, garlic, honey, ras el hanout, and saffron.  Add lots of cilantro and parsley, a big handful of toasted sliced almonds, and shred in the chicken meat.  Wrap the huge goopy mass in phyllo and bake for an hour or so.  Drink French viognier.  Be happy you know about Moroccan food."
This time, leftover jerk chicken stepped in for regular chicken. But B'stilla isn't about the chicken. Chicken is little more than a necessary filler. It's about the goopy onion, spices, almond and dried fruit mess that creates a party in your mouth and everyone's invited. Plays in the lower realms of flavor explosion but within that realm, it gets into every crevice.

It's the kind of meal that neighborhood bistros should be serving. If I knew I could get a medium-sized, pie-shaped piece of Moroccan phyllo pie with a little arugula and pomegranate salad on the side and a decent enough viognier to drink with it for around a total of $25 before tax and tip, they'd have a regular customer with this guy (two thumbs pointing right here!).

We went with a California viognier this time with a 2010 Calera Central Coast offering and got enough of the goods that we got with the Condrieu for about half the price.

Tropical mix of fruit with a touch of pear typical of the grape but it wasn't really about the fruit. This one admirably brought spearmint and a light cream-acid interplay on the mid-palate with a bit of lemongrass on a sappy, mineral-driven finish with a body, transitions and length just chockablock with integrity. Had a fun sparkle to it. Winner. Really liked this one and would make me consider other Calera bottlings. Calera doesn't make a ton of viognier and it seems to be a bit of California pet project so you're going to shell out some dollars for it but...worth it. Cautiously. Worth $22 in our book.

And as Moroccan phyllo pie does with viognier, the food extended the length and joy of the wine, even broadening out all the flavors in great ways with the wine pausing right after a bite and sip, like it was ruminating for a while on what to say and then delivered pithy and funny conversation. Pairing Score: 91  

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