Friday, October 4, 2013

Lamb & Farro-Pomegranate-Fava Salad, Two Rosés, & A Chicago Restaurant

In our world, a couple of grains of cumin on a dish that lists cumin as a key ingredient isn't going to cut it. Two consecutive dishes in a 12-course tasting menu that come off creamy first, both containing parmesan, is weird, especially when it defines the lead-in to the proteins. Using filet, a cut defined more by its delicate and luxurious texture than punch of flavor, makes for a finish to the middle of the meal that was way too quiet. And a bit gray. Orchard fruits diced the same way in consecutive courses and a trail of preciousness on at least three courses led to a lot of sameness.

Two impressions stand out - sameness and lack of punch. We just passed the 10-year mark in Chicago. If you would have told me seven years ago that we'd be sick of the higher-end Chicago food scene, I'd have said, "You're cuckoo." We are. We're sick of the sameness; what has become the Chicago flavor, a flavor that comes off...timid. Not refined, technique-driven or local farm-showcased.


But a pinot meunier throwdown was at least interesting.

We like food like a simple homemade chicken pot pie, where Mrs. Ney can say, "It's got tarragon, and dill, and parsley, and Muscadet and . . . and you will believe it because you are able to taste each and every one of those ingredients.  Prominently." And you'll be able to taste the ingredients mixing and mingling, dancing with each other. It's just pot pie, but it's not timid. It's satisfying. Just don't have it with the Trader Joe's Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc ($10), a pretty great little wine that wasn't even on the same planet of good with pot pie.

Or how about simple lamb chops marinated in leftover rosemary oil from a mozzarella and tomatoes with baguette lunch, adding red wine vinegar, shallots and basil? How about topping it with a gremolata of basil, mint, roasted garlic and lemon zest? See that? That's flavors playing off each other, turning the taste in your mouth into a vertical explosion. You can do what Mrs. Ney did and make a cold farro salad with onions, red peppers, pomegranate seeds, dill and parsley, coupling that with a mound of fava beans next to it and you have a stupid-good quick dinner that has Not-Timid flavors. Just Great flavors because it "has all the stuff in it."        

Pair with a rosé throwdown. It's what good. The 2012 Charles & Charles Rosé ($12 - Binny's), a syrah-forward rosé with mourvèdre, cinsault and grenache included, won the night with its surprising level of syrah guts, standing up to the food while offering an interplay between its fresh, round fruit and dirty, Provençal herb flavors with every sip. It found a second level with the grub, taking what was offered and running with it in admirable ways, something I've never found with this Charles & Charles rosé in previous vintages. At $12, huge value to be had here with this year. The 2012 Villa Creek Rosé ($12 - Binny's), grenache-based with 30% mourvèdre, was more delicate, showing a fancy strawberry soda quality that couldn't keep up with the more aggressive flavors on the plate, though nice enough with the farro salad.

This was the week of painting the living room (hot damn, we're sore). This was the week of yet another disappointing night out that made me miss Blackbird. We should probably get back there this winter.

Next week is anniversary week. Big things on tap.  

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