Tuesday, August 18, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #6

Watch Two Days, One Night. It's the Dardenne brothers doing what the Dardenne brothers do best - break your heart. Netflix.

I can't recommend more highly this GQ's cover story of Stephen Colbert.

And NYT's piece on Amazon will make me avoid Amazon until I'm shopping for something and it's wildly cheaper on Amazon. That's when the true test of my half-baked conviction will be put to the test. We'll see.

Birthday Week!

Total food and wine cost for the week: $120 for food and $331 for wine = $451

Sunday: Smoked Trout and Salami Pasta Salad with 2014 Quinta de Porrais Branco Douro

Source: The New Basics Cookbook; One If By Land Pasta (page 143)

Food Details: Fusilli pasta mixed with smoked trout, salami, green pepper, onion, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, crème fraiche, olive oil and white wine vinegar. Old School pasta salad from an Old School cookbook that never gets old.

Did We Like It? It's fresh. It's bright. It's substantial. It's delicious. Great vehicle for dill with fish. And there's something about the green pepper in this salad. Green pepper's utility is limited as a showcase/integral flavor in almost anything, but it works here in spades. Nothing fancy, just a big pasta salad with a lot of Stuff in it.

How Was The Wine? Last had here. It's a $14 Douro white with all the goodness of Douro whites, but without the "hey, that's good...like that part...oooo, that's nice...ah, ya just lost me. Damn!" It's complete in every sense. I bought what possibly could be too much of this wine for its drinking window so I tried to shoehorn it into this meal.

And The Pairing? Weirdly good. The salami gobbled up the acid in the wine, leaving it without a refreshment that normally wouldn't work here, but the firm body and texture with this one picked up the slack, leaving a unique expression of delicate flowers and fruit with wisps of gassy minerals. But not flat. Vertical flavors that came in stages. The wine's youth and great winemaking took a meal that needed an acidic snap from the wine, pivoted, adjusted and found a way to offer something unique and good. Big surprise.

Cost: $17 for food, $14 for wine: $31

Saturday: Porchetta and Asparagus Flatbread with 2014 Trader Joe's Reserve Pinot Gris Yountville Napa

Food Details: Leftover Syrian Bread from Friday topped with herbed cream cheese, asparagus, onion and thinly sliced porchetta. Simple. Easy. Done.

Did We Like It? Yeah. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all. Don't know if the more expensive porchetta offered more than simple ham would have, but a modicum of "hey, you're more fancy" was achieved. Good stuff.

How Was The Wine? A new Trader Joe's bottle, just in and the first time it's been sold, I believe. For $9 and for all that it offers, it pushes the bounds of acceptable, but just enough acidity, pleasing gas, and a watery, but sunny Napa fruit burst. Liked the order in which it brought everything.

And The Pairing? Big blast of pleasing pineapple in the wine with this food. And it gathered more body with each bite. Really, not a bad little wine. Liked it. Interesting enough weekday one-off.

Cost: $11 for food, $9 for wine = $20

Friday: Pissaladière and Herb Salad with 2009 Didier Dagueneau Silex Pouilly-Fumé

Source: Recipe here.

Food Details: Onions, carmelized. Lemon thyme, garlic and Muscadet added, cooked down. Onions put on top of Syrian bread with oil-cured olives and anchovies, baked for 10 minutes. Herb salad with tomatoes.

Did We Like It? Not the best version, but acceptable.

How Was The Wine? QUIET! The 2009 Silex was one of our favorite wine experiences, at Etxebarri in Spain. We gave up on it here. Gave. Up! It had all the hallmark flavors of Silex, but way too quiet, and without the vibrancy, electricity, lift and life typically of it. Usually it's a tour de force. Quiet and a bit tired here. Just never wanted to get going and show itself. This is our first bad experience with Silex, a wine I've pronounced on many occasions to be my favorite wine on the planet. Makes me want to open another to wipe this experience out of my mind.

And The Pairing? Nope. The 2007 worked beautifully last year with pissaladière. Off bottle this time. Stored perfectly, even decanted it once we realized it wasn't perking up. No-go. C'est la vie.

Cost: $8 for food, $135 for wine = $143  

Thursday: Greek Hand Pies and Tomato Yogurt with 2014 Earthstone Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County

Food Details: Using up leftovers! So...Greek hand pies. Phyllo stuffed with leftover chicken from Semiramis, amaranth greens, leftover kale from Tuesday, feta, scallions, mint, oregano. Yogurt blended with tomato to glop on top.

Did We Like It? Worked quite nicely. Three hand pies for each of us. Everything you'd want from a Greeky weekday meal in hand-pie form. The tomato yogurt made it. Something about how tomatoes blended into yogurt. It gets all 'essence of tomato'-ish.

How Was The Wine? A perfectly good substitute for the $5 Trader Joe's Sauvignon Blanc from Napa that's out of stock right now (and frankly, the last vintage wasn't its usual deliciousness in $5 form). Has that Napa-Sonoma sauvignon blanc fruit, but more restrained, less bullyish, something that more expensive Napa SB can become when the winemaker tries to get all showy, which is why we don't buy them. Nice body, lilty-bouncy acid, pleasing all-around.

And The Pairing? We found what we wanted - a refreshment, mop-up and cleanse, without the wine's flavor getting lost in the process of doing that.

Cost: $8 for food, $5 for wine = $13

Wednesday: Anne Burrell Chicken Milanese with NV Trader Joe's Reserve Brut Sparkling North Coast

Source: Recipe here. Make it, eat it, and you'll make it 200 more times throughout the course of your life. It's that good.

Food Details: Chicken breasts, breaded. Quick-pickle red onions. Pecorino-nut-herb dry gremolata-ish goodness. Arugula. Mini-ciabatta, buttered.

Did We Like It? Yep. Always. Good batch here to boot.

How Was The Wine? The superlative greatness that is the Owen Roe Pinot Gris Crawford Beck Vineyard with this meal can be mimicked with any wine giving a minimum of snappy acid. Matthiasson Tendu White (the 2014's haven't shown up in Chicago yet - c'mon!), a good falanghina, albariño, you get it. The Trader Joe's Brut Sparkling does the job, and did here. Nothing ridiculously great, just "fine and good." With this food, it's all you mostly need.

And The Pairing? Decent cut, nice froth to cushion, stood up to the pickled onions, no complaints whatsoever.

Cost: $11 for food, $10 for wine = $21

Tuesday: Yakitori-marinated hanger steak, yuca fries and Tuscan kale salad with 2006 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro

Food Details: Freezer yakitori mixed with olive oil and rosemary. Hanger steak, seared medium-rare. Post-sear marinade of hanger with yakitori, with extra on the side for drizzling. Yuca fries fried up. Semiramis garlic sauce mixed with mayo and lemon zest for dipping. Tuscan kale salad (Melissa Clark recipe).

Did We Like It? Umm...I don't want to get all superlative here (it's eventually going to a big yes, it'll just take me some time to get there...), but this food (which is a house staple) with this wine from Vale Meão (always for "The Special") reminded us of how Avec, when Koren Grieveson worked there, informed Mrs. Ney's concept of What Is Good. Umami, earth, high salt, high acid. It's food your tummy wants. It's food your soul wants. The food we eat is utterly influenced by Ms. Grieveson's food and this food is a prime example. Soy sauce, rosemary, crunchy-creamy yuca, not wimpy garlic - garlic galore, RAW greens providing cut and planty-ness. The beef here was even secondary, mainly serving as a vehicle for the yakitori, and bringing a beefy-meaty depth to the overall meal. We loved this. Birthday week happy food. It's steak frites taken to a more personal level.

How Was The Wine? Surprising as hell. We've had the Vale Meão vintages from 2002 through 2007 with more in the hopper. This 2006 was the lightest Vale Meão has shown to us and it's not even close. Had everything Vale Meão has - kirsch, plum, earth, cocoa, sweet mesquite - but ticked them off like a greatest hits of the winery, all enveloped in a shockingly light body. There was a lot of swearing and silly pauses-stares as we enjoyed every sip. This drinking was YET ANOTHER example why Quinta do Vale Meão is one of our top-three favorites wine on the planet.

And The Pairing? Perfection. Vale Meão loves soy sauce. Always has. And garlic. And rosemary. And kale, weirdly. It just LOVES these things so why would we mess with that? A lot of people don't care about wine pairings. They think it's too complicated and/or unnecessary. Others think you don't have to be that fussy. We say "BUNK!" Not when we can have a dinner like this, a dinner that reminds us that the joy of food and wine is...wait for it...the Joy of Life (just threw up a bit in my mouth, but it's true).

Cost: $30 for food, $120 for wine = $150

Monday: Semiramis with 2014 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc Les Moulins and NV Albero Cava Brut

Food Details: Two orders of hummus, pita, fattoush, whole chicken, arabic coffee and date/walnut maamoul cookies

Did We Like It? One of the best leisurely dinners out in the world in a good long while. Our love for Middle Eastern food for us began with Semiramis (Lebanese here, specifically) about ten years ago. I have no idea how we were directed to this place, but we're so glad we didn't have to waste too much time with other Middle Eastern restaurants because it begins and ends with Semiramis. It's the atmosphere, the flavors, the owner Joseph who feels like a friend, his staff over the years that have been nothing but great, just everything. We can't replicate this food. We can get close, but when we take into account the utter comfort of his sun-drenched dining room and an atmosphere that's come to feel like home, it's one of the best meals out in Chicago. BYO and silly cheap.

How Was The Wine? This place can make for a funky match. We've found decent enough pairings over the years (I seem to remember liking the Crios Malbec Rosé more than I thought I should), but Loire chenin blanc, and specifically Saumur, even more specifically Guiberteau Saumur, was a revelation a few years ago, especially with his hummus. It's the kind of individual pairing that can make a meal. The Guiberteau entry-level blanc worked that time. This time, a cuvée that I THINK is a new bottling for this winery. Softer than the entry-level and a little tight, a underlying buttery texture without the butter, little wisps of white flowers and lightly smoked citrus. Liked it. Very nice.

And The Pairing? The Guiberteau worked with the hummus, if not reaching the heights of their entry-level bottling. The Albero Cava turned all creamy white peach with the fattoush in a nice way. Overall, a very pleasant back and forth.

Cost: $35 for food, $38 for wine = $73

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