Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Terroir at its best...

Oakville Winery, 2008 Zinfandel from Oakville, CA in Napa Valley.

When one thinks Zin, one thinks fruit-forward, jammalicious, reds and blacks from the vine that sugarplum in your mouth; no tannin, smooth and sweet as summer strawberries, right? It can be a little shallow, sure, but the good ones have enough fruit in the basket to be still round and full-bodied. But while the best, or at least the most exemplary of the varietal, can be found (at least in my opinion) in Lodi or Sonoma, this one from Napa was a beautiful illustration of how the land can shape the grape can shape the wine.

So much earth and tobacco, spice, and even cinnamon on the palate, right up front and deep into your swallow. In the most simple terms, it was like a perfect Zin made passionate love to a burly Napa Cab in a dimly lit bar with a soulful man playing saxophone in the background.

I really like the idea of exploring terroir in everything. No seriously, everything...
Orange Juice.

Wine really opened the door for the world in this sense. The concept of terroir has always been there (ask French winemakers from centuries past), but until now, only educated gourmands or those who produced food at its most integral levels knew of it. Most people are accustomed to receiving a processed version of an amalgamation of similar food products. Your Mott's apple sauce, for example, probably contains apples from any number of states, or even countries. In this kind of 'food,' the terroir has been diluted and essentially lost, leaving consumers unaware of how the where of a food can hugely influence how it tastes, for better or for worse.

But with the average eater's renewed interest in where their food comes from, and eating it in the fewest steps from its source, terroir can have some light shed on it for what seems like the first time. Because even back when people knew about terroir, few acknowledged it; there was no need: it was the food it was, you ate it to stay alive and healthy, and it was great when it was delicious. End of story.

So the next time you take a bite of any whole food (or a sip of wine, which, for a beginner, probably has the most potential for such an exercise), keep your antennae up and you are likely to recognize flavors and notes in whatever you're chewing or swallowing, notes that would appear unrelated to the food itself. The more you pay attention, the more you'll taste; and the more you taste, the more you'll want to pay attention.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Essence of Soul

There is a place you can go; this place has taken the human soul and gently, lovingly carved out an almost quenelle-perfect scoop, prepared it with essentially flawless technique, and served its delicate essence on a plate so delectable it causes your tongue and tatste-buds to blush deviously.


Our greeting was cornbread, so plush and ethereal that the mere touch of our fingers caused its delicate, mealy, soft-as-are-you-kidding-me texture to crumble. Fingerfuls plunged heedlessly into our mouths, the golden sugar melted in sweet, fluffy morsels as we chewed. Honey butter? A creamy affirmative. Sweet jalapeno jam? Unfreakingdoubtedly. It's like the place said hello by delicately licking your lower lip and then moving its hands onto your

We ordered a few small plates in coursings, and the first act was- god-DAMN -the Country Fish Fry. Cornmeal fried oysters, calimari, & catfish with seasonal veg and some surprise prawns. Okay, we've all had fried seafood platters. Whether it's fish & chips, fritto misto, or fried scrimps at Red Lobster, if you can get it golden brown and crispy, you live to fry another day. It's not hard to make fried food taste delicious because it's (wait for it...) fried!
But we ate fried ocean treats so crispy that for the time elapsed as we ate, I did not hear a word of our conversation; I smiled intermittently and nodded when it seemed appropriate, but inside my head I was thinking: mmm, this is so -crunch- freaking -crispcrunch- that I -cracklecrunchcrunch- in my -crisp- mmm, calimari sex -crunchcrisp... you get the idea. There were fried baby asparagus, shaved lemon wheels, and baby artichoke so succulent it was like a tiny soup exploded into your mouth when you sank your teeth into its sexytime flesh. A soup made entirely of lemony orgasm. Too far? Okay then moving on...

I was drinking a medium bodied California Riesling because it paired nicely with the aforementioned, corn-meal crusted Pacific orgy (sorry, I just get excited), as well as course two: Little Gem Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, Molasses-Candied Pecans, & Cornbread Croutons. When the (warning: pun overload) sweet little gem of a salad arrived at the table, its simplicity is what struck a first impression with me. Everything in the menu description was upstage on the plate, and nothing else. And, cue digression...

I absolutely love the idea of this kind of simplicity, a primary tenet of Slow Food and everything that makes California food California Food. Take a few (as in literally, no more than three or four) ingredients, give each one some real love, and let them work together to show just how much greater then the sum of its parts the whole can be. This California Soul Food is done with style and elegance and it's so delicious you'd punch your grandmother....

But I digress. By course three I was onto a Tempranillo, ready to stand up to Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly with Celery Root-Parsnip Puree. Having it arrive to our table made me feel a kind of the way I imagine standing naked with Megan Fox would: A little weak-kneed, confused, marginally intimidated, giddy, sweaty, probably drooling a little... you get the picture. Pork belly is one of those products that tends to get used almost like truffle or blood diamonds: in essence, a little goes a long way. But this mammoth beast of decadent pork flesh sat before us like an architectural masterpiece, tall and wide and breathtaking in its layers of flavor-rich, succulent texture. It sat in the puree defiantly, claiming its deserved attention and relegating the (albeit delicious) puree to an afterthought forced to bow in the presence of awe-inspiring, thick-cut Belly.

By the way, once again: everything on the plate was in the menu description. It was just perfect pork belly and perfect puree. Simple but exquisite.

And now, the main event. Enter a big ol' glass of Napa Cab to pair with the Full Rack of Dry-Rub Babyback Ribs with NC-Style Barbeque Sauce and White Truffle Mac & Cheese. The ribs were crispy and spicy on the outside but fell apart with ease the second your lips and teeth pushed the moist, tender meat from the bones.

The vinegary sauce caught you off guard with her vinegar-acid tang if you didn't pay her proper attention, but rewarded you with velvet sugar if you kissed her softly handled her gently. Mmm, sweet and sharp in your throat, it made you catch your breath momentarily if you weren't ready for it. Such big flavor from such little punches!

And the mac & cheese was exactly as good as you'd expect sharp cheddar, al dente elbow macaroni, and white truffle oil to be. Just think about it. Hompadees.

Okay, so we really shouldn't have eaten any more. But I don't not order dessert. It's just not something I do. So we did. And holy shit, can you believe it? It was kind of the best part of the meal. Perfect, and I mean fucking PERFECT beignets. I have had the real deal in New Orleans; I've had four-star chefs' versions thereof; these killed it like OJ, without a doubt. Puffed up like long balloons at a child's birthday party ready to become giraffes, crusty, warm dough shells saturated with powdered sugar, thin line of dark chocolate ganache striped down the inside.
There was decadent ganache to dip, and, no bullshit, carbonated espresso, foamed, with a touch of sugar. For dipping. Totally unexpected and unique. So it was like a little shot glass with a centimeter of espresso on the bottom and the rest of the glass full of sweet espresso essence captured in what looked like the head of a beautiful IPA. You dipped as you ate and it saturated the dough like the two were made to fornicate, and then when you were done with your beignets, you drank the little sip of coffee at the bottom.

Am I shitting you, or is that not as literally perfect an end to a meal as one can hope to achieve?

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter.

At any rate, I was beyond impressed by the meal; I was inspired. And better yet, nearly everything else on the menu, as in the dishes I didn't have sex with (yet), looked equally as dope. See you soon, Cali-Soul Food... Call me!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just a really good burger...

Toasted Acme ciabatta (melted smoked Gouda)

Rough-chop mesclun greens

Crispy thick-cut bacon (orange/fennel/spice)

Honey-caramelized onions/reduced caramelized onion jus

All-beef burger (rosemary/greek oregano/wild garlic)

Aioli (whole grain mustard/bacon fat/black truffle)

freakin' delicious.