Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - a Snowy Finale

It was snowing this morning when we woke up. It's one of those classic snowfalls, no wind swirling, just snow falling softly down, blanketing everything evenly.

We had many great times on our deck this year, sharing wine and food with friends. Thanks for for reading and commenting, for continuing to grant me this little internet soapbox.

Here's to a healthy and happy 2010 for all of us.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Champagne and Grape Character

I often find it quite difficult to identify the grape blend when drinking Champagne. I can think of many times when my guess was way off base. And even when I am drinking a familiar wine where I already know the grape composition, the grape character is not always as prominent for me as are other elements of the wine.

This is probably a good thing, from the producer's perspective - they are trying to make a seamless wine that expresses something of a place. If the drinker feels "this is so very much about Chardonnay," that's probably not what the wine maker was going for.

But it can be satisfying sometimes to drink a Champagne, and amidst all of the other sensations, to get a clear sense of the grape blend. Here are a few wines I drank recently that I found to show a particularly prominent varietal character. Not that it makes them better wines, I just find it interesting.

(2004) Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, $55-73, Louis/Dressner Selections / Polaner Imports. This has had several years of post-disgorgement aging. The current release is 2006, I believe. It's funny to use this wine as an example, as according to it comes from a single terroir: "three adjacent parcels totaling 2.5 hectares, located on the chalky side of the village along the road to Le Mesnil." You'd think that this single terroir wine made in the incredibly pure Larmandier-Bernier style would be all about a particular place. And perhaps more experienced or more careful drinkers would find terroir to be the most prominent aspect of this wine. For me, with brunch on Christmas morning and then savored with BrooklynLady over the rest of the afternoon, this wine was a glorious expression of Chardonnay. Gentle and completely harmonious, the salty minerality of its youth is now in the background. The finish is delicately floral and very fragrant, and the sensation that lingers for me is pure, ripe Chardonnay.

NV Roger Coulon Champagne Tradition Brut, price unknown (this was a gift), Steven Berardi Selections, Elizabeth Imports. The Coulon estate is located in Vrigny, a place where Meunier does very well. From what I've read, this wine is only 50% Meunier, but it was defined by Meunier for the first 45 minutes or so. Broad marzipan and orange peel aromas, exuberant and expansive. I am confident that I would have pegged it as a Meunier-based wine had I drank it blind withint the first hour open. After an hour or so open, the wine lost some of its Meunier exuberance but gained harmony and precision. It was delicious in both incarnations.

NV Billiot Champagne Brut Reserve Grand Cru, $45, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. I think I've had this wine more often than I've had any other Champagne, and I always enjoy it. It smacks of pure dark Pinot fruit, juicy and rich, but completely in control. I had a glass the other night with friends, and although I was distracted by a hundred different things, I remember at one point, after putting my nose in the glass, thinking "wow - that is indisputably and deliciously Pinot Noir." Some people feel that Billiot's Brut Reserve is a bit high in dosage. I think it works this way. Somehow the relatively high dosage brings out the joyfulness of the Pinot fruit.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just Open It

Many of the wine people I know share seem to share this generous spirit regarding even the finest and rarest of wines. A party of 15 people? Sure, crack open the magnum of 1995 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano. Stopping by for a quick bite on a random Monday night? Pop open the Selosse.

Some folks, myself included, are not able to afford wines like these very often, and when we do buy the odd great bottle here and there, the idea of opening it can bring just as much dread as excitement. "When is the absolute perfect time to open this bottle? And who is the perfect person to drink this with?" I say this from past experience - it is all too easy to simply never open the bottle.

It's so liberating to be free of this hoarding mentality. Not that there's anything wrong with it - do as you please with your wine and be happy. But I realized that I am much happier opening that bottle and sharing it than I am saving it for a hypothetically more-special-than-now occasion. Especially if I'm with people who love wine. Who else should I drink it with, if not you?

I got lucky a few times this past week, and hung out with people who love to open great bottles. And so I got to drink some incredible wines, several Champagnes among them. In light of my last post on a blind Grand Marque tasting, I thought it would be especially fitting to share a bit about these Champagnes.

(2007) Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Béguines Champagne Rosé Extra Brut, $105, Polaner Selections. This is the first vintage (although it technically is not a vintage wine) for Prévost's rosé, and it is a thing of beauty. So vibrant and expressive, such incredibly well defined aromas and flavors, really energetic and vivid. This is all Meunier, and it smells like fresh roasted hazelnuts, marzipan, blood orange, baking spices...the nose is amazing. The texture shows such finesse and grace, and yet there is a wild streak. I'm guessing here, but based on the meager allocation granted to Chambers Street and Crush, I bet that no more than 4 cases of this wine made it to NYC. Perhaps fewer. And yet a super nice and generous guy named Michael Wheeler (formerly a partner at Polaner) brought a bottle to a gathering of about 15 people. It is an astounding wine that I hope to drink again one day. By the way, somebody brought a bottle of the (2006) Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Beguines Extra Brut to the same gathering, and somehow I neglected to taste it. Too much insane wine on the table.

NV Selosse Champagne Rosé, about $175, Imported by Rare Wine Company. Joe Salamone, one of the buyers at Crush and an all-around lovely guy, decided to bring this bottle to the very same gathering. That's right - Prévost and Selosse rosé, sitting there on the same table for all to sample. This wine was also quite special, but it took several hours for it to open up and show its true harmony and depth. Oxidative and gingery, this is a delicious and broad wine. On that night I preferred the Prévost wine, but believe me - I would be most happy to experiment with these two wines again.

2004 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Cuvée du Goulté Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru, $60, Bonhomie Wine Imports. You may not have heard of Marie-Noëlle Ledru. I hadn't until Peter Liem told me about her. I could paraphrase, but instead I will offer this quote from Peter's profile of the Ledru estate:

Ledru owns five hectares in Ambonnay and one in Bouzy, with a total of 30 different parcels. All of the vineyards are planted with cover crops and tilled, and she uses no herbicides or insecticides, seeking to work her vines as naturally as possible. The same sensibility extends to the cellar, where she makes the wines without filtration, without cold-stabilization and without any sulfur at disgorgement. Fermentation is all in stainless steel and enameled steel tanks, for their neutrality, and the malolactic is allowed for all wines. “I do the malo because for me it’s natural,” she says. The wines are aged for a respectably long time on their lees, averaging about three years for the brut sans année and five years for the vintage wines, and all disgorgement is done by hand, in a fashion not dissimilar to how it might have been done two or three generations ago. Ledru only bottles about half of her production, meaning that there’s very little wine to go around, and the other half is sold to the négoce, most notably to the houses of Pol Roger and Deutz.
Not a whole lot of this wine made it to NYC, and some ding-dong brought a bottle to the very same gathering that featured Prévost and Selosse rosés. Oh wait, that ding-dong is me. I would love to give you detailed tasting notes, but we attacked the Prévost and Selosse before drinking this, and that's definitely the wrong order for these wines. Reductive and taught Ledru after oxidative and expansive Prévost and Selosse...not easy to get a real read on the Ledru. It was a delicious wine though, very clean and pure. Someone suggested that it might be a bit high in dosage, but I could neither confirm nor deny. My instincts say deny. Perhaps Peter will read this and chime in...

(2005) Cédric BouchardLes Ursules Brut Blanc de Noirs, $80, Polaner Selections. Some one brought a bottle of this wine to that absurdly Champagne-laden gathering, but I don't know what vintage. I must say, a wine like this shows best when it is the sole focus of attention, its delicacy and understated grace not overshadowed by louder voices. So I opened a bottle later in the week when a new friend came over for dinner, and we loved it. The character of the ripe 2005 vintage expressed itself in a creamy vanilla tinged aroma, but Bouchard's deeply vinous and expressive dark fruits hummed a resonant baseline. This was really singing an hour and a half into our meal, 2 plus hours after we opened it.

I'm telling you, it's the holidays. Just open that bottle. It feels good.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blind Tasting 15 Champagnes

Alex Halberstadt, a Brooklyn-based writer who covers wine for The Faster Times, an online newspaper, recently invited me to his house to participate in a blind tasting of Champagne. There were 9 of us in total, and 15 wines. Not bad for a random Monday night.

The point of tasting blind is to remove information that can bias the taster during the experience of tasting. But how much information should be removed? Obviously, tasters do not know the identity of the wines they taste. But there are varying degrees of "blind." Imagine, for example, that you wanted to do a tasting of Pinot Noir with friends, and your idea is to compare new world wines to old world wines. Do you tell people the theme and ask them to categorize the wines as they taste? Do you instead tell them only that it is a Pinot tasting, and see where the discussion goes? Do you tell people that they are drinking two types of Pinot, but not tell them what types? There are many ways to do this, and each has its merits.

We knew nothing whatsoever about the Champagnes we tasted - Alex decided to share the theme of the tasting only after we discussed the wines. We went through all 15 wines and then discussed each one. As you would expect with a group of 9 people tasting of 15 wines, there were many different opinions. But there were a few things that everyone seemed to agree on: no one loved the wines as a group. Everyone found a few wines to like, but as a group, no one was overly excited. When asked what we thought of the overall quality of the wines, Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, said "They were fine, but I drank some great Champagnes last week, and none of these stands up to any of those."

I felt the same way - there were several wines I liked, but as a group I was not terribly impressed. I felt that the wines lacked any kind of soil character. None of them were chalky. And none of them showed any real individuality. They actually resembled each other a lot in terms of character and flavor profile. Maybe this was a symptom of drinking 15 Champagnes in a row, maybe not. What had Alex done, here? What were we tasting?

I had an idea about halfway through, but I wasn't sure. At the end of the discussion, Alex said "Bloggers and wine writers all seem to be writing about grower Champagne now, and you never read anything about the other wines. I thought it would be interesting to do a tasting of the Grand Marque Champagnes, the wines you are most likely to encounter in any given store." I understood immediately why Alex kept the theme a secret. If I knew that I were tasting these 15 wines, I would have been biased. Not that I would dislike them automatically - I'm a more honest taster than that, but I would have approached them differently, with low expectations. Alex wisely allowed us to approach these with whatever expectations we as individuals bring to a tasting. I, for one, want to like the wines at a blind tasting. And I found some things to like in this tasting.

Here are the wines we tasted, all non-vintage wines, presumably disgorged and released recently:

1) Piper-Heidsieck
2) Henriot
3) Deutz
4) Pol Roger Pure (this was a mistake - Alex meant for this to be Bollinger)
5) Gosset
6) Taittinger
7) Pol Roger
8) Delamotte
9) Lanson
10) Veuve-Clicquot
11) Laurent-Perrier
12) Charles Heidsieck
13) Louis Roederer
14) Moet Brut Imperial
15) Alfred Gratien

I liked the first wine I tasted better than anything else, the Piper-Heidsieck. It felt like it had been bottled at low pressure, it had lovely dark fruit, it had finesse, and it was very expressive. I loved it. I remember thinking, "Could this be a Cedric Bouchard wine?" I wonder if this wine been the 8th wine in the lineup, whether or not I would have liked it as much. By wine #8, I understood that I wasn't crazy about whatever it was we were tasting - the "I'm about to taste 15 Champagnes, and I love Champagne" magic had worn off. But I liked it enough during this tasting so that I will make a point of drinking it again.

My other favorites included Roederer, Henriot, Pol Roger, Taittinger, and Lanson. I would gladly drink a glass of any of those wines, should they be offered to me. But I don't think that I'm ready to start using any of my already meager Champagne budget to buy these wines. Before doing that, I'd like to do a blind tasting that includes these wines and an equal number of wines from producers like Boulard, Billiot, Diebolt-Vallois, and Brigandat. That would be most interesting, especially if I didn't know the theme while tasting.

I will also confidently tell you that the worst wine of the tasting, and almost everyone agreed on this, was the Moet White Star. It was just very bad.

I'm so glad to have participated in this - it was a great idea, Alex. It's silly to dismiss wines because they're not popular (an odd thing to say about Grand Marque Champagne, but I mean popular among the wine circles I hang out in), but I think we all do it. I tend to be dismissive of exactly these Champagnes, and perhaps I shouldn't be. I really liked that Piper-Heidsieck. Maybe I'll buy one and drink it next to a comparable grower Champagne, both served blind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Night of Pierre Gonon

The other night my friend Adam invited a couple of people to his place for a night of wines from Pierre Gonon, the decidedly old school producer from St. Joseph. I don't drink a lot of northern Rhône wine because there are so few that I can afford that are also appealing to me. So many of them are simply way too big - high alcohol, overripe wines with Sour Patch Kid type acidity, wines that I have a hard time enjoying with food. Gonon is a producer whose wines are delicious, true to the place they come from, and entirely affordable. Cheap, I would venture to say, especially considering the quality they offer.

The Pierre Gonon estate, now run by Pierre's sons Jean and Pierre, is a small estate with plots in several villages, but perhaps the most important plot is in Les Oliviers, a steep vineyard with southern exposition. Pierre Gonon planted his family's white grape vines there in the late '50s. And with the exception of wines that are literally 4 or 5 times the price, Gonon's white is the best white Rhône wine I've had (relatively small sample size, but work with me, people).

I've had two vintages of the St. Joseph rouge (2006, 2007) and the thing that always strikes me when I drink these wines is the absolute clarity of their expression. It's like smelling and drinking a textbook definition of Rhône Syrah: meaty, olive-y, deeply fruited, and peppery, floral hints in the background. These are wines of great intensity and depth, but not of great weight. They are bold wines that show the gamy richness and full texture one expects from Syrah, but in an unadorned and elegant style. From what I understand, they age gracefully, too, something that I will test out myself, quite eagerly. And this wine costs about $28 before case discounts.

We began our evening with the 2007 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph Blanc Les Oliviers, Fruit of the Vines Imports, $32. I love this wine - I LOVE it. A typical blend at 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, but atypical in its freshness, elegance, and energetic character. The aromatics are just beautiful, with fresh pears, orange peel, honeycomb and a touch of something like nutmeg. It is an enticing nose that mellows and becomes more and more clear as the wine warms up. There is not a lot of acidity here, but the wine feels energetic and fresh on the palate, and the finish is long with pears and spiced honey. The wine is bone dry at 13.8 % alcohol. I would gladly drink this wine with roast pork or chicken, with rich shellfish like lobster, with almost enything you might throw at it. We came back to it at the end of the evening over a plate of cheeses, and it was particularly great with a washed rind goat cheese called Le Petit Fiancé des Pyrénées. The wine was at room temperature, and its mellow pear fruit and waxy honeyed richness complemented the grassy pungency of this delicious cheese. I love the way this wine interacts with cheese, and I've served it before with good effect.
A reader who goes by 'michelecolline' recently left a comment saying "You keep eating Italian dishes with French making me crazy!" Well Michele, I've done it again. Adam cooked his version of sausage and peppers, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and gremolata, and we opened three of Gonon's reds. The 2007 Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Les Iles Feray, $17, comes from young vines in St. Joseph and older vines just outside the AOC. The aromatics are bright with red fruit and flowers, and the sauvage notes that were so pungent about 6 months ago are less pronounced now. This wine showed so well the other night, balanced, juicy, and just delicious, and at 12.5% alcohol.

The 2007 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph, $28, is just a great wine. It was at its best after a few hours of air, at the very last sip. Perfectly harmonious, and that's saying something because this is a brawny wine. The fruit is dark blue and bright red and feels like it came from tiny berries. At first the acidity was a bit rough, but when the wine comes together the fruit mingles with lavendar and bloody meat in a deeply satisfying way, and the acidity is more of a support than a major player. This is a wine that deserves to survive the next decade in the cellar so it can reveal all of its charms.
We saved the best for last. Adam opened a bottle of 20 year old wine, the 1989 Pierre Gonon St. Joseph. I was so excited to drink this - anticipating it all day. And so of course it was viciously corked. Another time, 1989, you and I will meet again.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lot 2 - a Restaurant that's Worth the Trip

The other night a friend and I went to Lot 2, a new-ish restaurant in a very quiet (read - middle of nowhere) part of Brooklyn. I love this area, actually, the stretch of 6th avenue between the Gowanus expressway and Greenwood Cemetery. Disingenuous realtors call this the South Slope, but I think Greenwood Heights is more accurate. Anyway, this is a quiet residential stretch of town. There is a public school, a few bodegas, a furniture design store, a coffee house, and not a lot else - nothing that inspires a special trip. There used to be a destination-worthy BBQ place on 20th and 6th, but it closed last year. Now, in the storefront right next door, Lot 2 is open. And it's worth a special trip.

Here are some things you will NOT find at Lot 2:

  • A bartender sporting a little mustache and arm garters who looks like he stepped out of a 1890's saloon.
  • A discourse on butchering technique.
  • Anything that has been "deconstructed," any kind of "foam," or "gelée."
  • Attitude of any kind.
Not that there is anything wrong with those things - I enjoy them from time to time. But Lot 2 isn't about pretension or culinary pyrotechnics. Lot 2 is about excellent ingredients and simple but highly skilled preparation. The servers are very kind and competent, the space is attractive and homey, and the prices are reasonable. If none of this sounds special enough to make Lot 2 a destination, there is one other thing that might sway you: the incredibly high quality of the charcuterie. Lot 2 was opened by the guy who did the charcuterie at Grammercy Tavern, and charcuterie should be part of a meal at Lot 2. They also demonstrate a deft hand with pickles.

We couldn't decide on appetizers (called small lots) because we wanted to taste them all. So we did, almost. We began with the pork jowl, and this was utterly fantastic, the best plate of food I have been served at a restaurant in a while (grain of salt - I don't go out that much). Think of that ubiquitous pork belly, in terms of presentation - a large square of meat with a ribbon of crusty fat on top. But this is jowl, and the meat is meatier than a belly cut. The accompanying Brussels sprouts were very good, and there were little pancetta croutons, as if the jowl might not be porky enough. It is this dish that will make me walk all the way down to 20th street on a snowy night in January.

We also had cured lamb neck and cured pork neck served with house pickles and warm olives. The paper-thin slices of meat were subtly perfumed with spices, and although both were rich and delicious, we preferred the lamb. And because pork jowl and two kinds of neck really aren't enough in the way of charcuterie, we also had the lardo bread, a piece of crusty bread smeared with lardo butter and topped with Brussels sprouts leaves. This was the only thing we ate at Lot 2 that wasn't so great, and I suppose the owners felt the same way, as I notice that it is no longer on the menu. Although lardo still appears with the potato skins that come alongside the burger, in what I am sure is a winning combination.

We tried two salads, and both were excellent. Shaved fennel with radishes and walnuts was a perfect rendition of this dish, and it was a great companion to the charcuterie. My friend Clarke and I were essentially jousting with our forks over the last bites. Chicory with pickled pumpkin was also delicious - bitter greens with sweet and sour pickles, very refreshing. We enjoyed this salad with the one entree (called big lots) we had, itself a story. Let me tell you how difficult it was not to order the lamb ribs with chickpeas, olives, mint and lemon. But we ate the better part of a pig to begin the meal, and it just seemed excessive. So we ordered pasta - garganelli with cauliflower, mint, capers, and romanescu. As Clarke said, "This dish has no business being this good." It was delicious, truly. Garganelli are kind of like large penne with deeper striations to hold the sauce. The seasonings were perfectly balanced and there was a spark from red chili flakes, but it is the texture of this dish that really got me. The pasta (which I think may be home-made) was cooked until just tender, and the whole dish was tossed with toasted bread crumbs, which gave every bite just the slightest gritty crunch. A real winner, this dish.

And what about the wine list? It is small, but filled with interesting and inexpensive bottles that would be great to drink with this food. Savio Soares has a few wines on the list (Mouressipe from the Languedoc, Marcillet from Savigny-Les-Beaune, Héaulé from the Loire). Jeffrey Alpert has two fantastic wines here - the beautiful NV Benoît Lahaye Champagne Brut, mostly Pinot Noir from Bouzy, and fairly priced at $72, and the ethereal and gamy 2006 Ganevat Trousseau "Plein Sud" at $55. There are several interesting Italian wines too - you can see the list here. We decanted and drank the Ganevat Trousseau, and its progression from horse stable to rose garden with rabbits was perfectly harmonious with our food. If you are a beer person, they have several interesting craft brews too.

We ended our meal with two cheeses, both from Jasper Hill Farms. Bayley Hazen is their excellent Stilton-esque blue cheese, and the cloth-bound Cheddar made by Cabot Creamery and aged in the cellars at Jasper Hill. I still don't like the cloth-bound Cheddar. I didn't like it the first time I had it, and I've had it several times since then and I just don't get it. But that's just me - it is a high quality cheese that everyone else loves, so trust me, everyone else is probably right.

Lot 2 is well worth the trip. Go with a friend, go on a date, go for communal Sunday supper. Go check it out.

Lot 2
687 6th Avenue (near 20th street), Brooklyn.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Open Something Good Before Leaving

I'm traveling for work this week. I have this superstition that compels me to open a really good bottle of wine the night before I leave, something special to share with BrooklynLady. On Sunday night we at a version of Osso Bucco, ours braised with fennel, carrots, and orange peel. We opened a bottle of wine that I had planned on cellaring for many years, the 2006 Domaine de L'Arlot Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Clos des Forêts St. Georges, $55-85, Daniel Johnnes Selections/Michael Skurnik Wines.

Last year at about this time I visited Domaine de L'Arlot, stayed at the estate in Prémeaux-Prissey actually. I was very much impressed with the wines - very pure and full of character and complexity. The Clos des Forêts St. Georges is a monopole of the domaine, and sits next to the famous Les Saint-Georges, the great vineyard in Nuits St. Georges that is considered by many to be of true Grand Cru quality. Domaine de L'Arlot's Clos des Forêts St. Georges can be similar to the wines of Les Saint-Georges, showing a dark fruited muscularity, a sauvage pungency. I'm a recent but adoring fan.

Although this wine will clearly repay a decade and more in the cellar, it was utterly delicious on Sunday evening. The oak is quite prominent on the nose, but the true character shines through. Deeply and darkly fruited, firmly structured, and with an inner cylinder of pungent animal perfume that emerges on the midpalate and gently pushes through the finish. Really a beautiful wine, a lot of character. And I'm confident that the oak will integrate with time.

And then guess what happened...maybe 30 minutes in, while still putting the finishing touches on dinner, I poured another splash from the decanter and I noticed that the wine smelled corky, ever so faintly, but corky. Was it just that one whiff, was it a pungent note that resembled TCA? We sat down to eat 15 minutes later, I poured us each a glass, and there was no mistaking it - the wine was corked. Not savagely so, but corked indeed, and the aromatics had been overwhelmed. Isn't that wild? The TCA didn't show itself until the wine had spent about 30 minutes in a decanter. It was gorgeous before that point.

We opened a bottle of 2006 Chandon de Briailles Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses, $43, David Bowler Wines, instead, another wine I had planned on cellaring. It was lovely, more subtle and subdued, its stems more apparent. We both agreed that this wine, as lovely as it was, was difficult to drink after the first half hour of that beautiful Clos des Forêts St. Georges. Oh TCA, how I despise you, let me count the ways.

Lest you think this corked wine somehow jinxed my trip, that's not the case. Everything is going fine so far. And when I get home I'll open something nice with BrooklynLady.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Warning - Contains Explicit Bakery Content

I thought a little Almondine Bakery action might be in order for your Friday. Thus far I've shown you merely one little photo of a baguette end. Almondine recently opened a second outpost, this one, thankfully, in Park Slope. In a few short weeks this place already has proven to pose a serious threat to my waistline.

Almondine makes perhaps 200 baguettes each day at their main location in DUMBO. About 40 of these come to Park Slope. Their French baguettes are crisp and chewy on the outside, light and airy in the inside, and have a delightfully mellow buttery flavor. I have yet to try the wheat flour Almondine Baguette, as the French baguette is so good.

I spoke with Jocelyn, the manager, and asked him what they do to make the baguette so good. He told me about Benin where he was born and raised, Paris where he lived for over a decade, and all sorts of other things. But he simply smiled and laughed when I asked for details on the baguette. Nothing. Not a word.

Almondine is not only about bread. The pastries are impressive, especially in the early part of the day when they're fresh. They make delicious macarons, for example. My older daughter has sampled a few of them now, and seems to have settled on purple (currant) as her favorite.

I find myself gazing longingly at apricot and pear tarts. I like the way the fruit is a bit burned in some places.

And although I've never been a big eclair fan, don't these look good?

There are many other beautiful pastries, many of the things you would see if you were in Paris and wandered into a good pâtisserie. Almondine also serves soups, sandwiches, salads, things of that sort. I haven't tried these, and I cannot imagine trying them, to be honest. I'm sure they're fine, perhaps even very good. But when the baguettes and pastries are this good, why play games with soup?

Almondine Bakery
442 9th Street
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Glory of Turnip Greens and Bacon

Right now I'm eating a bowl of orecchiette with turnip greens, and it's completely delicious. I seasoned the dish with a little bacon, a small garlic clove, a few dried red chili flakes, and a very small glug of cream. Bound it all together with a good glug of the pasta cooking water. This is the kind of pasta dish that my Jewish father from the Bronx would be frustrated by. "It has no sauce," he would say. "It needs a sauce."

In my rudimentary (and rudimentary is a generous word here) understanding of pasta, pastas with fillings, like ravioli, are not meant to be sauced. Some brown butter and sage, perhaps, but no ragu, no pesto, no clam sauce. Those sauces are for spaghetti, penne, linguini, and other un-filled pastas.

So in a sense, my father would be right - my orecchiette dish doesn't have a sauce, and it's not a filled pasta, so it should have a sauce. But I'm using the pasta as a vehicle to enjoy the glorious combination of braised turnip greens and bacon, and for me, that is sauce enough. Of the various braising greens such as collards, kale, and chard, my favorite for braising are turnip greens. They have great texture and a nice earthy-turnip flavor, and they absorb other flavors very well. They have a particular affinity for cured or smoked pork products, and thankfully, humans discovered and widely shared this bit of culinary knowledge.

Turnips are in season. If you buy turnips, save the greens and try something like this dish. Think about this: turnip greens = earthy, bacon = umami, chili flakes = spicy, garlic = savory, and cream = sweet. An almost complete combination, but no sour. I considered a squeeze of lemon for sour, but it somehow didn't seem right.

When I decided to make this dish, I had no particular wine in mind. I considered a St. Joseph, imagining the marriage of bacon flavors. But I decided that Syrah, particularly young Syrah, which is all I own, would overpower everything but the bacon. I considered a snappy and vibrant bottle of Pian del Ciampolo, the un-oaked Sangiovese from Montevertine, but sadly, I don't actually own any of that wine. I considered a white from Friuli, like the i Clivi Galea, the Tocai/Malvasia blend, and in retrospect, that probably would have been a great pairing.

But I drank the 2007 Mugneret-Gibourg Bourgogne, $32, Michael Skurnik Wines. A lovely Bourgogne, not as impressive as the 2006, as the 2007 doesn't seem to handle its wood treatment as well, but lovely nonetheless. Why did I open this bottle? Because sometimes agonizing over the right pairing is tiring, especially when I am putting the kids to bed, stressing about work, and simply feeling tired. I wanted comfort. For me, this wine conjures something very comforting. And if it totally failed with the pasta, I could recork it and open something else. It didn't fail, it was fine. But this dish deserves better than fine.

May I ask, what would you pour with this type of pasta dish?