There's nothing like a series of splendid dinners to make a week of menial labor into an altogether pleasant experience. Using the wonders of technology, I was able to get in touch with some friends beforehand, and line up some highly enjoyable soirées. Here's a brief rundown:
First up, a dinner with Mary at Bussaco, owned by my old pal Scott. He opened a year and a half ago, and the fact that it took me this long to actually go was pretty embarrassing. We shared Mary's bottle of 1999 Karthauserhofberg Riesling Kabinett, which had an ebullient, oily nose and luscious, diesel-y clementine flavors. Not too much acidity made for ideal drinking by itself, and it did equally well with starters of Sardinian flatbread with anchovies and marvelous fresh pea soup. For the mains–serrano ham-wrapped chicken breast on favas and spring vegetables and lamb ravioli in broth–we had a 2007 Graillot Crozes-Hermitage which was young and tight (in a good way) and, lest that not be graphic enough, had the marvelous Northern Rhône quality which can also sometimes be modified with those same adjectives. A very enjoyable evening, and one I hope to repeat soon.
The second dinner was with Mary at Kris and Ken's place. A typically extraordinary lineup of wines accompanied Kris' excellent cooking: scallops in garam masala-spiced butter, then mushroom risotto, then veal stew with peas. Wine highlights included a 1992 Batard-Montrachet by Joel Gagnard and a 2000 Corton Grèves by Louis Jadot (the wine of the night) both brought by Jason. The Batard was a puzzle, with guesses ranging from Chablis down to Mâcon but nobody hitting it. Over time, as it woke up, it became clearer and we might have done a better job guessing after an hour or so. The Jadot, which none of us save Jason had had before, was the real deal: everything you look for in a Burgundy with transparency, power, elegance, and funk. I never buy Jadot's wines, but if I see this one again I'll grab it for sure. At the end, a 1982 Rieussec from K&K's cellar was a deep, golden yellow treat with a compelling balance between sweet, acid, and oxidative age.
The next night was dinner with Amy and Jonny at Lot 2 on my very own corner. It used to be a pleasant enough joint called kitchen bar, but Lot 2 is a finer establishment. The ingredients and techniques are of a refinement that would have been unthinkable in this part of town a few years ago, say when I lived there. (I actually ate there three times over the course of the week: brunch with my family when they dropped me off on Sunday, this dinner, and a much-needed burger on Thursday night.) We hadn't seen each other in a year and a half, so it was fun to catch up, swap blog gossip, and enjoy good food. We tried their house-made cured pork neck, which was silky and elegant, and the obligatory plate of dandelion greens (I had it all three times). I had crispy Spanish mackerel with lentils and a vinegary sauce that was a tad strong, but it did cut the oily fish; I like oily fish and usually prefer them uncut). Jonny had roast and confit chicken and Any had their grass-fed burger, the leanness of which is admirably overcome by the addition of lardo butter to the grind. Plus, now they live much closer than they used to, so with any luck we can do it again soon.
And the following night, dinner chez Brooklynguy. I slyly inveigled myself an invitation, since it's obvious from his blog that he knows how to cook and I wanted to drink good wine without paying restaurant prices or corkage to do so. We started off with Mas de Gourgonnier rosé, which we both love, and ate salad on their seriously lovely back deck. As it got dark, we moved inside, and he whipped up some Vietnamese-style pork belly: marinated and roasted earlier, he then cut it into 1" cubes and crisped it hard in a pan, then removed it and poured a nam pla-inflected marinade over the lot. I've been reading a lot of Japanese cookbooks lately, and one of the techniques I haven't fully figured out is the frying and then simmering of various things. It tends to end up on the soggy side, which I guess is the point, but it's never the best of both worlds when I do it. This was; the meat was crisp, tender, saucy, and perfectly seasoned to go with a big red wine (shockingly, I know).
The wine in question was a 1998 Beaucastel Châteauneuf, which we tasted blind. You can read his notes here, but he nailed it. His first guess was Southern Rhône, and we talked about how first guesses are very often the ones to listen to. Later, with cheese–three raw cow's milk varieties I've forgotten the names of–he opened a mystery white for me to taste. I thought Loire initially, because he loves him some Loire whites, but it wasn't a profile I was familiar with. As it woke up, it had a pretty pronounced lemon curd and dairy-like character on the nose–almost a cheesecake sort of aroma. I went back and forth, until finally he put me out of my misery, revealing a 2002 Cour-Cheverny "Cuvée Renaissance" by François Cazin. Cour-Cheverny is a newish appelation, planted exclusively to Romorantin, and in especially good years, when the fruit gets some botrytis, Cazin makes the Cuvée Renaissance. This is exactly the sort of high geekery I was hoping to experience, and makes me doubly sorry that I missed Chablis night on Saturday. As a bonus, the lovely and charming Brooklynlady returned home shortly before I left, so I got to meet her.
Later in the week, I had a pizza at Toby's (on an adjacent corner; our neighborhood got cool the minute we left) and got to watch both the Celtics and the Red Sox get slaughtered simultaneously on two different screens. As Lloyd Bridges might say, "I picked a terrible week to start watching sports again." Later on, Mike and Amy joined me for beers. The next day, delicious Chablis notwithstanding, I took the bus home so that for Mother's day my gift to my long-suffering wife would be her not having to drive down and collect me and all my tools. I drove myself down and back instead. It's good to be home, and I want to thank all the lovely people who made my week away into way more fun than it looked like it was going to be at the outset.