Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Word, Two Words, Three Words, True Words

Enjoyed a great meal with friends and family at Marigold Kitchen last weekend. As I opted not to take detailed wine notes, I thought this would be as good a time as any to respond in kind to some of my peers' demonstrations of anti-verbosity. So here you have it, the first (and very possibly last) installment of rapid fire reviews at MFWT. One word, two words, three words -- on three wines. Hopefully, my friends and gracious readers, you will forgive me the luxury of photos.

Vouvray “Cuvée Tradition,” François Pinon 2006
Ambient cave.
Definitely not corked.

Savennières-Coulée de Serrant “Clos de la Coulée de Serrant,” Nicolas Joly 2004
Jerez honey.
Definitely not oxidized.

Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore, M. Marengo 2003
Hollow leg.
Definitely not elegant.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Pleasures of Jacques Puffeney's Poulsard and Pot Pie

The poultry, egg, lamb and pork purveyor at my local farmers market sells turkey pot pies. In the world of farmers markets, such an item is referred to as a “value added product” – something that’s not a direct product of the land or farm but is produced (or processed) from the farm’s goods. The pot pie has become a near weekly habit for me since its introduction at the market last year; in a way that’s odd, as there’s really nothing outstanding or out of the ordinary about the pies. They’re about as simple as simple gets: a reasonably good pastry crust filled with chunks of white and dark meat turkey, potatoes, onions, peas, carrots and a somewhat bland, creamy sauce. It’s that simplicity that makes them work so well for me. Not only are they satisfying; they’re also a perfect foil to any number of styles and varieties of wine. Satisfying and wine friendly? That’s my kind of value added product. Last week’s pie paired quite nicely with….

Arbois Poulsard “M,” Jacques Puffeney 2005
$30. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY.
Puffeney’s wines may be a little pricey for a typical midweek repast, but I’ve been on vacation the last couple of days so I figured why not give myself a treat. Straight from the bottle, this is lean and firm in both acidic and tannic impact. Its color is a completely transparent, pale ruby, tinged green/orange at the rim. With a few moments to settle, aromas emerged of red tea, rose petals, teak and tart cherry fruit. Like its color, the wine’s flavors are delicate but intensely penetrating. If you’ve been looking for a “light” wine to serve with hearty fare – think duck, beef daube or, why not, pot pies – this may be your ticket.

At its initial serving temperature, I found the aromas and texture a tad off kilter so I put the bottle out on the porch for a while (on what was probably one of the last cool nights of the season). Sure enough, at a slightly cooler temp – and no doubt helped along by a little more air – the wine felt gentler and found its focus. Scents of potpourri and spice were even clearer. And the wine’s natural acidity magnified and built upon the flavors of the meal. If you’re looking to try a bottle and happen to be in a hurry, decant it. After an hour, it was even more openly tasty, closer to what I remember from my last tasting when the wine had clearly benefited from some time in the glass.

It bears repeating from that occasion, by the way, that, “’M’ is one of two cuvées of Poulsard produced by Puffeney from all of 1.2 acres planted to the vine on his property. It’s named for Jacques’ daughter Marie, who favors a fruity-style expression of Poulsard.” It also bears adding that Puffeney’s Poulsard undergoes 15-20 day fermentation in tank, followed by malo in old oak foudres. The wine is then barrel aged for 24-30 months, depending on the vintage, before being bottled with neither fining nor filtration.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with “M” on day two, as it faded more quickly than I would have expected. The aromas were still quite enchanting – red apples and apple skin, more teak and a whiff of sunny beach and ocean air (perplexing given the wine’s mountain origins). However, the wine had lost some of its nerve and complexity; its tension had completely relaxed, almost gone slack. Lovely red fruit kept it from being a complete let down, though. Not a bad treat, all things considered, and definitely a fine companion to two days of pot pie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trois Vins Ricard

Regularly tasting through the full line-up of new releases from a single producer is part and parcel of working in a wine shop that cares at least a little about its products. Even though sip-and-spit tasting has its drawbacks, working through several wines from a single producer at one sitting is one of the best ways, short of an actual winery visit, to get a handle on what that producer is really all about.

Such tasting is something, I expect, far too few of us do at home. Economies of scale (not enough people to share with) and economy, plain and simple, both get in the way. For me, a certain level of jadedness acts as a deterrent as well. It’s increasingly rare that I get jazzed enough about a single producer’s full range of new releases to want to take them all home at once. But the motivation still occasionally presents itself, most recently with three new arrivals from Vincent Ricard. The good value/Loire Valley/natural wine trifecta may have had more than a little to do with it. My more than abiding interest in the estate, ever since visiting Ricard in 2004, figured in there as well.

Touraine “Les Trois Chênes,” Domaine Ricard 2008
$20. 13% alcohol. Cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
This was quite the buzz a couple of weeks back when two leading wine e-tailers offered it, at drastically different price points, via e-mail blasts on the same day. I didn’t mind a bit, as the momentary hype brought more than a few “researchers” to my profile of the estate.

“Les Trois Chênes” is arguably Vincent Ricard’s flagship wine. He makes other Sauvignons (his specialty), at lower and higher price points, but this one really captures the balance between his terroir, natural farming and talented winemaking. The Sauvignon comes from a single vineyard of 50+ year-old vines planted on their native rootstock in sand dominated and silex (flint) laced soils. The fruit is hand-harvested in several tris and then sees a slow, three-month barrel fermentation, part of the wine’s total eight-month aging regime, which includes occasional bâtonnage, in barriques.

The end result is not so much creamy and opulent as it is densely packed, firm and sappy. Things open up with a big blast of mineral soaked lemon drop fruit, with a very energetic, full mouthfeel. The vibrant fruit soon yields to the wine’s resinous, structural wood influence. More fruit returns with aeration: kumquat, mango and lemon oil. At the approach of ambient temperature, the woody notes combine with the Sauvignon to form a distinctly spearmint driven aromatic profile. It’s even good at room temp. Only recently bottled and shipped, this has yet to find its harmony but all the voices are definitely there and definitely singing.

The healthy state of Ricard’s vineyards (picture from February 2004) are in stark and welcome contrast to the chemically blasted stretches of Touraine vineyards that Jim Budd (of Jim's Loire) has been on a justified rampage about of late.

Touraine “Le Clos de Vauriou,” Domaine Ricard 2008
$12. 12.5% alcohol. Composite cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
“Le Clos de Vauriou,” as its name implies, is another single vineyard bottling hailing from the family’s small plot of Gamay. Theoretically, Vincent makes this wine only in good vintages, though 2008 marks its third or fourth consecutive release so it may well be on its way to becoming an annual staple. After a 20-day maceration and primary fermentation in steel, “Vauriou” undergoes its malolactic fermentation in barriques and sees only the lightest filtration before bottling.

I have to say, this wine was in the back of my mind when writing (and responding to the comments) on my recent posting regarding some of the inherent risks taken by those making natural wines. When bottles of the 2007 version of “Vauriou” were on, they were delicious – full of juicy, grapey fruit, a pleasure to drink. But there was a spate of bad bottles, gone to one degree or another to vinegar. Whatever the issue was, and I’m guessing acetobacterial spoilage, it seems to have been avoided in 2008, as I’ve tried several bottles that are sound, consistent and even more delicious than the good ones from last year. The grapey, gulpable goodness is still there, but it’s also accented by fine tannins, chalky minerality, a spike of white pepper and very snappy texture. There’s a definite inky/graphite element on the nose as well, along with an enticing twist of blood orange. Very food friendly; at the price, it’s a serious candidate for a by-the-case summer red.

Touraine “Le Vilain P’tit Rouge,” Domaine Ricard 2007
$19.50. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Childlike renderings of trees, purple grapes dangling above a glass, a devil clinging to a goblet’s stem…. The paintings on Ricard’s labels are all the work of Tours-based artist, L. Bouro. In a comment left here some time ago, Brooklynguy mentioned finding the labels off-putting. I can see that, as I’ll almost always steer away from critter labels. However, a growing number of producers in the natural wine set seem to be going for fun or quirky art on their labels; I’m thinking of Puzelat/Tue Boeuf, Le Briseau/Nana Vins & Cie, and Marcel LaPierre, just to name a few. Point is, I kind of like Vincent's labels, though it certainly helps that I know the winemaker behind them and know that they both capture his spirit and reflect something of the essence or story behind each wine.

Going on memory, the 2007 release of “Le Vilain P’tit Rouge” seems a bit less rich than the 2006. Based on my note for the ’06, though, it’s certainly more similar than it is different, perhaps influenced by the fact that it’s again a blend of 90% Côt (Malbec) and 10% Cabernet Franc. There’s some funky-monkey happening on the nose – dark and sour, loamy and wild. It’s loaded with black cherry fruit backed by flavors of clove, charcoal, hung beef and coarsely ground black pepper. There’s lots of texture, too. Definitely a wine for food; to quote my tasting buddy, "Côt and duck is good." (That's a pic of his oven-roasted wild duck, by the way; gamy and damn tasty.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thierry Puzelat’s Gamay "Pouillé"

Intent on getting a better understanding of the wines of Thierry Puzelat, I bought a slew of them a few months back. Well laid plans of drinking them each in consecutive fashion (not on one night, mind you) didn’t quite work out, so I’ve instead been checking in with them rather randomly, whenever time, spirit and menu have aligned. The most recent subject was very much to my liking.

Touraine Gamay "Pouillé," Thierry Puzelat 2006
$18. 13% alcohol. Cork. Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Relative to “Le Tel Quel,” which I’ve written about here before, “Pouillé” is arguably Thierry Puzelat’s more serious – perhaps substantial would be a better word – expression of Gamay. In this case, the fruit comes from Puzelat’s own vineyards, which he purchased from Michel Oger. Situated near Clos Roche Blanche in the commune of Pouillé, the 65 year-old selection massale Gamay vines are planted in argilo-silex (clay and flint) soil that’s been farmed biodynamically for the past fifteen years. Following fermentation, the wine is aged in old oak casks until bottling, without filtration, in the summer following the harvest.

I dug its initial aromas – classic to many of Puzelat’s reds in my experience – of fresh, sweet barnyard, root beer and spice, and sweet, dark red fruits. Very ample in the mouth, where the sweet fruit followed through. And very unlike fruity-style Beaujolais (whereas “Telquel” bears a strong family resemblance). Its richness was buoyed by snappy acidity and a little prickle on the tongue. On day two, that kernel of bright, sweet red fruit persisted, bearing Gamay’s signature along the way. That said, if I’d tasted this blind, between the wine’s rich texture and dark aroma I’d have guessed there was some Côt at play. Though subtler and not as energetic in its second day, its details – perhaps because of that calmer state – were a bit easier to assess. Soft tannins, medium acidity, plenty of spicy red fruit and those trademark sweet-earth aromas, which this time reminded me of moist licorice root mulch.

Though perhaps an unusual expression of Gamay, this bottle of “Pouillé” was unmistakably alive – and very definitely a pure expression of its origins.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Early June Triple Header

For three consecutive days in early June, you’ll find me at some of my favorite spots around the greater Philadelphia area, where I’ll be spreading the word and sharing the joys of three of my favorite things: wine, cheese and cycling. All of it, I might add, is yours to be enjoyed on the cheap – three great ways to get the summer started right without blowing the budget in the process.

  • Monday, June 8, 5:00 – 6:30 PM
    Early Summer Wines and Cheese ($25)
    On June 8, I’ll be leading an early evening wine and cheese pairing seminar at Wilmington, DE wine bar, Domaine Hudson.

  • Tuesday, June 9, 6:30 – 8:00 PM
    Get Your Eurail Pass ($50)
    Not much more than 24 hours later, I’ll be back in action and back at the podium at Philly’s Tria Fermentation School, where I’ll lead a budget-oriented tour around the wines of Western Europe. Tria’s June course schedule was just announced yesterday and the class is already close to being booked, so act fast.

  • Sunday, June 7, 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM (approximately)
    TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship
    Finally (actually firstly), if you’re wondering where to find me on Sunday, I’ll be spending the day at the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. This year’s race, which nearly didn’t come to fruition after organizational costs increased and sponsorship decreased, will mark the 25th running of the Philly Classic. I’ll be continuing a personal tradition that must be going on about 20 years now, through all five banks (Core States, First Union, Wachovia, Commerce, TD), hanging out on Lemon Hill, taking in the sun – it’s never once rained in the history of the race – and most likely a beer or two. Come on out. It’s a blast. And unless you feel the need to spring for a VIP-area pass, it’s absolutely free.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Malo in a Bottle

Some say that to break the rules, one must first know the rules; that to produce great art, no matter how abstract, one must first master the fundamentals.

One of the things I love most about natural wines is their intrinsically unpredictable nature. Winemakers, no matter how talented, take known risks when they choose to ferment using only natural yeasts, to minimize or even abolish the use of sulfur in the vineyards and in the cellar, to work in a relatively noninterventionist manner.

Cour-Cheverny "Les Sables," Domaine Philippe Tessier 2005
$19. 14.5% alcohol. Cork. Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
In spite of its slight haziness, the strongest first impression made by Tessier’s “Les Sables” was not visual but rather aromatic, one of those scents that you know without a doubt, even if you can’t immediately pin it down. In this case it was butter cream… butter cream icing to be exact. The wine was confounding in other ways as well: drinking like a cross between mead, Chenin and Ribolla; definitely sporting a few grams of residual sugar although feeling completely dry; there was even raspiness in its texture, lending the wine an assertive, intensely textured mouthfeel. The aromas and flavors: just as unusual…. Along with that butter cream icing there were primary notes of melon, honey and orange oil; at one moment, there was a suggestion of slight oxidation, maybe even flor; at the next, the wine smelled intensely autolytic, almost like a richly yeasty style of Champagne; and finally, on day two, it was gin that I smelled, right down to the juniper berries and pine.

There were definite signs – from general cloudiness, to the occasional stranded solid to a distinctly petillant prickle – that this went through at least partial malolactic fermentation in bottle. Does that make it a flawed wine?

If you compare my notes with those of The Uncorker, there’s little question that we tasted two very different examples of the same wine. So, there’s bottle variation in the mix as well. Another fault?

That all depends, I suppose, on how you look at things. If wine is indeed a living thing, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be differences, whether subtle or extreme, from bottle to bottle. Of course, the more extreme, the more difficult it becomes for the market to bear the wine.

My pals Jeremy (of Do Bianchi) and Cory (of Saignée) checked out the skin fermented Chardonnay from Natural Process Alliance at Terroir SF a little while back. Another example of malo in a bottle – even if the “bottle” is steel. Judging from Jeremy's photo, it was darker and cloudier than Tessier’s Cour-Cheverny, but you get the idea.

The occasional wacky bottle of natural wine would most likely be taken in stride, even embraced, at wine bars like Terroir in San Francisco or Ten Bells in New York, where the staff and clientele alike seem ready and waiting for such possibilities. On a wine list at a suburban restaurant, on the other hand, things might get dicey.

To quote from the literature on malolactic fermentation used at the University of California at Davis:

“Malolactic Fermentation in Bottle: increases turbidity due to cell growth; produces noticeable gas as CO2; may produce polysaccharides material ( haze and/or ropiness); may raise pH allowing growth of spoilage organisms; and does not allow for control of flavor/aroma profile of wine. Cloudiness or turbidity is objectionable in wine. Many consumers do not understand the source of the cloudiness so equate it with spoilage. The decarboxylation of malate yields carbon dioxide, which will produce noticeable bubbles in the wine. This is again undesired because many consumers do not understand the source of the CO2, so equate it with an inferior or spoiled product. The bacteria may produce other unwanted products that are noticeable in the bottle.… Also if the reaction occurs in the bottle, the winemaker has no control over the process.”

While I expect Philippe Tessier (and other natural winemakers like him) understand and can apply the clinically correct approach taught at UC Davis, he chooses to do things differently, knowingly taking on risks in the process. Tessier farms organically. He vinifies his wines on their ambient yeasts and uses only a soupcon of sulfur at bottling time. He does these things not to make his wines easier to sell or easier for the average consumer to take in stride; he does them because he believes it makes his wines better – truer expressions of both his land and spirit. Whether or not Monsieur Tessier intended for his Cour-Cheverny to go through malo in bottle, and I expect he did not, the wine was still delicious. And I respect the risks he takes, even if it means an occasionally wacky bottle, unpredictable result or negative reaction.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Opening Day at the OFM

I've been hurting for words the last few days, thus the relative silence 'round these parts. To keep things rolling in the mean time, here are a few pix from opening day at the Oakmont Farmers Market. At least I'm now flush with fresh veggies and other local goodies!

The opening day crowd, shortly after the 3:00 starting bell rang.

Sue Miller and son, serving up samples of their wonderful cow's milk cheeses from Birchrun Hills Farm.

Donna Demchur Levitsky of Shellbark Hollow Farm, hard at work handing out samples of the farm's goat cheeses, yogurt, kefir, spreads.... Tasty stuff.

The crew from Lime Valley Mill Farm seemed happy with the line forming at their table on their first day ever at the OFM.

Words to farm by, from the Linde family of Lindenhof Farm. My weekly go-to for farm-fresh eggs and poultry.

The Dearolfs of Blueberry Hill Farm are back for year three. Tonight's dinner featured a bunch of the asparagus seen in the below shot of their spring veg offerings.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oakmont Farmers Market Opens Wednesday

It’s only two days until the grand opening of the third season at the Oakmont Farmers Market, so I thought a little announcement and information might be in order.

There’s big news for the market on two fronts this year. First, the OFM is now an official 501c3 not-for-profit educational organization. Second, and for your greater shopping pleasure, the market will be joined by three new producers:
  • Lime Valley Mill Farm, located in Lancaster County, will be at the market every week, offering organically farmed (not certified) specialty vegetables.

  • As a cheese lover, I’m especially excited to have two of the area’s finest farmstead cheese producers – Shellbark Hollow Farm and Birchrun Hills Farm –join the market this year. They’ll be alternating, once a month each, in the market spot occupied the other two alternating weeks of each month by Spotted Hill Farm.

We’re also very pleased to have the following producers returning for this year’s market:

As in years past, the mission of the market is simple: to provide an outlet for local farmers to present their naturally grown goods directly to members of their own greater communities. The market is producer-only; to be represented, all products must be grown and produced within 100 miles of Havertown. The idea is not only to provide healthy, natural products but also to promote a greater reliance on locally farmed food. Why buy an “organic” apple from Washington State, a blackberry from Mexico, ground beef from Texas or broccoli from China when you can get them and other great seasonal goods from a farm in your own community? When the food on your table doesn’t travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to get there, its environmental impact is gentler and its greater freshness is made that much more meaningful.

The Oakmont Market opens at 3:00 PM sharp this Wednesday, May 21, 2009. Bring your families, bring your shopping lists, bring your tote bags and your appetite, and help to strengthen your community by eating great, locally grown food.

Oakmont Farmers Market

Wednesdays from 3:00 to 7:00 PM
May 20 – September 2, 2009

And as daylight begins to wane...

Wednesdays from 2:00 to 6:00 PM
September 9 – November 25, 2009

In the Oakmont Parking Lot
One block NW of the intersection of Darby & Eagle Roads
2419 West Darby Road
Havertown, PA 19083

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wines at the Spring Table

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my day job on the retail wine sales floor is helping people select wines to pair not just with their Monday night pizza but also with really specific dishes. It can be an overly fetishistic process, I know, but when the stars align, the end results can also deliver an amazing amount of pleasure. That’s exactly what I shoot for, and exactly why I enjoy the challenge.

One of my favorite challenges in that context is recommending the wine pairings to accompany the seasonal menu at Talula’s Table, something I’ve been doing on a more or less monthly basis ever since the inception of their farmhouse table dinners. When I have the opportunity to eat there myself, I’ll sometimes take exactly what I’ve recommended. The occasional self-test is always a good thing. Just as often, though, I’ll pull wines from my own cellar, always with an eye to the food but also with an eye toward fun and exploration as well. On this trip, it was mostly the latter….

Nahe Riesling halbtrocken, Schäfer-Fröhlich 2006
$19. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Rudi Wiest Selections, Cellars International, San Marcos, CA.
Very approachable if somewhat muted, and definitely a good starting point for the meal. There’s a subtle vegetal sense at the wine’s middle but overall it’s driven by flavors of orange oil and red slate spiciness… I’m guessing there’s a measurable dose of Frühlingsplätzchen fruit included. Its acidity is slightly lower than usual (most likely a vintage signature) but not in a bad way; it made the wine gentle and beckoning rather than flat. A still lingering dash of residual CO2 helped keep things lively.

I’ve heard great things about the ’07 version – which I believe follows the current fashion of dropping “halbtrocken” from the label – but have yet to have the opportunity to try it. (As a matter of trivia, winemaker Tim Fröhlich is a member of the VdP’s Junge Generation.)

Wachau Unterloiben Ried Loibenberg Loibner Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, Weingut Emmerich Knoll 2002
$26. 13% alcohol. Cork. Vin di Vino, Chicago, IL.
As much as there is to detest about Pennsylvania’s state controlled liquor and wine system and as much as I’m prone to gripe about it (here’s a recent example), I can’t say it’s not without the occasional accidental merit. You just have to have patience and do a little foraging to find it. Case in point, I stumbled upon this ’02 Knoll Smaragd GV not long ago. It was priced at an already reasonable $33 – the current vintage goes for upwards of $50 – then marked down further to $26. There being no visible suggestions of damage or foul play, I rolled the dice and grabbed a bottle. Good move.

Weingut Knoll is unquestionably one of the top producers in the Wachau. The wines are made in a non-interventionist fashion, with the emphasis always being on quality of fruit and expression of terroir. Most of their wines are fermented in steel, aged in wood (purely for oxidative effect, not for oaky flavors of any kind) and are built to last.

At seven years, this Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner has assumed an almost day-glo yellow color, like classic Gatorade diluted with Pilsner. The inherent flesh of a Smaragd wine has come out with rest in the bottle; its acidity totally resolved and mellow. Immediate impressions were of lemon confit, white peaches and truffled minerals. The typical peppery character of younger and/or lighter styles of GV, if ever present in this wine, had completely dissipated. On day two – leftovers are usually “handled” by the crew in the kitchen but some of this was definitely coming home with me – the wine improved if anything. The peach fruit took on a spicy nuance while the minerality became more profound yet simultaneously more delicate. Aromas were of heady white and yellow blossoms, followed on the palate and down the gullet by light marmalade, clover honey and a suggestion of malted mocha. As delicious as it is now I’d drink up if you’re holding any, though if you have more than a couple of bottles it could be academically interesting to hold one for a few more years.

Saint-Joseph “Lautaret,” Eric & Joël Durand 2005
$30. 13% alcohol. Cork. Fruit of the Vines, New York, NY.
This was my first encounter with the wines of Domaine Durand, so a little research is in order. Brothers Eric and Joël took over their family estate in 1991. Their farm comprises a total of thirteen hectares (eight in Saint-Joseph and five in Cornas) planted to mostly granitic soils. They grow only Syrah and produce solely red wines in, by their own admission, a fairly modern style.

They didn’t need to tell me that, though, as this comes out of the gates with a dense, rich and developed fruit attack, all wrapped up in a sash of spicy oak. There’s definitely some good raw material here but the wine, for me, came across as dull, muddied by overly concentrated fruit and lacking the hothouse flower and pepper scents I associated with more transparent expressions of Saint-Joseph rouge. In its defense, it did gain interest with some time in the glass, developing a little earthy, mushroomy nuance. But not enough to send me scampering back for more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring at Talula's Table: The Food

As promised, we’re back in action today with a few words to add background flavor to yesterday’s foray into photojournalism.

It’s been more than a year now since Franz Lidz’s story for Condé Nast Portfolio and Alex Chadwick’s feature on NPR brought Talula’s Table – the country’s toughest reservation, according to Lidz – to seemingly worldwide attention. The year that’s followed has seen the demise, among other things, of some of Philadelphia’s top restaurants as well as of Portfolio. But Talula’s is still going strong. Reservations are still being taken a year out to the day for that elusive spot at their farmhouse table.

Suffice it to say that I’m not a guy who plans much of anything, especially not a meal, a full year out. So the kitchen table at Talula’s, which seats two-to-six people rather than the eight-to-twelve in the main room and is more of a locals-only or by-invitation affair, has been a bit of a blessing in allowing me to sneak in for the occasional short notice meal whipped up by one of the most talented kitchen crews around.

A few weeks back now, only a day or two after thinking it had been way too long, I got the call-up letting me know there had been a last minute cancellation. I jumped.

Amuse Bouche

A new twist since my last visit, hors d’oeuvre have been added to the array of courses, ostensibly to provide guests with something to tame their bellies during the 30-40 minute period between arrival at 7:00 (market closing time) and seating for the first course. Tuna tartare with queso fresco and parmiggiano frito (at left) and Toscana salami with taleggio and pickled peppers. The salami was chopped and lashed with a mustard-rich sauce. Addictively good.

Spring Radish Maxime, Sweet Butter, Balinese Salt, Chives and Smoked Local Rockfish Salad

When preparing the same menu six or seven nights a week for a month at a time, it’s only natural that there will be – and should be – an evolution of certain dishes, whether due to shifting availability of ingredients or to refinements in preparation. Given the menu description, I’d expected radishes to play the starring role. Apparently they did in early April, but by the end of the month this course had morphed toward a reversal of the dish description, with lightly smoked rockfish filet taking center stage and radishes serving as seasonal accent.

Shaved Scallops, Our Bacon, Creamy Anson Mills Heirloom Polenta and Lettuce Sauce

I love scallops. The huge specimen you see above is a Barnegat Light sea scallop – local and about as fresh as it gets unless you’re eating them on the boat. I love bacon. This was house made, then frozen, micro-planed and air dried for 24 hours to form “bacon dust” as a seasoning for the dish. I loved the anise overtone provided by a sprig or two of chervil. But it was the supporting player, the polenta from heirloom grain specialist Anson Mills, that stole the show. Cooked with nothing more than water and a pinch of salt, it was freakishly delicious, a textbook example of why it’s so important to work with quality ingredients.

Goat Cheese Gnocchi, Morning Picked Mushrooms, Sherry Scented Butter Sauce

In one preparation or another, goat cheese gnocchi have been a core element in Bryan Sikora’s arsenal ever since the early days at Django. In one of their more refined presentations, they served here as a grounding base for the bright, seasonal flavors of sherried butter sauce, snappy local mushrooms and quick-pickled spring vegetables.

Catalan Seafood Stew, Preserved Lemon and Spanish Saffron

For whatever reason, I’d expected a zesty, sausage-laced stew. Instead, full flavored tuna, squid and sea bass were the clear focus of this dish, backed up by saffron infused fish broth and hearty tomato fondue.

Tender Poussin and Crisp Veal Sweetbread Sauté, Fingerlings, Fiddleheads and Verjus

As much as I loved the scallop course (did I say “love” enough times?) and even though the sweetbreads were over breaded, this was my favorite plate of the night. Great depth of flavor; perfectly organic and harmonious.

Composition of Chester County Grass Fed Lamb

The poussin and potatoes were both done two ways in the previous dish. Here we had a lamb triple play: lamb loin cooked sous-vide and seasoned with harissa; lamb confit; and a lamb meatball with a breadstick handle (a play on the classic lollipop lamb chop, just in case you hadn’t figured that out). And yes, that’s a ramp atop the loin. (Lest you think I’ve already broken Sunday’s promise, this meal actually preceded my adventures in ramp acquisition and preparation.) The meatball recipe would be great scaled-up to make meatloaf. Absolutely killer comfort food.

Sheep Milk Cheeses from Near and Far

From left to right: Fleur du Maquis (Corsica); Caña de Oveja (Murcia, Spain); Queso de la Serena (Extremadura, Spain); Pecorino Mugolano (Tuscany, Italy); Blu di Langa (Piedmont, Italy); Benedictine (Carr Valley Creamery, Wisconsin).

Meyer Lemon Egg Cream and Springtime Confections

Clockwise, starting with the egg: Meyer lemon egg cream, with meyer lemon custard, candied ginger, citrus zest, candied mint and yogurt crema; lemon pound cake with lemon curd; white chocolate macaron; vanilla snap cookie. Delicious stuff all around. Pastry chef Claire Shears, who’s rarely if ever on hand for the dinner shift, doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Patent that candied mint and sell it by the pound, guys, and people wouldn't have to wait a year to get a taste.

(Wine notes posted under separate cover.)

Talula's Table
102 W. State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348 [map]
Talula's Table on Urbanspoon

Previous visits:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring at Talula's Table

Photos for now, words to come, speculation welcome.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin