This, the fourth and final installment of "What We Did During the Big Bachelor Party Weekend," takes us almost all the way back to the beginning, back to the lowest key, highest toned night of the three-day fest. The big splash. Dinner for four in the kitchen at Talula's Table.
Four guys (including me behind the lens), representing three time zones and four regions of the country, formed the core group of the weekend's revelers. You may recognize the man of honor, Steve Litvin (at right), from my fall adventures in Northern California. Steve came all the way from Monterey, where he is a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, to celebrate his impending nuptials. Joining us were his old college water polo pals Carleton Yoder (at left), who's now based in Vermont, and Todd Dolan, who flew in the day before from Denver, Colorado. Carleton and Steve had both eaten with me at Django when it was under the purview of Talula's owners, Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikora, but Todd was a virgin diner.
While the rest of the weekend may have revolved primarily around some of Philly's best spots for beer, tonight it was all about good food and wine. Though late in January 2010, the Winter 2009 menu at Talula's was (and still is, as of this writing) in full swing.
Vouvray Brut, Foreau (Clos Naudin) NV
Since my last visit, the kitchen has changed things up just a bit, sending out a series of small bites to the diners lingering in the market area rather than plating a single amuse bouche at the dinner table. I'd left my camera back in the kitchen, so you'll have to do without pics, or any real details for that matter, of the three nibbles we were served. Suffice it to say they were as tasty, artful and soulful as is most everything done at Talula's. With them, we toasted a fine start to the evening with Foreau's Vouvray Brut, which, though not on the same plane as Huet's vintage Vouvray Pétillant, was still pretty darn good.
Short Stack, House-Smoked Smoked Trout, Shaved Pickled Carrots, and Pennsylvania Maple Syrup
Mittelrhein Bacharacher Riesling Kabinett trocken, Ratzenberger 2006
There seems to be a mini-movement of late to pair fish eggs with something sweet. It may sound odd but it works on the same principle of "sweet and salty" that makes chocolate covered pretzels so good. And, when done right, it works. Here, the sweetness was delivered ever-so-subtly by the essence of maple syrup that permeated the "short stack" of tiny little pancakes. Along with excellent quality smoked trout, this was a standout first course — even if the Vermonter among us was perturbed that it included maple syrup from PA — that paired quite nicely with Ratzenberger's dry Riesling.
Winter Kale Soup, Burgundy Snail Tortellini, Toasted Garlic, Rich Tomato Fondue
Touraine "Les Trois Chênes," Domaine Ricard 2008
The snails may have hailed from Burgundy but the combination of hearty greens, garlic and tomato made me think of Sauvignon. So, with no St. Bris in hand, to the Touraine we went. The wine was delicous, tropical at first whiff then quickly morphing toward citrus oil-laced, sappy fruit and an intensely mineral finish; a real head-turner for Carleton and Todd who are primarily red drinkers. The soup was in turn delicious, the kale preparation itself taking center stage, cooked, as Steve put it, in such a way as to retain all of the kale's flavor while subduing its bitter, tough tendencies.
Winter Squash Crème Brulée, Cranberry Influence, Chocolate Dipped Chester County Bacon
Coste della Sesia Rosato "Rosa del Rosa," Proprietà Sperino 2007
Reactions to this course were mixed, a couple of the guys listing it among their faves while I wasn't so sure. The squash soufflé was delicious in and of itself, but I wasn't entirely sold on the chocolate covered bacon. I know it's another iteration of the sweet and salty principle but, for me, it can be too much of a good thing. There's no question that it was done well, though.
As for the wine, I've been thinking, since it was first produced a few years back, that Proprietà Sperino's rosato should hold up to a little cellaring. While this was hardly old, at two-years plus of age it was indeed showing very well, still full of the watermelon rind essence of its youth but also having developed a rich core of cured meat and vanilla cream flavors, along with a classically Nebbiolo-driven nose of rose petals. Very vinous, too.
Saffron Marinated Monkfish, Lemon Scented White Beans, Chorizo and Fried Herb Panada
Touraine "Le Clos de Vauriou," Domaine Ricard 2008
Yes, it's that wine. Again. Blame it on Chef Sikora, who brought it out and insisted on sharing it with us when he saw we'd brought another wine from Vincent Ricard. It was hardly a natural match with the food (the rosato might have been the way to go) but it's a versatile enough wine that things still worked out just fine. The fish dish was another of my favorite courses of the night, not just for the deliciousness of the monkfish itself but even more so for the interplay between the white and black beans, the chorizo, the fish, the saffron overtones and the way that the dish's seasoning, handled incredibly adeptly, tied everything together.
Confit of Canadian Goose, Cider Glaze, Cheddar Polenta, Smoked Onions, and Goose Juice
Chinon "Les Picasses," Catherine et Pierre Breton 2004
Though not the evening's last savory course, this was without doubt the heavy hitter of the evening, full of rich, heady, meaty flavors. The polenta is from Anson Mills, the cheese crisp topping made with Cantalet.
I got a kick out of Brooklynguy's recent potluck post and thought he was dead-on when associating good Chinon with the rich, fatty, salty flavors of confit (duck, in his case). The Bretons' 2004 "Les Picasses" was, for me, the most natural, satisfying pairing of the night, its own richness offset by the naturally vibrant acidity and tongue-cleansing texture of well-structured, well-balanced Chinon. I'd planned to save this, my last bottle, for several more years but the bachelor of honor has been on a C&P Breton groove ever since I turned him on to both versions of "La Dilettante" at Terroir back in the fall and I wanted him to try one of their more intensely structured wines. Hey, why save when you can share?
Venison Tenderloin, Potato-Turnip Purée, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Raisin-Red Wine Sauce
Alexander Valley Marlstone Vineyard, Clos du Bois 1995
Another killer course. I've probably said it here before, in fact I'm sure I have so I'm not even going to go back and look... Bryan has a gift when it comes to cooking game. The venison was meltingly tender and incredibly flavor intensive, infused with the exotic influence of pâté spices and balanced by the subtle sweetness of the wine reduction sauce. Those brussel sprouts didn't suck, either.
The wine? This one might surprise some of my regular readers. Yes, it was highly polished and not loaded with clear sense of place, but at 15 years, Clos du Bois' Marlstone Vineyard cuvée, a Bordeaux blend, was still fresh and vibrant. Plenty of life left to go, in fact. I don't have much experience with more recent bottlings, so I can't say where the wine has headed since, but this was made back in that turning point era between 1994-97, when California Cabs were just starting the leap into their high alcohol, high extract, not-so-food-friendly era. At 14.2%, this was balanced and played just fine with the deer.
Got Goat? A Goat Cheese Collection with Roasted Chestnut Jam
Coteaux du Layon "Cuvée S," Château Soucherie (Pierre-Yves Tijou) 2001
In the last few months, the cheese course at Talula's has moved away from the traditional tri-milk mixture toward a single-milk theme, still with a classic progression from mild to more pungent flavors. Soucherie's "Cuvée S" was still a baby. Very fat and honeyed. Even though delicious with the cheese, it turned out to be a better match with the dessert course.
Organic Champlain Triple from Champlain Valley Creamery
On top of being an all-around great guy and huge beer and wine lover, our friend and fellow diner Carleton Yoder is the owner and head cheese(maker) at Champlain Valley Creamery. Though he started his business with a focus on producing fresh cream cheese, which is still one of his primary products, his triple cream cow's milk cheese has quickly become his best seller over the past couple of years. We brought along a few discs of it for the crew at Talula's to try and Kate Stroh, Talula's resident sous-cheese monger, plated one up for us as a surprise course.
Clementine Chibouste, Lemon Curd, Citrus-Champagne Sauce
La Colombe espresso
After such a hearty, wintry meal, it was a smart choice to serve a dessert course that was only lightly sweet, its focus more on tangy, refreshing seasonal flavors. That light hand with the sugar helped it to pair so well, as mentioned above, with the sticky Loire Chenin from Soucherie. The coffee was just a digestive. Decaf for me, as I can't handle caffeine much past noon any more, that is unless I want to be staring at the ceiling at 4:00 AM.... As the espresso cup indicates, Philly-roasted La Colombe is now the coffee of choice at TT.
C'est tout! Thanks, Steve, Carleton and Todd, for providing the impetus for such a great meal. See you again in March, my friends.
102 W. State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348 [map]