Friday, May 23, 2012.
A Bolt. NOW&FE Dinner At Pelican Club.
During a commercial on the radio show, as I stared out the big window, I saw a bolt of lightning. It struck in the center of the CBD, within a few blocks. I know it was close because only a split second elapsed before I heard the boom. The sound took a long time to diminish, doing so continuously as a hollow roar. That's due to the many flat surfaces of many different sizes, orientations, and distances from my vantage point. Very different from a lightning strike in my woods at home, where the sound rises and falls in volume as one patch of widely-separated woods after another returns the initial boom.
Thinking about this reminded me of the glorious summer when I was in a baseball league at St. Rita's in Harahan. From my position with the other non-athletes in deep outfield, I marveled how you'd hear the bat hit the ball a fraction of a second after you saw the slap.
Wait a minute. That was exactly fifty years ago. That's a long time for even cherished mental echoes still to be reverberating.
As I do every year, I went to one of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience dinners, and invited readers and listeners to join me. About a dozen did, this year at the Pelican Club.
The menu looked good, and the winery was Simi. It's the oldest continuously-operating winery in Sonoma. I have enjoyed its wines since being introduced to them--and to and its first modern winemaker Zelma Long--back in the late 1970s. Zelma was the best-looking winemaker I'd ever met. That put an asterisk next to my other thoughts about Simi. In fact, I'm sure it's one of the reasons I came to this dinner, even though Zelma--now one of the most respected figures in California winemaking--has retired to smaller wineries in Oregon.
The evening began with two sharply flavored, appetizing dishes. The first was a generous, beautiful, and delicious ceviche. In fact, it was two ceviches in one martini glass, one made with red snapper and avocado, the other with yellowtail and pineapple. That was followed by fat pot stickers (Chinese ravioli) filled with crawfish and sea scallops. On the side was a shredded daikon salad with a very peppery ponzu sauce.
I liked both the dishes and the Simi Sauvignon Blanc and Russian River Reserve Chardonnay served with them. But I thought the piquancy of the food overwhelmed the wines. Bread would have helped, but hardly anybody serves bread at wine dinners anymore. I did not find much agreement with this opinion, but I'm sticking with it.
The gears all meshed in the following courses. A quail stuffed with foie gras, enclosed in bacon, pillowed on a polenta cake, and hosed down with marsala sauce was right on the money in the company of Simi's 2009 Pinot Noir.
Now the wine of the night. Petite Syrah, an old favorite for those who have been drinking California wines a long time. Only the grapes themselves are petit. The wine is among the world's darkest, with enormous fruit, tannin, and finish. It doesn't receive the attention that other varieties get, and is often accused of being clumsy. But so am I, and I love it. Simi's version was everything I'd hope for from Petite Syrah.
Unfortunately, the wine of the night was not matched by the dish of the night, but with braised pork belly (above, right). Of all the food items chefs feel compelled to use for reasons of hipness, this is the least appealing to me. Not even Richard Hughes--who does everything well in his five-star restaurant--can make me like it. All I get out of it is a big blob of fat.
There was no need to eat that course anyway, because it was followed by an enormous cowboy ribeye. It was seared to an exciting crust and wonderfully juicy and well seasoned, enhanced with a very interesting bordelaise sauce made with roasted garlic. The menu identified it as having been dry-aged for thirty-five days--a long time.
The wine with this was the most distinguished of Simi's reds, the Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. Winemaker Steve Reeder said that it's ineligible to be called a Meritage wine. Although it's made with the required classic Bordeaux grapes, there's also a trace of a non-French variety I never heard of called Tannat. Well, it was perfect with the steak. A few people said it was a comedown from the Petite Syrah. But anything would taste mild after that monster.
I moved to a new spot at our tables between courses, and wound up flanked by two beautiful, slender, well-dressed, youthful women. They welcomed me more than I expected. (My former fellow baseball player Mike, at the other end of the table, was making woo-woo sounds when I went over there.) The ladies told me they were deep into their fifties. Those really are the new thirties, judging by these two. But then my wife is in her fifties, and she looks great too. What a wonderful world!
We finished with a straightforward key lime pie with berries, and a late harvest Riesling 2008, sweet and wonderful. Wines like this you only get at the winery or at winemaker dinners. It wouldn't be a winemaker dinner without one.
Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504.
It's over three years since a day was missed in the Dining Diary. To browse through all of the entries since 2008, go here.
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