Monday, April 20, 2009

Decadence, Dogs, Bubbles & Fried Cheese

“So, do you think Carl would like to drink that new Dagueneau Sancerre for his birthday dinner?” I asked Bennett just before leaving the shop on Friday evening. After laughing and giving me the, “Oh sure it’s for him” ribbing, he rang me up and I headed home for a very needed 3 days off. This weekend my beloved hubby turned 36 and we have a fairly new tradition with Amy and her husband….we do birthdays big! Not a bunch, (or any in some cases) gifts but we sure as shit celebrate, for Amy’s we went to Craft, her husband’s we went to Chicago and for Carl’s this year…we were going to the much talked about, Palate Food and Wine in Glendale.

I first heard about Palate when Gary Menes, long time customer and as it turns out, partner and executive chef for Palate came by The Wine Country a few months before it opened. When I asked what he had been up to, (he had been a chef at one of the Patina Group “Pinot” restaurants) he told me, with exuberance about his new project in Glendale, a few months later I opened the Los Angeles Times food section to see a 4 star review, I could not have been more happy for him, but part of me felt a little bummed that it would probably be some time before I could get a reservation.
We pressed Carl for weeks to try and think of where he wanted to go for his birthday dinner and in true “my hubby” form he procrastinated, and as of the week before his birthday we were still without a reservation for his big day….dammit it Call-o! By Tuesday I was up in his grill, as sweetly as possible mind you, but we needed to get moving on this thing, I mean his birthday was Saturday. I started throwing out ideas and sending him links to restaurants and some reviews hoping that something might inspire him, dude is so low key that it seemed the more options I gave him the more befuddled he became, “Well hello Mr. Bull, my name is Sam and I will be grabbing you by the horns” I had to make something happen, and fast. I checked Open Table, which for an 8 something reservation on a Saturday…well, choices were more than limited, I was feeling less than inspired myself so I took a gamble and sent off an email to Gary…yes, yes I pulled some strings…shoot me.

Got an email back the next morning saying he would check and get back to me, 20 minutes later he made my day by telling me that he could seat the 4 of us at 8:30, I fired off the, “Thank you so much” and “Gary got us in!!” emails and started getting excited. Food and wine is our number one form of entertainment, it’s where we spend the chunkiest part of our cash and where we have the most fun, we are way into it and hitting up a much talked about new spot is like going to an art exhibit for some….thrilling. I know there are those, “foodies” that go into these places looking to find something wrong just so they can sound authoritarian and contrary, that is so not us, we are there to have fun, taste new things and hopefully have a delicious meal, we’re easy that way!
Tossed the 2007 Dagueneau Sancerre, ($114.99) in the fridge before heading out to the mall on Saturday afternoon, was trying to get a new outfit for the evening but kind of struck out, or fell back on an old favorite, crisp white men’s dress shirt and a funky new, greenish gray tie with polka dots….it’s comfortable for me and it’s not like I was gonna get all girlie, even for the hubby’s birthday. We met at Amy’s, (they were driving) at 6:45 and popped a bottle of NV Jean Milan Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs to kick off the evening, such a clean crisp Champagne, full of apples and toasted bread with tiny bubbles and a very fresh finish. Sancerre and a bottle of bubbles that Amy bought were placed in the wine bag and off we went for the haul to Glendale.

We made good time and were half an hour early for our reservation so we had a few drinks at the bar, once our table was ready we were led to the back of the restaurant which was where the wine bar and retail store is, pretty cool, bustling spot….but we would have to finish our cocktails before we were seated as they didn’t have a license to serve hard alcohol in the wine bar, made sense to me as we cannot serve booze at The Wine Country either, so no biggie, I was dying to try the Dagueneau anyway!

Now even though Amy brought bubbles we started with the Sancerre, the bubbles were of the Pinot Noir based variety, so I thought it might trounce the young Dagueneau, plus I had waited like 5 days and some junk, (since the wine arrived) and I was chomping at the bit to sniff, swirl and slurp a wine made by someone I adored, admired and whose passing, when I think about it, can still bring tears to my eyes. Our server, (Simone) got to opening the wine and took our first round of orders; the Porkfolio, a platter of cured meats, the Mason Jars, which are squat jars with confied meat….um, yeah, we got duck and more pork and finally the pickled veggies, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and onions.

Seeing as I was “the wine girl” (or the one that pulled the, “hey this is Sam from The Wine Country” to get the reservation) I was first up with the Dagueneau Sancerre. I spun it in the glass and very true to form the wine was oily in texture, much like you find with a brilliantly made white Burgundy….a visual texture if you will. I buried my nose in the glass and waved to Simone that it was fine and to pour for the table….thing was, not much going on in the glass, drat! Spun some more then took a tiny sip, “Oh Didier…” I oozed, there was all that mineral and tropical fruit but I have to admit the finish was a touch short….until the pork and pickled stuff arrived, SHAZAM. A food wine without-a-doubt once we had those savory meats and pickled veggies in our mouths the wine pounced to life and even gave the meats a run for their money.

I sent a glass of that spectacular wine to the kitchen for my friend Gary as a thank you and because, dammit, when you have something that rare, you just want everyone to taste it, and then went to checking out the wine list. One very great thing that I had heard about Palate was that they price their wines just a bit over retail, how freaking cool is that?! Wonder how much more wine they sell….I can tell you there was not one table that was without a bottle the night we were there. It took only but a moment before I spied what I wanted, (now this is where I ask you to remember that I said we do birthdays BIG) on the list there was a bottle of 2004 Comte Lafon Meursault for $185.00, now that is a lot but not too much over retail and we were being all high roller anyway….I went for it, and this was my only issue with the place… was not a wine brought in through the proper channels, it was gray marketed and I hate that, but alas I did not know until the wine arrived at the table and we were already a good clip into it….so I won’t rant too much, but I really think gray market wines are a crap shoot, (never know how they were transported) and I think the practice of going around the “proper” importer is bullshit…there.

We ordered our next round, (it is a small plates joint) Scallops, Pork Belly, Beef Cheeks and Asparagus with Fried Egg while I played with the Meursault, stunning wine…rich, crazy sexy in the mouth with crushed nut shell, something savory like salted butter toast and orange zest all with an almost butterscotch like flavor on the finish. We poured some for Simone and the sommelier while we munched on our shared dishes. All the food was fantastic, clean, and precise and focused on stellar ingredients…but for me, that fried egg was by far the best I have ever had and it still has me thinking about it…how many eggs can do that? Found out from Gary, (when he came out to say hello to the table) that they buy those eggs from a farmer who wins prizes for his chickens year after year…I can see why. The food was all spectacular and I will be going back as soon as I get a chance….they are so getting it right up there.

I went back to the Dagueneau Sancerre after the Burgundy and the wine was showing so much better! It had opened and I think the wine needed to be poured after the Meursault, just that big and powerful, not what you hear very often about Sauvignon Blanc but exactly what Didier always thought, that he could make wines that could rival those of Burgundy….he did.

Amy took a trip to the cheese room, yes there is a cheese room at Palate and made the cheese plate “go” and we popped the 1999 Billiot Brut Reserve Grand Cru, ($63.99) to wash down the cheese course. I have to say, Palate served up the best cheese plate I have ever come across,,,hands-down. Perfect size, perfectly aged, wonderful combinations and with just a kiss of the condiments, (I feel that some people go a little nutty with the compote on the ol’ cheese plate) couple drops of honey, tiny smear of fruit puree and a dollop of a slightly sweet chili thing…rawr, and with that Champagne, “Holy crap”…the hubby’s exact words. The wine is full of graham crackers and baked apples with a super long, brown butter finish, amazing with the cheeses. The kitchen sent out a trio of desserts, for Carl’s birthday, (very sweet) and the boys ate the bulk of it; Panna Cotta with tiny sweet-tart blueberries, Banana Bread with some kind of caramel sauce and the densest, richest chocolate pudding ever….Carl ate the most of the chocolate and when the General Manager, (Francois) heard Amy say, “Oh I didn’t try that” he brought another one for the table….service, they are good at it there at Palate, laid back and super cool but on top of it in a big way.

We said our goodbyes to the crew at Palate and played with the idea of going home….”You want to go to Pink’s?” Amy’s hubby asked, “Heck yeah” I piped in and off we went. Carl had never been to the legendary hot dog stand, so I thought it was a must. We stood in line at 1 am for an hour to get our bacon chili dogs that we washed down with water and diet Coke, Amy and I did try and hit up and AmPm MiniMart place trying to get beer but they wouldn’t let us in…awe.

Tummies stuffed to over full we made our way back to The Vortex where more wine and other assorted goodies kept us from heading home…..they even had a cake decorated with “Happy Birthday Call-O” on it. Too many drinks later and the birthday boy and I headed home, after 4 am and at the protest of the other party goers that thought we should pull an all nighter and head out to breakfast….non, we need some sleep, plus we have “birthday part deux” on Sunday with Merritt!

Woke up at 11:30 Sunday morning, with that “not so fresh” feeling….one eyed stumble to the coffee pot, then I sent the text to Merritt, “Just woke up, out till after 4, need wine” got the text back, “have a bottle of 2002 Agrapart Mineral with Poppa Call-O’s name on it”…God, I love her! The plan for the day was to hit the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax for what we like to call, “Destination Tacos” at Loteria! Some of the best and most craveable shredded beef and potato tacos ever. My sister was on facebook so I invited she and her hubby to join us so we all met at my place, drank that amazing Champagne and headed out for tacos. We switched from the Farmer’s location to the newer one in Hollywood because we knew it would be air conditioned….oh, and um, they have tequila at the Hollywood location.

It was hot Sunday, I was hungover but feeling a touch better from the Agrapart Mineral and there was serious traffic on the 4-zero-five freeway……grumble. Took forever to get there but once we did, we went large…pretty much ordered everything on the menu. Tiny taco sampler, Ceviche, Carne Asada, Queso Fondito with Chorizo and this supper delicious crispy fried cheese thing that is served with a astonishingly fresh tasting green sauce….Merritt got a Margarita made with fresh watermelon juice and Wayne, (my sister’s husband) and I got a tamarind one….or two. We ate until we could eat no more, and that is a crap load for this crowd and then began the trek home, puffy, hot and nearing the end of the limits of partying.

Dropped Merritt off with her boyfriend, (because she was having dinner with his family…poor thing) at his work where he promptly got us beers….pushing maximum density at this point, could not finish it. Walked through the front door at 7:30, laid on the couch and crashed until 10 something…woke just as the swollen birthday boy was thinking about going to bed, instead we sat up and went over the weekend events, talking about the people we love, the things we tasted and just how incredibly lucky we are for all of it….a bit of a “too much” weekend but well worth it!
Thank you Palate Food + Wine 933 South Brand Blvd Glendale, CA 91204 818) 622-9463
Thank you Amy and Mr. Amy, you guys rule and it would have not been the same without you…time to get ready, my birthday is next!
Thank you Merritt, Tessa & Wayne, we love you three and would pound tacos with you anytime.
Thank you Didier Dagueneau and Dominique Lafon for a night of breathtaking white wines…oh and a shout out to Serge Billiot, that 1999 is a haunting wine if ever there was one.
Spent the day recovering from the weekend’s festivities and getting some much needed down time…off to work for more adventures tomorrow!


Samantha Dugan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Hughes said...

I absolutely love your "voice" hear. Your enthusiasm is palpable & comes across so freely. Reading this, I felt as if I was right there with you. I WISH I was tasting that damn Dagueneau!! jealous. I've only had one Didier D in my life. An '04 Blanc Fume de Pouilly. It was exceptionally good.

Samantha Dugan said...

Thanks so much for that...kept thinking, "Sam, you are rambling and no one cares" glad to hear someone did! Dagueneau has been one of those constent amazing flavors in my life, looking forward to tasting more from young Benjamin...big shoes to fill to say the very least.

David McDuff said...

Decadent indeed, Samantha. And it's reassuring to find there's someone else out there who's writing posts as long as my own....

I don't see nearly as much grey market wine in Philly restaurants as in the past. Given the restrictive purchasing laws in PA, though, I'm sure there are still some out there. As everything has to be purchased through the state, it's next to impossible for restaurants to build deep cellars, so the temptation is always there.

Speaking of temptation, I almost splurged on some '06 Dagueneau at a local shop today but, with no birthday celebration as an excuse, instead let my economic judgment take control. I'm still tempted, though...

Samantha Dugan said...

It is true, I tend to babble...and when I'm writing about a "too much" weekend there is just so much to try and squish in!
Gray market really bugs me, and as a Champagne buyer it is a serious problem, (tons of gray market out here and with Champagne it can be dodgy because certain cuvees are created for certain markets, so the wines may be very different) and it really upset me that night as the proper importer is one of my closest friends! Thought I was supporting my pal but in fact I was punching him in the wallet...awe.
Just curious, how much was the 06 Dagueneau going for, oh and which one was it? Seriously up there as far as "best things I have ever tasted" but they are not for everyone.

David McDuff said...

It's been a few days now, so I don't remember the exact prices, but there was Pur Sang in the $90-95 range and Silex at around $120-130. If there's any benefit to the PA system from a "crafty" consumer's perspective, it's that they'll occasionally misprice items or offer things below the usual market value. In this case, though, both wines fall right about at the median point of nationwide pricing.

Nancy Deprez said...

I kept trying to figure out what were the "dogs" in your night, ie. did you mention any wines that were not good, ie. dogs, but now I get it - it was the Pinks Hot Dogs - duh!!

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