Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Champers all right with you?

I will confess it. A birthday dinner was had. It was earlier this month. Before the election. When I felt celebratory. I read an article in Men's Vogue some time ago about small boutique champagne producers. I was fascinated. I tore out the pages and put in my "look book". That is who I wish to be, someone who drinks champagne so fabulous that no one else has heard of it and it will cost less than all those big name producers.

About a year and half later things begin to come together.

Someone in our circle of friends turned 40-ten (we are not allowed to use the full mathematical equivalent). He would be at my house when I would be having a birthday (a rare occurrence, I am usually out of town so no one can fathom me aging), plus another friend would be having a special day the day after me. A perfect storm of conditions to bust out the big guns and get my champagne on.

Lyle said he would cook.
The chef at my favorite restaurant, Chez Lyle.

GAME ON. I went to a new wine store in Glendale and stood in front of their champagne section for about five minutes. No one offered me any help. I was the only customer in the shop. I left.

I went to Du Vin on San Vicente in West Hollywood. Unbelievably helpful! I showed them the article I had been carrying about for some time and they explained that they would not have the exact same brands as the article as it was written on the East Coast, and the West Coast gets different distribution of many things. I told them no problem, I just wanted to head down that vibe and to guide me through the store. They asked a price point. I gave them from $30 to $60. Perfect! came their reply.

We would be 6 for dinner. And the sales person thought 4 bottles would be a good amount. As soon as that champagne hit the house we took a bottle to a friends house that night. That was Friday. By Tuesday all the champagne was gone and I had learned that four bottles would never satisfy this group of six. I went back and got seven.The outside table was set for appetizers and cocktails. We started with the Henriot champagne.
92 points Wine Enthusiast and 90 points Tanzer. Henriot's vineyard has been around since the 1700s, but they didn't begin producing bubbly until 1808. Composed of 40% chardonnay and 60% pinot noir the Souverain Brut tends toward a lighter, more crisp style with decent acidity and flavors of green apples, pears, limes, nectarines and a light bit of minerality. Also has some cream and vanilla on the finish.
We mixed it with gin to create the cocktail known as French 75. Or as I think it should be called, Yes! I'd like to get hammered!
French 75
- 1 1/2 oz Gin
- 2 oz Lemon Juice
- Champagne
- 2 tsp Superfine Sugar
- Garnish: Cherry

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice except champagne. Strain into a champagne flute (or collins glass). Top with champagne. Garnish with cherry.
We modified it slightly:
One shot of gin, juice of one lemon wedge squeezed in, one spoonful of powdered sugar - mix together. Top off flute with champagne. Much easier.

Appetizers were from Lyle's charcuterie portion of his cooking class. A chicken liver pate made with fresh seasonal pears. (the recipes I've linked to are just for reference. Lyle used the recipes he got from his cooking course.)

Pork rillettes served with warm mini-toast
And a Breton Casoulet
Then out came the birthday tiara...

Our birthday honorees.
Ruled over by their sovereign.

Who is very free with sharing the crown.

Everybody gets a turn.

After appetizers, we came indoors to the dining room.
Our next champagne was the Lenoble Blanc du Blanc Grand Cru.
This is intense, concentrated and refined. Peach, honeysuckle, toast and mineral aromas and flavors meld beautifully with the vibrant structure and supple texture. The harmony of all the elements and intensity of flavor make this Champagne a standout.
It was stellar.
Green salad with roasted fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a warm brown butter red vinegar dressing.

By this time we were already in the Lallier Champagne.
Maturity and persistence Delicately fruity and elegant. A hint of apricot followed by buttered brioche. Marvellous balance of the low dosage and the full bodiness of this Champagne. The perfect blend for great Champagne lovers !
And we had our main course,

Duck confit, scallop potatoes, and a bean ragout of black eye peas, flageolet, and few others that I can't even name.

And last, no birthday is complete without an amazing cake. The cake was baked by Lewis, supervised by Lyle, and final icing done by me in the back yard in the dark because the house was too warm to keep the icing from sliding off the cake.Looks pretty good for doing it in the dark! But wait until you see the inside...

Three pounds of butter went in to the icing of this cake. Unfortunately, I believe I may have eaten a third of the cake, so I just ate a pound of butter. Good thing I can still ride my bike around here.

We were down to our last bottle of champagne, the Nicholas Feuillatte Rose.
Bright and lively with a shading of sweet earth and red strawberries, the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Rose is a pert example of this genre.
For the record, I am not a rose or blush kind of guy and I was apprehensive. But I tried it and... I didn't like it. Luckily others did.

And luckily, by now everyone was ready to work the tiara. Working it hard with a jaunty sweater accessory.

Getting all up in his grill.

Thrilled to be finished with cooking (and friend).

Then the staff went home, the candles got blown out, the candles got knocked over, the kitchen got cleaned, more cake was eaten, someone got pantsed... well, you get the idea.


Anonymous said...

I believe there are photos of the pantsing, although I suppose posting them would mean an end to 19 years of loving...

The meal was amazing and then came 2 more!! Lyle's skills as a chef are great and the best part is that he seems to truly love doing it!

Robb (forgot my blogger password)

Carolyn said...

Lyle's skills as a chef are only rivaled by his skillful tiara wearing. He's a natural!

jason said...

Wow! totally fabulous

dit said...

It looks like a wonderful time was had. What a handsome bunch you all are too. That food looks delicious too. Happy belated Birthday Jim.

mrpeenee said...

How tres fabulous. Happy whatever. Waiter! A six-pack of champagne for my friends.

The T-Dude said...

Everything looks excellent! Hats off to Lyle!

Michael Guy said...

Oh sweet GAWD! YOU folks live like VOGUE/West Hollywood! Which means whatever as I am over-served in my own home this evening...vodka/cranberry, dearies.

So. Anyway...O M G...what a feast! Quel Surprise! How wonderfully fabulous and I would have been limp toast on one glass. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SWEETIE!

landis smithers said...

oh i loves the champers.

thanks for the new list.

did i mention i moved to los angeles?

Lyle said...

OK - just one correction. I certainly DID NOT simplify the french 75 recipe, that would have been a crime. Not only didn't I simplify it I made my own simple syrup with organic sugar (it is, simple after all). Thanks to Landis Smithers for his inspiration on the French 75s.

Jacoba said...

Thought we'd tell you we tried your cocktail, French 75!! You rock!!!! It was amazing ...... but we had a little too much!