about bliss

Thursday, June 15, 2006

pralus and pinot noir

I have many culinary capers to report...

Let’s begin with a week ago last Monday. I was meeting my bro L- for dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse to celebrate his birthday. Now, I needed coffee, so a trip to the Zingy’s deli was inescapable. I ordered a side of fruit (yummy combo of melons, pineapple, strawberries) and a large coffee...and I sat there in the sun-filled, bakery area reading *Intuition,* an intriguing realistic novel about science, surrounded by many of my favorite foods, including a wall o’ chocolate.

I noticed a sign for Pralus chocolates, a French specialty brand that, according to a few well-respected chocolate connessieurs, is the ne plus ultra of chocolate. After finishing my snack and the chapter I was reading, I headed over to the display and surveyed the three varieties of Pralus. A cute Zingy’s boy offered me samples of whatever I wanted, so I asked to taste the two more reasonable (loosely defined) priced varieties. According to the packaging, these chocolates had overtones of wild mushrooms and leather, respectively. I was curious...Zingy’s boy slipped me a sample of one, and I let the chocolate melt in my mouth, coating the inside with a burst of smoothness (so silky) and there it was: an earthiness that was indeed redolent of mushrooms! And the next sample didn’t disappoint either, as I could taste the leather before the chocolate slid down my throat. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would taste these overtones without the package prompting...though I do feel more confident tasting chocolate than say, wine. Maybe because the scope is a bit smaller?!? Although I was intrigued by these unexpected flavors, I couldn’t say I was ready to really appreciate these chocolates...that’s another year or so down my culinary road, I think.

So I asked to taste the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, an unconched dark chocolate with cinnamon from Italy. I’d never tasted unconched chocolate before, and the texture is amazing: granular, crystalline (from all the added sugar--this chocolate is seriously sweeter than I’m used to), and wonderful. Different, tasty, lovely. I went home with one of these bars, and have been nibbling a bite each day.

Then I met L- at the Roadhouse, where we shared sweet potato fries with spicy mayonaise. I had a salad with delicious balsamic vinaigrette (they use a bright, peppery olive oil), assorted veggies, and shaved fennel, which I’d never had before; cheese grits (yummmm), and a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. L- had the barbecued beef brisket with collard greens and mashed potatoes. I had more good, strong, zingy’s roasted coffee and a slice of key lime pie, while L-took his complimentary bday cupcake home. We were stuffed but satiated and happy.

Of course, with all of that high quality caffeine surging through my system, I couldn’t sleep and was assailed with typical 3 a.m. thoughts of “where is my life going?” It seems all of my culinary capers at tasty foodie restaurants lead me into paths of excess in one way or another...definitely something to consider the next time I venture out for a night of fine dining...

On Thursday, I ventured to Simply Wine in Birmingham, a lovely wine shop that prides itself on carrying many bottles under $15. I love this shop, and will gladly drive there to search out a special bottle. I was looking for a “big red” for my dad; he’s fallen in love with Rombauer Zinfindel, and I knew the carried that wine at the shop, so I could ask for a recommendation in the taste of the Rombauer. And, of course, the proprieter didn’t disappoint. He also gave me a taste of a stunning Pinot Noir. Then I witnessed true wine genius: another customer/friend dropped in and tasted two wines in a row and was able to pinpoint not only the varietal but also the region...with the specificity of Sonoma over Napa or Russian River. Impressive! I left wishing I had those tasting skills...something to practice, I suppose! The talented taster teased that I was too young to be in the shop buying wine...and he also said that Pinot Noir is what oenophiles graduate to...I thought of how I first became entranced by Pinot Noir, not by the taste--which I know love for it’s bright, light, delicate, nuance--but rather the musical, sensual sounds of the name itself, the way the French syllables roll around in the mouth, nearly as delicious as the wine itself.

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