We are on our first night of vacation in LA at our friend Angela “The Wine Gique’s” house in the Larchmont Village area. It’s a great little neighborhood, like a small slice of Northern California here in the Southland. Lots of cool shops, restaurants, a Peet’s Coffee and a really great local bagel shop. We stopped into Larchmont Wines and Spirits to visit “Simon the Hot Wine Guy” (can’t relate, but that’s what the girls say) and in true Cork Dork fashion start chatting him up. We want nothing from Napa, and we want it ABC style: Anything But Chardonnay, Anything But Cabernet.
We pick a fruity SB from the Loire for $11, and a fairly robust red from the Languedoc. I can’t remember the producer from either but the Languedoc red was from an AOC named after a castle with catacombs or a labyrinth or something underneath it, I think; Grenache based, with some Mouvedre. The third bottle Simon puts forward is a Nero di Avola-Frappato blend from Cerrasuolo di Vittoria; which we discover after some Googling, is Sicily’s only DOCG.
So we’ve got the wine; now, what’s for dinner? A big, robust, earthy red like the Nero calls for something rich and fatty. Even though it is 90 degrees in LA, we want Coq au Vin or something similarly rich. After a 90-minute coma/nap to recover from the Drive Down the Five and a glass or two of rosè with lunch, we are starving. Normally I’m a seat-of-my-pants kind of cook when it comes to making dinner for family and friends, but having just woken from the nap, and without all the synapses firing off like they should, we begin perusing some cookbooks. We decide on a hurry-up version of Coq au Vin in a Jacques Pepin book we found on Angela’s bookshelf in the kitchen. Most Coq au Vin recipes start off with “The day before…” or “Two days ahead, place the chicken in a marinade of….”, but Jacques’ version is a quickie, done entirely on top of the stove, a distinct advantage with the heat of the day/evening; but it is also a “low cal” version, which calls for removing the skin, no bacon, etc. No bacon?! Whoever heard of such a thing?
We hop in the car to hit the local Whole Foods, but end up instead at the LA Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax. I never imagined such a place existed in LA, but apparently this place has been there for years. Just my Nor-Cal prejudice showing through, I guess. We hit a great cheese shop, a produce stand, a poultry shop, and a butcher shop for the bacon (which, despite Jacque’s best efforts to save us from ourselves, we have decided is absolutely necessary). And, as if scheduled just for Us Tourists, we even get a celebrity sighting: David Zayas, our favorite Latino detective from “Dexter” is there having dinner, sans the fedora, with his wife, kids, and the nurse from “Scrubs”, who I recognized but can’t remember her name.
Once home, with the chilled Touraine SB and some beautifully ripened Epoisses to hold us over, we set about destroying Angela’s kitchen preparing the chicken. Brown it, remove; render bacon (I always use my “Bible Joke” in this circumstance: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, render unto bacon…”), sauté onions; add chicken, fresh thyme, bay, black pepper and some fruity red wine we had deemed good for this purpose but no other; simmer, add the pearl onions glazed with olive oil, water and a little sugar that had been prepared on the side; at almost the last minute, we added the Criminis that had been sautéed with plenty of butter (the last thumbing-of-the-nose at Jacques’ low-cal suggestion); a teensy bit of cornstarch slurry to bring it all beautifully together. Now it’s out to the patio, pop the Nero (we had spaced out the decanting, opting for the SB, cheese and conversation, rather than any productive forward thinking); some soft polenta, the chicken and mushrooms and onions and the sauce and…
…and Oh Lord, was it ever good: soulful, satisfying, rich. A chicken epiphany, it was one of those rare things where the realization was as good or better than the concept. It was exactly what we wanted, tasted exactly how we had imagined, and on a clear, perfect night on Angela’s deck, our dinner could not have been any better even if it had been served by naked Victoria’s Secret models. I spent a good part of the next day and night lusting for the leftovers I knew were still in her fridge.
Ironically, the wine on which we had based this entire culinary excursion was just “not all that”. Could have been a bit more earthy and full-bodied; but at that particular dinner, on that particular night, anything would have paled in comparison to that magnificent bird in a pot.