Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lunch with Merry Edwards

Although my work schedule does not often allow for it, I am nonetheless frequently invited to lunch with wine makers who are in Austin as part of their 'Texas Tour'.

These lunches are held by the distributors who hope to sell (more) wine, of course, but often it's just a way for the wine maker to meet and even thank the people who are already buying their wines. Such was the case for the lunch with Merry Edwards and her husband Ken at The Mansion on Judge's Hill restaurant yesterday, and it was surprisingly good.

Of course, the surprise had nothing to do with Merry, who is a wonderfully intelligent, warm and humorous woman with a ready smile. I first met her, thanks to Steve, several years ago when she came to H______ for a wine dinner, which featured many of the wonderful pinot noirs for which she is so justifiably well known.

Interestingly, even though she's been to H______ and I've had her wine on the list for years, I had no idea just how well known she is until this visit. After hearing the story of her professional career, I realized that she is indeed one of California's premier wine makers; an artisan of the highest order. Though I certainly gained more respect as I learned of how she had been able to become one of the first women to break into the field, I already knew from her wine itself that she is a great talent. Having already met her I knew, of course, that she is a delightfully warm individual as well, and for that reason, I was most pleased to see her again.

Actually, what was most surprising about the event was the quality of the meal. In fact, at most of these affairs, the food is dreadfully dull if not downright poor. Even when they represent the best effort of the chef--which they often do not, the task of preparing the meal is relegated instead to the lowest order of the kitchen, and as a result, the food served at these wine lunches is rarely even edible, let alone attractive and inviting. And yet, I know there are pleasant surprises that may be afforded to those who step out occasionally, so I took the chance and fortunately, was not disappointed.

We started with a crab cake, served with a warm purple cabbage slaw and a bit of creme sauce to soften it up. The cake itself was unremarkable, but crumbly and when taken as part of the whole set on the plate, it was actually quite good. The soft sweetness of the cabbage played off nicely against the crunchy texture of the outside of the cake and yet the flavor of the crab still came though. Too much slaw I thought, but I just left most of it while devouring the delicate little crab cake.

Next up was a grilled quail served with a wedge of dense potato cake and fresh sauteed haricots verts. The quail looked a little anemic but had a wonderful flavor because it was not overcooked nor over seasoned. The bit of sweet sauce drizzled on it and around the edge of the plate was sufficient to give it some complimentary fruit flavor without getting heavy or cloying. The potato cake was indeed quite dense, but buttery, and perfectly cooked to satisfy the tooth with a firm texture. The beans too were perfectly cooked, and the best proof of that is the fact that I ate them all, something quite rare for me. But they were very tasty; with a bit of butter and the perfect snap to keep me pegging them till they were all gone. I wrestled the last bit of meat off the tiny bird bones and piled them up to the side, leaving a clean plate in a restaurant for the first time in a long time.

Dessert was a bit overpowering but good nonetheless. A massive cube of chocolate cake was drizzled with a blackcurrant syrup and topped with a canelle of black pepper ice cream. The combination was quite nice, even if we had to wait for it while Merry had us taste more pinot noir.

And taste pinot noir we certainly did. I think we must have had eight of them, plus Merry's wonderful sauvignon blanc, which won a number of prestigious awards this year, apparently. I wouldn't know, of course, as I don't really read the trade mags with any interest because my focus is on H_____' food, not industry fashion. Now if, perchance, I have chosen a wine that I like and it happens to be chic, well, so much the better. And, it turns out, Merry Edwards is very chic these days, so don't I feel like the Queen?

No, it is Merry who is known as the 'Queen of Pinot Nior' in her home state, and I was happy to be allowed to attend her traveling court this week. If you've never had one of her wines, I obviously recommend them to you now. They are a bit expensive, but this is because of their quality and rareness, not a marketing campaign or Parker points, though those points may now make her wine even harder to find and more expensive.

I can also recommend the restaurant at the Mansion, as they more than acquitted themselves in the service of Merry's fabulous creations.

1 comment:

valgal said...

burp - it was indeed some afternoon delights ;)