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23 December, 2008

Jujube’s Recession Wine Dinners

Posted in : Dining in Chapel Hill - NC, Restaurants on by : The Gourmez

Jujube, which is a fabulous restaurant usually specializing in Asian-inspired small plates and entrees, has had a few prix fixe meals dubbed “Recession Dinners” this fall. These wine dinners have been done in partnership with the Hope Valley Bottle Shop in the Woodcroft Shopping Center and offer affordable wines ($10-25 per bottle) paired with the Nouveau American offerings of the chef, still with an Asian flair. Mr. Gourmez and I have managed to make it to both dinners offered in December with the accompaniment of some foodie friends.

Recession Dinner III: The first evening offered a more typical wine list, progressing from white to port by dessert. We began with a glass of Las Brisas Rueda 2007 from Spain, which provided a little bit of heat. The warm salad of calamari and asian pear with pumpkin-citrus coulis was excellent when all the elements were eaten together. By itself, the calamari was a bit dull.

A soup course was served next, steamed mahi-mahi with lemon-scallion nage. The fish was fantastic; I’m unsure if it was braised, poached or steamed before adding it to the broth but it was perfectly done regardless of the method. The dish would have been better served in a deeper bowl than the inch-thick one it came in, which made it rather difficult to lap up the delicious broth. The wine,Terra Andina Chardonnay 2007 from Chile, had a lot of pepper in the nose but was so packed with flavor that it overwhelmed the delicate dish.

The first entree was grilled fennel sausage with white bean and kale ragout. The fennel definitely stood out in this dish and the sausage would be great to serve as a patty. The white beans were pretty good, almost convincing me to eat more than the two that slipped onto my fork. It went well with the wine, Avignonesi Rosso 2005 from Italy,that would have been somewhat flat in flavor on its own. The nose was much more exciting than the wine itself with vanilla and cloved orange scents.

The Torremoron Ribera del Duero 2006 from Spain is a dense, balanced, slightly sweet wine with spice and dark plum notes. I have to remember to pick up a bottle next time I’m wine shopping! It was paired with hoisin-braised beef and carrot pudding. The hoisin sauce was the best I’ve had and did wonders to make me enjoy the roast-like beef, a style of meat I haven’t savored since having my grandmother cook it on far too many Sunday afternoons.

For dessert, we had honey-walnut cake with jujube preserves and a glass of Portugal’s Presidential Tawny Port NV. I finished the cake easily, though it was quite dry and the jujube preserves were playing hide and seek with my palate.

The stand-out dish was definitely the steamed mahi-mahi and the Torremoron wine will make its way on my grocery list soon. Overall, the evening’s menu was tasty and satisfying, though a few offerings did not impress.

Recession Dinner IV: The second night focused on sparkling wines, which I thought would be fun since Mr. Gourmez loves his bubblies. We started with simple Chinese salt and pepper prawns, served with scallion puree. The prawn meat was succulent and the batter a great, thick choice that would only have benefited from a bit more pepper. The accompanying elegant wine, Banear Prosecco NV of Italy, was, as the sommelier described, cider-like, low fizz, and had a bit of lime.

The second course was calamari stuffed with pork, shrimp, and mushrooms and served with a grapefruit beurre blanc sauce. Intriguingly, the calamari was used like a wonton wrapper making for a unique presentation. The grapefruit sauce was divine but I’m not sure that it added to the pot-sticker; I would love to try it on other dishes. The Segura Viudas “Aria” Cava from Spain smelled of marshmallows and tasted of lemon and cream.

Next up was the St. Hillaire Blanquette de Limoux 2004 from France, which was moderately dry with a strong citrus foretaste that ended in a clean finish as described by one of our companions. The presentation of the pork belly with vanilla-pear coulis was fun with gorgeous spirals of vanilla drizzled over the sauce. I maintain that the dish would have been much more tied together with some sage and we all agreed that the coulis was better suited to a dessert.

The star of the evening for most was the grilled lamb with dijon mashed potatoes and walnut spinach. As I just can’t bring myself to eat meat that is still pink and bloody, I only ate around the edges of the lamb. It tasted like a nice steak, which is an improvement on normal lamb for me—I’m not a big fan of the meat. The potatoes were great as the dijon gave a nice punch of flavor and the garlicky spinach was delightful. The Marquis de la Tour Rose from France had a strong raspberry nose and tasted like a raspberry spritzer with a bit of a dry finish.

Last but never least was the flourless chocolate cake with sour cherry compote, described by the sommelier as a deconstructed cherry cordial. For some, the sour cherries were a bit too much to take but I thought they countered the sweetness of the cake well. It matched perfectly with the Sant Evasio Brachetto d’Acqui 2007 from Italy, a red sparkling wine. The smell of grape skins greeted me on first sip and the taste of grapes was prevalent. It was nearly as sweet as ice wine but not cloyingly so.

Many of the pairings were great and ending the evening on the cake and Sant Evasio wine was a wise choice as I’m definitely craving more as I type. Jujube’s wine dinners do not disappoint!

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