This Christmas, the three LUSH managers plus our intrepid Employee of the Year[s], Kelly, all decided that in lieu of buying one another gifts, we would spend the money instead on getting together, the four of us, for a shared meal.
Choosing a time where all four of us were actually free turned out to be the trickiest part of the whole experience, because at least on my end, I just knew I wanted the dinner to take place at Han 202, on 31st Street in Bridgeport. At $20 a person for a FIVE COURSE prix fixe menu that is full of creative seafood dishes, how could anyone resist? Add to that no corkage fee, a sophisticated and comfortable interior, and it all seems like a winning combination.
So, last Sunday all of the north-side living Ladies of Lush made their way down to my neck of the woods for our dinner date, bottles in hand. Jane brought a dark orange Riesling Spatlese from the Mosel region of Germany. Rachel brought the Montinore Muller Thurgau, a star from our stores’ ten dollar white carts that is floral, fun, and low alcohol enough that we four could try several wines without getting intoxicated. I brought the 2005 Audras Julienas, a cru Beaujolais that has the classic candied cherry fruit that Gamay nearly always expresses, but on the finish shows an enticing mushroom-and-earth flavor that speaks to its terroir in a very direct manner.
The first challenge of the evening was opening the Riesling, whose dark hue beckoned from behind the stodgy German label. As many old wines corks will do, this one broke. And then it fell down the neck of the bottle, landing with a plop in our wine. But guess what, folks: it’s just grape juice. Sure, there were a few little bits to spoon out of our glasses, but this was hardly a distraction from the heady, intensely perfumed wine in the glass. Riesling has long been a good recommendation to pair with Chinese food, as it generally has a bright, firm acidity to cleanse the palate, and the interplay between a touch of sweetness and the ubiquitous soy, salty, and umami flavors in the foods balance one another handily. We all tried the spicy king crab miso soup for the first course, and the pairing was lovely, with the sweet bits of crab matching the sweet wine.
The Montinore Muller Thurgau, which has a small bit of residual sugar as well, is a staff favorite from the $10 White cart. Floral and heady, as all good Mullers should be, but with a light citrus and tangy herb note, too. I would not say this was the most versatile of the wines, because we all chose rather different fishes, and some, like Kelly’s grouper, usually need a firmer, fatter white for balancing its heft.
The final selection was the delicious 2006 Audras ‘Clos de Haute Combe’ Julienas, a wonderfully mushrooom-y and candied cherry Beaujolais that was a natural pairing with the entree courses. While it took a few moments for the wine to blow off a bit of funk and shape up, once it aerated a bit, the clear, delicate fruit and layers of earth came through wonderfully. Asian foods are not often known for their ease of pairing with red wine, and as such lighter, less tannic reds seem to be the safest bets with said cuisine. I loved it with my scallops and shrimp in a spicy chili-garlic, surprisingly, and it seemed to work just fine with the other dishes.
I think the purpose of this evening need not be obscured by too much obsession over wine pairings. None of these were mind-blowing, but that is not to say they weren’t successful. I find that agonizing over the very fine details of food pairing can sometimes get in the way of a casual get-together, which is what we were aiming for. Particularly when one is staring down the barrel of a five-course meal, it seems problematic to find something that will pair perfectly with each course, especially when the menu changes according to what is fresh and in-season, as it does at Han 202. I am quite happy with our choices, and the resultant evening was a success because it was fun. And that’s really the whole point, isn’t it?
605 W 31st St
(between Wallace St & Lake Park Ave)
Chicago, IL 60616