A Blast From the Past at Café Boulud

Since Restaurant Daniel does not serve lunch, I was quick to accept the invitation of the great one, Chef Daniel Boulud, to cook lunch for me and some friends at his old haunt now christened Café Boulud on East 76th Street at Madison. Chef Andrew Carmellini, along with the café's top-notch sommelier, Olivier Flosse, did their jobs in an impeccable manner. The food was sublime, with an incredible stuffed suckling pig, the greatest clam chowder I have ever tasted, and remarkable zucchini blossoms stuffed with jumbo Maryland crab. The homemade spaghetti would have put to shame that served by most Italian restaurants. The four main courses — loin of tuna wrapped in bacon, baby lamb cooked five ways, pigeon stuffed with foie gras, and the infamous, surreal braised short ribs — made for an extravagant/decadent/hedonistic/sublime four and a half hour lunch.

As for the wines, the youthfulness of great dry white Bordeaux is amazing. The 1989 Haut Brion Blanc has the texture of a phenomenal Montrachet, yet tastes as if it were 5-6 years old. The 1985 Laville Haut Brion Blanc came across as much more tropical, exotic, and fruity, almost New World-ish. The 1971 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc was extraordinarily young. As one guest asked, "why don't they make the reds this way?" It was incredibly fresh and lively, with good acidity, great minerality, and another twenty years of life ahead of it ... amazing!

The first flight of reds was stunning except for a dried out, austere 1976 Ausone. Or was that wine simply blown away by the greatness of the 1982 Lafleur and 1982 and 1975 l'Evangile? All three of the Pomerols were singing. The Lafleur revealed a Rayas-like kirsch liqueur intensity, and the opulent, concentrated, rich l'Evangile more earthy, barnyard-like notions. Not surprisingly, the most concentrated of this quartet was the 1975 l'Evangile, an amazing wine - mature yet vibrant.

The interesting fact about the next flight was just how Pauillac-like the 1970 Mayacamas from magnum showed. All of these wines had been decanted several hours in advance, but between the late sixties and mid-seventies, Mayacamas produced some of the most remarkable wines in California, all of them still intact with decades of life remaining. One wonders what in the world has happened since? It held its own against pristine bottles of the still young, vibrant, full-bodied 1970 Latour, the 1966 Latour (just approaching full maturity), and a Médoc-tasting 1966 Lafleur. We also had one of the greatest bottles of 1959 Latour I have ever tasted. This wine rarely competes with the 1961, but this particular bottle (a pristinely stored magnum from the cellars of the famed "Wine Ho", Steve Verlin (one of the owners of Veritas restaurant), was in remarkable condition. The classic black currant, mineral, English walnut, and spice box-scented nose was followed by voluptuous, full-bodied flavors oozing with fruit, glycerin, and sweet tannin.

The fourth flight included a so-so bottle of 1970 Lafleur, a wine that can be great, but more often than not is disappointing. The fully mature 1970 Pétrus exhibited gorgeous notes of caramel, sweet mulberry, black cherry, and currant fruit, and incredible opulence. But, believe it or not, the 1970 Pétrus was overshadowed by the spectacular 1948 Vieux Château Certan. As I have said many times, in 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1950, Vieux Château Certan made four of the greatest wines Bordeaux has ever witnessed. This bottle came from a cold Belgian cellar, with the original cork. Spectacularly dense and concentrated, it has at least 15-20 more years of life ahead of it. I have had a perfect bottle of 1947 l'Evangile twice in my life, and another bottle that merited a score in the high nineties. However, this bottle was tired and fading.

The last flight of Bordeaux included a decrepit bottle of 1900 Lafite Rothschild, a fading but still drinkable bottle of 1900 Château Margaux (original corks on both wines), and an awesome, out-of-this-world 1926 Haut Brion. The latter wine represented the concentrated essence of that terroir, exhibiting stunning aromatics of melted asphalt, scorched earth, tobacco, graphite, and black fruits. Wouldn't I like to have a case or two of that in the cellar!

The last group of wines included blockbuster Rhônes. The big disappointment was the off bottle of 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle. It wasn't corked, but very evolved and revealing characteristics of heat damage. There was no problem with the pristine bottles of 1985 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne and the debut vintage of that single vineyard offering, the 1978 Côte Rôtie La Landonne. Neither revealed any amber in their dense purple colors. They both were spectacular, offering stunning notes of truffles, earth, blackberries, incense, roasted herbs, meat, and hints of tapenade. The 1985 was sweeter and more supple, and the 1978 was burly and masculine with extraordinary levels of concentration and complexity. The tasting ended with a magnificent array of Châteauneuf du Papes, including the perfect, other-worldly 1998 Pégaü Cuvée Capo, and André Brunel's 1998 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire.

Everything about this luncheon was spectacular. I can't praise enough the cooking of Daniel Boulud and his chef at Café Boulud, Andrew Carmellini. Moreover, sommelier Olivier Flosse decanted every wine several hours in advance, which only added to the excitement of the event. Thus far in 2002, this stands out as the meal and wine event of the year ... but I still have five and a half months left.

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