We were in Ann Arbor for the first time in ages meeting with The Caller and his charming wife. It is the first time that I can think of, where driving in Ann Arbor was free and easy, as it tended to be more of a white-knuckle experience in the past. It was even easy to find a parking lot and spaces near the restaurant, and yes I had my mask in one of the interior pockets of my sport coat; I think that is why I enjoy wearing sport coats so much, because it makes it easier to carry the little things that one needs and not to have bulging pockets or a handbag. What really surprised me, was that basically everyone was walking outside in the fresh air with a mask on; my Bride and I walk every morning outside without a mask on, and that concept has been even blessed by the powers that be, but the minions must have missed the memo. As I got to the outside door I hastily put on my mask and went in to secure our table as I think all four of us were looking forward to this evening. As we were crossing the street, The Caller had honked his horn at us, so my Bride waited outside for them, while I got our table.
We had requested the French Room, which is our favorite spot in The Earle. I have to explain that the Earle in the basement of a building, so it is not we are asking for a table with a view, actually the only ambience to the room is some large wall decorations utilizing corks, and I am sure that they have a large supply of them and the several arrangements of empty, dusty vintage wine bottles that I or any wine lover would enjoy having. It seems like whenever other diners are taken to the French Room, they request a different table, I don’t know why, but it is always the case; and I know that I had showered before getting dressed for dinner. I am not sure how long The Earle has been open, but if it means anything, we own a book of matches from there and they have had The Wine Spectator Award since 1999. They offer 1,100 different wines with an inventory around 19,500 bottles including splits and magnums.
The Earle offers dishes with an emphasis on French and Italian offerings. We all started off with some orders of Roasted Garlic, crostini and with assorted sides, and the perfect way to start the conversation off on the right foot, as there was so much to catch up on. The Caller and his wife both had salads after the appetizers, while my Bride and I just get the conversation going. The two women both had repeats of one of The Earle’s top dishes, which is Coquilles St. Jacques al crème de Xeres, or Sea Scallops sautéed with mushrooms and garlic, pan-sauced with Sherry and cream with rice. The Caller went with Chicken Saltimbocca, lightly breaded chicken breasts with Prosciutto, pan-sauced with white wine, lemon and sage. The Caller made my decision a little easier, by telling me that he could handle whatever wine I wanted to order with his entrée, a true gentleman of the old school. I had to order a dish that I have missed ever since the lockdown began, as we don’t have it at home. I had the Sautéed Duck Breast, boneless and prepared medium rare, pan-sauced with Applejack Brandy, Cider, apples and brown sugar with rum plumped raisins served with a potato-turnip puree. I was a bit concerned about the dish, as I was afraid that it might be too sweet, but our waiter assured me, that it was savory instead of sweet (and he was right). Afterwards there was an order of house-made Basel Sorbet with four spoons, as you can see, we practiced social distancing.
The Earle was using the computer icons for their menus, where you hovered the camera of your phone over the icon and the menu appeared on the phone, and that worked perfectly for the menu, but it was not a good idea for the wine list, which is very extensive, and eventually they brought me a wine menu in a loose-leaf binder with each page in plastic, so that it could be wiped down, because I am such a pain-in-the-arse. I knew that as soon as I started looking at the wine list, that they were all going to gang up on me to get a bottle of the Maison Chanzy Bouzeron Clos de la Fortune Monopole 2015, but alas they did not have any more of that wine. I found a white wine that I thought would be very interesting and then the women could finish it off with their entrées. We started with Domaine Fourrey Chablis Premier Cru Cote de Lechet 2015. The Cote de Lechet Premier Cru is on the west bank and is a non-official designation, but non-the-less highly regarded and esteemed climat of Chablis Premier Cru. Domaine Fourrey is twenty-five hectares of vineyards that has been in the same family for four generations. The wine was a beautiful and crisp dry Chablis with a finish of flint in the terroir, that we all found fascinating. The second wine, was ordered as soon as the Chablis was opened and four additional wine glasses appeared for this wine after it had time to open up. We were sharing a bottle of Domaine Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 2015. Domaine Blain-Gagnard is a producer in the village of Chassagne-Montrachet and founded in the 1980’s. They cultivate eight hectares of vineyards with a mixture of young and old vines, and they produce three Grand Crus and eight Premier Crus. The Pinot Noir crops are harvested prior to the Chardonnay crops and the red grapes are destemmed and macerated for about two weeks, before they start harvesting the white. The Pinot Noir harvest and wine production accounts for twenty percent of the crops. The wine was excellent, affordable, and dare I say, without sounding totally selfish, perfect for the duck breasts. It was appreciated by all at the table, because it was what a good Pinot Noir should be. Unfortunately, the evening ended, but we already have our next date planned and it will be a special dinner, even if I do say.