Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sometimes It Is All About the Wine (Etats Unis)

Tonight I went for Sunday night dinner with my friends C&L. Now before we even get started, I want to point out that I’m not just friends with C&L because they have great taste in food and wine and are able to appreciate my preference for spending hours just eating and drinking (and talking about the food and the wine) – but it certainly helps (In fact, tonight, when I casually mentioned my personal defining food/wine pairing moment (the first time at which I actually experienced a wine pairing taking a food to a whole new dimension), L actually knew not only which night I meant, but which wine I meant – these are friends worth keeping (and, incidentally, they’re pretty decent conversationalists on other topics as well)).

Tonight we went to Etats Unis, a restaurant that is great for two reasons: 1. One can truly count on it for good food, 2. It’s pretty local. The problem is that with a reasonably high level of food expectation, one needs something to push it to the next level in order to have something interesting to write about. This means that while I knew that I’d have a great meal, I wasn’t sure what I’d write about (I’ve already done one post about Etats Unis and as great as the Date Pudding is, I’ve already made that clear in an earlier post (and if you missed that, the key point is – the Date Pudding is one of the best desserts ever, anywhere, go have it!)).

But luckily L knows just a bit about wine and so tonight was focused on the pairing. After an eternity (otherwise known as the normal amount of time I need to make a menu decision) looking over the menu, we all decided to start with the homemade gnocchi and have the braised short ribs as an entrée. L then got down to serious business with the list.

He selected the 2002 Domaine Gevrey Chambertin as the wine for the gnocchi. The wine was poured. The course was served. I tried a bite of the gnocchi (Homemade Gnocchi with Mushrooms Served with fresh Parmesan and White Truffle Oil). The gnocchi itself was rather large (the size of a silver dollar) and so soft that it melted in the mouth. The mushrooms, parmesan and truffle gave it a rich, but earthy flavor. And the wine matched it. I didn’t even know how to explain it until L did; the wine reached the same point of flavor that the dish did, neither was stronger or weaker, they both lasted in your mouth. The dish was a tiny bit sweeter than the wine, which allowed the wine to balance it without copying it. I forced myself to slowly concentrate on each bite, tasting the flavors, but also appreciating the synergy (and, enjoying the multitude of textures). It’s one of those experiences you hate to see end – but it must or eventually it would stop being quite so exciting.

We had initially looked at a Spanish wine for the short ribs (Luscious Short Ribs Braised All Afternoon with Onions, Carrots, Poblano Peppers, etc. and served with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes (2 things: 1. I think that Etats Unis has the word ‘Luscious’ stuck on the printer in the second to last Entrée spot, but I’m okay with that as I’ve had good luck choosing it recently, 2. That description is just my best memory of what the dish was actually called)). Mid-way through the first course we decided that we really liked the wine and that we thought that it was strong enough to stand up to the short ribs. And so rather than switch, we got a second bottle. While it did not create the same sort of taste epiphany that the first course had done, it was in fact a brilliant pairing. The biggest problem was just that the entrée serving was too big. I hate not being able to finish my plate, but am determined to be better about stopping when full (or full for all but dessert) and so I did tonight.

As you may have guessed, when they came to enquire about dessert, we chose the Date Pudding (too full to have multiple, we nevertheless needed something sweet – and were in total agreement that it be that). It arrived looking like a picture. It was a symphony of browns (not normally my favorite color, though it is definitely growing on me – this was perfect, the cake, the sauce and a beautiful pile of cream). It’s even enough for three to share (there was some extra, and I really just couldn’t have eaten any more).

As a stand-alone dish, the Date Pudding wins (always). I don’t even know if I like Date Pudding as an dish, but I would brave extraordinary odds for the Etats Unis version. It is truly extraordinary. As a pairing, the Domaine Gevrey Chambertin with the Gnocchi was inspired. I love the feeling of going back and forth from the dish to the wine, eking out the last taste benefit from each. Allowing each to pull more from the other.

I hope only that this is not the end to a fabulous food week (which last week was), but rather the introduction to an amazing culinary journey (stay tuned for Saturday’s wine dinner).


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