Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Ultimate Wine Dinner (Til Next Time)

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (and L) have both noted that "The truffle is not exactly an aphrodisiac, but it tends to make women more tender and men more likeable" and so when when T (our gracious host) showed me the truffles that C (who can be counted on for all important matters) had managed to procure, I knew that we were in for a truly memorable (as well, apparently, as tender and friendly) night.

We ‘paired’ this truffle viewing (and sniffing) with our pre-dinner cocktails. Having invested considerable effort this summer in investigating vintage gin cocktails, it was decided that this was a perfect opportunity to put this knowledge to use. L roped in a couple of others to whip up the best Gin Gin Mules that I have had (though they might not have been totally necessary given the bounty that was to come). I drank my Gin Gin Mule, nibbled on cucumbers (K often uses these as an appetizer, just with a little lime and salt and they're quite addictive), nuts and olives. It was also a nice time to meet the guests I didn’t know (but who all, luckily, turned out to be nice/interesting people (I even managed to wow G (who works with T) with my brother's Tea with Harold McGee. It's so fun to find new people who love food).

After cocktails we sat down at the table where the first course was served: Soft-boiled Eggs with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Caviar.

L (our sommelier as well as bar-tender) had chosen champagne to go with the egg. I probably should have asked why he chose this particular champagne: Dom Perignon 1990

But after one sip, I figured why bother - all I needed to know was that it was a brilliant pairing. We ate the eggs by dipping the asparagus into the egg and then into the caviar (a new way of salting food if one tires of soy sauce, fish sauce or even real salt – and happens to have a bit of caviar lying around). The other option was the salt from the ham that some of the asparagus spears were wrapped with. I had never had this dish (or even a similar dish before (obviously, I’ve had the parts individually)), but quite liked the idea. I think I liked it best when I had the yolk with both the ham and the caviar – but then I do like a bit more salt than the normal person. The champagne was a very dry champagne with a very pleasant taste that I can only (very badly) describe as nutty (walnut, not hazelnut – that’s probably not really it, but I can’t figure out a better description). But, just to emphasize that it was delicious, I will admit that I had a second glass, because I love champagne, and it was so very good.

For our next course, we went for the purity of white accompanied by the perfect red: a risotto with shaved white truffles. I will say that it truly is one of nature’s perfect dishes and this version did not disappoint (I’ve had this dish once before, at French Laundry - it was pretty good there too).

L had paired it (after what was apparently considerable conversation involving some prominent writers of food magazines, wine experts, etc. (this attention to detail is one of the reasons that I trust him implicitly with my tastebuds - an honor that I do not bestow lightly)) with a Barolo: Vigna del Dardi 1996 Barolo, from Monforte D'alba.

Of course, the obvious choice would have been a Bordeaux, but L tends to shy away from the obvious ("Consistency is the last resort of the unimaginative." Oscar Wilde) and so he went for something a little different. I thought it worked very well with the risotto, a nice balance between the salt (maybe only mine - I, of course, required a little bit of extra salt on mine, but that dash took this dish from merely great to absolutely sublime) and earth (the truffle) with the wine; I think he wasn’t 100% sold on it, but I figure that just means that he’ll try something new next time and I’m quite looking forward to that.

As we moved on the main course, I was quite excited. I had heard a decent amount of pre-talk about both the wine (C and L had graciously tried a bottle a few days before to ensure that they weren’t forcing us to suffer something horrible (I thought this was very generous of them to undergo such a trial for us)) and the steak (from Lobel's). K and T were clearly thinking of my ultimate happiness when they decided on Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce, Roasted Potatoes and Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallots, Pancetta and Balsamic Glaze. L had been very concerned about letting the wine open without having it go too far and he managed the timing of it quite well. The perfectly decanted Leoville Lescases 1983 was indeed blissful.

And it also did what absolutely nothing else could have done, it did justice to the steak. When I was initially served I looked down at my plate and was concerned – there was no way that this could taste as good as it looked.

And yet, I believe this was the best steak I have ever eaten. This was truly a perfect course(because we can't ignore the rest of the plate - the baby Brussels sprouts (I did not realize there were so many acceptable spellings for this delicacy) - were like candy. I could eat these every day - and imagine the impact of that on my health and happiness). I think it even tops that bite of I’s steak at Michael Mina’s place in Vegas. It was just perfect. It was so perfect, I had to take another picture to show the inside, to let everyone see good it was – otherwise, I knew that people wouldn’t believe me (please excuse the messy plate, that was me trying to get every last drop of flavor, not the way it was presented).

Truly an amazing course and evidence that if what Woody Allen (in Annie Hall) says is true ("Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college."), that you'll be happier if you just ignore reality and listen to your parents.

And (almost) finally, what meal is complete without the dessert. T and K again were clearly thinking primarily of me - they went with pure chocolate pleasure, in the form of Chocohotpots with Crème Fraiche and Raspberries. Each bite was so amazing that I even tried to take pictures of a spoonful (a new low in my photographic career - and a depressing moment when I realized that I would not be able to re-experience each bite through the photos).

And for the first time ever, I had the luxury of squeezing my own topping tableside (K was ensuring that both the dessert would be perfectly served and I would be further entertained).

L had paired this with a dessert wine that I had been quite looking forward to: Chateau d'Yquem 1989 Sauternes, and which did not disappoint. I took a million pictures of the bottle and the glass, trying to capture how good it was.

From the outside, it just looks like any other deep yellow wine, but the taste is magic. It was an amazing luxury to enjoy that wine, to taste the fruit and sugar and not be overwhelmed, and to have it stand up to the sweetness of the dessert. It was a marvelous pairing (see how good they look together).

But, wait, there’s more. While it didn’t seem like we needed any more to eat or drink, there was still more. And having never tried Madeira, I was excited to have my opportunity to be one of those enjoying its resurgence. For our after dinner drink (paired with cheese and nuts), L had selected Marlvazia 1907 Madiera, which was, I can only assume, one of the better introductions that I could have had to the drink (I know that I certainly enjoyed this as a way to end the meal).

And, of course, the presentation and the ceremony were all as they should be (though my photography skill (such as it is) didn't necessarily capture it.

MFK Fisher pointed out that, "... gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home." I now have evidence that 10 people in a good home may also attain it. Thanks to everyone who made this such a fabulous night!

(And my apologies for the delay in posting!)


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