Sunday, September 19, 2010

"What to Drink with What you Eat" or Becoming my own Sommelier

There are lots of things I like about living in a small college town, but the dining options are not one of them.  It seems that most restaurants in Bowling Green cater to the beer-drinking, fried-food and pizza loving undergrad, frat boy.  Not that there is any thing wrong with any of those things, especially when the pizza front is highly competitive in this town.   However, when Kent and I want to celebrate with a SERIOUS dinner, say for our 5th wedding anniversary, our choices are restricted.

Luckily for us, there is Revolver.  Revolver is 25 miles down the interstate, but worth the 50 mile drive round trip for sure.  Locally owned by Chef Michael Bulkowski, Revolver is the closest restaurant I know that takes culinary skill seriously.  You won't find anything that comes premade and frozen in a box, for instance.  What you will find is local, seasonal, freshly prepared food--from the inventive-- squash blossoms stuffed with zucchini bread --to the comfortable--a grass-fed strip steak with a big bowl of creamy, cheesy polenta.

We made our rezzy and were looking forward to dinner at Revolver all week.  When I got home after class, I found that a copy of What to Drink with What you Eat arrived in the mail.*  I was thrilled.  What to Drink with What you Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page is the 2006 prequel to The Flavor Bible, which as you know I love.  Like The Flavor Bible, What to Drink with What you Eat, is a reference book.  The first four chapters of the book introduce the concept of pairing food and wine (or other beverages). I particularly liked the how Dornenburg and Page emphasize that "enjoying good food and drink goes hand in hand with living a pleasant life." They also encourage readers to think of the beverage as the final seasoning or condiment that elevates the dish to something magical.

So, I showed up to dinner with the hardcover book under my arm, and Kent humored me.  (Although I agreed not to take pictures of each course--as it is his pet peeve--and I tried to be on my best behavior for our anniversary.)  While I don't recommend making a habit of bringing reference books to dinner, I felt okay about it for a couple of reasons.  Revolver's waitstaff is familiar with us.  Plus, even though it's the closest thing you can get to fine dining around here, it's still a small, laid-back restaurant.  I referenced WtDwWyE as I perused the menu and the wine list.  I wanted to see if the book could replace a sommelier, and it did.  Revolver does not have a sommelier on staff, although their waitstaff is generally knowledgeable about wine recommendations, and its wine list is small but serviceable.

Usually, my pairing method is brash--even after the years of wine seminars I had when I was a server working in fine dining--I stuck to the basic conventions of red wine with red meat and white wine with chicken and fish.  When I created pairings for myself, that's what I would follow.  I also knew what MY palate liked, and usually didn't deviate from it.  I was in a bit of a rut, or as Donrenburg and Page would say I've been a "comfort seeker" rather than an "adventure seeker" with my wine choices.

I've put a lot of faith in The Flavor Bible in the past, so I had no trouble giving WtDwWyE my trust.  Rather than order a large entree, I created my own tasting menu by only ordering first course dishes.  I began with the Sweet Corn Bisque topped with crispy, fried pancetta, ricotta, and drizzled with white truffle oil.  I knew the bisque would be rich and a bit sweet.  I looked up both CORN and CREAM and cross referenced.  Champagne and sparkling wine both came up--so I started with a glass of Cristalino, Brut Cava from Spain.  The Cava was dry with a yeasty, fresh bread bouquet.  This pairing worked because the soup was so rich it was like velvet, so the dryness and bubbles from the Cava refreshed the palate after every bite of soup without fighting with it.

My second course was the most difficult to pair.  I ordered the Pickled Cow's Tongue served with a soft boiled egg, arugula, and roasted beets.  In the past, I would have rashly ordered a softer, lighter red to go with it, but I was worried about pairing a red wine with egg.  When I cross referenced EGGS and BEETS, I found a Riesling would work with both.  I was convinced because in hierarchy of references (determined by bold fonts and capital letters, under beets the listing said, "RIESLING, ESP. GERMAN, ESP. WITH ROASTED BEETS."  Normally, I would not have ordered a reisling because I feel they can be too sweet.  The Loosen Bros., "Dr. L." Riesling from Mosel, Germany was no exception.  Alone, I would have regretted this choice, but with the roasted beets, it truly was dynamic.  The sweetness in the beets and the sweetness in the wine seemed to mingle to create a richer, and earthier taste in the beets.  The rich custard of the soft boiled egg yolk further helped the synergy.  I was shocked at what a surprising and delightful combination this was.  The beef tongue, which is rich and succulent, didn't suffer at all from being made to consort with a white wine.

My third and final course, was a Housemade Duck Sausage with a Buttermilk Biscuit, Cinnamon Poached Pears, and Milk Foam.  By now, getting a bit tipsy, I had less finesse. I only looked up DUCK, saw PINOT NOIR, and went for it.  The Rascal Pinot from Willamette Valley, Oregon, was amazing.  After my first sip, I was enchanted by the flavor of vanilla and maple syrup.  This also turned out to be a perfect pairing because the duck sausage and biscuit was incredible reminiscent of breakfast, so the hints of maple in the wine made me very happy.

Kent and I went on a wine tasting tour of Sonoma on our honeymoon, and brought back a case of wine, one bottle to open for every anniversary up to our twelve.  For our fifth anniversary, we had squirreled away a bottle of 2003 Seghesio Aglianico from Alexander Valley, California.  Because liquor laws in Ohio do not allow outside liquor on premise, we decided to pop the Aglianico the next night.  This time instead of looking up food and finding wine to match, I looked up wine first. Aglianico is a full-bodied wine.  This particular vintage was rich in tobacco notes.  At the end of the listing, it read: "TIP: Aglianico goes perfectly with a spicy sausage pizza."  So we ordered in from the best pizza place, Myles Pizza Pub, in Bowling Green.  Kent was more impressed with the pairing than I was, but after trying the combination, it made sense pair a robust wine with fatty, spicy pie.  They were equally matched.

I highly recommend What to Drink with What you Eat because it offers a pragmatic, yet non pretentious approach to wine pairings.  Even though it's sophisticated, it's never snobby.  In fact, it even recommends pairings for Doritos and Big Macs just in case you're interested.

 *Full Disclosure: I received What to Drink with What you Eat as a free review copy.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Wow, thanks for this! I put the book on hold at the library.