Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wine Parings (yes, I meant parings)

I'm a restaurant server's worst nightmare. Over the years I've had to eliminate so many foods from my diet that my doctor jokes I'll end up dying of starvation. If anyone's interested in knowing about all the things I can't eat, and why, I'll be happy to share some time. But for now, I want to tell you about Tuesday night.

Every year a friend invites me to a fundraising dinner at an iconic jazz club. This is the friend who, a long time ago, taught me to enjoy good red wine. This year it seemed particularly appropriate to attend because instead of the usual upscale buffet, the event would pair five Italian wines with small plates. But when I heard that, I groaned. Not only am I not particularly fond of Italian wines, which always taste somewhat tart and tannin-heavy to me, but I couldn't imagine many of those small plates would hold dishes I'd be able to eat. "I'll be sure not to arrive hungry," I said.

Because of a mix-up in scheduling, we were the first to arrive. While waiting for the event to get underway, we ordered from the bar: a beer for him and a glass of Argentinian malbec for me. Forty-five minutes later, the first course was served: chicken liver pate along with red peppers, the latter dressed in chocolate balsamic vinegar. It was paired with a dry sparkling white. The pate wasn't something I could eat, and I don't care much for champagne. I would have liked to have tasted the chocolate balsamic, but peppers are a no-no. So I gently moved plate and glass to the left, toward my companion.

The next course paired a chardonnay with a sparse selection of vegetables: a couple of slivers of celery, half of a small potato, more red peppers, two very small button mushrooms, and half-inch chunks of something pink. Lots of white space on the small plate. I asked the server to ID the pink chunks, and she said they were pickled garlic. The four of us at our table were amazed. "This doesn't taste anything like garlic," I said. The others agreed. "The texture doesn't even seem like garlic," one of us said. The rest agreed. We also agreed it was very good. Then someone remembered the emcee mentioning radishes. Aha! Suddenly the pink chunks tasted exactly like pickled radishes, which is what they turned out to be.

The potato half and the peppers were moved to my friend's plate, and the chardonnay followed. I did enjoy the two celery slivers, two embryonic mushrooms, and spoonful of radish chunks while they lasted (about 90 seconds).

All the wines, by the way, were in the $60 to $85 range. The next course featured a 15-year-old red, paired with veal cheeks. Veal cheeks? Looking around at the other tables, it was apparent no one else was on PETA's mailing list. I refuse to support the cruel veal industry. And the aged wine with an orangey cast tasted to me as though someone had squeezed a lemon into the bottle. Both were moved to the left.

An amarone, the star of the evening, appeared in the next course, along with two small raviolis made with chestnut flour and covered with a thick mushroom sauce. I actually ate these, and they were delicious. I tried to avoid the sauce, but managed to eat most of the mushrooms. As for the amarone, it was pretty good. But with an alcohol content of 16%, and considering that I was the designated driver with very little food in my stomach, it was quickly shifted to my left.

The last pairing was dessert: zabaglione topped with raspberries and melon, served with a rock-hard biscotti and paired with a sweet, syrupy wine the color of dark apricots. The wine was delicious, but remembering the alcohol content of sherry and port, I inched it over to my left. We were encouraged to dip the biscotti into the wine, which probably would have made it chewable, but that too, made the clockwise trip. So did the zabaglione.

Before it left, I plucked my dessert—the fruit—off the top. I noticed that while everyone else's custard was accompanied by four or five raspberries, I was given only two. A little passive-aggression, perhaps? Like I said, I'm a server's worst nightmare.