Friday, February 19, 2010

Sommelier Smackdown!

Last night was the third Thursday in February, which meant a posse of us headed over to Gordon's for another Sommelier Smackdown. Ian Grossman and Adam Ostrofsky from Sel de la Terre were cooking for us again, this time with a bit of a French Bistro theme. (That's Ian on the right tossing some gnocchi for a vegetarian option while Adams whisks the polenta for our meat course.)
Our sommeliers were returning champion Michael Meagher (thoughtfully taking a bite below on the left) and Brian Wang from Sel de la Terre (the other guy with a plate below).Rules are the same as the first time we went, and won't be repeated... so let's get straight to the menu.
First up was a seriously awesome salad course of Marinated Farro with Roasted Beets, Haricots Verts, and French Vinaigrette. I'd never really had farro before (it always struck me as food for hippies...), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The beets were great (except for that damn, unavoidable hot pink color), and R and I both loved the vinaigrette. After playing a round of Name that Fat, we gave up an asked... only to find out that the lovely creaminess in the vinaigrette was coming from egg (along with dijon, shallots, oil, and whatnot). Awesome. As far as courses that don't contain meat go, I would say this was pretty great.
The wine pairings, on the other hand, sort of sucked for this one. Brian gave us a German Riesling (I took pictures this time to save myself the epic amounts of writing and googling involved in some of these names...), while Michael gave us a Mica 2008 Vinho Verde. Michael took a narrow victory on this one (R and I had run out to stake our claim to some awesome wines in the store before the scores were announced, so I didn't record the exact numbers this time...), largely (I assume) because his wine tasted better on its own... but neither did anything for the dish, which was sort of disappointing.
Next up was a Chilled Bouillabaisse Salad with Toasted Baguette. There was a saffron mayo binding the salad and an herbal element that I couldn't quite put my finger on, but it was really a nice, balanced, subtle dish that I enjoyed quite a bit.
The wine pairings were more successful this time... or, at least one of them was. Brian gave us a white Burgandy that neither R or I cared for on its own, but that was absolutely perfect with the salad. A sip following a bite of salad amplified that herbal quality and really made it sing. Good stuff. Michael gave us the same Rhône rose that Kate served us last month... We all loved it then, but it was a pretty bad pairing with the salad this time around, and Brian took this course by a wide margin.
The third course was Grilled Flatbread with Porchetta, Apples, Caramelized Onions, and Gruyere. We were hoping this one might finally get us to a red wine, but alas... it was not meant to be. The flatbread was nice overall, especially the charred bits at the edges, but I found that it was actually more enjoyable during bites that didn't include the apple. Nothing mind-blowingly-awesome going on here, but tasty nonetheless.
This time it was Michael who came through for us with a great pairing. Brian served us crisp, tart Chenin Blanc, which I thought was decent on its own, but not particularly well-paired with the flatbread. Michael came through with an absolutely fantastic Alsatian Riesling. I tend to range between indifferent to and opposed to Rieslings in general, but this one opened my eyes to what a Riesling really can be. It was a big, lush, full-bodied Riesling that complimented the flatbread beautifully. Michael annihilated Brian in this course, to take the lead 2 courses to 1.
The final course was Braised Pork Belly (mmm....) with Goat Cheese Polenta. In theory there were going to be some poached apricots involved, but they were inadvertently left behind at the restaurant, so this is what we got. I honestly can't complain. The pork belly was braised in a rich braising liquid that had been used previously to braise short ribs. So. Good. It was extremely rich (as pork belly tends to be), but this time there was at least a nice heap of flavorful polenta to help cut through some of that fat and make it easier to finish (although R, still mentally recovering from our last pork belly experience, needed some help from Joe to finish hers...).
This course finally brought us some read wines. The sommeliers exceeded their 4 minute limit trying to find the perfect pairing, and thus were locked out until it was determined that we wanted their wines more than anyone cared about "rules."
Brian brought us what turned out to be the favorite wine of the night for several of us, a Mas de la Garrigue blend of Grenache, Carignan, and a bit of Syrah from the South of France. Aside from the fact that it was big, bold, and awesome (I love me some Grenache... which probably helped), it is also less than $12 per bottle, which is a very good thing. Michael chose a pretty darned nice Nebbiolo, and actually took this course to win the night (so we'll be seeing him again next month), but my preference for fuller bodied wine gave Brian my vote on this course.
A bonus was that the Smackdown was close enough to Adam's birthday that the events coordinator from Gordon's was awesome enough to bake cupcakes with whipped cream frosting for everyone...
As R and I discussed during the event, these Smackdowns are just intrinsically fun. Ian does a fantastic job running the show and keeping everyone entertained if anything goes awry, which makes it a great experience even when, like last night, there a a couple more misses than usual to go along with the hits... Already looking forward to next month.


Micahoe said...

Ahhh... a Mica 2008 Vinho Verde. That was a decent year for Mica, but I would argue that 2009 was even better. Mica just gets better with age and I believe that this years version will blow people's minds.

emmo said...

Disappointing that they spelled your name wrong on the bottle... =)