Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sommelier Smackdown!

After a brief hiatus, Sommelier Smackdown made its triumphant return on Thursday. Ben, Joe, Ben's Special Lady Friend, and Joe's housemate met up with me at Gordon's for the event. Paul Turano and Anne Moynihan from Tryst were back as our chefs, and Brahm Callahan from Post 390 (below, right) returned as the reigning champion sommelier. His challenger was Todd Lipman from Bin 26 (below, left).
Brahm had quickly become one of our favorite contenders at these events, so we were glad to have him back. He manages to be incredibly knowledgeable about wine without coming off as a pompous ass about it. I don't like to post negative things about people here, so I won't comment on Todd's personality. Anyway... The menu was pretty awesome, as has consistently been the case with Paul Turano at the helm...
First up was a duck and cherry tart featuring house-made puff pastry. This was a nice start to the meal. For me, you can't go wrong with duck, and the tart cherries complemented it well.
Todd gave us an inexpensive Cava Brut Rosé, while Brahm hooked us up with an Oregon Pinot Noir from O'Reilly's. The carbonation on Todd's sparkling wine was extremely aggressive. It sort of attacked your palate, like it wanted you to immediately forget about the lovely duck and cherry flavors that had just been there. It paired reasonably well with bites of the arugula salad, but we all agreed that it didn't work at all with the tart. Brahm's Pinot, on the other hand, rocked. I'm a fan of Oregon Pinots, and this one was definitely my style. I hadn't heard of O'Reilly's before, but I'm glad to have found a new Oregon winery to look for in stores...
All 5 of us in my posse gave Brahm our votes in this round, and he took the course convincingly, 22-9. Next up was a seared rainbow trout with sweet corn pudding, local beans, and tomato vinaigrette. Everything here worked really well together. The corn cake was fantastic, and the beans were delicious and perfectly cooked. The vinaigrette accented the trout and beans well, too. I don't tend to be super-excited about fish other than salmon and tuna, but this was a solid dish.
Todd gave us an '09 Austrian white (specifically, a Huber Gruner Veltliner Obere Steigen), while Brahm gave us a totally fantastic '08 Italian Suav Blanc (specifically, a Schiopetto Collio Sauvignon Blanc). Both wines went well with the dish, and I totally fell in love with Brahm's Sauv Blanc, even though (sadly) Todd's wine was the better pairing with the dish.
I grudgingly gave my vote to Todd, as did the rest of my group, and he took this course 20-11. Next up was a lamb course. This isn't the first time Chef Turano has dished us up some beautiful, perfectly cooked lamb. Look how pretty it is as he slices on the monitor:
The dish was this lamb on a house-made pita with spiced yogurt, sumac onions, tomatoes, and radishes. I think I would have preferred to eat this at home, where I would have just rolled it into a wrap to eat (rather than eating it with a knife and fork like a civilized person since I was in public...). The lamb was awesome, and everything worked really well together. It's a nice fancier version of a dish I like to make pretty often.
Todd paired this with a Rioja that I really did not like at all. (Others in my group enjoyed it, some of them very much so, but it had a bit of a tobacco nose to it, which tends to be a deal-breaker for me, so it was never in contention as far as I was concerned...) Brahm got creative and gave us a lovely Gewürztraminer (specifically, a 2007 Fitz-Ritter Gewürztraminer) that perfectly played off of the creaminess of the yogurt. It was nice to see such a successful pairing of a white wine with a dish that stereotypically gets paired with reds (due to the presence of lamb).
Brahm got votes from all but one person in our group, but (tragically) lost the course to Todd 21-10. Next up was the dessert, which is a berry cobbler with orange passion fruit ice cream. I didn't care for my first bite of the ice cream (which had far too strong of a raw orange zest flavor to it), but it grew on me as I enjoyed it with the rest of the dish. The cobbler was totally fantastic. A perfect summer dessert...
Todd gave us a Muscato D'Asti here, while Brahm gave us a Sauternes. Apparently Brahm had a (nicer) Muscato in his hand initially, but switched to the Sauternes at the last minute. This turned out to be a fatal error. Muscato D'Asti is practically cheating with a dessert like this. It's what I would have reached for, and I don't even know what I'm doing... Brahm's pick was more daring, but the harsh alcohol on the nose was off-putting to a lot of people. Todd (depressingly) took votes from everyone in my group but Ben, and easily took the round (and thus the overall victory) 22-9.
So, there you have it. I thought it was another great evening, and it was a fun group of people to share it with. I wish Brahm could have pulled out the victory because I would very much prefer to have him back next month, but there will be a new challenger and I will look forward to hoping he kicks Todd's ass...

4 comments:

Stanley said...

I like how you "don't like to say anything negative" but we can all safely assume that you feel Todd is a pompous ass.

emmo said...

I guess I only feel compelled to stick to the letter of my not-saying-negative-things-about-people policy, not the spirit of it... =)

Gertler said...

You must be dating Brahm or a good friend of his because you dont like todd. Well just to let you know, i am a friend of todd's and have been to over 7 to 8 of these events, and it is not necessary to talk crap about the other competitor. It is a competition and there is always a loser and a winner. No need to be mean spirited in your blog.

Stanley said...

g@Gertler: It's good that you like Todd, although other people might find him to be a pompous ass, but all the same, what's wrong with a little trash talk in competition? If we're playing hoops and I block your shot, and then tell you, "Do not bring that week shit in here!" will you cry and tell me I'm mean? Todd can take it, kiddo. He's a grownup in a competitive public event.