Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sommelier Smackdown!

The third Thursday in April brought with it the last Sommelier Smackdown before the event goes on a (hopefully brief) hiatus... and it turned out to be one of the best yet. This was due in no small part to the fact that our chefs, once again, were Paul Turano and Anne Moynihan from Tryst.
Our sommeliers were returning champion Brahm Callahan (below, left) from Post 390 and challenger Kelly Coggins (below, right) of Bistro Du Midi.
Preliminaries out of the way, lets get to the menu...
First up was a Tuna Tartare with Pickled Ginger Juice, Yuzu, and Soy on Crispy Wontons.
The flavors here were subtle, but really nice... and the tuna itself was beautiful, even if the presentation wasn't the most exciting ever. I'm not going to bother trying to type out the crazy names of most of the wines from this Smackdown, but you can read them in the pictures.
Kelly gave us a Greek wine white while Brahm hooked us up with a Pinot Gris. Kelly's wine was perfect with the subtle flavors, and the finish was brilliant with the dish, which is why he had my vote for a couple minutes... Brahm's Pinot Gris was almost too strong for the subtle flavors in the tuna, particularly given its level of residual sugar, but the body and mouth-feel were perfect with the tuna, and in the end I had to switch my vote over to Brahm, which made it unanimous between me and my fellow attendees (Joe and K). Brahm annihilated Kelly on this course, 22-5. Next up was a Salad of Ceviche-Style Flash-Poached Shrimp with Pickled JalapeƱo, Hearts of Palm, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fried Plantain.
This was totally awesome. The flavors worked together beautifully, and the balance between the tender, citrus-y shrimp, the lush, fatty avocado, and the toasty, crispy plantains was kick-ass. Kelly gave us some wine I don't know the name of (pictured below, left) and Brahm gave us a nice Italian white...
I thought Kelly's wine was way too light-bodied and overall "meh"-inducing to pair with this dish, while Brahm's wine again had the perfect mouth-feel as well as just the right flavors to highlight everything good about this dish. Kelly got Joe's vote, but K and I voted for Brahm, who ended up taking this course 16 - 11. The meat course this time was Red Wine-Braised Pork Short Ribs and Wild Boar with Spring Garlic White Corn Polenta.
This was good stuff. Really good stuff. The pork and rich sauce were brilliant, and the creamy polenta was amazing. I would totally eat this on purpose. The best part of the meat course, though, is that it means we finally get to the red wine... or do we? Kelly picked a really nice light-bodied Italian (which I'm pretty sure was mostly Sangiovese?), while Brahm decided to go out on a limb and give us a Dogfish Head Midas Touch beer.
We all loved Kelly's wine, both on its own and with the dish, but the beer was sort of genius with this... which was fairly shocking. I guess the Midas Touch is based on the world's oldest fermented beverage recipe, almost more like mead than beer. I think Brahm's pairing was only slightly better, but the audacity of pairing beer with what was so "obviously" a red wine course was impressive, as well. Kelly got K's vote because she's not so much a beer person, but Brahm got votes from me and Joe, as well as from a 15-12 majority to take this course as well. Finally, it was time for dessert. Joe and I noted last time, too, how nice it is that the chefs from Tryst include pastry chef Anne, which means we get a real dessert. This time it was a Pineapple Tart with Yuzu Cream.
The tart featured both poached and fresh pineapple, and was pretty darned awesome. Kelly hooked us up with a late-harvest white of some kind (I seriously don't have the energy to google these things from the pictures and give you anything more accurate right now...), while Brahm gave us a different late-harvest white. (Super-informative sentence there, eh?) Oh, wait. My notes say that Kelly's was a Zibiibo, which is Sicilian, and Brahm's was a Beerenauslese, which is German. I feel like less of a slacker now.
Kelly's wine was perfect for those rare bites that didn't contain pineapple, but Brahm's was ridiculously fantastic with each and every bite and complimented the pineapple perfectly. My tasting notes conclude with "LOVE." Heh. Apparently K had less pineapple in her dish, so she voted for Kelly, while Joe and I voted for Brahm (again). Brahm took the course 18-9, which gave him a clean sweep overall (not just on my ballot). This is the first time we've seen such total domination, and that's interesting since almost every course was a close call in terms of who to vote for. We've been to several where one sommelier or the other would really screw up a pairing on one course (which was probably due in part to Chef Ian trying to challenge them with his flavor profiles) but would redeem themselves on another. This time every pairing was quite good, but Brahm's were always just a bit better. I loved the beer pairing in particular because it opened my mind a bit to the possibilities of beer with this kind of dish. I'm going to have to start playing with that at home in the future. In summary: Good times. Can't wait for it to see Smackdowns back on the schedule at Gordon's...

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