“So how was it?”
“Oh it was so good. You know how you are always talking about clean food? Well that was exactly what it was. Just fresh, simply but wonderfully prepared food without a bunch of crap on my plate. We ordered the Bailly Sancerre and went through 3 bottles effortlessly”
Randy and I having a conversation about a dinner he had at a very dear friend’s restaurant. We had all been several times before, likely would have been more had either of us lived close enough, it’s in Silverlake and that is a bit of a jaunt from Long Beach. But it is a remarkably beautiful spot, super-hip on the inside but it is the patio that makes me swoon. Pillows, over-stuffed and in varying shades, sizes and patterns strewn upon the high backed banquettes that rest upon the slightly elevated, almost tropical bungalow feeling terraced tables, the comfy cushioned wicker chairs and white cloth covered tables that sit dwarfed by a massive planter, home to one of the coolest trees with outstretched branches I’ve ever seen growing right out of the center of the patio. Twinkle lights stretched beneath the panels of fabric woven into a partial grid above, making you feel as if you are dining in the swankiest but most comfortable tree house imaginable. It’s gorgeous and welcoming unlike any patio I know. The restaurant, Cliff’s Edge has gone through what many do, which is dealing with multiple chefs and trying to find their way, and even though I always thought the food was great to fine, it sounds as if the chef in place now is hitting new strides and according to the press they’ve been getting lately, getting a seat on that there patio, well it might be even harder than it was before. Add to that their newly installed $1.00 oyster Thursday nights, and this “clean food” stuff and well, going to be heading up to that oasis a lot more often.
Clean food, this is something I tend to rant about, maybe a bit too much. I mean I did almost come to blows with the caterer for my wedding reception when he kept insisting on putting fucking fruit salsa on the salmon I ordered, “People will expect it” he argued, “How’s about putting it on the side and giving them the option ya asshat? No means no!” I responded through clinched teeth, my now husband wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into. Fruit on my meat is something that bothers me, immensely. Keep your cherry port wine reduction, your l’orange, raspberry chipotle coulis, apple slaw and whatever-the-fuck fruit chutneys, relishes and salsas away from my protein dag-nab-it. Oh and don’t even get me started on the vanilla and caramel bullshit some chefs are spooning over scallops and whatnot….fucking gross. I happen to like the taste of my food and don’t want it covered up by dessert or breakfast like crap, maple honey glazes, well they can just blow me. I am a food lover in the first right, have been known to spend nearly a month’s rent on a dinner from time to time, I’m not a dull eater, not in the least, (although I must confess that innards and filter meat make me heave, but mostly because of texture…and they taste like guts. Maybe they need mango chutney) but much like wine, I seek purity. Great ingredients perfectly cooked and seasoned. Toss a bunch of noise on my plate, or my glass and my undies creep right up my sizeable ass. Crunders crunched. Simple food pleases me and one of the most important reasons? Um, much more wine friendly.
So okay, I’m a food purity crusader by night but in my day job I am often faced with some crazy combination of crap on a plate, a sweet faced customer looking to me to pair a wine with their over-studded and bedazzled creations. What’s a girl to do when given a menu of Moroccan lamb with apricots paired with blue cheese grits? Well other than concentrate on fighting back the gag reflex? Yeah, I have to politely mention that those flavors aren’t really conducive to food and wine harmony, and bite my lip about putting blue cheese grits with that lamb dish, but ultimately I will try and find them something that they will like, (always ask these folks that look at me like I’m from Mars when I mention that their dish isn’t at all wine friendly, what they like to drink…I figure at least I might make them happy that way, sure is shit isn’t going to be with a great pairing) that hopefully won’t go all swamp assy in their mouths once mixed with spiced lamb, fruit (ugh) and blue cheese…grits. Yeah, aint all that easy, and not to sound too much like a wine snoot, they probably won’t care all that much. Not everyone gets their bits all tingled by food and wine pairings and I always try and keep that in mind. I’m not the pairing gestapo for fucks sake, I’m a wine slinger and while educating people is important to me I shan’t be that wanker that treats people like they’re morons when they are in our store trying to buy a bottle of Merlot for their fried oysters.
A couple weeks ago I had a very nice, and very tiny woman, I swear she could barely see over the front counter, come in and ask for a recommendation for a wine to go with “Grilled stone fruit in a balsamic glaze”. I tried to un-scrunch my face, leaned over the counter, my tummy resting on the hard wood surface, feet almost off the ground and after a deep breath said, “You are aware you just put two wine killers, like together, right?” to which she responded, “Yeah that was kind of what I was thinking. Sounds good but I just can’t imagine there is a wine that would taste good with that. What about something that might just be fun?” nearly picked her up and swung her around all Sound of Music like. Hooked her up with a bottle of Brachetto, a bubbly, semi-sweet red from Italy that I thought might not cause too much damage and sent her happily on her way. I love that story. I really do, kind of in that same way I love those stories about a homeless person finding a winning lotto ticket or a doggy walking 600 miles to find his family…it’s rare my friends, very rare.
“Sam, I just got a call from a friend of Randy’s, (and they all think they are Randy’s friends, even the ones he greets with a, “Hey….you. Good to see you” because he can’t place them) and he needs you to pick wines for a wedding next weekend” my coworker as we were setting up for my Friday night class. I didn’t really have time to deal with a whole pairing thing, especially a wedding one, but even though we were a person short, and the bosses were away, when you hear the owner’s friend needs help, well you try and make the time….”Oh fuck me” alert the gestapo.
I rather hurriedly took the printed menu from my coworker’s hands, (sorry Jen, not you, just busy) and noticed first the venue, The St. Regis Monarch Beach, swank with a pimpy fat-ass E, I then saw what they wanted to maybe spend per bottle, for a 13 case order…up to $40, per bottle? For a wedding with 450 attendees? Well hell, maybe I could squeeze out a little time. My eyes then hit the first obstacle, Condiments on each table: red pepper flakes, jalapenos and salsa. My inner wine Nazi simply went, “Nein!” and I barked at my poor coworker that I couldn’t deal with that right now. Asked that she let him know that I would take a gander at the menu over the weekend and get back to him.
The rest of the staff putting out placemats and glasses for our Pinot Noir event, a second of free time and the curiosity got the best of me, grabbed the menu again and actually found myself laughing. “You have got to be shitting me” the only thing I could think to say. What I held in my hand had to be the single worst menu, for wine, I had ever seen. As I let my eyes fall upon each line, several of which were horribly misspelled thusly causing little hiccups in my scanning, my little wine brain feverishly flipping through card after card in my mental wine rolodex…I swear, I started to smell burnt hair and thought I was going to stroke out.
Tray Passed Hors d’Oeuvres
Paneer, Bell pepper & onion skewer
Aloo ki Tikki
Lamb Samosa (more spicey)
Lamb Chop (more spicey)
Fried Chutney Sandwich (no crust, add chutney before frying)
Vegetarian Spring Roll (more filling and more spicey)
On to the mains:
The afore mentioned Condiments at each table
Stacked Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Cured Olives, Torn Basil Leaves, Basil Oil and Pesto Drizzle
Freshly Baked Asiago Roll, Cranberry Bread and Rosemary Roll
Jerk Chicken with mango relish, jalapenos, chili flakes, plantains and vegetable rice (more spicey)
Spicy Eggplant Parmesan with Polenta and Curry Vegetables inside Puff Pastry, baby carrots, aspargus, and brocollini
Okay, so while trying to steady myself, and shouting, “How they hell did they spell spicy right once but wrong like five other times?!” and “What the fuck is an aspargus? Is it some kind of anti-social veggie?!” the little Julia Roberts like vein popping from my forehead, thumping and threatening to burst at any second, “Is that burning hair I smell?” me handing the menu to anyone that would take a moment to look…eyes bugged out and damn near frothing at the mouth. “This, this is some kind of joke right? The bosses put their friend up to this right? I mean, they can’t possibly believe that there is any wine on the planet that will go…well with any of it let alone all of it….right?” my voice beginning to trail off in a post rant, nearly seized whimper. Unclean…
Ended up waiting until Sunday to actually talk to the gentleman, who was in fact someone Randy knew, over the phone and when I gave him my much calmer suggestion of, “You know, this is just about the most unfriendly, for wine, menu I have ever laid my eyes upon. I think the way to go is to get some super-tasty wines, stuff not too high in acidity, oak or alcohol, that may not, (read never) give you that wine and food moment, they won’t clash too much and hopefully people will just enjoy drinking them, regardless. He then went on to tell me that the couple getting married were like obscenely wealthy and just getting into wine. They were looking to impress their friends and he too was hoping that they would understand, if just for this event, that putting shit like Silver Oak Cabernet, with that menu, was going to end up shoving their guests into their glasses of water rather than enjoying wine with their dinner. Don’t think either of us was holding out much hope, especially me after recommending a Viognier and hearing, “That might be too light for them”….sigh. Just kept thinking about Randy and Dale, in that beautiful tree house patio, slurping oysters, forkfuls of clean food, polishing off bottle after bottle of wine. “How much wine do you think we’ll need for 450 people?”……
“About a case”