Wine & Food Pairing at Restaurant Daniel with Sommelier Raj Vaidya and Executive Chef Jean-Francois Bruel Part 1
If the oldest question in the world is “what’s for dinner,” consider that the second oldest question may very well be “what wine should I serve with what dish?” Pairing wine with the right dish is an art, and in cities like Manhattan, bursting with five-star restaurants, sommeliers are very valued artisans.
Perhaps you’ve had the good fortune to have experienced a prestigious chef’s tasting menu which often includes the option of pairing each dish with a different wine. Or if you were luckier still, experienced the food and wine pairing dinner in the chef’s own kitchen, where you could watch chefs work their magic.
Yet wouldn’t it be incredible to experience a multi-course food and wine pairing dinner, not just in the kitchen but above it, perched in the sky? And with your very own sommelier pouring various wines?
To celebrate a friend’s birthday, I made arrangements to experience the Sky Box in the kitchen of Celebrity Chef’s Daniel Boulud’s esteemed four- star Restaurant Daniel, winner of numerous awards. As a wine journalist who often writes about how to pair wine with food, I decided to have a chat with Sommelier Raj Vaidya in advance of the experience, to understand his methodology for choosing the wines.
Raj, recently the sommelier at another celebrated restaurant with a notable wine list called Cru, has been in the business for over ten years and admitted that yes, he is a ‘fairly decent home chef’ – which is quite an asset in his business. We verbally went through the eight-course pairing menu and I asked him his thoughts on the wine matches. Please note that for four guests, two guests receive one dish, and the other two receive the other. Sharing is encouraged)
Wine to be paired with first course: Balthazar Ress Riesling Spätlese “Oestricher Doosberg,” Rheingau 1995
First Course dishes
PORCINI VELOUTÉ Parsley Emulsion, Littleneck Clams, Sweet Garlic Custard
ECKERTON HILL FARM HEIRLOOM TOMATOES Salad with Peekytoe Crab, Avocado, Burrata Chilled Soup with Sherry Vinegar
So why Riesling? Raj explains that it has great freshness, even after fourteen years, and that it has the kind of acidity that will stand up to the flavors of the food. He chose the Rheingau region specifically because of its earthy mineral elements. Another factor in his choice of pairing Raj explains, is that Riesling is low alcohol. He feels that it is important to start a progressive meal with a lower alcohol wine so champagne or sparkling wine are options as well.
Wine to be paired with second course: Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Freiheit”, Kremstal 2008 Second Course Dishes
OLIVE OIL POACHED COD SALAD Artichoke Purée, Anise Hyssop Dressing, Lemon Zest
TAI SNAPPER CEVICHE WITH PERSIAN CUCUMBER Shaved Radish, Tapioca Pearls, Dill Oil
Raj explains his wine pairing choice by saying that the green herbaceous flavors of the Gruner tap into the green, herbaceous notes of the dishes and adds minerality. The wine is also lower in alcohol, which Raj feels is important in the beginning dishes. Wine to be paired with third course: Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé, Provence 2008
Third Course Dishes
BUTTER POACHED MONTEREY ABALONE Rosemary-Vegetable Relish, Crispy Zucchini Flower, Lettuce Purée
DUO OF OCTOPUS Tempura with Eggplant Caponata, Pine Nuts Marinated with Tomato, Ricotta Salata
Wait! Pink wine with fish? Actually, the rules for pairing white wine with fish, and red wine with meat, have become blurred over the years. Yet Raj explains his choice this way: “What is beautiful about Rosé is that even when paired with main courses it offers acidity, weight, and a tinge of tannin. The Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé is made from Mourvèdre and Grenache, and Raj is a fan of the wine’s searing aromatic style, and its notes of citrus and a touch of tomato skin.
Wine to be paired with fourth course Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto D’alba, Piedmont 2008
Fourth Course Dishes
WHOLE GRAIN CRUSTED SKATE Chanterelles, Swiss Chard, Caper Chicken Jus
SLOW BAKED STRIPED BASS Artichoke Barigoule, Lemon Arancini, Cilantro Pistou
“Dolcetto brings out the flavors in these dishes,” Raj says, explaining that he wanted to bring out the earthly flavors of the chanterelles, artichoke, cilantro and teff (an earthy grain from Ethiolpia that coasts the skate) “Dolcetto is a very earthy wine with good acidity. For this dish, I wanted to do a red wine, but not Pinot Noir which I wanted to pair with the next dish (Dorade). I wanted a wine with distinctive freshness and no oak.”
Wine to be paired with Fifth course: Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, Willamette 2006
Fifth Course Dishes
WHOLE DORADE “À LA PLANCHA” Figs, Glazed Radishes, Hearts of Palm, Chickpea Falafel (Prepared for Two. . . . . )
Why the Pinot Noir from Willamette?” I ask Raj. “What about France, Germany, New Zealand? Raj explains that the Pinot is best from Willamette because the fish is stuffed with figs and aromatized with fig leaves, and the wine mimics these flavors and aromas. Wine to be paired with Sixth course: Bosquet des Papes “Cuvée Grenache”, Châteauneuf du Pape 2001
Sixth Course Dishes NOIRMOUTIER TURBOT WITH SYRAH SAUCE
Leek Royale, “Pommes Lyonnaise” (Prepared for Two) Now I’ve had this dish at Restaurant Daniel before, and always wondered about pairing it with a Syrah. So why does Raj choose Chateauneuf du Pape? Raj likes this producer and his traditional way of making Chateauneuf du Pape, and feels that this wine is better with the turbot on account of having less and softer tannins a syrah, which might interfere with the delicacy of the fish.
Wine to be paired with dessert: Château Pajzos “5 Puttonyos Aszu”, Tokaji 1999
Dessert Course DUO OF FRUIT AND CHOCOLATE DESSERTS
CITRUS MARINATED STRAWBERRIES Vanilla Bavaroise, Yuzu Sorbet and MANJARI CHOCOLATE MOUSSE WITH NOUGAT FOAM Milk Chocolate Biscuit, Rwanda Coffee Ice Cream
5 Puttonyos Aszu is a very very rich, sweet, complex wine, and after ten years in bottle, this wine must have developed very interesting flavors. Raj feels it will go great with the chocolate – guess I will find out soon!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story, when I report on my actual dinner in the SkyBox at Restaurant Daniel.