Are you a wine aficionado who enjoys delighting guests with the perfect pairing of wine and food? Most of the time, you’re probably spot on. Yet even chefs and professional sommeliers sometimes have trouble pairing a tomato-based dish with wine. This is especially a concern during late summer, when heirloom tomatoes are at their ripest and chefs’ menus are filled with delicious dishes featuring the finest expression of this juicy red delicacy. You want to order wine to complement the dish, but which varietal will create the perfect pairing?
In New York, the Patina Restaurant group asked their top chefs to create a special tomato-based menu in five of their restaurants (Brasserie, Brasserie 81/2, Café Centro, Naples 45, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse) for August. Step into any and you know the cuisine will be fabulous. But what about the wine?
”When you order one of the items on the tomato menu it’s important not to overwhelm it with a strong, tannic wine,” says Michael Boyer, Assistant Director of Brasserie 8½ on 57th Street in Manhattan. Boyer has put together an exciting list of affordable wines from around the world, with bottles starting at a surprising $28, effectively making you wonder if the printer missed a digit on the wine list.
Executive chef Julian Alonzo, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute and worked at celebrity chef establishments such as David Bouley and Guy Savoy, has created an exciting tomato menu featuring three choices of starters (heirloom tomato salad, olive oil poached red and yellow cherry tomatoes, fried green BLTs). ”The appetizers are best paired with white wines,” says Boyer, such as Pinot Grigio (Canaletto Delle Venezie, 2005) from Italy ($8 glass/$29 per bottle) or the Gruner Veltliner Forstreiter 2005 from Austria, ($10 glass/ $40 bottle).
I enjoyed the Gruner Veltliner with the heirloom tomato salad, savoring the large, red wedges of tomato accompanied by shaved aged parmesan and balsamic glaze and basil ($13) and the Pinot Grigio with Chef Alonzo’s tempura zucchini blossom stuffed with Maine lobster, roasted corn relish, and avocado ($16) from the regular menu. The refreshing acidity of these very balanced, aromatic white wines clearly complement the flavors of the dish. I also could not resist ordering the “Fruits de Mer” sampler from the regular menu, featuring shrimp, oysters, clams, and crabmeat, one of the best presentations of fresh shellfish I’ve had in the city with its theatrical arrangement of razor clams, exotic oysters, luscious pink shrimp, black muscles, spicy cerviche, and fresh crab.