A Progressive Tasting with Soul

Friday, September 10, 2010 - 
What now seems to be a Wednesday night tradition, I headed downtown to Tastings for what I knew would be another great sampling of food and wine.  This past weekend, I had a teaser of things to come when I sipped what would be the aperitif - a tipsy Arnold Palmer.  When further told chicken and waffles would also be part of this course, I couldn't refuse. Despite hubby not being able to change his plans, I grabbed bestie, MM, and we headed downtown with anticipation.

As promised, we were presented with an aperitif of Tipsy Arnold Palmer. A combination of sweet tea and lemonade, this cocktail was the best introduction for a soul food filled evening.  Like any other AP, the sweetness of the sweet tea was cut with the tartness of the lemonade, leaning towards a perfect balance.  This tipsy AP included vodka, as well as tastes of lavender and mint.  For all of you non vodka drinkers - no worries.  This was so smooth that you had no idea vodka was even present. Perfect sipping beverage on those warm evenings.

Our first course was a delightful and classic Southern dish of shrimp and grits.  Of course, this wasn't your ordinary shrimp and grits - and that's the great thing about grits - you can do so much to add flavor.  Grits are essentially ground hominy (corn) that has the consistency of porridge, or even polenta.  So what made these special?  Cheese of course!  Mascarpone was added and gave it a creamy texture that made it incredibly smooth.  The shrimp were extremely fresh with the taste of lemon and subtle heat of red pepper  (though with my love for red pepper, I could have a bit more heat.)  Another twist was the topping of fried green tomatoes (straight from the Unrue's garden!) that gave it a perfect crunch factor.  Drizzled with olive oil, I could have had a whole bowl.

To compliment this dish, we were served a 2009 Shaya 'Old Vines' Verdejo.  This was a drier white wine that had a creamy texture, which really played well on the palate with the creaminess of the grits.  It was fruity and complimented the citrus of the lemon with the shrimp.  A classic white from Spain, I enjoyed sipping on this as I nibbled through the course.

Chicken and waffles - salty and sweet.  Such a perfect combination, and you the second course was prepped, the group I was with drooled over the smells of the buttermilk-fried chicken wings.  Unrue walked us through the history of how individuals ate this in the morning to keep them satisfied during the day - I couldn't imagine how people didn't stuff themselves so full that they couldn't work throughout the day.  The savory waffles were whipped up with the basics, but also included sweet potatoes, chives and parsley.  A sweet but buttery pomegranate hickory syrup topped this waffle.  This syrup was the highlight for many of the patrons, especially those who love sweets!  And of course, to top this all off, a perfectly crisped wing with subtle tastes of sage was ready to be eaten.  Delish for sure.

To stand up to the chicken and waffles, we were served a robust 2008 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, hailing from the Sonoma Coast of California.  It was intense, full of complex flavors and balanced tannins so that even white wine drinkers could enjoy.  This leaned towards a spicy taste when alternating with the food, giving the combination that much more depth.  I really enjoyed this wine and would have easily had another glass.

Third course was speck-wrapped pork loin on top of spicy collard and mustard greens.  Speck is smoked prosciutto, providing a smoky layer around the tender pork loin.  It was lightly seasoned and well on its own, but got a little lost with the dijon-blackbery BBQ sauce that was served with it.  Though the sweet flavor was intense, it paired well with the spicy chipotle flavors of the greens.  In addition, we were also served mac & cheese, one of my favorite dishes.  It had the texture and taste of a great homemade mac and cheese, creamy and delicious on it's own.  I believe the noodles were ditalini noodles (the small circle pasta,) which was perfect for the portion we were given.  Once again, the sweetness of the BBQ made some of the great flavors not as intense, so I was happy to have devoured most of it prior to eating the pork. But really, pork and mac & cheese?  Great combo for sure!

A spicy shiraz from Shingleback was paired with this pork.  It matched well, standing up to the fruity tastes of the BBQ sauce because of its own blackberry taste with a spicy kick that only a shiraz can deliver.  Though I enjoyed the intense palate of the dry wine, two of my friends, AU and MM, commented how it felt like a "dry forest fire" was in their mouth.  Even the label seemed to nod in their direction with a fire breathing reptile.  I guess you can't covert all white wine drinkers can you?

Final course was a banana bread pudding - and MM couldn't get enough of it.  This creamy, warm bread pudding was perfect in texture and taste.  It smelled so sweet and had a hint of whiskey.  Topped with pecans toasted with brown sugar, a perfect crunch was given to the dish.  On top, a vanilla creme anglaise (which is a pourable custard, usually made out of sugar, egg yolks, milk and vanilla) provided a creamy topping of perfection.

The world of dessert wines has been an interesting one with my time at Tastings.  I normally scoff at them, but Brian (the wine guy of course) has presented many that I have enjoyed.  However, this port, Warres 'Otima' 10 year Tawny Porto from Portugal, was plain overwhelming for me.  The potent alcohol taste was something I couldn't get past.  But I know that any dessert wine lover would have been in heaven, as I do appreciate the time it takes to produce a product like that!

Another great evening with friends, I left with a full belly.  Can't wait for next Wednesday as we celebrate blended wines.  Did you make reservations yet?  For only $20, I don't know why you haven't!