Central’s new series of monthly wine dinners turn Monday from monotonous to marvelous.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Monday, Monday. Every other day, every other day, every other day of the week is fine, yeah.
When the weekend grinds to a screeching halt, and another apparently insurmountable workweek begins, it’s enough to make anyone crawl back under the covers. But Central Michel Richard recently created the perfect antidote: monthly Monday evening wine dinners in the restaurant’s Jean-Louis Private Dining Room.
Hosted by General Manager/Sommelier Brian Zipin, and Sommelier David Hale, the dinner series covers a wide range of themes, and, depending on the month, may also be attended by the featured winemaker or importer. I attended the first one, which focused on small production American wines.
“There are no sales pitches during these dinners,” explains Hale. “Rather, we are promoting casual enjoyment of these foods and wines in a warm, relaxed, easygoing atmosphere.” (Zipin went on to admit that the duo often misses Citronelle, and “want to play” like their higher-end sister, with regards to the level of food and wine pairing.) Whatever the inspiration, it’s our gain, as an evening of the week generally not regarded as particularly sociable or remarkable is elevated to a convivial occasion to enjoy stunning bottles with fellow foodies and oenophiles. Nice, especially on those occasions when Monday morning comes without warning.
The evening kicked off with a selection of Amuses Bouches including Sweet Corn Soup with Jonah Crab and Tarragon; Stuffed Dates with Marcona Almonds, Smoked Bacon and Rocquefort Cream, and Potato Skins filled with Tuna Tartare, Basil and Lemon. All were paired with the Domaine Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Blancs from Charlottesville—which happens to be one of Hale’s favorite domestic sparklers. The bubbles, along with the clean, crisp fruit, did wonders to cut through the richness of the small plates (I was partial to the demitasse cup of soup and its chunks of sweet and tender crab.)
The winemaker from Oregon’s Daedalus Cellars recently visited Central, which helped them score a case of the winery’s rare 2008 Grüner Veltliner (only 120 cases of the coveted bottling are produced.) Grüner’s been a sommelier darling for a few years now, and as Hale points out, it’s made in a really wide variety of styles, from fruity, to mineral-driven, to bottles with hints of white pepper. Daedalus Cellar’s Grüner has fantastic acidity along with green apple and pear flavors. Zipin tends to seek out high acid white wines, and though he sweated out the delivery of the shipment, it thankfully made it just in time for the dinner. It was a killer match with notoriously-difficult-to-pair-with-wine-vegetable Roasted Asparagus, served with Sauce Gribiche, Black Truffles and Parmesan.
The crowd-pleasing dish of the evening was the Grilled Octopus Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette and Garbanzo Purée. Octopus requires a deft hand in the kitchen to prevent it from becoming chewy and rubbery, and Chef de Cuisine Arthur Cavaliere got it just right—perfectly seasoned, succulent and tender. A mineral-driven, fruity and not overly rich California Chardonnay was poured alongside: the 2007 Hartford Family ‘Stone Cote Vineyard” from Sonoma Coast.
I was thrilled to see that pork was listed as the evening’s main course, as I’m an unapologetic fan of the other white meat in its many guises. Crispy Pork Confit with Onion Barley and Garlic Yogurt met its match in a gorgeously restrained California Syrah. The 2003 Thomas Michael Cellars “Ledgewood Vineyard” Syrah from Napa prompted one diner to remark that it smelled like “blueberries and meat”—but he meant it as a compliment. Indeed, it was such a refreshingly subtle California Syrah—not at all jammy, and no heat on the finish. Instead, just smoky, dusty, and fruity, with hints of strawberries and blueberries.
The evening wrapped up with a selection of cheeses enjoyed with the 2005 Parry Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena, CA, and chef’s interpretation of a Brownie Sundae for dessert. The biggest surprise about the latter was the not-quite-still-not-quite-fortified style of the 2007 Mauritson Wines Port Blend “Indepedence” from Dry Creek Valley, California. Made with traditional Port grapes as well as some Tannat, it really was a cross between a dessert and a dry wine (it reminded me a lot of the syrupy feeling and residual sugar you often get when drinking red Zin.) It was well-suited to chocolate, but also wouldn’t have been out of place (in my opinion, at least), served with duck breast with a fig sauce. Very cool juice.
The next dinner in the series, held on Monday, April 26 at 7 PM, will feature wines imported by Olivier Daubresse of Vinifrance Imports, and Jonas Gustaffson of Vin de Terra Imports. Together, these two have over thirty years of experience importing artisanal, boutique wines from Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Spain.
I’m also quite intrigued by the dinner scheduled on Monday, June 28. Called The “Whites for Red” Dinner, Zipin and Hale will debunk the notion that dishes like grilled steak always need a big, bold red. They’ll pair five dishes typically served with red wines, with white bottles instead.
Remember, there are only seats for sixteen guests in Central’s private dining room. You can reserve a spot for any of the wine dinners by calling the restaurant at (202) 626-0015. The price is $150 for the five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, including tax and gratuity.
And the price is guaranteed to chase away even the most incurable case of the Mondays.