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Best Tasting Menus with Wine Pairings

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After a recent trip to Napa during which we tried some phenomenal wines I have been more determined than usual to enhance my food with well chosen, interesting pairings. I had been considering a visit to Le Bernadin (have never been but have heard great things) to do the tasting menu + pairings. The following article in the WSJ gave me pause though . . .

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12042...

We often do tasting menus and go with the sommelier's wine pairings rather then ordering bottles because we like variety and the opportunity to try something that is off the beaten path or that we wouldn't have thought to order on our own. Plus, the sommelier is in the unique position of having tasted 1) the dishes and 2) most of if not the entire wine selection. I agree with these reviewers however, that the tasting + pairings concept has been a bit overplayed and banalized of late. The last few times we've done this we have run into similar disappointments, from uninspired choices, cheap bottles (under $10 on a wine flight that cost $125 per head), flat bubbly, late pours, light pours, lack of sommelier attention, uninformed staff doing the pouring (in answer to the question, "what are we drinking?" one server simply put the bottle on the table and walked away) , and the worst - the conveyer belt style service where the kitchen simply sends out dishes on a fixed schedule without regard for whether you are finished with your previous plate, wine, etc.

Is the tasting / pairings construct still alive and well in this city? I would be very interested to hear any recommendations and horror stories as well.

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  1. Hey, Nikitenka,

    Yes, absolutely, the tasting/pairing construct is definitely alive and well in NYC. All upscale restaurants do them. And because I don't drink, my husband always does wine pairings.

    At Eleven Madison Park, our favorite NYC restaurant, we recently did the 11-course Gourmand menu. It is one of the best tasting menus we've ever had! Chef Humm's French-inspired cuisine is spectacular, and portion control was so perfect that we were able to consume the 11 courses + amuses + mignardises, and walk away feeling supremely satisfied without being stuffed. When it came to the wine pairings, Wine Director John Ragan did his usual superb job of perfectly matching each wine to what was on the plate. Highly recommended!

    http://www.elevemadisonpark.com

    In October, we had dinner at Jean Georges for the first time. We did the tasting menu of J-G's signature dishes, and my husband was extremely pleased with the wine pairings.

    http://www.jean-georges.com

    1. I had a good experience with the lunch prix fixe + wine pairings at Fleur de Sel. It's only 3 courses, so nothing fancy, but I thought food and wine were good.
      I wouldn't recommend the tasting menu and pairings at Danube. The tasting menu is really just a 4-5 course prix fixe, and pairings weren't memorable (perhaps because they were a little overly generous).

      3 Replies
      1. re: Lucia

        I'm surprised to see your description of the 3-course prix-fixe as "nothing fancy." Perhaps by that you meant it wasn't a multi-course menu? Fleur de Sel also offers a 5-course lunch tasting with wine pairings. We did it recently, and it was superb.

        1. re: RGR

          I meant that it wasn't a "tasting menu" that I had.

        2. re: Lucia

          I agree with the tasting with wine pairings at Fleur de Sel. I had the dinner tasting menu a number of months ago, and the pairings were great. We each had 2 different menus with completely different wine pairings. A very enjoyable experience.
          I'd also have to say Hearth did a good job with pairings and the 5 course tasting.

        3. Telepan's wine director does a pretty spectacular job of pairing wines. Many restaurants simply choose wines off their by the glass menu for the pairings. Telepan keeps a separate wine for each of the 30+ dishes on the menu. The wines tend to be interesting selections from little known producers (all the better chance to be introduced to something new and hard to find). Most are not from the by the glass menu.

          1. I did wine pairing at Insieme on Valentine's Day. I guess that totally colors what follows. I was blown away by how measly the pours were and how badly paired they were. Each pour was barely 1/3 of a glass. The glasses arrived either a course too early or while we were eating. One of the pairing with a fish course, I believe, was a yellow Arbois wine which totally overpowered the fish. My friend found it undrinkable (I do like yellow wine however, but as an after-dinner drink). I think they may have borrowed the idea from Jean Georges where one of their classic dishes is skate wing with Chateau Chalon (a similar wine) sauce. But they only use a few drops in the sauce according to a server there. The final dessert pairing was a cheap port which was quite unpleasant. Cost was $75 per person or so. It made up my mind to never do wine pairing again.

            5 Replies
            1. re: shane

              shane,

              I've never been to Insieme, but we have been to the older sibling, Hearth, and my husband was quite satisfied with the paired wines there.

              Perhaps before totalling writing off pairings, you should try it again at a restaurant where they do a stellar job. Of course, my first suggestion would be EMP. We were there for dinner a few days ago and did the 3-course prix-fixe. The sommelier poured a wonderful Monbazaillac for our first course foie gras, and for the duck for two, he provided an Italian red that my husband described as sensational. Two perfect matches!

              1. re: RGR

                I have a reservation at EMP tomorrow actually. I've been reading your rave reviews of it for months now! This week's budget says no no no to the wine pairing tomorrow though.

                1. re: shane

                  Yeah, I've sort of become an upaid publicity agent. lol I look forward to reading your report.

                  Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

              2. re: shane

                Shane, a full pour is only supposed to be about 1/3 of the glass. This allows the globe of the wine glass to hold and concentrate the aroma of the wine so you experience it more fully.

                See, e.g., http://www.wineenthusiast.com/E/detai...&

                1. re: cimui

                  I meant "1/3 of a regular glass of wine". I would say our entire pairing added up to two regular sized pours each; definitely less than a full bottle. For $150 I could have order two very nice bottles from their pretty extensive list.

              3. Eleven Madison Park does a great job. John Ragan is great. If you want to go all out. the best in the city would be PerSe. Very expensive but worth it!

                1. Has anyone done a tasting at Cru? It looks expensive and I've never been, but everyone goes crazy over their cellar and food.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: BratleFoodie

                    This is a total out of the box idea -- but I have always have a very laid back experience at Knife and Fork in the EV. The restaurant isn't on the same level as EMP and PerSe and such -- but I've always really enjoyed myself

                    1. re: BratleFoodie

                      Did the tasting menu w/wine pairings at Cru for my birthday dinner a week ago. It was worth every cent. Superb. And the best duck entree I have ever had. Service was excellent. They are a bit heavy on gels and gelatins in the courses but that's my only critique. And they were able to offer many choices for wines that were reasonable to break-the-bank.

                    2. My husband and I had quite a number of memorable dinners at Cellar in the Sky, which were excellent. I agree that if you want to mortgage your house, Per Se, with requested wine pairings, is fantastic. We went with friends who suggested going at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon. It was a great experience, and something I never would have thought to do. We were not rushed, did not get tired, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, not to mention the fact that "The Gates" were still up in Central Park, which were beautiful to see.
                      We recently went to Gordon Ramsay's at the London. I know that many people will think I am crazy, but we thoroughly enjoyed the tasting menu with paired wines. So much so that we are doing a Ladies' Lunch there this Thursday. They do a priced fix lunch on Thursday and Friday for $45.

                      1. Thanks to all who shared recommendations. Many are in my neighborhood (Union Square area) and so an added bonus. I'll certainly report back. In the meantime would love to keep hearing about people's food + wine pairing experiences.

                        RGR, you have convinced me to try EMP. Will be booking it for an upcoming special occasion and we will definitely do the pairings!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Nikitenka

                          Kudos to RGR for her numerous postings on EMP. I was in town this past weekend and had the four-course prix fixe with wine pairings on Saturday night and it was top-notch. All of the pairings were excellent, but the one that was a real revelation was diver scallops with sake. I am not usually a big fan of sake, but it was a great match and the sommelier did a superb job.

                          I would love to go back and do the 11-course menu. In fact, I would have done it on Saturday, but my two dinner companions are not as adventurous as I am.

                          1. re: Nikitenka

                            I also made it to EMP on Friday night and was not disappointed. I was trying to be careful to not blow my rent on food and wine this week so I ordered the three course prix fixe. I noticed a yellow wine by the glass in their wine tome and after complaining about Insieme above I decided to give it one last shot. My first savory dish was Loup-de-Mer (that's sea bass to rest of us, right?) with a bouillabaisse sauce and chorizo oil. I thought the yellow wine might pair nicely with the chorizo. It did. My second savory dish was venison which had a really lovely mashed potato side which also contained venison somehow. The sommelier helped me choose a really nice 2005 Burgundy to go with this. I know 2005 is considered a stellar year for Burgundy so I was wary of the prices, but he steered me towards a bottle for just above $100 which was lovely especially at that price. I have already hunted down a store in the city that stocks it. Overall I was very impressed. I didn't expect to receive the full amuse-bouche treatment with the three-course menu, but instead got a pre-amuse amuse (several hors d'oeuvres), then the amuse (a frothy soup), which was bookended by several petits fours.

                            1. re: shane

                              You pretty much had the same thing I did (with one additional savory item for me). The sommelier paired a Vouvray (I forget the name of the producer) with the Loup de Mer, and a J.L. Chave St. Joseph with the venison--outstanding!

                              By the time I got to the chocolate symphony with a glass of 1985 Dow Vintage Port, I was stuffed (and half lit, too!).

                              1. re: pinotboy

                                pinotboy and shane, So glad you both had excellent experiences at EMP.

                                Nikitenka, I'm sure EMP will come through for you as well. Hope that after you have been there, you will post about your experience.