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Mar 6, 2008 08:21 AM

Best Tasting Menus with Wine Pairings

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 . . .

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!

    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.

    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


              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.,

                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!