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Is alcohol intergral to a good meal or your dream meal?

I was reading a thread on my local board about a resaurant. The OP gave a less then glowing review of the place. He mentioned that he did not get to enjoy the wine pairings as much as he might have liked due to the fact that he had a long drive home. One chower suggested that if he did not have to drive home and was able to partake of the full experience that he might have enjoyed his meal more. Personally I find this suggestion to be a little crazy. Shouldn't food taste good even if you are unable to pair it with the proper beverages? I often have to drive to get to restaurants etc.... so I often have to limit or completely cut out alcohol. I shudder to think that I am eating sub par meals because of this.

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  1. Sometimes, certain wines can interact synergistically with certain dishes, to make both food and wine taste better than the sum of their parts. It's not that the food is bad on its own, but that it could be even better with the correct wine.

    However, this may be restricted to the minority of cuisines where wine is important, as most cuisines don't necessarily involve food/wine pairing (although that doesn't mean that one couldn't pair wine with foods from those cuisines). And in certain cases, non-alcoholic beverages might be involved, e.g. tea.

    1. Good meal: no.

      Dream meal: absolutely.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        Agree. I especially like when restaurants do the pairing for you, because you know someone took care with the choices, so that I, a wine "very much liker" but not a wine "knower" can benefit from someone else's experience and/or expertise. But, i agree with others that pre-selected wine pairings are really too expensive to enjoy most of the time. For those times it's good when you have a knowledgeable server. But most of the time, I get a glass of wine or a style of wine that I already know I really like, and it adds to my enjoyment of the meal not necessarily because it is well-paired with every or even any dish i'm having, but because it is another flavor in my meal to enjoy.

        I also occasionally like to dabble in wine pairings myself when I have small dinner parties. It's a challenge and it's fun to come up with wines that go well with the dishes I've made, and doing the research online is informative and helps me appreciate wine pairings at restaurants.

      2. I'm with you on this. I almost always choose water, and I think my meal should still taste delicious.

        1. Nah. I can't seem to process alcohol very well, so I tend to not drink alcohol, period. I'm also super sensitive to the taste for some reason and hate it. ::ducks tomatoes::

          I'm fine with using it to cook, but not too much or the taste overrides everything and ruins it for me.

          Saves me lots of money when dining out and for happy hours, though! :o)

          1. I must be a troglodyte. I love good wine. I love god food. I enjoy them separately. I really do not like to drink wine or anything else while I'm eating.

            1. I'd say it depends on the food, but in general, no. I'm not a wine lover. I don't hate it, but it doesn't really add anything to the experience for me, and I'm certainly not willing to pay the prices for wine pairings that a lot of places charge.

              Now, if I'm going to a brewpub or something along those lines, of course I have to have a couple beers with my meal. Over the course of a meal there is no reason you can't enjoy a couple drinks and still be perfectly legal to drive when you are finished.

              11 Replies
              1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                Be careful if you're in my neck of the woods, we have zero tolerance laws on drunk driving. And then your mug shot gets published in the daily paper the next day, every single person. Which is why I now prefer to drink at home.

                1. re: coll

                  That's why I specified a couple. Just using the rule of thumb that an average drink will raise your BAC between .01% and .015%, and that on average the human body burns alcohol at the rate of one drink per hour, and that most states have DUI set at .08 or so, over the course of an hour long meal an average person could have 6 drinks (using the .015 figure) and still be legal to drive.

                  Keeping it to half that amount or less gives plenty of margin for error.

                  1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                    whaaaa? is that correct? Six drinks in an hour long meal and I'd be (and have been) under the table!

                    1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                      Yeah we used to have .08, but those days are long gone. Zero tolerance means .00. We don't go out to eat anywhere as much anymore, too risky. If you get in an accident (someone else's fault let's say), or get pulled over for anything, you're in big trouble. You see cops using Breathalyzers on the side of the road all the time.

                      1. re: coll

                        NY State has zero tolerance or you personally?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I have a very high tolerance, unfortunately for my liver. It's Nassau County on Long Island, the DA is trying to make a name for herself, and Suffolk isn't far behind. Better to drink at home.

                          1. re: coll

                            Croatia is like that. No one drives at all between midnight and about 5 a.m. A woman we were staying with couldn't drive me to the grocery store one morning because she'd had cough syrup!

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              Glad to know we're not the only ones!

                      2. re: TuteTibiImperes

                        Your figures are accurate for a man weighing approx 260 lb. For most people, you'll be over the legal limit long before 6 drinks in an hour.

                        For me -175 lb male - 4 drinks puts me right at the legal limit. It's also important to note that some people will feel the effect more than others even at a very low BAL. I don't drink very often, don't have much of a tolerance, and as such, there are times when 2 drinks would leave me unsafe to drive. At 4 drinks in an hour, I would be a real danger to myself and others, even if my BAL was a technically-legal 0.076.

                    2. re: TuteTibiImperes

                      In all of Scandinavia, the alcohol blood limit is .01% One drink and wait 3 hours or risk 6 weeks in jail. Breath analyzers in restaurants and bars are common and used. I drove around and picked up many a guest for dinner parties. They took a cab home or spent the night, depending on the relationship!?

                    3. Alcohol, sir, is integral to life.

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: beevod

                        And certainly to a dream meal. Hell, even a good meal.

                        To reiterate what limster said above, "Sometimes the food and wine pairing is better than the sum of its parts". Blue cheese and Sauternes is an example of such. The flavor they create together cannot be replicated and is pure magic.

                        I realize some people don't drink (for whatever their reasoning is), but in my mind, they're 100% missing out.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          Or, and I'm not trying to say this condescendingly or anything, wine and alcohol can be treated like anything else in life (i.e. subjectively) and it depends on people's personal preferences. It'd all be kind of boring if we all liked exactly the same food, made and presented exactly the same way, etc. I would never say someone was "missing out" if they preferred cheeseburgers over dim sum or anything, especially if they had already tried dim sum and made up their mind about it. If they refuse to even try it, then I might start getting judgmental...

                          1. re: yfunk3

                            Of course it depends on personal preferences. I'm just saying their are amazing flavors non-drinkers will never experience, and I wouldn't want to miss out on those flavors. And yes, without ever having tried them, I'd say people were missing out.

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              I guess from a strictly culinary lifestyle, I can maybe see it. But I would never say that a recovering alcoholic is missing one of life's great pleasures because he hasn't tried a particular dish with a glass of red wine.

                              And personally, as I mentioned in my first post in this thread, the alcohol taste overrides any other taste in any alcoholic drink I taste (I've tasted and continue to taste many), so when someone does tell me to drink a particular wine with a dish, it ruins the flavor of the dish for me rather than enhances any part of it. Missing out on something that you know you won't enjoy isn't exactly missing out to that person in their lives, just to you projecting your life on that person, kwim?

                              I would also never go bungee jumping or skydiving because I'm deathly scared of heights. Some people say I am missing out on a great, thrilling life experience. I say that I can derive just as much, if not more pleasure from other things in life.

                              1. re: yfunk3

                                I'm pretty sure a recovering alcoholic knows what he's missin out on. ;)

                                If what you describe is true, you have a different palate. I don't know how, for example, a beer with only, say 7% alcohol creates an overpowering taste of alcohol. Something may be a bit "off" with your sense of taste. That's not a dig, by the way.

                                You don't really drink. That's cool. Do, or don't do, whatever you'd like. From a pure taste perspective, you can't recreate certain flavors without booze, and that's true. I like that combination way too much to ever think about not partaking in it for a "dream meal". I mean, how does one fully enjoy oysters with out Champagne? Foie without Sauternes? It's like only getting half the experience. You simply won't convince me otherwise.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  Wholeheartedly agree. Of course I don't imbibe with every meal - in fact, most meals I don't (breakfasts & lunches). Dinner is the exception... especially when dining out. The intimate relationship between food and wine exists and cannot be denied. And as you mentioned, when you experience that perfect pairing it's magical and it always amazes me.

                                  Why'd you have to say foie gras and sauterne??? Damn you... :)

                          2. re: invinotheresverde

                            I agree Invino - 100% everything you've said

                            1. re: NellyNel

                              I agree as well, except I actually prefer a reisling with my foie.

                            2. re: invinotheresverde

                              What is not integral to a good meal is driving. Very dangerous, that.

                              I'm happy to live in a city with a good public transport system and lots of places I can walk to.

                              I don't need wine if it is just sustenance, but most superb or shared meals do involve a modicum of wine. An exception would be foods from another culture with a different shared-ritual drink, especially tea.

                              And no, I'm not talking about "getting drunk".

                            3. re: beevod

                              No, it is not. signed, from-one-who-is-sober-20-years

                              1. re: laliz

                                Yeah. On behalf of my friends of Bill friends, geesh. The rest of us should give them a blanket exception. Otherwise it just sounds darn insensitive.

                                1. re: Vetter

                                  That's kind of what I was getting at. It seems to me that saying anyone who doesn't eat [insert food here] is seriously lacking in intelligence or pitiful in some way, kind of like saying, "Oh, you can't eat this? You poor, poor, poor thing..."

                                  1. re: yfunk3

                                    There's plenty of delicious stuff to go around that one wouldn't be able to try them all in a lifetime anyways. There are dream meals that involve alcohol, and dream meals that don't involve alcohol.

                            4. Personally, no.

                              I avoid wine pairings. I don't like white wine and prefer cabernets/red wines.

                              A dream meal can be had just as well with a great beer or a great wine. IMO.

                              And I always order sparkling mineral water with a high calcium content with the meal to aid my digestion.

                              1. alcohol is not an important part of my anything, I don't drink.
                                it used to play a major factor but the calories and kidney stones, well, I'll just pass. almost 4 years

                                1. Nah, the only requirement for my good meal or dream meal is good food. That prolly makes me a CH wanker, but oh well.

                                  1. I don't drink. However, I do think service of alchohol can enhance a meal by helping to creat a more relaxed and festive environment. I also think alchohol help creates a cadence to the meal that help make it more of a experience rather than sit, eat and leave which seems to be the norm in most household dinners (mine included).

                                    1. The perfect dinners:
                                      Steak = Red wine
                                      Pizza= Beer
                                      Without that, it's lunch.

                                      1. I'm sometimes amused by those, usually from California, seeking the correct wine for Mexican food and barbecue because beer is too pedestrian. Ask for wine with Q or Mexican in Texas and the merciful may buy you a plane ticket home, others would stone you. In either case, they just want you out of the room.

                                        21 Replies
                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          Yep - wine is probably not the best choice - sake is a better match for ribs.

                                          1. re: limster

                                            Skip the ribs - how I would enjoy an overflowing masu of premium sake right now!

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              I wouldn't skip the ribs, if the ribs, sauce and sake are right, the combination would be better than the sum of its parts. Part of the reason why sake can work better than wine is the lower acidity -- too much acidity can overdo sour components in the sauce (e.g. from vinegar or tomato). The mild sweetness and clean finish of certain sake also handle the smoke and meaty richness well. Not saying that all sake work (they're quite diverse), but hitting on the right match could be a great pleasure. Recommend you try it if you haven't.

                                              1. re: limster

                                                I'm frustrated that premium sake is hard to find.

                                                1. re: limster

                                                  Very interesting. Sake and ribs wouldn't have occurred to me in a million years.

                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                    Yep, never occurred to me as well - it's one of the countless things I learnt on Chowhound.

                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                      Korean ribs, bulgogi and kolbie, served w/ so ju, a sweet potato 20% liquor: what Shiner Bok is to Texans.

                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                        Try Guiness stout and Fig Newtons - perfectly complementary!

                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                          Guinness, and most stouts in general, are really good with sweets.

                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                            Dark beer and chocolate, a match made in heaven.

                                                            1. re: coll

                                                              Dark, bitter beer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

                                                2. re: Veggo

                                                  Even usually not a beer drinker, gotta have it with Mexican food. Had ribs last night but with an Asian-type baste and had wine.

                                                  But generally a meal out (non-breakfast) is a bit special and I'll usually have a glass of wine.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    Amen to that, brother. Actually, the only alcohol I like with Mexican is a couple of margaritas. And with BBQ it's either unsweetened iced tea, or, ironically enough, Fanta Strawberry soda. Wine never even enters the picture.

                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                      PK, I learned from my New Mexican in-laws that buttermilk goes well w/ Mexican food. I love it, if beer is not possible.

                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                        I have never tasted buttermilk, unless it was in a biscuit. Wild, I know.

                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                          It's not a manly thing to order in a west Texas bar, unless you can change a flat without the need for a lug wrench or a jack.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            PK, I noticed the difference. In Maine I get locally produced real butter milk, but all brands are only in quarts. New Mex, it took me a while to figure out why it was only in 1/2 gallons. I knew it wasn't a popular drink. Ah, ha! Biscuits and fried chicken batter!
                                                            I grew up drinking a cultured mil product made by my Russian immigrant grandmother; Kulturni Moloka or cultured milk, kdfir?
                                                            Try butter milk w/ Mexican food, it dos go well.
                                                            Veggo, how'd you know hoe I fix a flat?

                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                              In the "real" South, we would crumble up corn bread in a glass,pour buttermilk over and spoon/drink it. Manna from heaven.

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                I've done this with day-old cornbread and whole milk for as long as I can remember. A bona fide delicacy although it makes my better half want to hack bagels.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Oh, "real south" of what? You mean a Johnny Cakes? I grew up w/ buttermilk on stale brownies.
                                                                  Buttermilk and bourbon is a refreshing treat too.

                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                    I find bourbon itself sufficiently refreshing. Nothing like slamming down a fifth of Old Crow after mowing the back forty on a blistering July afternoon.

                                                      2. Not integral to either. I want to actually taste the food, and I'm pretty sure the alcohol does something to your tastebuds aside from 'pairing.'

                                                        1. I hate drinking alcohol. I can't taste my food.

                                                          1. I agree that a wonderful meal can be had without a drink. I'm thinking Lexington #1 with that otherwise dreadful sweet tea or a plate of pancakes with a cup of black coffee. Nevertheless, if you want to hit a higher place with your experience, alcohol should be on the table.

                                                            Drinks containing alcohol present additional elements of taste. Those astringent and anticeptic components are beyond the usual sweet, sour, bitter, and salty normally experienced. Consequently, it is hard to deny that alcohol adds another dimension to a meal. Perhaps, the best analogy would be the way that the heat of capsaicin adds a different component to a dish. I acknowledge that tea and coffee will present some of these taste qualities. They do so with less depth, merely providing notes - not chords.

                                                            So, if you're talking ultimate meal . . . bring on the booze.

                                                            10 Replies
                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                              I hoist my flagon to you, MGZ. That post cuts plumb center.

                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                MGZ is the queen of the Jersey Hounds!

                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                  Well, Pass, it's good to hear from you again. It seemed like that move to NM kept you quiet for a while. I'll take your comment as a compliment, but I'm not sure if my wife will.

                                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                                    Er, King? Eat the last of soft shell crab for me will ya? We went to the New Mexico wine festival a couple of weeks ago. What fun. A good brew culture too.

                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                      Ah, life's short (my list of creditors on the other hand . . . ). Glad New Mexico agrees with you. I'm sure you're mised in the Pine Tree State.

                                                                      The seasons seem to have turned early this year. I think most of the blue claws have dug in. Lobster season was a good one, though - local shedders still only 3 bucks a pound. I'll get an extra one today. I have work to do on perfecting the steamed lobster and Octoberfest marzen pairings.

                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                        Had a wine tasting at End of the Vine in Rui last weekend. All Willmon Vinyards stuff. The cab was good; the meritage, muscat and chard, not so much.

                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                          Picked grapes yesterday, at Guadalupe Vineyards in San Fidel in exchange for some German whites. Can't wait to stomp.

                                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                            Maybe you ought to grow some grapes on that Mt. Taylor plot of yours. Volcanic soil can do wonders for many varietals.

                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                              At over 9000 ft.? Gotta be a real hardy variety. Guadalupe is lower w/ a southern exposure. Cattle, yes, grapes, no.

                                                                2. re: MGZ

                                                                  I couldn't agree more.

                                                                  I've had meals that are very good and great without a drop of hooch. But all of my meals that are special memories included at a minimum a glass of wine. More often there is great wine or great beer with the meal followed up by port wine or brandy afterwards.

                                                                3. I have mixed feelings on this one. I hate when a strong red overpowers the food. However, wine is one of those components, like chocolate or vanilla, that has complex flavor. By adding complexity, you're going to dramatically alter the meal experience. Unfortunately, wine and other flavor intense alcohols don't do me any favors the next day, so I personally have a two drink maximum. (Although there are wine experts on CH who say that the better, smaller production wines are less headache inducing.) Any dream meal of mine would include champers, for sure.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: MCFAC

                                                                    If a "strong red overpowers the food", your pairing is totally wrong. ;)

                                                                    1. For me it depends on the type of food. I can dig a great Japanese meal without the sake, but a great French meal without red wine just doesn't make sense.