Non-Alcoholic Pairings for Tasting Menus
I'm not much of a drinker, and I rarely do pairings. I understand that the different wines can really enhance a dish but I don't have the tolerance, or the appreciation to choose to partake. The benefit to me is generally cost and calories.
However, there are some menus where rather than letting the diner opt out of pairings, they provide a non-alcoholic alternative at the same cost. My question is two-fold:
1) Do you feel like NA parings are a lesser value?
2) Can NA pairings,mock-tails,etc. ever compliment a dish as well as wine or spirits?
Question 1 - From a shear cost standpoint yes it is of a lesser value. But if you don't enjoy for booze what difference does it make? It won't be of any "value" to you.
Question 2 - Can non-alcoholic beverages pair as well as wine? I really can't say for sure. I can see coffee or tea pairing well with certain dishes. Both are often consumed with desserts, cheeses, scones. Whatever the beverage it should be able to cleanse the palate first and foremost. That's the primary function of beverage pairing at least savory pairings. Therefore of non-alcoholic choices besides the aforementioned coffee or tea would be anything sharp and drier like a strong lemon or lime beverage low in sweetness.
What do you mean by value ? value to the customer ?
Have a look at Noma (google noma juice pairing); the restaurant does a "juice" pairing with its tasting menu (they also do wine pairing).
I think if the juices are well made, they can add to the experience of the meal in a way that wine might not; one can make a juice that would be closer than wine to the taste of a particular dish.
On the other hand, juice (or fake non-alcoholic) might not be easier on the calories compared to wines.
My father drank scotch with everything because he liked scotch. He wasn't pairing he just drank what he liked. So I'd suggest you have what you like (mock-tails, etc) and forget about pairing; because once you've excluded wine, pairing becomes a much more difficult feat in my opinion.
I suspect that the non-alcoholic pairings do not cost as much for the restaurant to provide as the wine does. However, it is potentially worth it for people who want beverages that complement their meal (rather than just something to drink while they eat), but who don't like or can't drink alcohol.
It's got to suck when you go to a high end restaurant with great food, and your friends are getting wines carefully paired to go well with the each course, enhancing the general experience, while you're trying to decide which complements smoked duck best - coke, coffee, iced tea or a virgin daiquiri.
I don't know how well they complement the dishes, but I suspect that done with care it could work really well. The problem with the usual non-alcoholic drinks on a menu is that they generally don't really pair well with the food. You've got soft drinks, non-alcoholic variations on cocktails (alcoholic cocktails aren't really something I would pair with food), teas and coffees and juices, and not a whole lot else. Coffee and tea go well with dessert (I prefer that to alcohol with most desserts), but most of the other drinks are pretty sweet.
I don't drink alcohol. Nor do I like sweet drinks which is what most non-alcoholic drinks tend to be. Means I happily stick to sparkling water throughout my meal.
On the other hand, my partner does drink but doesnt want to drink as much as would be offered as pairings on a long tasting menu. Solution - discuss with sommelier and explain how many glasses are wanted and leave it to her/him to provide some nice surprises. Never fails.
Some years back I went to French Laundry with three others. Three of us had a wine pairing, but one was pregnant so did an alternative. FL did not require a pairing, so she opted out and paid for the bottles on a per-single-serving bottle basis. My recollection was that they served her a dry cider (maybe slightly sparkly). She was quite happy, and having tasted her cider, it was very good. I would not have wanted any sort or really sweet "fruity" drink: the dry chamagne-ness was perfect, especially for the first course where light bubbles are more likely a good match. I do not recall what she ordered for the meat portion. So it did complement, though frankly not like wine.
It is true as others have indicated that a number of restaurants are getting pretty creative with non-alcoholic drinks, so they may have developed interesting pairings beyond what we experienced at FL, and perhaps a tasting adventure in itself. Best thing is to ask: if they are not willing to let you opt-out, what does their non-alcoholic pairing consist of? What is it about their non-alcoholic pairing that makes it worth the price of a wine pairing?
I was actually trying to make a point relating to Harters preference. I should have made the question 3 fold.
3) How do you feel about being required to do a non-alcoholic pairing at the same price point, when opting out of the regular pairing - unlikely at most formal restaurants, but I've seen it happen at a number of events.
I'm put off by it. I'm content with just water. I can appreciate being offered the option of non-alcoholic pairings, but they wouldn't be worth it to me for the reasons mentioned in the first post.