Monday, July 30, 2012


“So how was it?”

“Oh it was so good. You know how you are always talking about clean food? Well that was exactly what it was. Just fresh, simply but wonderfully prepared food without a bunch of crap on my plate. We ordered the Bailly Sancerre and went through 3 bottles effortlessly”

Randy and I having a conversation about a dinner he had at a very dear friend’s restaurant. We had all been several times before, likely would have been more had either of us lived close enough, it’s in Silverlake and that is a bit of a jaunt from Long Beach. But it is a remarkably beautiful spot, super-hip on the inside but it is the patio that makes me swoon. Pillows, over-stuffed and in varying shades, sizes and patterns strewn upon the high backed banquettes that rest upon the slightly elevated, almost tropical bungalow feeling terraced tables, the comfy cushioned wicker chairs and white cloth covered tables that sit dwarfed by a massive planter, home to one of the coolest trees with outstretched branches I’ve ever seen growing right out of the center of the patio. Twinkle lights stretched beneath the panels of fabric woven into a partial grid above, making you feel as if you are dining in the swankiest but most comfortable tree house imaginable. It’s gorgeous and welcoming unlike any patio I know. The restaurant, Cliff’s Edge has gone through what many do, which is dealing with multiple chefs and trying to find their way, and even though I always thought the food was great to fine, it sounds as if the chef in place now is hitting new strides and according to the press they’ve been getting lately, getting a seat on that there patio, well it might be even harder than it was before. Add to that their newly installed $1.00 oyster Thursday nights, and this “clean food” stuff and well, going to be heading up to that oasis a lot more often. 

Clean food, this is something I tend to rant about, maybe a bit too much. I mean I did almost come to blows with the caterer for my wedding reception when he kept insisting on putting fucking fruit salsa on the salmon I ordered, “People will expect it” he argued, “How’s about putting it on the side and giving them the option ya asshat? No means no!” I responded through clinched teeth, my now husband wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into. Fruit on my meat is something that bothers me, immensely. Keep your cherry port wine reduction, your l’orange, raspberry chipotle coulis, apple slaw and whatever-the-fuck fruit chutneys, relishes and salsas away from my protein dag-nab-it. Oh and don’t even get me started on the vanilla and caramel bullshit some chefs are spooning over scallops and whatnot….fucking gross. I happen to like the taste of my food and don’t want it covered up by dessert or breakfast like crap, maple honey glazes, well they can just blow me. I am a food lover in the first right, have been known to spend nearly a month’s rent on a dinner from time to time, I’m not a dull eater, not in the least, (although I must confess that innards and filter meat make me heave, but mostly because of texture…and they taste like guts. Maybe they need mango chutney) but much like wine, I seek purity. Great ingredients perfectly cooked and seasoned. Toss a bunch of noise on my plate, or my glass and my undies creep right up my sizeable ass. Crunders crunched. Simple food pleases me and one of the most important reasons? Um, much more wine friendly. 

So okay, I’m a food purity crusader by night but in my day job I am often faced with some crazy combination of crap on a plate, a sweet faced customer looking to me to pair a wine with their over-studded and bedazzled creations. What’s a girl to do when given a menu of Moroccan lamb with apricots paired with blue cheese grits? Well other than concentrate on fighting back the gag reflex? Yeah, I have to politely mention that those flavors aren’t really conducive to food and wine harmony, and bite my lip about putting blue cheese grits with that lamb dish, but ultimately I will try and find them something that they will like, (always ask these folks that look at me like I’m from Mars when I mention that their dish isn’t at all wine friendly, what they like to drink…I figure at least I might make them happy that way, sure is shit isn’t going to be with a great pairing) that hopefully won’t go all swamp assy in their mouths once mixed with spiced lamb, fruit (ugh) and blue cheese…grits. Yeah, aint all that easy, and not to sound too much like a wine snoot, they probably won’t care all that much. Not everyone gets their bits all tingled by food and wine pairings and I always try and keep that in mind. I’m not the pairing gestapo for fucks sake, I’m a wine slinger and while educating people is important to me I shan’t be that wanker that treats people like they’re morons when they are in our store trying to buy a bottle of Merlot for their fried oysters. 

A couple weeks ago I had a very nice, and very tiny woman, I swear she could barely see over the front counter, come in and ask for a recommendation for a wine to go with “Grilled stone fruit in a balsamic glaze”. I tried to un-scrunch my face, leaned over the counter, my tummy resting on the hard wood surface, feet almost off the ground and after a deep breath said, “You are aware you just put two wine killers, like together, right?” to which she responded, “Yeah that was kind of what I was thinking. Sounds good but I just can’t imagine there is a wine that would taste good with that. What about something that might just be fun?” nearly picked her up and swung her around all Sound of Music like. Hooked her up with a bottle of Brachetto, a bubbly, semi-sweet red from Italy that I thought might not cause too much damage and sent her happily on her way. I love that story. I really do, kind of in that same way I love those stories about a homeless person finding a winning lotto ticket or a doggy walking 600 miles to find his family…it’s rare my friends, very rare. 

“Sam, I just got a call from a friend of Randy’s, (and they all think they are Randy’s friends, even the ones he greets with a, “Hey….you. Good to see you” because he can’t place them) and he needs you to pick wines for a wedding next weekend” my coworker as we were setting up for my Friday night class. I didn’t really have time to deal with a whole pairing thing, especially a wedding one, but even though we were a person short, and the bosses were away, when you hear the owner’s friend needs help, well you try and make the time….”Oh fuck me” alert the gestapo.

I rather hurriedly took the printed menu from my coworker’s hands, (sorry Jen, not you, just busy) and noticed first the venue, The St. Regis Monarch Beach, swank with a pimpy fat-ass E, I then saw what they wanted to maybe spend per bottle, for a 13 case order…up to $40, per bottle? For a wedding with 450 attendees? Well hell, maybe I could squeeze out a little time. My eyes then hit the first obstacle, Condiments on each table: red pepper flakes, jalapenos and salsa. My inner wine Nazi simply went, “Nein!” and I barked at my poor coworker that I couldn’t deal with that right now. Asked that she let him know that I would take a gander at the menu over the weekend and get back to him. 

The rest of the staff putting out placemats and glasses for our Pinot Noir event, a second of free time and the curiosity got the best of me, grabbed the menu again and actually found myself laughing. “You have got to be shitting me” the only thing I could think to say. What I held in my hand had to be the single worst menu, for wine, I had ever seen. As I let my eyes fall upon each line, several of which were horribly misspelled thusly causing little hiccups in my scanning, my little wine brain feverishly flipping through card after card in my mental wine rolodex…I swear, I started to smell burnt hair and thought I was going to stroke out. 

The Menu:

Tray Passed Hors d’Oeuvres
Chicken Tikka
Paneer, Bell pepper & onion skewer
Aloo ki Tikki
Lamb Samosa (more spicey)
Tandori Shrimp
Lamb Chop (more spicey)
Fried Chutney Sandwich (no crust, add chutney before frying)
Vegetarian Spring Roll (more filling and more spicey)

On to the mains:

The afore mentioned Condiments at each table
Stacked Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Cured Olives, Torn Basil Leaves, Basil Oil and Pesto Drizzle
Freshly Baked Asiago Roll, Cranberry Bread and Rosemary Roll
Jerk Chicken with mango relish, jalapenos, chili flakes, plantains and vegetable rice (more spicey)
Spicy Eggplant Parmesan with Polenta and Curry Vegetables inside Puff Pastry, baby carrots, aspargus, and brocollini

Okay, so while trying to steady myself, and shouting, “How they hell did they spell spicy right once but wrong like five other times?!” and “What the fuck is an aspargus? Is it some kind of anti-social veggie?!” the little Julia Roberts like vein popping from my forehead, thumping and threatening to burst at any second, “Is that burning hair I smell?” me handing the menu to anyone that would take a moment to look…eyes bugged out and damn near frothing at the mouth. “This, this is some kind of joke right? The bosses put their friend up to this right? I mean, they can’t possibly believe that there is any wine on the planet that will go…well with any of it let alone all of it….right?” my voice beginning to trail off in a post rant, nearly seized whimper. Unclean…

Ended up waiting until Sunday to actually talk to the gentleman, who was in fact someone Randy knew, over the phone and when I gave him my much calmer suggestion of, “You know, this is just about the most unfriendly, for wine, menu I have ever laid my eyes upon. I think the way to go is to get some super-tasty wines, stuff not too high in acidity, oak or alcohol, that may not, (read never) give you that wine and food moment, they won’t clash too much and hopefully people will just enjoy drinking them, regardless. He then went on to tell me that the couple getting married were like obscenely wealthy and just getting into wine. They were looking to impress their friends and he too was hoping that they would understand, if just for this event, that putting shit like Silver Oak Cabernet, with that menu, was going to end up shoving their guests into their glasses of water rather than enjoying wine with their dinner. Don’t think either of us was holding out much hope, especially me after recommending a Viognier and hearing, “That might be too light for them”….sigh. Just kept thinking about Randy and Dale, in that beautiful tree house patio, slurping oysters, forkfuls of clean food, polishing off bottle after bottle of wine. “How much wine do you think we’ll need for 450 people?”……

“About a case”


middle child said...

I figured your job was difficult, having to know all that you do-and that is a considerable amount of knowledge. But I never thought about the fact that you often have to deal with menus of the worst kind. Now I have even MORE respect for what you do. p.s. I know nothing about wine but still....

Samantha Dugan said...

Middle Child,
Well that's what a good wine store is for. Find yourself a good shop and I guarantee you will drink much happier. Just let them know what you like and what you're and for the record, just saying "chicken" or "pasta" doesn't help, we need to know as much as possible, but once we do...happy eating and drinking. Unless of course you are having a meal anything like this wedding one, then just drink beer. Cheers.

Winey the Elder said...

No that is not an aubergine in my pocket: I'm just happy to see you.

Obscenely wealthy? Wanting to impress their friends? How about a case of Radikon Ribolla Gialla to shake the place up. It should match a few of the foods; the complexity of the wine should keep some folks bemused; and no one will want to look uncool with a WTF? On the other hand, why waste such a beautiful wine, eh?

You are such a gifted storyteller, Samantha.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

This post took me back to my sommelier days when regular customers would often bring me their special party menus and ask me to suggest wines to accompany them. I laughed outloud at that menu you posted--man, I've seen that before. I usually said basically what you write here--"Drink whatever wine you like, whatever your favorite stuff is right now, because this menu is going to murder pretty much anything you put up against it. Not every dish has the perfect wine pairing. If the food is good and the wine is good, people are pretty forgiving." I think most of them suspected as much, they just needed an "expert" to tell them.

Rich newbies just want to hear that the perfect wine is Rombauer Chardonnay or Caymus Cabernet. OK, I just gagged in my mouth.

I love you!

Samantha Dugan said...

That picture freaking killed me! Do a search for 'rude vegetables' pretty damn entertaining. Had to go with that one seeing as eggplant was on the stupid ass menu and all. Orange wines, ah yes, but maybe a little too hipster for this group.

That "storyteller" business, got to be one of the single most "melting me" comment I get. I dream of someday being a great storyteller and hearing that, yeah, melted.

Ron My Love,
Look who it is! I was beginning to think your wine blog finalist badge was covering me up on your blogroll or somethin'! Nice to see you here Love.

I think I eluded in one of my emails to you that I was having to deal with a seriously jacked up menu, well that was it babe. Crazy no?! I swore it had to be some kind of test, one my popping vein almost had me fail. I knew if anyone would understand it would be you. I love you too!

Jennifer Land said...

I'm sorry....When I told him we would help I hadn't seen the menu yet...But I know that you would be able to pull it off. I have absolute faith in your ability to find a wine for everything and every occasion. You have yet to steer me wrong in my fledgling year here at the store, and my struggle to learn more about all these wines.

Thank you for always having an ear to listen and some words of wisdom...You never cease to amaze me.

TWG said...

Speaking of orange, how did you survive that trip to Friuli?

Samantha Dugan said...

Don't be sorry! Gave me a fun post and one hell of a sale out of it. It's all good.

You know, we didn't really have much in the way of Orange wines when we were there. A couple sure but honestly very few. Plus I am not anti Orange wines, I think they are pretty cool, just never seem to want a second glass. You think that's why they always come in those tiny bottles? (wink)

gabe said...

that was a good laugh. tandori shrimp, bruschetta, and jerk chicken all on one menu. forget the wine pairing, that food doesn't even pair with itself!

i would recommend a sparkling wine...for $40 a bottle, they could probably even afford a cool grower champagne. I'm curious to hear what you recommend...

Samantha Dugan said...

Right?! Spicy Eggplant Parmesan, with curry?! What the fuck is that? It's Moroccan lamb and apricots with blue cheese grits, which is to say, mix matched and foul....not to mention gag inducing. Gonna take more than wine to impress those guests.

Sparkling wine, in my very humble opinion, is way, way to acidic (and bubbly) for super spicy, or "spicey" food. All that frothy acid begins to react like battery acid once paired with chilies. Not good. We opted for some super juicy, or fruit driven wines that didn't have too much acidity or alcohol, which can also burn. For the passed goodies I gave them a Ken Volk Pinot Noir and a Macon-Villages from Comte Lafon, (still kicking myself for sharing that rare treat with such a menu. I got 10 cases, they bought 3, the nice man that was helping, Randy's friend, when I told him how special it was, he bought 2 cases...dammit, half gone) and for the dinner we went with a Tangent Viognier and Broc Blend 12.5. Juicy, tasty wines that they did in fact like and we got to ring up a nice plump order this afternoon. All worked out in the end. Although we did have to sell them a case of Justin Isosceles, you know, for their friends that "needed" a big, rich red. Sigh...

gabe said...

I guessed you would pick a pinot, based on how you wanted a good food match. white burgundy is a bold choice for people with terrible taste, although i have to admit it might be the only food pairing that would actually work. excellent choice. viognier is usually a crowd pleaser, so that was also a pretty wise choice. and although i am not familiar with that particular red blend, a blend seems like a natural choice for that meal.

i have to admit i admire your choices. i would have sent them home with 20 cases of veuve cliquot and said good riddance. those are really hip wines for a tone deaf menu. well done

Sara Louise said...

Imagine having all of that money and choosing a menu like that for your wedding??!! It's a shame. A real shame.

Samantha Dugan said...

The Broc Cuvee 12.5 is a Rhone inspired red, a blend of mostly Syrah, some Grenache and Counnoise and the "12.5" refers to the alcohol level....which I think gives you an idea where the winemaker's head is at. Juicy, fresh fruit and super easy to drink. That offering was not mine, our domestic buyer came up with that and I agree, it was a very cool choice. As far as Viognier goes, I wouldn't mind bathing in it, I love the way it smells, but I think it's just too.....well, too. Never drink the stuff but I thought it might be obnoxious enough to hold up to all that noise. I remember your comment that you are a newer reader, (and I do so appreciate you sticking around) so you probably don't know of my relationship with Clicquot, (I am also the Champagne specialist for the shop) but we don't even carry the stuff. I think it's utter nonsense, so to sell them that I would have had to send them elsewhere. We do all grower stuff so Agraart or Coutier maybe but here's another fun little fact, they didn't want Champagne at all! Doomed, I fear this marriage is doomed...

The thing that struck me, you know, after my stroke about wine pairings, was how insensitive this menu was to their guests. You two might live "spicey" but not everyone does...seemed so odd to me.

TWG said...

Maybe Friuli ships all the orange to Venice, where it's everywhere.

Samantha Dugan said...

I meant Agrapart...comments before coffee, not good.

You mean Venice CA right? Every rolled-up jean wearing, black-rimmed glasses wearing, bed-head hair havin' hipster in Venice has a woody for those wines.

TWG said...

No real Venice, Venezia.

Samantha Dugan said...

There's another Venice? Wouldn't know it if you asked the residents of the one here!

gabe said...

I may be new to this website, but I know enough about wine to predict how you would feel about Veuve. I meant it tongue-in-cheek; i meant to say that if I had to deal with those people, I would sell them some overpriced crap and send them on their way. So I respect you giving that decision so much weight. But just when I thought I couldn't have a lower opinion about your clients, you told me they didn't want champagne at their wedding. i am now frothing at the mouth

TWG said...

These American cities are nothing like their namesakes. Just compare Naples, Fla. with Napoli.

Samantha Dugan said...

Gabe My Dear,
Gotcha, wasn't sure how deeply you were up in this wine junk. You now sound like a fine young man and someone I hang with anytime! With a cold glass of grower Champagne in hand, of course.

True dat, I can tell you Perris California is a shit hole compared to...oh never mind, it's just a shit hole.

gabe said...

thanks samantha!
your blog is pretty cool, i would love to sip some champagne with you...although you might be dissapointed to hear we will be serving $8 cava at my wedding...

Samantha Dugan said...

Poured a $13 Cremant de Limoux at mine, so not at all.

gabe said...

champagne taste on a pbr budget

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