Taste Washington Switched Out My Brain – Part 1
March 28, 2011 by Erin Thomas
Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Igor: Then you won’t be angry?
Frankenstein: I will not be angry!
Igor: Abby Someone.
Frankenstein: Abby Someone. Abby Who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Frankenstein: Abby Normal.
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
Frankenstein: Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?
That gorilla was this gal come 8:30 this morning. I overslept my alarm not once but three times, it took three oil-consistency cups of coffee to get my motor running and I ate two lunches instead of working through lunch to make up the time I lost.
Thank you, Taste Washington!, for transplanting an Abby Normal brain into me at some point this weekend without me noticing. I must have been so fixated on the show-stopping cast of wines represented at the 2011 Taste Washington! The Ultimate Food & Wine Experience that it was easier to do than… Well, normal.
Friday afternoon kicked off the Taste Washington! Restaurant Wine Awards which I was unable to attend but Doug here did quite the coverage. The major score of the day was Canlis Restaurant receiving the Washington Wine Restaurant of the Year award.
Saturday morning (as in before noon) broke with four intriguing seminars at the Bell Harbor Conference Center and I was drawn immediately to the one which connected with me the strongest – through my stomach with restauranteur master chef Michael Mina.
Titled “A Sort of Homecoming” focused on Mina’s childhood influence of agriculture in Ellensburg, WA and the power of food and wine pairing. RN74, the latest of his 22 restaurants and the only one focused on wine specifically, will open in Seattle early this summer.
Moderator Bruce Schoenfeld from Travel & Leisure Magazine was far from a mediator and more of an instigator. Off the bat, the journalist popped the existential question on all of our minds in the room: “Is there such a thing as a great pairing?”
To answer Schoenfeld’s loaded interrogation, the seminar’s panel was packed with experts in both the food and wine industries, including Mina, his other half/wine director Rajat Parr, wine director Nelson Daquip of Canlis and master sommelier Jason Smith of the Bellagio Resort.
Despite the constant playful bickering of Parr and Smith, the polite responses of Daquip and the “humble cook” approach from Mina, the panel was able to agree on one thing: Pairing depends on the guest and their idea of food and wine’s compatibility.
“Sometimes people make it too complicated,” said Smith. “They get lost in the mix. Just drink something you think is great and everything will work out.”
Mina and Parr both said RN74′s culinary concept is based on the wine first and secondly, creating a menu around said wine. Parr said the Mina Group tries to accomplish simple food with great wine. “You want to show the wiens or you want to show the food – it’s all about the backdrop.”
“To make flavorful food, it’s all about the balance,” Mina said. “Then you throw wine into the fold and it gets a lot more fun.”
Working with Mina’s menu and a few of this state’s best wines, the audience of the seminar was able to do their own analysis. Given the following wines, they were asked to taste each wine with each dish:
- 2009 Owen Roe “DuBrul Vineyard” Riesling
- 2009 Stevens Winery “Another Thought” Sauvignon Blanc
- 2009 Woodward Canyon Winery Chardonnay
- 2009 Chinook Wines Cabernet Franc
- 2009 Buty Winery “Peter Canlis Cuvée” Syrah
- 2008 Andrew Will Winery “Ciel du Cheval” Blend
The dishes showcased were a raw hamachi fish, smoked salmon mousse, pork paté and a beef strip over a creamed spinach custard.
The audience then voted on the wine they thought worked the best with the majority of the plates. This vote would place the winning wine on not only the wine list at the new RN74, but Canlis and core list for all restaurants at the Bellagio Resort. A resounding champion over the group by nearly 25% of the crowd was the 2008 Andrew will Ciel Du Cheval Red Blend.
In the end, the panel reinforced their original thought of trusting one’s own palate, but Mina’s parting words rang the loudest.
“If you walk way with one thing from this, always taste for the four components of balance in both food and wine – acid, spice, sweet and fat,” Mina said. “This way you aren’t just education your palate, you’re training it for balance.”