Danny Meyer, the man who created Manhattan's Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, is talking barbecue. Actually, he's talking about pairing wine with barbecue--which is what he intends to do at Blue Smoke, a restaurant set to open around year's end on East 27th Street. The secret, he says, is to think of the wine not as a partner for the food but rather as an accent that can bring out hidden qualities--a condiment, as he likes to put it.
With that principle in mind, Meyer and I recently sat down in the Union Square Cafe, amid vases of blossom-bearing branches, and performed an experiment. Meyer had had Tennessee-style fixings overnighted from his barbecue guru, Mike Mills, of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois. (Starting this fall, 17th Street will ship barbecue nationwide; 888-417-THRIB.) Before us, we each had five glasses of wine selected from Union Square's list. Our aim was to find out how each paired with Mills' baby back ribs, his juicy pulled-pork shoulder, his sweet baked beans and his tangy barbecue sauce. Here's what we learned.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon, NV Brut Réserve
The Champagne worked, triumphantly, with everything. Why? "Probably for the same reason beer does," Meyer said. "It's refreshing. The bubbles cleanse the heat from your palate. There's plenty of acidity, which goes with the vinegar and the tomatoes in the barbecue sauce. And it cuts through the richness of the pork." The Billecart-Salmon is the house Champagne at three of his restaurants (and the one he drank at his wedding). "It doesn't dominate the palate with wood or yeast. It has a very clean finish. And on top of that, at $29 a bottle it's an extraordinary value."