Because I'd been away for a while, spending a placid few days kayaking on the waters of Maine's Somes Sound, it seemed to me (for some lunatic reason) like the proper way to effect a New York re-entry would be by attending a cocktail vs. wine pairing smackdown at Nios, a new midtown wine bar. This is a regular event there, in which home-team sommelier Emily Wines takes on challengers in a battle of who-pairs-best, using chef Patricia Williams's tasty food.
Her opponent this time was bartender extraordinaire Jim Meehan, the man behind the drinks at New York's excellent PDT (and also the co-editor of Food & Wine Cocktails 2009, our pretty dern nifty cocktail book).
First up, to go with Williams's risotto of corn with chanterelles, confit pigeon and castelmagno cheese, Meehan poured his "Imperial Silver Corn Fizz." Brave is the fellow who'll make a stiff drink using corn water, I say (Meehan enlisted chef/pal Wylie Dufresne for corn-water-making advice). But, surprisingly, this concoction of Bourbon, corn water, honey syrup, egg white and Champagne worked incredibly well with the risotto. Wines fought back with a somewhat over-oaky 2007 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Chardonnay, to no avail. Meehan, wearing a sparkly purple luchador mask with a kind of small-savage-animal pelt attached to the top, took the round.
Next course was a beautifully cooked rack of American lamb with grilled figs and fingerling potatoes wrapped in jamón serrano. (I've decided, based on this dish, that I'm just going to wrap everything I eat in jamón serrano from now on. There's just no reason not to.) This time Wines came out strong, pouring a smoky, plummy 2006 Gai'a Estates Agiorgitiko from Greece. It was a terrific match for the lamb, and Meehan's "Señor Smackdown"—blanco tequila with lime juice, Dry Sack sherry, Benedictine and a bar spoon of fig jam—took it on the chin. The drink was scrappy, but tequila and lamb are just a rough combo. Could be Meehan was affected by the heat under that vinyl mask.
Finally, dessert: rose petal panna cotta with pomegranate foam. Wines appeared holding glasses holding a splash of rosewater and some floating pomegranate seeds, then topped them with light, berry-sweet NV Patrick Bottex Cerdon de Bugey "La Cuille," an off-dry sparkling wine from France's Savoie region. Meehan countered with his "Raspberries Reaching:" an ounce and a half of Trimbach Framboise eau-de-vie, an ounce of 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, and a half-ounce of Pama pomegranate liqueur, plus three drops of rose flower water, stirred and strained into a chilled coupe, and garnished with a peach-colored rose petal. This drink blew me away, and I thought the title was destined for Meehan. But I was in the minority; when the votes were counted, Wines was the champion of the evening.
Nios will be holding these smackdowns once a month for the rest of the year, so check it out. Viva la lucha de vino!