By Heather Bryce
When do one and one equal more than two? This is not a trick question. There is a synergy created when pairing wine and food. To drag out an old maxim from math class (or was it science?): the sum is equal to more than its parts. Food is great, and wine even better. But when combined in knowing and inspired ways together they ascend to ethereal heights. Think of foie gras and sauternes or beef and cabernet. As my dining (and drinking) partner keeps exclaiming on a recent North Fork food and wine pairing adventure: “It’s all about the combo!”
Join us as we eat and drink at a pair of fine dining establishments on Long Island’s North Fork.
Jedediah Hawkins Inn
Our expert of the evening is general manager Colin Keillor who earned his cred as a sommelier by toiling at various wineries and restaurants after leaving a career as a trial lawyer. We leave the ordering to him and await his choices in the softly lit dining room with its generous Victorian proportions and splendid moldings.
A 2013 Riesling from Jamesport Vineyards arrives. Keillor explains that the sweet notes of this delicate wine will complement the baby arugula salad with its luscious layer of prosciutto, slivers of red onion, Gorgonzola and two types of fig (tiger and black mission). My companion, an avowed red wine imbiber, declares it “too sweet” until she drinks it with the salad. She then labels it “perfect.” Amen.
The pear and cheese tortellini with its asparagus and parmesan cream, proclaimed “amazing” by my friend, is elevated even further by the 2014 Dos Aguas Table White from Macari Vineyards with its complex blend of chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and viognier grapes.
A 2013 Viognier from Bedell Cellars is magic with the caramelized sea scallops on a tasty tide of carrot puree. Viognier grapes grow well here, according to our host, the ocean breezes and early morning dews moistening them on the vine. “This is soooo good,” my erstwhile red wine lover keeps repeating.
We dig into a beautifully executed duck breast with wild rice, black currants and a sour cherry sauce. To the delight of my pal a red wine arrives: a 2007 Sidor Reserve from Jamesport Vineyards. The full-bodied blend (syrah, cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, petit Bordeaux) is a stand-in for the pinot noir that Keillor would have recommended, if only that grape thrived on the North Fork. The “notes of fig and maraschino cherry cut through the gaminess of the duck,” as he promised.
Chef Kasia Dabrowska delivers the dessert herself. She waxes eloquent on the bounty of fare available locally: the produce from Seps Farm in East Marion, the ducks from Crescent Farm in Aquebogue (the last remaining duck farm on Long Island), and the ice cream we are about to
We love that we can order either three or six-ounce measures of wine. The smaller portions give us just enough to swirl around in our mouths and to taste each course, allowing us to sample more varieties. We start with a trio of “Tastes,” tiny starters, all of which are considered signature dishes: earthy House Marinated Olives, tasty Beer & Bacon Glazed Almonds and Crab Stuffed Deviled Eggs – surprisingly bright due to a generous dose of citrus. My companion, who considers herself a deviled egg aficionado, deems this version “one of the best I’ve ever tasted.” Chef-owner Noah Schwartz pulls the recipe out of his toque whenever he has a large event to cater. “It’s a real crowd pleaser,” says the native Long Islander. All nibbles go down nicely with a mineral-rich 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Castello di Borghese in Cutchogue.
A series of “Small Plates” arrive next. The spiciness of the Thai-influenced Crispy Calamari Salad, a winner, is grounded with the stone fruit notes of a 2015 Viognier from Greenport’s Kontokosta Winery. Our favorite dish was the scrumptious Crescent Farm Duck BBQ with a brilliant pomegranate molasses and chipotle adobe sauce melded with a comforting cheddar-flecked polenta – and elevated by the jammy flavors of a 2010 Meritage from Coffee Pot Cellars in Cutchogue. A 2013 Merlot from Bedell with hints of anise brought our decadent Filet Mignon Slider — on toasted brioche and lathered in a truffle-scented hollandaise — to new heights.
Alas, we couldn’t try everything at our Thursday evening outing, but next time we’re going to try a sampling of oysters sourced locally from Shelter Island to the Long Island Sound. Each cove delivers bivalves with differing flavor nuances according to Noah. We’re thinking of pairing the Peconic Gold oysters with the creamy oak and vanilla tinges characteristic of a 2014 Bedell Chardonnay.