Pairing ambiance with appetite

With the sudden increase in single concept restaurants, I can’t help but think more and more about the value of communicating a specific ambiance in a restaurant setting. I realize this is not for everyone, but I am a firm believer in the full experience of a cuisine, whether that means what you order, how you eat it, or what you pair with it. This is something I realized lately looking at wine and cocktail menus at various restaurants. At TORO, for example, an upscale Spanish-style tapas hot spot, the wine list is an eclectic blend of Spanish, European, and South American new world options, whereas the cocktails are very classic and seemingly detached from the rest of the concept. Meanwhile, a place like Babbo or Virgola Oyster Bar, the focus is entirely on Italian wines, boasting a number of varietals I have difficulty finding stateside. While there is certainly value in knowing what you like, or pairing things from different cultures, when I sit down for pricey tapas, I want a special Rioja that I wouldn’t typically order with other cuisine. When out for Mexican is one of the only times I drink tequila, and in that same context nothing beats a Dos Equis or a Lagunitas. That said, there are certain mainstays that go with everything, and concepts to match that versatility, but what surprises me is restaurants that try so hard to set a mood and inspire a certain feeling, but then imply that you should order a French burgundy with your paella. There is a time and a place for everything, so why not amplify a cuisine by pairing with it an authentic partner.

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