Supporting on-premise drink programs and initiatives can pay handsome dividends across your restaurant, says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of Technomic’s Adult Beverage Research Group.
To that end, a well-orchestrated pairing program can help elevate the consumer’s perception of a restaurant’s bar program, especially as pairing rules now extend beyond wine to include spirits, beer, and even coffee. In addition, restaurants are offering customers cocktail, wine, and beer pairings with foods ranging from bar snacks and appetizers to entrées.
Coppervine, a newly opened restaurant in Chicago, is in full pursuit of the perfect pairing, with wine, beer, and cocktail suggestions accompanying every menu item. Desserts are paired with different coffees.
“From start to finish, the drink and food are designed for each other,” says Don Sritong, a partner and beverage director of Coppervine. “The two are completely integrated. We are thinking about the pairing the whole time we create menu offerings—we see the food and beverage as one whole unit.”
The perfect pairing may be an elusive ideal, but Sritong and consulting chef Michael Taus apply precision and methodology to the process. “We look at the primary flavor and texture of the dish and the primary flavor and texture of the drink,” says Sritong. “Our approach is to match, complement, or contrast the two.”
Waitstaff participate in extensive training sessions, ensuring they can speak intelligently to the pairing suggestions. “Our approach to staff training is very different,” says Sritong. “My background is in the wine business and I’ve worked with wineries nearly my entire life. I’ve done thousands of wine trainings, from Charlie Trotter’s restaurant to Olive Garden.”
Coppervine emphasizes product knowledge with both food and drink. Staff is expected to know their spirits, wines, and beer, as well as the specific elements used to create the wine or cocktail, and how it affects the flavor of the entrée.
Taus’ menu of elevated comfort food is divided into small-, medium-, and large-plate offerings, all created with the beverage list. The restaurant is not even a month old, but customer favorites are already emerging, says Sritong. The Maine Lobster Mac & Cheese paired with the 2012 Qupe Chardonnay Y Block Bien Nacido, is one such favorite. “It’s a flavor match and a textural match, both offering a buttery flavor,” says Sritong. “It works because you’re layering decadence on decadence. The richness and flavor of the food match the rich, oaky butter flavor of the Chardonnay.”
Adds Sritong, “The intensity of each match each other, creating a third dimension that you wouldn’t get without having the fish and wine together.”
The cocktail offered with the Lobster Macaroni & Cheese, a Brown Butter Old Fashioned, fuses bourbon with the butter. It’s also the restaurant’s No. 1 selling cocktail. “As decadent as it sounds, the richness of the bourbon infused with butter makes it more visceral and luxurious,” says Sritong.
Another combo selling really well, says Sritong, is the chef’s Red Wine Braised Short Ribs paired with a 2010 Boneshaker Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California. “This is one of my favorite dishes—the chef had it on the menu in his own restaurant,” notes Sritong. “It is slow-cooked, super moist, super decadent, super flavorful. The Lodi Zinfandel’s decadence and richness of flavor match up perfectly with the richness and savoriness of the ribs.”
Upstairs from the restaurant is a test kitchen where food and drink menu possibilities are sampled, making sure the pairing works. When a room-temperature octopus salad was changed to a Grilled Baby Octopus, the initial pairing for the lighter dish had to be adjusted as well.
“When you deal with pairing dynamics and primary flavors, the temperature of the dish and how much you char absolutely affects how you perceive the dish,” says Sritong. “When the dish is cold, the perception of intensity of flavor is slightly numbed. We initially had an Arneis, which is light-bodied and citrus-driven. With a charred flavor, however, that light-bodied wine would be overpowered. We needed to bring in something that is fuller-bodied with more smoke, a wine that lends itself to a charred expression of what we have.”
Coppervine now serves its octopus entrée with a 2012 A Portela Mencia from Valdeorras, Spain.
By Joann Whitcher