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Thursday
Jul112013

Eating to Drink

One of the biggest fronts that wine drinkers like to put up is the idea that wine should always be paired with food. That's what it's for. It's not meant to simply be drunk alone or enjoyed on the side. You can only drink Rioja if you're eating lamb. You can only open that Cabernet if you plan on grilling a steak. Not doing so would represent an egregious mishandling of fine alcohol. You wouldn't really be getting the wine's true potential. While sometimes a bit strict and fanatical, these rules have never really bothered me because the right meal can and will enhance the flavors of the drink. They might be a tad pedantic from time to time, but at least they're based on real results.

However, one of the most incredible ironies concerning American wine drinkers, and usually among those who consider themselves foodies, is the fact that there's never enough food on the table to enjoy the wine they're drinking. Dinner will involve Champagne, white wine, red wine, maybe even a Sauternes, but all you'll get along side them is maybe one crostini, a tiny salad, and a small slice of meat with a piece of arugula. How in the hell do they expect you to soak up all that booze? Even worse, this small plate phenomenon has completely infiltrated the cocktail world. You'll sit down at the bar to slurp two glasses of pure liquor, but the only nibbles available are a tiny olive plate or maybe a few candied nuts. But, hey, the olives were house-brined.

If you're going to drink, you're going to need to eat. There's a reason people who are hungover crave greasy food like Jack in the Box or fried eggs with hash browns - it makes you feel better to put something substantial in your stomach. Heavy eating usually neutralizes heavy drinking, in my experience. I'm currently on the 18th floor of my hotel in Manhattan, sitting by the window, enjoying the incredible view to the north and the Empire State Building. It's early. I'm awake because I couldn't sleep any longer, but it's not because I'm hungover, despite the heavy drinking from last evening's events. It's because I am full. My stomach is still pushing at the elastic on my pajamas, testing its give. My wife and I don't play around when we go out boozing in New York. There's no time to be groggy and useless the next day.

After taking a nap yesterday afternoon, we rose around six to have a drink before dinner. Looking to escape the humidity, we passed on the rooftop bar at the Standard and decided to head a block over to Pastis instead, looking for the air-conditioned, basserie cocktail experience. We sat at the counter, gazed at the wall of Ricard behind it, and ordered some beverages. Both of us began with the Rive Gauche - an agricole rhum drink with St. Germain, white wine, and lemon juice - and after warming up to the bartender, we started talking about the Bay Area. It turns out that our man had just spent two weeks in California and had fallen in love with the state and its many micro-breweries. After revealing my industry credentials sometime during the second drink, he said we absolutely must stay for a third and that's how I wound up drinking another large glass of pastis on an empty stomach. Talking about your liquor-buying job with a bartender can be quite hazardous if you've got other plans for the evening, but luckily we did not.

Rolling deep with three cocktails before dinner at Pastis is quite fun, I'd highly recommend it, as long as you're not eating dinner there when you're done. I'm sure the seared organic salmon with baby spinach, fennel, and pequillo peppers is quite delicious, as is the classic steak frites. However, I'm also quite sure that, along side a bottle of wine, neither are capable of balancing out the food to booze ratio needed to keep my stomach from turning itself over - even if I did add on the arugula salad, chicken liver mousse, and oysters on the half shell appetizer. I'm sorry, but the American version of French cuisine just doesn't pair well with alcohol. I've never had to ask for seconds in Gascogny. I've walked away from meals in complete agony, clutching my stomach, sweating pure fat out of every pore during the night, but I've never complained about not getting enough to eat. For some reason, however, Americans like to pretend they're not hungry when they are - and they add way too much booze on top of it.

The only answer for a three-cocktail warm up is pizza, especially when you're near Greenwich Village. John's of Bleecker St. is a fifteen minute walk from Pastis, so we high-tailed it down Hudson street and hopped in line with the other hungry guests. When we finally were seated I ordered a bottle of pinot grigio and a large pie with onions and olives. After taking our first sip of wine, however, we knew it wasn't going to be enough. The two of us can take out a large New York pizza when we're not hungry, so I quickly added a second to the bill. The waiter looked surprised, then smirked slightly and said rhetorically, "Wow, you're not kidding, are you?" No, sir, we most definitely are not.

We plowed through the first pizza like it was made out of paper, but that's to be expected. It was only our second night of seven in Manhattan and, to us, John's pizza is among the best in the world. The first pizza was the treat, the prize for our vacation. The second was merely a reenforcement for the alcohol. We were in familiar territory. Last year's jaunt in New York involved one evening where a forty-minute wait for a table ended up with two pre-dinner Negronis before we sat down for wine and pasta. By the time we made it over to the Library Bar in the East Village, we were feeling it. After a round or two at the iconic punk watering hole, we were down-right drunk. However, that's when my wife headed into Burger King and I stumbled into the Popeye's next door, and we both emerged with bags of french fries and bisquits. We sat there on the street bench, stuffing our faces, laughing at the predicament we'd found ourselves in, but knowing the grease would save us. We awoke the next morning in fine shape.

Last night's pizza explosion was no different. We fortified our guts, stopped off for rehydrating coconut water in Abingdon Square on the trek back north, and made it back to the hotel for slumber. I remember cursing the fact that I had never been so full, but I'm certainly not regretting it now. I'm ready for some coffee and another warm day in the city.

-David Driscoll