Walter Mencken 3 p.m., July 31
Rocking the Sham Irish Whiskey's Strictly for Shooting
I’m no stranger to food and adult beverage pairing dinners. I’ve experienced numerous multi-course marriages of wine, beer, bourbon, and tequila with many different types of cuisines. Yet, up until recently, I’d never been party to a pairability focused procession geared around Irish whiskey.
Thanks to chef Lance Repp of La Valencia Hotel’s Mediterranean Room, who conceived a quartet of dishes to match against four Jameson’s whiskeys, I can scratch that first off my food writer list.
Like many, I’ve never really given much consideration to Jameson’s outside the dark confines of dime-a-dozen bars, but this event showed off the wider ranging flavors of their more advanced, specialty whiskeys like the Red Breast 15-year and only-50-casks-per-year Midleton blend.
The latter was packed with caramel and vanilla notes, plus faint apple fruitiness. Repp and his pastry chef, played off those characteristics in going with a dessert featuring apple spheres soaked in a bottle’s worth of Midleton (the reaction of the dining room when it was announced that this ultra rare whiskey had been utilized in this manner was one of dumbfounded shock) that reduced to a syrupy broth which was later soaked up by a cakey puck of cashew frangipan.
That dish was a harmonious end to a meal that started with another slam dunk pairing—a salad dressed with an aged sherry vinaigrette. That condiment was an obvious flavor bridge, but the ingredients that really drove the dish’s pairing with Jameson’s Gold were arugula and raw mustard greens. Their pepperiness carried the day while dates brought out the honey notes in the spirit.
Escolar, a steaky fish that’s one of my favorites, was braised and served atop a simple parsnip purée. Alone, it would have fallen flat as a pairing, but the inclusion of a pine cone syrup on the plate brought on a resinous spike of flavor akin to the woody barrel notes in the 18 year-old Jameson.
For the main course, Repp went old school steakhouse, matching brawny food with the boldest of the night’s whiskeys, the aforementioned Red Breast. Bright red, perfectly cooked bison loin got a boost of fatty goodness from a foie gras butter and some balancing sweetness from a house-made mango chutney
It didn’t necessarily go with the whiskey so much as it went toe-to-toe with it on the palate. That can be a challenge with such a harsh liquor, making this a draw that came across as a morale victory for the chef.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Irish whiskey can serve as more than petrol for Irish car bombs, and that a sound chef can make something graceful out of a meal centered around such a high-test beverage. La Valencia Hotel is located at 1132 Prospect Street.
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