Seafood: The Chef’s Canvas for Wine

Beyond the health aspects of fish over beef, fish is often a more interesting menu choice—a challenge for the chef and a pleasure for the diner.

Last week I dined in one of San Francisco’s best steak houses and what did I order? A steak, of course. A delicious, rare, peppered steak…of tuna.

I hope our many carnivorous readers aren’t upset with my choice, but I simply believe that choosing fresh seafood when dining out reveals the talents of a great chef and his kitchen. It enables one to understand the dynamics of the restaurant better than what the chef can do with a hunk of red meat, no matter how wonderfully seasoned, cured, selected or prepared it may be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy a delicious, well-prepared New York strip or filet mignon with a great Cabernet Sauvignon, but selectively, in moderation and about once a year, when I am in a dining establishment whose reputation is built on beef. I also enjoy feeling great during and after my meal. It just seems that my body digests seafood more readily than red meat—hours after a great restaurant experience I feel happier for making my choice. Beyond the health aspects of choosing fish over beef, I believe that fish and shellfish are often more interesting choices.

Seafood is surely the canvas of the chef. And with the abundance and variety of seafood available today—and the spectrum of textures, flavors and cooking methods that such abundance affords—the chef becomes an artist of multiple media. Sauces and accompaniments are absorbed by red snapper, grouper, sea bass and halibut, just as paint marries to parchment. And the myriad flavors of great wine, whether red, white or rosé, accent and balance the wonderful diversity of flavors and textures of fresh fish and the complex sauces that spring from the chef’s imagination. Wine just seems to go better with these choices—and not just white wine. Great Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and even Syrah find themselves paired with anything from ahi tuna to tilapia. As you’ll read in Karen Berman’s feature, “Beyond White Wine with Fish,” in the hands of a gifted chef and sommelier, such pairings create meals that qualify as edible art.

But I guess art is on my mind lately. We are celebrating the success of our first Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The event, which took place May 13, was a pairing of art, food and wine that was a tantalizing treat for all five senses. The museum has been in the forefront of promoting contemporary art in America since it opened in 1930, and on this special night, the Whitney opened its first and lower levels and its sculpture court to 125 exceptional wineries, as well as distilleries and 12 of New York’s most notable restaurants. Guests strolled through the galleries, taking in the artwork, and in between, sampled a glass of this or a bite of that. It was truly a great night, and one that illustrated how well visual arts, wine and food—all sensual and spiritual pleasures—go together. For a peek at our big night, see our “Toast of the Town” feature.

If art is not your cup of tea (or more to the point, your glass of Gewürztraminer), there’s much more in this issue that will catch your eye. In this issue, you’ll find a comprehensive look at how far Chardonnay has strayed from its roots in Europe and its rise to prominence in California. Our reports on emerging Chardonnay regions make it clear that there are many appealing styles to this perennially popular variety. West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff takes us on a rollicking four-day tour of Sonoma. Follow in his footsteps and you’ll see some of the most splendid country in the world, and taste some of this country’s great wines. On the lighter side, Dave McIntyre and Mort Hochstein offer the do’s and don’ts of tasting room etiquette. And finally, our spirits tasting director, F. Paul Pacult, asks an intriguing question: Does rum reflect its place of origin? His article offers an answer.

So, whether your drink is rum or wine, your steak, beef or tuna, there’s something for everyone in this issue.


Published on July 1, 2002

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