With sunny sundry neighborhoods, bars suited to every taste, Broadway, springboard diving, and ice skating shows, the Oasis of the Seas is really like a floating city. And that’s before you mention the 20 plus restaurants.
As you might be able to tell, last week was my first sailing and it wasn’t long before I was sucked into the easy, breezy flow of “ship life,” which on the Oasis even includes foodies happily chatting in the elevator, or the very real, living and breathing park on board, aptly named Central Park, and the home of most specialty restaurants aboard. Our focus of course is on the restaurant 150 Central Park, which could very well sit in the city that holds its namesake.
Two sophisticated six-course menus run every week, “Pasture” transitioning to “Palmetto” on Wednesday for the fall 2012 season, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy a chef Michael Schwartz menu along with wine director Eric Larkee’s pairings… twice. I was lucky enough to do so this week, and I learned a lot, not only about how you can actually sail a city out to sea, but about how wine can pair magically with food.
“There’s three things you’re going for with a wine pairing,” Eric told me while we discussed the Schloss Saarstein Riesling with the slow roasted butternut squash soup on the Palmetto menu, “The first is that it doesn’t suck,” he said candidly, “Next is that the two to work well together. Lastly, if you can make it so that the taste of each one changes, improving the taste of the other, well, then I’ve done my job.” And he did. He nailed it with that pairing and I told him as much, which is how I got him to reveal that little tidbit. But he did nail it. The Riesling alone was a little sweet and while the soup alone is one of my favorites, tasting the two together elicits each already fantastic flavor profile to magically pop.
If you are sailing on the Oasis of the Seas in the next three months, you have the chance to explore the rest of the fall menu pairings, and see if I’ve got cabin fever, or if Eric Larkee really does have a magic wand up his sleeve. And if you’re not, you might want to make some plans. Below is what’s in store with the magician’s insight on the pairings.
Roasted with blue cheese & port reduction
Shaved with parsley & almond
Pickled with persimmon & pomegranate
Bollinger, Special Cuvée
With three components to the pear salad its hard to find a still wine with the kind of versatility that pairs 3 ways. There is a fair amount of acid with two parts but then the blue cheese needs acid, so to me something like Champagne is perfect. Bolly has great power and richness, cleanses the palate and gets the conversation going.
House Made Pappardelle with roasted cippoline onion, crispy sage, toasted hazelnuts, brown butter, piave vecchio
Pinot Gris, Elk Cove
Willamette Valley, Oregon
This is everything that is being done right with white wine in Oregon. Elk Cove’s Pinot Gris has pears on the palate, which gives a bit of a unity with the first course, kind of a bridge, which is cool. This fruit balances the salty cheese and savory sage, Gris is just great with hazelnuts and this wine has such wonderful refreshing acidity.
Sautéed Pompano Meunière with whipped potato, sautéed spinach
Chardonnay, Domaine Fevre, Montmains Premier Cru, Chablis, Burgundy, France
I love Florida Pompano, for this menu filets are prepared with a Meunière sauce, classic Parisian style. The traditional fish would be Dover Sole, so with the richer Pompano I wanted more power but with a lot of acid. Chef made this dish when we were implementing the last menu and I pulled the cork on this Premier Cru Chablis to wash it down. The whole menu was really built around this dish and pairing.
Duck Confit with roasted turnip, bitter greens, amarini cherries
Grenache and Syrah, Perrin & Fils, Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France
Duck confit, cherries, turnip. A lot of times with duck I like to go with Pinot Noir; domestic or French, but the cherry flavor is so strong in this that I went with something bigger. This Gigondas from Perrin is half Grenache, half Syrah, it has enough ripeness to stand up to the amarini cherries but also these black pepper and savory meat notes that complement the rich the duck.
Pan Roasted Filet of Beef with crispy polenta, Swiss chard, porcini Worcestershire
Cabernet Sauvignon, Caymus, Napa Valley, California
There is no reinventing the wheel here. While in some of the other dishes there is a level of creativity in the pairing, countless beef filet is washed down with Caymus. This is a very classic menu and the most American of the dishes gets a steakhouse staple. The grass-fed beef is of incredible quality and extremely tender. This round, fruit-forward style of Caymus is such an easy to enjoy combination.
House Made Ricotta Cheesecake with lemon confit, red currants, grappa gelee
Sauvignon Blanc, Errazuriz, Late Harvest, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Dessert wine needs to be at least as sweet as the dessert, but there is no necessity for it to be a lot sweeter. This cheesecake is light and fluffy, the dish has acid from the lemon confit, and the crust offsets the sweetness a touch, so the pair is a Late Harvest Sauv Blanc from Chile. There is a little bit of botrytis, or noble rot, influence on the wine, which concentrates the sugars of the wine, and gives it richness. The wine tastes like supple lemon curd and I think will surprise those that aren’t “into” sweet wines.
Roasted Fall Vegetable Salad with plumped raisins, sunflower seeds, charmoula sauce & aged goat cheese
Chardonnay, Ramey, Carneros District, California
We’re starting off with a fair amount of richness for a first course so I was figured a California Chardonnay with a moderate oak influence could work out well. There happened to be a stash of Ramey’s 2007 Carneros offering on the ship which is in such a beautiful evolutionary place. The wine is a blend of grapes from four sites in both Sonoma and Napa. Although there is a little barrel on the nose, all of the oak flavors in the wine are perfectly integrated, the rich yellow apple notes are great. This is everything that’s right with California Chardonnay.
Slow Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with toasted spiced pumpkin seeds, watercress, pumpkin seed oil
Riesling, Schloss Saarstein, Mosel, Germany
Following a dish that has sweetness from the carrots and the raisins we head into a butternut squash soup again with a good level of natural sweetness. So I wanted a wine that had enough residual sugar to stand up to the squash. Sugar also adds viscosity to a wine which is necessary to match the soup texturally. Mosel Riesling gives this ying-yang balance of sugar and acid and while the Schloos Saarstein is a bit sweet the wine will start to taste almost dry as its drank with the soup.
Pan Roasted Wild Salmon with Tunisian Chick Peas, yogurt sauce
Pinot Noir, Montinore, Willamette Valley, Oregon
One of the most common questions that I’m asked by guests is what are good red wines with fish, there’s kind of a holy grail quality to having a red wine with fish and often it’s the sauce which allows a red wine pairing to work. King Salmon has more fat (good fat) than any other salmon and Oregon Pinot Noir is just a no-brainer with it. This wonderful biodynamic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Montinore has the balance of fruit and earth that Oregon strives for. The acidity on this wine is perfect with this dish and while the tannins are softened there is just enough structure to balance with the spices and yogurt sauce.
Grilled Palmetto Creek Pork Loin with Anson mills cheese grits, pickled onions, parsley sauce
Nebbiolo, Pio Cesare, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
This dish is a twist on a Michael’s Genuine staple. At the restaurant we use braised pork shoulder which is deliciously fatty. Here we’re using loin which is marinated in maple syrup, the sweetness balances the Nebbiolo tannins the way the fat does in the restaurant dish. The wine is 2007 which is a very ripe and forward vintage with a lot less tannin than someone may normally associate with Barolo.
Lamb 2 Ways
Roasted Loin with pistachio creme, pomegranate
Cippoline onion stuffed with ground lamb and apricots
Grenache Blend, Jean-Luc Colombo, Les Bartavelles, Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhone Valley, France
Now this pairing is slamming. One of the cuts is loin, while it seems funny to describe lamb as clean, this cut has such a beautiful precise lamb flavor. Châteauneuf du Pape is just such a perfect wine with lamb that it works with both preps. Grenache again contributes great fruit with wonderful acid and pepper from the Syrah but the Mouvedre is what makes the CDP work with lamb over other Rhone blends outside of a good Bandol. Mouvedre adds this wily quality that works with lamb in a way nothing else does. Not for nothing, I think this was Chef’s favorite pair.
Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with roasted pears, Caramelized hazelnuts, port reduction, creme fraiche
Blandy’s, 15 year Malmsey, Madeira, Portugal
With there being a port reduction in this dish I really didn’t want to go with a port wine, a touch too obvious. Hedy and I decided a Madeira could be great, and we went with a Malmsey which has one of the highest sugar contents of Madeira styles. So, again, this wine is sweeter than the dessert but, the key with this wine is that it has a phenomenal amount of acidity. The Malmsey also adds these raisin and caramel notes to the dish that kind of make me want to pour it on top of the dish too.