Sometimes I get even more than I plan for and it makes for an unexpectedly delightful outcome. I had thought I was going to a wine tasting and pairing tonight, but it ended up being the celebration of good over evil.
I had talked a friend into attending the Tuesday tasting and pairing at The Empress this evening. Yes, the same Empress that is housed in a Justin French-owned building and seemed in imminent danger of being lost to legal red tape.
Proving that good girls can finish first, owners Melissa and Carly were able to purchase the building earlier today, resulting in both tears and champagne this afternoon. Justin French be damned, the Empress got the building.
So what could have been just a wonderful tasting and pairing became a celebration instead. It began auspiciously when Melissa placed me at a table with a couple, introducing me as "someone who likes to mingle and talk." The pressure was on not to disappoint, but luckily my friend showed up and part of the burden was on her. Whew, now I only had to be half as fascinating.
Carly had outdone herself in the kitchen with her pairings. We began with the 2009 Puerto Viejo Chardonnay (according to wine rep Morris, "a chardonnay for chardonnay haters") paired with cocoa-dusted almond and vanilla alfajores with mango icing. The hints of mango and almond on the nose of the wine were picked up in this sweet, which tasted like a combination shortbread and Mexican wedding cake.
The second pairing was 2009 Beelgara Estate Rose with a raspberry, Brie and pink peppercorn tartlet for pink with pink. That was followed by the 2009 Apaltagua Pinot Noir Reserva (this time the raspberry was on the nose) and a hearty Chorizo, pepper jack and spicy black bean chili with crispy tortilla strips. The chili was too spicy for some at our table, but I loved its layers of heat and the Pinot Noir complemented it perfectly. More, please.
We finished the tasting with Gancia Moscato d'Asti DOCG, deemed "too sweet" by my friend until it was tasted along with the honey, Gorgonzola and sage potato cake and then it was just divine. My love for sweet and salty is well documented and this course delivered me that.
For good measure, I finished by sharing sauteed calamari in garlic butter and herb sauce with toasted bread with half of our new-found couple friend. As tender as the calamari was, that broth could have contained earthworms and I'd have lapped it up. As it was, I sopped bread until I could feel my arteries hardening.
Our table mates were a long-time married couple originally from Galax, VA (home of the long-running Old Fiddler's Convention), both former teachers and as interesting dinner companions as we could have hoped for. We quickly fell into conversation like we were old friends.
They shared their "how we met" story, their love of art, theater and NYC and I shared the best gluten-free restaurants in the city (she was gluten-intolerant and was beside herself when she learned that The Empress does GF French toast) and my favorite DC museums. We made plans to meet up at an upcoming art opening at Chop Suey Books; they know the artist and I was already planning to attend anyway. As is usually the case, we were the last table lingering at the end of the evening.
My friend suggested we stop for one last glass of wine on the way home so we could share some girl talk after our impromptu couple date. We tried the always reliable Tarrant's but they were just closed. Walking back to our cars, we said hello to a policeman we passed. "What's up?" I asked. "Just walking the beat,"he smiled. How often do you hear a cop say that?
Our second street encounter was with the debonair Russell from Tarrant's who suggested Lemaire, assuring us that it was always open until midnight. We found an unexpectedly good crowd there and I settled in with a glass of Jean Luc Columbo Rose so that my friend could fill me in on the latest news in her ever-developing love life. She was describing how she's handling dating and wanted my opinion on her choices (appropriate? lascivious?), but what do I know?And since I've got nothing to share, I just listened to her adventures.
And in keeping with the theme of the evening, I had the unexpected pleasure of running into two guys as I was about to leave the ladies' room shortly before we departed the Jefferson. "What are you doing in here, trolling for girls?" I teased them.
"Looks like we found one," said the one with the glasses. It was one unexpected pleasure after another tonight. My kind of night.