'Tis the season for drinking bubbles, so I was more than happy to accept when friends invited me to join them for the champagne tasting at Barrel Thief tonight. Ten sparklers, four friends and one common goal: drinking with strangers.
Just kidding. I enjoy BT's tastings for the opportunity to taste everything from $16 bottles (the German Gilabert Cava Brut Rosat and as dry as it was fruit-forward; I do so love my pinks)) to $85 bottles (Prevost "La Closerie," one of the most coveted of rose champagnes) and all kinds of bubbles in between.
For all the variations we tasted, it was Roger Coulon Brut that was poured with the comment, "If you look up champagne in the dictionary, this is what it would taste like." Fine bubbles, sweet fruit, long finish, complete satisfaction.
And because champagne tastings require high drama, we were treated to seeing a bottle sabered before being poured into our glasses. The French say, "Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it." I say when offered sabered wine, drink up whether you have cause to or not (don't quote me on that).
Once we'd reached the point where no bubbles were left behind, it was time to choose a dining destination, with the goal of staying in the neighborhood. We stopped by The Grill at Patterson and Libbie, but, as one friend noted, "There are kids in there. No thanks." So we headed up the street to Coast instead.
It's been years since I'd been in Coast, but I knew the bartender from other places (and her iPod of mostly Cuban music was excellent) and there were four seats at the bar (once we asked an agreeable couple to move over a stool). So there we were, looking at menus with not a piece of cow or pig on them.
There was chicken, but everything else was coastally-sourced, just as you'd expect: rockfish, grouper, mahi mahi, crab, shrimp, oysters, mussels, scallops. The red meat lover among us may have been a tad disappointed, but the rest of us went fish and didn't look back.
I began with the baby iceberg wedge, typical in that it had creamy bleu cheese and bacon, but unique in that it came with three large expertly battered and freshly fried Vidalia onion rings. Onion rings like the kind that originally made people choose onion rings over fries.
The chorus of regret from the two among us who had not gotten this salad was loud and clear, and completely justified. One friend suggested to the owner that they be added to the menu as a stand-alone dish (Coast! Now with onion rings!).
My dinner was crispy grouper cheeks with pineapple-jicama slaw and red chili mayonnaise. The generous serving of cheeks highlighted how sweet and flavorful this part of the fish is and the chili mayo took it over the top with the contrast of the heat with the tender meat. It was unanimous; the cheeks were exceptional (again, two of us got them and two missed out).
Conversation with this group is irreverent (flavored K-Y jelly), non-sequential ("Can I just finish telling phase two?"), in some cases for me, irrelevant ("There's this TV show...") and inevitably loud. Wine god Bob Talcott came in to have a drink and the poor man was sucked unwittingly into the vortex of our conversation.
After a dessert of chocolate cake with caramelized sauce and blueberries, we went to the nearby home of one of our group for a nightcap. A fire was immediately lit and soon roaring in the fireplace, wine was opened with much difficulty (damn screw top) and we all got settled in.
When you're going to discuss prerequisites for marriage and weekend trysts in NYC, you want to set the right mood. Me, I just kept my mouth shut and took mental notes.