Wine pairing dinners allow everyone from the casual wine drinker to the seasoned sommelier to delve into the artfulness of fine dining. I’ve been drinking champagne and the occasional prosecco since the day I popped a bottle on the evening of my twenty-first birthday, but I still can’t tell the difference from one sparkling rosé to the next. So I was excited to participate in Siren by RW’s four-course champagne dinner last night to learn a little bit more about one of my favorite things to drink.
The Logan Circle-based restaurant’s seafood menu by executive chef John Critchley is as lush as its interior design. The ornate space features an upscale and masculine take on a nautical theme with dark wooden booths and molding, blue velvet accents, leather seats, and mermaid artwork.
Critchley started his culinary career in my native Boston, so I knew immediately that he would highlight the simplicity and joy of freshly prepared seafood. He partnered with local restaurateur and chef Robert Wiedmaier because he was excited by his “pretty solid vision to rival the best seafood restaurants in the nation.”
The talented chef fused a modern Japanese approach to seafood with his European training, creating a menu that manages to be savory while still fresh and light. Siren highlights seafood from all over the world, but the seasonal menu sources its ingredients locally whenever possible.
The champagne dinner, in celebration of Siren’s upcoming one-year anniversary, began with a glass of brut and some canapés of lightly seasoned scallops in a spiced lime juice artfully served on their shell, as well as mini-crab cakes with aioli. As for the champagne, with each sip and bite, I tasted how the brut went from dry to a slightly sweet finish and actually curtailed the spice of the scallop bites.
“I have to think about the champagne first,” Critchley said about his approach to the pairing. “As much as chefs don’t want to admit it, the job of pairing food and wine comes down to enhancing the wine.”
The end goal is for diners to walk away talking about the harmony of the pairing – not just the food or the wine as individual entities. While that may be the case, as I sat down to the rest of the meal, I definitely found myself mindfully noting the flavors of the food and the champagne.
The first course was jumbo stone crab. This dish definitely showcased the aforementioned approach to fusing Japanese flavors with a European culinary sensibility. The crab was prepared as a custard, served with a charred onion ponzu, English peas and arctic surf clam. Paired with a rosé, this combination served to finally make me take note of that “floral” note that everyone always talks about when it comes to wine.
Up next was the foie gras and caviar, paired with a blanc de blancs champagne. While not on this particular tasting menu, Critchley also crafted “savory caviar cookies,” which he noted as a great intro to the world of caviar. At Siren, you can enjoy a black and white or Windsor cookie of caviar with a sweet and savory combination (think of a slight vanilla aftertaste).
But, if caviar cookies aren’t your thing, there’s a variety of price points on the menu for other caviar options (starting at about $35 per ounce). The caviar dish featured on the tasting menu was an American caviar encased in foie gras, served over a rhubarb and blood orange marmalade. The caviar itself tasted like the ocean, and I could particularly pick on on the gravel flavor thanks to the champagne.
The foie gras itself was incredibly rich, almost like butter, but that was offset by the acidity of the marmalade. I found myself taking apart the dish to taste each element in different combinations to find what I liked best. While I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the caviar and champagne, I left the foie gras to those with a finer palate than me.
The main course was a caramelized black cod served with cauliflower, sunchoke chips, lamb bacon and a pomelo vinaigrette. The cauliflower was served as a puree, and artfully arranged and decorated with micro greens and bacon. The sunchoke chips were made to look like fish, dressed in next season’s fall colors. The cod literally melted in my mouth as I took the first bite; that’s all I really remember. I think I might have lost consciousness during that meal.
For dessert, the Henriot winemaker brought out a rare bottle of Magnum; only about 10 bottles are produced and dispersed throughout the world (Wide World of Wine had two or three to sell, but they might have been claimed by now). Dessert was a chevre panna cotta served with a caramelized brioche and a blackcurrant sorbet. Panna cottas are usually made with cream, so they often give off a sweet flavor. This particular breed of chevre panna cotta was more tart than what I expected, and in contrast, amplified the sweetness of the sorbet.
“Most people have champagne as a celebration, but it has so much more depth than that,” Critchley said. “It pairs so well with food – especially seafood.”
If you’re interested in trying out a DIY approach to a tasting menu, he recommended pairing champagne with scallops and butter and lemon sauces. This gives you the chance to play around with spice, fat and acidity.
Seafood is the true star at Siren, giving Critchley the ability to play around with a variety of different flavors to make it shine. For more information about Siren by RW, visit their website here.
Siren by RW: 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; 202-521-7171; www.sirenbyrw.com