By Jennie Acklin
What could be better than an invite to sample a “Summer Food and Wine Pairing” at Cadillac Jack’s, with the promise of four deliciously prepared entrees, each paired with the “perfect” wine from E-Ville Spirits?
Tina Zerbian, owner of the restaurant, asked that I share my experience with our readers. I protested that I was not a food critic and really don’t know much about wine, but I would try to give a casual review of the evening.
Cadillac Jack’s and E’Ville Spirits have been hosting food and wine pairings for several months, and I was fortunate to attend their most recent July gathering hosted by Zerbian. The wines and menus were selected by Jason Edwards, CJ’s sommelier, and Shannon Carscallen, owner of E-Ville Spirits.
Edwards joined the staff in October 2015 after returning to his family home in Bradford, PA. He had worked his way up through many restaurant kitchens from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to NYC, including Picholine and Rouge Tomate NYC.
When asked about where his creative inspiration comes from, he answers, “Many of the chefs I have trained under have great stories to tell about food. And the food becomes an outlet for artistic expression.”
He goes on to explain, “You cannot really put the experience of great food into words – it’s all about experiencing the flavors and sharing the creative vision.”
The one word that has remained with him came from Master Chef Terrance Brennan, when talking about the small details of creating memorable food. The word is “integrity.” Edwards was also quick to credit his kitchen “brotherhood,” and his bartender. “Without a great staff, none of this is possible – they make it happen.”
As the food and wine pairing got underway, guests were seated at a large table, where they could be informal and friendly and feel comfortable discussing the flavors of the foods and the wines that were selected to complement them. It is Carscallen’s idea of a European-style dining experience.
The first dish presented was a crisp pork belly accompanied with watermelon, basil-lemon yogurt, and feta crumbles. The flavors were fresh, with in-house grown herbs, and the pork was had a crisp crust, rich in flavor, without being fatty. Carscallen paired it with a Spanish Rose – Honor Vera Rose, which was a medium body, dry and light, with tones of strawberries, cherries and, yes, watermelon. I don’t think anyone in attendance left any on their plate – it was a fantastic way to start.
Carscallen talked about the unique complexities of each different wine during the course of the evening. She knew the history and location of each winery, and interesting stories about the owners. She explained in detail what grapes are used for which wines, that the color of the wine is determined by the skins of the grape and that fermentation time is what determines the sweetness or dryness of the wine, along with the sugar and yeast content. Her personal experiences and knowledge of wine-making allowed her to answer questions with ease and humor.
The second pairing of the evening started with a 21 Brix Chautauqua Lake Erie County Region Chardonnay. 21 Brix is known for its dry wines, which Carscallen said was very difficult to produce in WNY because of the wet weather.
Edwards presented a wild mushroom risotto with a wild berry mango chutney, peach and fennel puree, topped with a fresh Branzino sea bass. He informed us that CJs sea bass in flown in daily and delivered promptly to Ellicottville – not frozen – not vacuum packed. Fresh is everything.
In my opinion, this was the perfect pairing – the dry, oaky Chardonnay complementing the earthy mushroom risotto. Oh, and the sea bass was out of this world – the combination of flavors was remarkable.
At this point, the conversation at the table was fun and as easily-flowing as the wines! We were all more than sated, and the dishes served by Zerbian and Edwards were so fresh and flavorful that it was hard to decide which was our favorite.
Two more pairings were presented, each one offering a depth of flavor combinations complemented with a Spanish Crianza and then an Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon.
I highly recommend the experience at Cadillac Jacks to anyone interested in learning more about how to pair wines with foods. The flavors in each of the dishes were complex, but not overwhelming or heavy. The wines were unique, and made even better with the right foods to bring out their subtle flavors.
The next food and wine pairing is scheduled for later this summer or early fall.
So ask your sommelier, “May I pair that for you?” Talk to your wine store clerks about recommendations of pairings, and learn as much as you can. The experience is worth it, in my opinion.
Cadillac Jack’s is located at 24 Monroe Street in Ellicottville, NY. Call 716-699-5161 for hours or reservations (usually not needed).
E-Ville Spirits is located at 10 Monroe Street in Ellicottville, NY. Call 716-699-4474 and is open seven days a week.