Los Angeles is a city to which I’ve been on a number of occasions, but not one that I’ve really enjoyed until taken on a local’s tour by my friend Kate, of My Friend Kate Tours. A town where many of the best restaurants and bars are barely marked or nearly windowless, LA aches for an introduction. Especially a culinary one.
Thanks to the tried and true experience of our friend, my husband and I ate the best tamales in Echo Park (true they were the only ones sampled, but their silky lard inspired texture, tender meat, and expert chile heat left convinced). Then, we were lead to Philippe’s restaurant, where we consumed French Dip sandwiches in their birthplace and had a beautiful imbibing experience.
According to Philippe’s website, the owner Philippe invented the French Dip sandwich, a sandwich whose bun is dipped in au jus, or meat juice drippings, when a customer’s bun was accidentally dropped in a meat pan and the customer was so enamored with the creation that he brought back his friends for more. And more. Inspired by his French heritage and the like last name of the customer who fell in love with his mistake, Philippe named his new delicious moneymaker the French Dip.
After I heard the story of the sandwich, the only question remaining in my mind was: Should I get a cup of the 10 cent coffee that Philippe’s still sells, or should I pair wine with my French Dip. Guess my answer.
I swore that I would expend any wine snobbery and order whatever the place sold for wine, just for the experience. If Philippe thought Charles Shaw or a white zin was the best paired with his meat-wiches, then so be it. I’m always willing to try someone else’s wine pairing and figured that if the offering was unpleasant, merely a sip would provide sufficient means for a post. Besides, one of my wine pairing pet peeves is that people always go for the tried and true beer and sandwich or BBQ or soul food match when any of these foods may actually taste better with wine. Although I love a good brew, I didn’t want to go there. If what they had didn’t work, I knew that I could come up with one back at home.
Then I arrived at the restaurant and my jaw dropped.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find the glories that I did on the menu. Philippe was a Frenchman. Did I really expect him to permit consumption of white zin in-house?
Not only did they have Spottswood, one of the best biodynamic/organic Napa Cabernet Sauvignons on the menu, they had Merry Edwards Pinot Noir. And more. Now, I don’t know if you know how wonderful Merry Edward’s wines are, or how hard they are to acquire (restaurant only, not available in wine shops), but I certainly do. After much work, I was able to buy them for our bar. We had to send them our wine bar food and wine menus, tell them of good intentions with their wine, promise to only pour them at the wine bar, and lastly, sign a contract saying that we would not sell their wines on the floor or buy them for personal consumption. It was so worth it.
Back at Philippe’s, I ordered the 2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with my French Dip, because it is one of my favorite wines, and because I’ve never had the honor of drinking this wine in a restaurant sans a white tablecloth. We got a pork and beef dip to share .
The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir is always a force to be reckoned with. Her Russian River version in particular, with its deep cherry, pomegranate and wild spice flavors and a backbone of bright acidity, is a Pinot Noir that can stand up to…. wow, almost anything.
There is an assumption out there that Pinot Noirs are always shy, delicate creatures. In actuality, and as demonstrated by such Pinots as Merry Edwards, Fort Ross, Cargasacchi, the Alfaro Family, many Pinot Noirs have the strength and grace to stand up to darker or lush cuts of meats and triple-crème cheeses as well as lighter fishes or poultry. They can be so well-structured, in fact that any of these Pinots will taste even better after sitting opened in their bottle for a day or two or three.
True to its reputation (spread by Vin de la Table) of being a Pinot Noir that’s remarkably easy to pair well with food, the Merry Edwards was fantastic with the French Dips. It could easily handle the sliced roast beef, but alas, I like it best with the pork. I’ve always preferred roast or pulled pork sandwiches (the aforementioned would taste awesome with a bigger Pinot Noir) to sliced roast beef, so call me partial, but the luscious fat bits remaining on the pork meat really shined with the wine.
And the sandwiches? Lord they were good. The idea of an entire sandwich dipped in meat juice never appealed wildly to me, but I’m an adventurer and wanted to test my sandwich boundaries in the dish’s birthplace. You can either have them dip the buns for you- which is good for beginners scared by soggy buns- or one can order a bowl with the juice to dip the buns themselves. Imagine a crispy bun, softened with au jus, and filled with supple meat. Exactly.
Needles to say, my food and wine experience in LA was one that I won’t forget. It was also one that inspired my husband and I to decided that in five or six years, if either of us were offered a fantastic job in that city, we might consider relocating to Hell-A. Just consider, mind you.
Coming soon: Cheddar and Wine, Straight Outta Chocolate, Chocolate and Wine... more winemaker interviews, and more and more.