Wine, Cheese, And Chocolate

Last night, I finally went to a restaurant that has been on my must-go list since I first heard of it when I moved up to Boston almost four years ago. It's in a different location now than it was then, but L'Espalier still has the same reputation, which I know to be amazing food and amazing service. And that is just what I encountered last night.

I went there with two of my best friends for an event called Cheese Tuesday, which I heard about over on Fun and Fearless in Beantown. (If you haven't read this blog, go check it out. It's incredibly well-written, entertaining, and so informative about everything food and Boston!) After reading a review of Cheese Tuesday there, I hopped over to L'Espalier's Web site to see when the next one was being held. Once I found out that it was on April 20 and the theme was cheese and chocolate, I emailed my friends to see if they would go. They sent enthusiastic replies almost immediately, and I called and made our reservation soon after.

We met up on Boylston Street last night and all walked into the restaurant lobby together. There we were greeted, checked in, and ushered into a waiting elevator. When we got up to the third floor, we were greeted again and shown to our table. We were seated right by a window (which made me very excited because I knew I'd be able to take some pictures in natural light before the sun went down) and also right by a keyboard piano. As soon as I saw the piano, I remembered that there might be some sort of cheese singalong. And sure enough, when I flipped over the menu on top of my place setting, I found "cheesy" lyrics. That got us all giggly and excited before the wine was even poured.

A waitress soon came around with a basket of bread selections, and to our delight, she passed by three times with those breads. We were all able to try -- through sharing and the three passings -- all of the breads: a pretzel roll, what we think was called a milk roll (which looked like brioche to me), fig bread, and focaccia. The pretzel roll won all of our hearts and stomachs, but all of the breads were delicious, and we agreed we'd return just to have them again.

And this is going to sound strange, but I truly enjoyed the butter too. I don't know whether it was just really good butter or whether the way it was piped and served to us made it taste so good.

With a little substance in us now from the breads, the wine pouring started. Our first glass was a Riesling from Germany (2008 Leitz, "Rudesheimer Klosterlay," Riesling, Kabinett, Rheingau). It was light and sweet, and I immediately thought that Jeff would really have enjoyed it if he had been there. It paired so well with the endive and almond salad that came after we'd had a chance to take a few sips of wine and listen to the sommelier (or as the menu titled him, cork dork) explain the wine. We learned that German Rieslings tend to have a lower alcohol percentage, so it was a great wine to start the evening with.

I loved the salad, and we joked that it was a nice palate opener because it was so light and crisp and had all these spring flavors. A little Boucheron, a cheese we found similar to goat cheese and brie, was sprinkled on top, and the only thing we could find wrong with it was that there wasn't enough of it!

The next glass was also a white (2007 Tour Des Gendres, Bergerac Sec, Bordeaux). It made us think of pears. One of my friends found it a little grassy. I just thought it had that really strong grape flavor to it, and I realized why I liked it when the "cork dork" compared it to Sauvignon Blanc, one of my favorites. This wine was paired with Scottish salmon crepes with squash nage and shaved fennel. I wasn't sure what nage meant at the time, but after looking it up, I'm getting a sense that it means something like a broth. Whatever it is, it was delicious, and I truly enjoyed this course.

The third wine was a red that we all favored (2008 Domaine Magellan, "Le Fruit Defendu," Vin De Pays Des Cotes De Thongue). We might be a group more partial to reds. The cork dork explained that the wine was called a Cotes De Thongue because several regions influenced it. He gave us as an example that if something had been produced in Back Bay but used resources around Back Bay, that it couldn't be called Back Bay but would have to be called Suffolk County. A part of me wishes that we paid more attention to the wine descriptions or that I was taking notes so I could tell you more, but we were there not only to learn about wines but to share a delicious dinner and catch up with each other, and once we had enough wine, we were just more interested in the catching up and the eating. I'm sure you understand.

Two of us had the roasted leg of lamb with crushed rutabaga and basil-mint pesto, but one of my friends doesn't eat red meat, and the chef was nice enough to prepare her some halibut instead.

The lamb was amazing and absolutely perfectly cooked. And along with the rutabaga, we also think there was turnip and sweet potatoes. I'm almost thinking the mashed vegetable was turnip rather than rutabaga because it didn't have that strong cabbage-like taste I notice in rutabaga.

The final course brought along our least favorite drink -- Port -- but our most favorite foods -- cheese and chocolate. The Port (Smith Woodhouse, 10-Year Tawny, Port) was just a bit too strong for my tastes. The cheese and chocolate came out on rectangular plates and were paired together based on L'Espalier's cheese guy's and a representative from Hotel Chocolat's expertise and recommendations.

The first pairing was a milk chocolate (42%) and Gouda. The second was a 72% dark chocolate with chilli and pink peppercorns and La Tur (described as a Robbiola). The third was 82% dark chocolate with Comte, which I learned is pretty much just another name for Gruyere, and I will now be on the lookout for it. The fourth was 100% dark chocolate (note that 100% chocolate is unsweetened chocolate) with Bleu d'Auvergne, a very strong bleu. The last pairing, which, given my dislike for white chocolate (ahem -- it's not chocolate), I did not think belonged on the plate, was white chocolate with Tarentaise.

Most of the chocolates were from Hotel Chocolat's plantation in St. Lucia, which made us all smile because that's where my friend just got engaged back in February.

My favorite was actually the second pairing. It's a shocking pairing even just the chocolate and the pink peppercorns, but the cheese sort of mellows it out and draws all the flavors together.

My least favorites were the last two. I was able to eat the unsweetened chocolate by pairing it with the white chocolate (which is always too sweet). The bleu was too strong and the last cheese had a strange, chewy texture. I would definitely have any of the cheeses and chocolates from the first three pairings again.

The four-course dinner moved at a nice pace, and we never felt rushed when our next glass was poured or our next course arrived. Our previous glasses and plates were always whisked away without us really noticing and nothing managed to pile up or clutter our table. I was happy with how L'Espalier accommodated my friend who doesn't eat red meat. I only wish that when the cork dork ran out of Port while filling my friend's glass, he had returned to top it off.

The cheese singalong was a lot of fun. Here's just a couple of lines to give you an idea: "I love chocolate, I love cheese/ I love to eat 'em any time that I please." It was sung to the tune of "Java Jive." I'm still not sure if I know that song, but we had fun trying to keep up and pretending we knew the tune.

Oh, and before we got our check, we got a little surprise that wasn't listed on the menu: passion fruit gelee candies and black sesame seed truffles. We all loved the top of the passion fruit gelees but thought the bottom had a strange texture. And the black sesame seed truffles were incredibly interesting, chewy, and indulgent. The whole evening was indulgent, I guess!

We even got almond macarons on the way out the door. I haven't tasted mine yet, but based on the rest of my experience at L'Espalier, I can't imagine being disappointed. We also got a coupon for a discount at Hotel Chocolat. It's a nice gesture, but there was only one at each table, and it would have been nice if there was one per person.

I'm already trying to rope my friends into going back in May for Springtime in Paris. We'd all love to go, but the event is a bit pricey, so we'll be taking that into account. It still probably won't stop me though because while it's expensive, it's a really good price for all that you get.

Favorite wine? Favorite cheese? Favorite chocolate?

Have you ever been to a wine and cheese pairing? A chocolate and cheese pairing?

Have you been to L'Espalier?