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Wine me, dine me

You order the wine. The food is a mystery until it emerges from the kitchen

Published on February 13, 2008

Here's a concept that's both delicious and daft: You choose the wines for your dinner and the chef creates an appetiser, entree and dessert to match.

You get a perfect pairing, but start by choosing the wine rather than food.

That's the idea behind The Table, the latest in the Wine Boutique selections at the Plaza Athenee Bangkok.

You're seated at a communal table and handed a menu that initially looks like any other. There are starters, mains and desserts. But beneath the headings are no foods, just selections of boutique wines with extensive-tasting notes and ratings from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.

You pick the wines and tell the waiter if there are any dietary restrictions or foods you dislike. Reflexions chef Thibault Chiumenti creates dishes to complement your chosen libation.

"It's two concepts in one. You order the wine and are surprised by the food, and you sit at a communal table where you meet new people and share an evening of discovery together," says Jan Ganser who, with Benjawan Wisootsat, owns Fin (fabulous is needed), the event-planning and wine-import company that has been offering its Wine Boutique selections at the Plaza Athenee for more than two years.

Communal tables are part of the buzz behind über-chic restaurants like Asia de Cuba, the Philippe Starck-designed pan-Asian eatery in New York. Business cards are swapped and acquaintances are made over outstanding, innovative cuisine and fine wines (as well as killer mojitos).

"It's not a blind date," Benjawan says. "It's a chance to meet interesting people over excellent wines and food."

Jan, Benjawan and Thibault are consummate planners. They spent months creating their menu with input from hotel manager Patrick Schaub and Reflexions manager Thomas Deledalle. With 18 wines on offer, it took scores of trial dishes to come up with ideal pairings.

The Table was launched earlier this month. Guests can order three-, four- or five-course meals costing Bt3,300++, Bt4,400++ and Bt5,500++ respectively.

It would spoil the fun to reveal too many surprises, so I'll only give you a sampling of what's on offer. Suffice to say that the wines are outstanding and the Thibault's creations are equally dazzling.

I chose some of my favourite wines from previous Wine Boutique dinners, stipulating that beef was off the menu. That wasn't a problem with my selection of two Italian whites for the appetisers: a fruity, full-bodied 2004 Terlaner Sauvignon DOC "Lehenhof" and a bold, fruity, minerally 2004 Pinot Bianco "Haberlehof" DOC.

Thibault created the perfect foils. For the Terlaner Saugivnon he served marinated scallops carpaccio with a dribble of lemon-mint oil and seared salmon topped with a dollop of black caviar and a hint of citrus dressing. The fruit in the marinade and dressing complimented the acidity and aroma of pear in the wine.

For the Pinot Bianco he presented a black-and-white striped cannelloni stuffed with rock lobster and Atlantic salmon, the pasta nestled in a white asparagus vanilla foam which highlighted the tropical flavours in the wine.

In honour of Jacques Laurer from the Swiss Embassy, who was a guest of honour, I ordered a 2004 Cabernet Pino Barrique, Jurg Saxer from Zurich for my first main.

Thibault paired it with thin slices of pink, honey-glazed Challans duck breast that came with an apple and red-wine onion croustade, snow peas and a truffle jus. The stunner here was the jus and how its truffle perfume melded with the wine's oak-barrel bouquet.

For my second entree I requested a personal favourite, the 2002 "g" Paga La Jara Toro DO, Telmo Rodriguez. Robert Parker rates this Spanish red a whopping 92, praising its "scents of sweet figs, black-cherry jam, cigar box and plums."

I had tasted this wine before with beef and thought the combination was perfect. Thibault did one better, serving it with roasted pigeon breast and seared legs with sauteed cabbage and pomme dauphines stuffed with foie gras, and a splash of rosemary jus. The pigeon was strong enough for this complex wine redolent with oak.

To accompany my dessert, I chose a medium-dry 2006 Moscato d'Asti DOCG, Vietti, from Piedmont, Italy, which has the aroma of wildflowers and a light sparkle. The waiter returned with a raspberry tartlet; a layered pastry with berry sorbet atop, mascarpone cream in the middle and a tart crust below. The dessert and the wine, neither too sweet, were heavenly together.

"The Table is about discovery," said Benjawan. "Instead of a set menu with a predetermined set of wines, you get to choose the wine and the chef chooses the rest. With Fin opening its cellar of artisanal wines and Thibault creating innovative cuisine to match, this Table may be the best in town.

Hal Lipper

Special to The Nation

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