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Ask a Somm: What Can I Drink With Caviar and Foie Besides Champagne and Sauternes?

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Los Angeles-based Blackhouse Hospitality operates a gaggle of (mostly) South Bay restaurants (Little Sister, Wildcraft, Abigaile, Dia de Campo, Steak & Whisky) that span the gamut from brewpub to pizzeria to rustic Mexican. Yet, there's just one person responsible for overseeing beverages (he's also the director of ops) at the group's five eateries: Scott Young. And with such a diverse portfolio, he has his work cut out. Below, Young discusses unique beverage pairings with foie gras and caviar, two ingredients woven into the menu at new addition, Steak & Whisky.

Q: What kind of wine pairs with caviar and foie? I know typically sweet wines for foie and Champagne for caviar ... but what about others?

Young: With singular and matchless flavors and textures, caviar and foie gras are hallmarks of luxury in the culinary world. Let’s first talk a little about the individual products then explore some tried and true (traditional), and then move into some non-traditional pairings.

Caviar
A true delicacy, consisting of salt-cured fish eggs of the Acipenseridae (Sturgeon) family, which includes more than 20 species. And while the fish itself is quite ugly (its ancestors have literally been around since the dinosaurs), its roe has no equal in flavor and texture on this planet.

When it comes to caviar, the first question to ask is "Are you serving the caviar solo, or with something else?" For example, will the caviar appear with an array of accouterments, topping a beautiful piece of otoro, or say a blissful Kumamoto oyster? The other flavors may dictate what you chose, for example the salinity of the caviar and pure fatty bliss of the otoro would pair best with Gekkeikan "Horin" Junmai-Daiginjo ($11/300ml).

If serving caviar simply (just the caviar and mother of pearl spoons), then the classic pairing is Champagne or vodka. The racing acidity of Champagne coupled with its renown bubbles allow the beverage to literally cut through the silky richness of the caviar and counterbalance the salty pop that good caviar gives. Likewise, a nice clean, smooth and soft potato vodka such as Karlsson’s Gold ($58/750ml) will work well and not interrupt the subtle flavors of caviar.

... sake is my go-to alternative pairing for caviar.

After some truly intense and thought provoking drinkingI mean researchI found sake is also capable of pulling off the same trick as vodka. Becoming more popular in recent years with selections gaining breadth and range, sake is my go-to alternative pairing for caviar.

Yuki No Bosha, Junmai Ginjo ($35/300ml) with its elegant mouthfeel, peach and guava aromas and clean crisp finish, accents the brininess of the Osetra caviar and doesn’t take away from the purity of the roe.

Try Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake ($15/300ml) if you crave something fun, pink and bubbly when you indulge in fish roe. The sake is infused with rose petal and hibiscus and matches the fuller flavors of Paddlefish or Bourbon Trout (both not technically caviar).

Worry less about the traditional classifications of Honjozo, Junmai, Junmai Ginjo or Junmai Daiginjo (not a huge fan of Nigori), but rather choose a sake that is going have the right weight (think whole milk, 2 percent or skim) and fruit constituents that play well with this subtle food.

Foie Gras
After the foie gras ban was lifted in California in January 2015, foie-based dishes have spread like wildfire across many higher-end establishments (as expected). Traditionally, made from goose liver, today for reasons of expediency and efficiency (it’s faster and more cost effective to raise ducks than geese), foie gras has come to include both goose and duck liver. Foie gras is rich, buttery and delicate. However, once more, when pairing it, preparation and sauce should drive your choice of beverage. Foie gras dishes are commonly served with a gastrique created from fruit (think: blackberries, cherries, fig) or conversely a savory component (think: mushroom, baking spices, marscapone) to counter balance the richness of the foie gras with bright, complex, fresh flavors and most importantly, acid.

The classic pairing for foie gras is a Sauternes wine ... this wine has the natural ability to enhance any foie gras-based dished.

The classic pairing for foie gras is a Sauternes wine. With an abundance of RS (residual sugar), backed with plenty of acidity and the unique profile of botrytis, this wine has the natural ability to enhance any foie gras-based dished.

Teutonic Pinot Gris from the Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley ($21) is also a good choice to elevate any fruit-based foie dish with a touch of RS, ripe peaches, green apples and a solid foundation of acidity. Wind Gap Trosseau Gris from the Russian River Valley made by the one and only Pax Mahle ($23). With its light skin contact and pale rose glow, this wine has the right structure, slightly dry bitter component and exotic fruits to pair wonderfully with a savory baked dish (think butter, Chinese five spice, morels).

If you want to try something besides wine, a "Frenchesque" cider like Bonny Doon’s Querry produced from pear, apple and quince ($16) or Scar of the Sea Dry Hopped Cider aged in barrel ($15/375ml) is an excellent match with foie gras, acting as a gastrique to cut through the lushness of foie and highlight the minerality found innately in the liver.

It’s fun to pair with such extraordinary ingredients, so my best advice is to explore and have fun. It’s a cliché but think outside the box and always trust your own palate.

Steak & Whiskey

117 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254, USA

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