What to Drink, a review

What to Drink with What You EatRecently, I had lunch at ssäm, a small Asianish restaurant in Manhattan that serves rice bowls and wraps. To accompany my bowl with Berkshire pork, beans, slaw, and a red kimchi puree, I had a Dr Pepper. It seemed like an odd combination, but since there were very few other beverage choices, I reasoned the Dr Pepper was offered because it complemented the food. Once I began eating, I discovered how nicely the Dr's peppery fizz complemented the richness of the pork and beans, while cutting through the heat of the kimchi. As they say in the biz: it was a good pairing.

Of course, I'm not always so lucky. There've been plenty of times when my beverage didn't work with my meal, and a few times when clearly the drink was at odds with the dish. That's why Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's new book What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers is a wonderful addition to my culinary library. Not only does it include chapters such as "Food and Beverage Pairing 101" and "Selecting and Serving Beverages," it also includes wonderful lists of ingredients (beef tacos, Kit Kat candy bar) and the drinks that can accompany them (Syrah, African tea).

Dornenburg and Page have also filled their book with tons of expert advice from wine directors, sommeliers, and restaurateurs, and included sample tasting menus (with their wine accompaniments) from some of America's best restaurants. The book is so packed with information, it will take a while to digest it all. But that's good, because this is a book you'll actually use as a reference over and over again, whether you have a wine you're not sure how to pair, or whether you've got an ingredient and need a beverage partner. Or maybe it's just a season, "Winter" and you want something new to drink. In that case, barley wine, Burgundy, and hot buttered rum are all recommended.

As great as its information is, what really recommends "What to Drink" is its tone. We all have an image of an obnoxious sommelier or server who huffs when one member of the party wants beer, and the others insist on red wine with fish. But Dornenburg and Page don't scoff at such pairings. They avoid the snootiness often associated with wine. They don't fill their book with rules, only thoughtful suggestions. On page 22, they write:

The success of any pairing is measured by what happens when a sip of the beverage you're drinking interacts on your palate with the bite of food you've just eaten. When those sensations are jarring or otherwise unpleasant, you've stumbled upon a bad pairing. When those sensations are mildly or even wildly positive, you've got yourself a good match.

Ah yes, like my pork bowl and Dr Pepper! I couldn't find a listing for Dr Pepper in "What to Drink," but I did get a chance at the end of my meal to talk to ssäm chef and owner David Chang about the pairing. Turns out he and his chefs just like Dr Pepper, so they decided to stock it. The grand pork/Pepper pairing plan I'd suspected didn't exist. Which goes to show you can plan your drinks and your food all you want, but a little serendipity can still be good. I imagine Dornenburg and Page would agree.

Feel free to share your favorite food/beverage pairings in the comments.

Note: this entry is part of a Virtual Book Tour for "What to Drink with What you Eat." For more information, please visit the Virtual Book Tour schedule.

10 thoughts on “What to Drink, a review

  1. As Dr Pepper themselves would point out…there is no “.” after Dr in Dr Pepper. But it is a common error

  2. Per Se does a non-alcoholic pairing with its tasting menu (mentioned in this review) which almost sounds interesting enough to forego the great wines they pour. Other places are starting to offer non-alcoholic pairings for their diners as well…teas, sodas, and milk beverages from Aquavit, Charlie Trotter’s, and Gary Danko.
    For my money though, you can’t beat a ice-cold Pepsi (preferably from a glass bottle) with a freshly-made bologna sandwich, on white, with lettuce, mayo, and American cheese. Mmmm….

  3. I rarely drink diet soda any more, but one pairing that includes it and still tastes good is Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke (or any of their low-calorie hybrids, I assume) and Rolled Gold pretzels or fresh popcorn. Mexican beer with Mexican food is a good pairing, or more generally spicy food with amber beer.

  4. Fresh f-market peaches piled on top of almond cake (there’s an excellent recipe in ‘Moosewood Celebrates’) and fresh cream- goes BEAUTIFULLY with Hope Vineyard’s verdelho (from Oz)… all crispy and chilly on your tongue.
    Also, decadance/flourless chocolate cake with Ficklin Port.
    Lastly, Snapple Mint Iced Tea (which WE CAN”T FIND in Utah) with a chocolate chip “muffin” from your favorite student union, 7-11, qwik-mart… what have you. Mmmm.
    I so love this blog btw.

  5. Karen and Andrew are going to be at a B&N Thursday to sign books, I’ll be the chef standing around in my whites like a schoolgirl.
    Culinary Artistry, How to be a Chef and now this book are my almost daily go-to books. I design our entire menu using CA, the How to was great when I was planning my career, and now the WTDWWYE is the finishing touch. Now if I could only find a good pastry person….

  6. Doh! I forgot which B&N in NYC… Think the one over by Macy’s on 34th
    And Ruhlman rules.

  7. We’d love to see some MegNut.com readers when we’re featured at the Grand Opening of the new BORDERS – 2 Penn Plaza (which is at 33rd St. and Seventh Ave.) this coming Thursday, October 19th, at 6:30 pm.
    We’ll be signing copies of our new book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT as well as the others (i.e. BECOMING A CHEF, CULINARY ARTISTRY, DINING OUT, CHEF’S NIGHT OUT, THE NEW AMERICAN CHEF), and swapping stories with fellow lovers of food and drink.
    It’s free, it’s fun, and we’ll hope to see you there! (That means you, “The Chef” — we’ll keep an eye out for your chefs’ whites….)
    Karen & Andrew

  8. Missed Andrew & Karen at Borders? They’re being hosted for a wine tasting and book signing event for “What to Drink with What You EAt” at BOTTLEROCKET (5 West 19th Street, Manhattan) on Wednesday, October 25th, from 6-8 pm.

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