Amuse bouché

by Brian Clarey

Where, I ask, would we little culinary peons down here in the middling South be without the epicurial beacon that is the New York Times Dining & Wine section to enlighten us about the food trends capturing the sophisticated palates of the Most Exciting City in the World?

We’d be gastronomically lost, is where we’d be, without pieces like last week’s profile of New England oeonophile Park B. Smith – “so passionate about wine that he practically pulses with ardor” – and his seven-room, 65,000-bottle cellar. Or the piece on stuffing boneless chicken thighs (can you imagine?).

And last Wednesday, America’s newspaper of record discovered red velvet cake, which became popular in the city after the Southern-themed Magnolia Bakery opened in Greenwich Village about 10 years ago. The Times article describes the confection as, “like a slash of glossy lipstick framed by platinum blond curls.”

Who knew the cake your mama used to make for church picnics was so damn sexy?

Meanwhile, true innovation continues throughout the culinary landscape.

Heinz took a big gamble in July 2006 with an ergonomic redesign of the trademark ketchup bottle it had been packaging the sauce in practically since they introduced it in 1876. The new bottle, short and squat and more easily able to be stored in a refrigerator door, will be the subject of a new advertising blitz that the company says will rival the “Anticipation” campaign in the ’70s.

And Altoids, those curiously strong little doodads that come in the country’s most recycled package, introduced a new line of mints that are curiously dipped in dark chocolate with an even more curious ad campaign. Centered on the (curiously) “darker side” of Valentine’s Day and highlighted with a Feb. 8 photo shoot featuring the curiously attractive Dita Von Teese posed naked, even more curiously, in a bathtub full of the little buggers.

Curious about wine? Two events on Friday night should help scratch that itch. The Press Wine Café will hold a Duckhorn Vineyards tasting with limited seating at 6:30 p.m. featuring merlot, sauvignon blanc and a couple cabernets from the Napa Valley winemaker and grower for $20. Call 336.333.3190 for a reservation.

And Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar will hold a five-course dinner on Oscar night based on the wines of Francis Ford Coppola. They promise to roll out the red carpet, award every guest a chocolate statuette and play The Godfather all night long. The cost is $85 per person. For more information call 336.294.7790.

Room for one more? Slow Food Piedmont Triad will hold a planning meeting tonight, Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Foothills Brewery in Winston-Salem.