Hitchcock pairs with wine dinner

by Brian Clarey

Wine bottles sweat with anticipation as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterstroke Vertigo screens on Sweet Basil’s patio during a Friday nightfour-course dinner and movie pairing. (photo by Dave Wilson/ArtisanPhotography)

“Okay,” she says, “they’re getting ready to kick everybody out.” “How do they like that?” I ask. She shrugs her shoulders.

“We just tell ’em, ‘The movie starts at nine and the seats are reserved.’” There’s only room for about 35 back here on the patio at Sweet Basil’s, the cozy cottage that once housed Café D’Arte, and on Friday nights it fills up fast. That’s because Friday the patio is reserved for the restaurant’s dinner and a movie series. Fortunately enough for us, one of our dinner companions waits tables here, and she’s not only told us the deal for the evening — four courses matched with wines and a classic film projected onto a big(ish) screen right there on the patio as you eat — but she’s also secured us a table right up front. After martinis at the bar, mine garnished with two excellent bleu cheese-stiffed olives, we take our table. The sun obliges by dimming down a few shades and the movie begins amid a frenzy of pouring: a Cakebread Cellars 2006 sauvignon blanc. Tonight’s film is Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterstroke about a retired detective put on the trail of a mysterious woman. This is fortuitous because it is a veritable cinema classic, starring Kim Novak at the height of her hotitude and a perfectly befuddled Jimmy Stewart, one of Hitchcock’s preferred actors; also I studied this one in a college film class, so it’s possible I can impress my wife — no small feat — with my knowledge of the work. The first course, a crab corn chowder with the sweet redolence of roasted red peppers and generous chunks of potato, hit the table just as Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson reunites with his old college chum Gavin Elster (played with perfect arrogance by Tom Helmore, another Hitchcock favorite). Here’s how wine pairing works: The food and drink should complement each other to the point that each one gains something in the combination. In this instance, a dry, light sauvignon blanc fits the bill, its acidity cutting through the creamy, sweet chowder like that’s what it was made to do — which, in a way, it was. The salad course is as interesting as the dream sequence Hitchcock hired Salvador Dali to compose for the film Spellbound, greens with vinaigrette topped with a skewer of ingeniously grilled summer fruits: apple, pineapple, banana, fig and peach, interspersed with fresh purple mint leaves from the garden. This is paired with a 2007 St. Jean Riesling, a dry Riesling, to be sure, but still sweet enough to bring to mind Dali’s indulgent images — the floating eyeballs and that weird, faceless guy in the tux. “Watch for the interplay between light and shadow,” I tell my wife shortly after Stewart jumps into the San Francisco Bay to save his love. She shushes me. As the two leads share their first onscreen kiss, we are treated to the main course, a sugar-cured duck leg, confit, with goat cheese-sweet potato risotto and bing cherry gastrique. And this course does it for me: the rich duck meat and bitter cherry sauce, the opulent pasta and it’s ethereal orange coloring. It’s paired with a big wine, a 2006 Napa Cellars cabernet sauvignon, tannic and leathery. We take bites of the whole chives, a practical garnish, as we eat. It’s enough to take my mind off Kim Novak, who’s apparently just jumped to her death off a bell tower at an old mission. But wait! Things are not as they seem! Dessert anyone? The bread pudding bears a strong espresso flavor and is fairly crunching with vanilla. In the glass sits Medusa Old Vine Lovers Lane, another big one, with a dry fruitiness that makes me think of raisins. Another fine match. “You know,” I tell my wife, “Hitchcock would storyboard every scene, every camera shot, meticulously, before the cameras ever started to roll.” “Really?” she says “Really,” I say. “And he had real disdain for actors. He said all actors were cattle.” “Really?” she says. “Really,” I say. “He liked Jimmy Stewart, though. His career was all but over before Hitchcock kind of rejuvenated it with Rope in the forties.” “Are we leaving soon?” she asks. “Yes,” I say. “You know, Stewart must have been like fifty when they shot Vertigo. He had a lot of hair back then. More than me. “Brian,” another dinner guest says, “Jimmy Stewart died with more hair than you.”

To comment on this story e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@