Table 16 has beautiful food

by Brian Clarey

You don’t need a reason to go out to dinner. You don’t even have to be hungry, really, though when I was a waiter I used to get pretty annoyed at customers who came to the restaurant, looked me in the eye and told me with a straight face that they weren’t interested in eating anything.

We’ve got a reason tonight: a birthday. Also, I’ve been itching to give the pairing menu at Table 16 a crack.

It runs Tuesday through Thursday, three courses with three wines – either red or white – and the meal itself can be considered a work of art.

Take my first course on the red pairing menu: beef carpaccio with basil oil, garlic aioli, roasted peppers and a focaccia crouton matched with a 2004 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese. Carpaccio is basically thinly sliced raw beef adorned with oil. And the chemistry that makes wine pairings work is based on the astringent effects of alcohol as it reacts with grease. In this dish, the basil oil, the aioli and the natural fats in the beef yield to the tannins in the Italian red, creating a taste that is greater than the sum of its parts.

First course on the white menu, chosen by the birthday girl, is asparagus Milanese with truffle oil, parmesan and truffle oil paired with Zonin Prosecco NV, a sparkling wine that matched well with the egg and the musky mystery of truffle oil.

“The whole combination tastes like butter,” my lady friend says after her first bite. “Butter.”

There is a technique to eating like this. First, bury your nose in the wine glass and fill it with the bouquet; take a bite of the food, swallowing lightly and allowing its taste to remain on your tongue; then sip the wine and let it wash over your taste buds. Feel free to make yummy noises at any time.

Second course on the white menu pits a portion of grilled shrimp with a black rice cake against the 2005 Kit Fox Vineyards Foxy. The Foxy is a blend of sweet and dry whites, which works with the shellfish very well. On my plate is a braised veal shank ragout, served with pappardelle pasta, romano cheese and a bit of mint and paired with a 2003 Zenato Merlot Delle Venizie.

Table 16 is an Italian restaurant, though it is no spaghetti-and-meatball joint, and the dish is extremely appropriate to its menu. It’s a variation on osso bucco, an ancient Italian dish whose name means “hole bone” because people who really love it like to suck the marrow from the shank bone.

I am not a lover of osso bucco, but I respect the technique and discipline it takes to make it. I also wholeheartedly approve of the pairing.

But it is the third course where the pairings shine through.

In true Italian style the third course tonight is light fare – flatbreads with cheese and vegetables that, were you an uncouth sort, you might be tempted to call “pizza.” But the important thing here is the cheese.

Just as wine was invented (or maybe “discovered” is a better term) before refrigeration as a way to prolong the shelf life of fruit, cheese was how our ancestors were able to preserve milk. And wine and cheese go together like ham and eggs.

The white, a 2005 Rex Hill Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley in Oregon, joins together with taleggio cheese, roasted peppers and marinated artichokes like a symphony. While on the red side, pungent gorgonzola and pancetta melds with the 2003 Roza Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yakima Valley, a big, West Coast cab that does not shrink away from all the strong flavor in the dish.

And because it is a birthday, we get dessert: a custardy chocolate panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) sided with dried cherries. This one stands just fine by itself.

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