I really, really love wine. So when I got the chance to interview Ryan Arnold, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise’s Divisional Wine Director, I took advantage of the chance to ask him about his favorite food and wine pairings at a handful of LEYE’s restaurants. Ryan creates wine programs for a handful of LEYE’s restaurants, including RPM Italian, Paris Club Bistro & Bar, Summer House Santa Monica, Stella Barra and Hub 51. Ryan is generous with his time and expertise and he told me about his favorite food and wine pairings at four different Chicago restaurants:
RPM Steak: Ryan says that The Duke is one of the best steaks he has had in his life. The Duke is a 10 ounce center cut Rib Eye Filet, and one of the menu items RPM Steak is known for. He says the ultimate wine pairing is Dalla Valle’s Maya, a bourdeux blend with a good amount of caberent franc. It is a rich style of wine that can stand up to the steak.
Summer House Santa Monica: Ryan thinks that the Ahi Tuna Tostadas with guacamole and watermelon are the best bite in Chicago right now. He pairs the appetizer with Red Car Rosé which is a pinot noir rose with flavors of tart raspberry and red fruits. If you like rosé, there is a big emphasis on rosé at SHSM right now with 8 available by the glass – that they arrange in a rosé cart!
Tall Boy Taco: I thought it would be fun to ask Ryan how he would pair wine with tacos, since tacos are almost always paired with beer. Ryan agreed that a crisp beer like a Modelo or Tecate is his go-to taco pairing. If he were to pick a wine he would pick a champagne because people usually order a variety of tacos and champagne is very versatile and can be paired with fish, al pastor, and rajas tacos. Or you could pair an unoaked crisp white wine with tacos. (Sidenote: I highly recommend Tall Boy Taco).
RPM Italian: At RPM Italian I got to try Ryan’s wine and food pairings (definitely one of the most fun assignments this site has given me). We started with Squash Blossoms, one of my favorite foods, and an item that makes a quick appearance on menus this time of year. Ryan paired the squash blossoms with Matthaisson’s Napa Valley White to showcase the delicate blossoms. Matthaisson is a Napa producer that makes wine in a Northeastern Italian style, using grapes native to Italy and Bordeaux. The Napa Valley White is a blend made with 59% Sauvignon Blanc that is has a fresh light taste with hints of citrus.
Next we had the Provolone Stuffed Peppadew Peppers paired with a rosé. Ryan explained that rosé goes with everything, but it matched the sharpness of the provolone and the sweet heat from the peppers perfectly. We had the Proprieta Sperino Rosé a Nebbiolo rosé with red fruit flavors produced in Piemonte, a region of Northwest Italy.
Ryan paired the caramelized figs and ricotta crostini with Ferrari Perlé, a Sparkling Wine from Veneto, Italy. Sparkling wine is a general term; champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, and Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made from a specific variety of grape. But not all Italian sparkling wines are proseccos. Prosecco is quite sweet, where as wines like this Ferrari Perlé, which is made with chardonnay grapes, are dryer. The 2007 Ferrari Perlé won the award for being the best sparkling wine outside of Champagne, and at a retail price of around $30, it’s an affordable wine.
We had Colli di Lapio’s Fiano di Avellino, a Southern Italian white wine blend with the Chicken Liver Crostini. Ryan chose this wine to match the umami from the chicken liver, and to cleanse the palate. I will admit that I had never tried chicken liver before, but I loved it.
Throughout our meeting Ryan shared wonderful information about wine. He explained that he wants people to stop thinking about sparkling wines as celebratory drinks, or for the start of a meal, because they pair well with food. He went on to say that if you serve sparkling wine in flutes, you can’t enjoy the aromatics. Ryan suggests using a white wine glass instead of a flute to serve sparkling wine, but to pour less since the wider glasses do not retain the cool temperature as well.
Ryan and I have a shared love of Lambrusco, an Italian red sparkling wine. Ryan says when picking a Lambrusco, pick an Amabile, which is slightly sweet. The sweetness offsets the tannins. Ryan says that if he was asked to bring something to a party, he would bring cured meats and a cold bottle of Lambrusco. The salty meats pair perfectly with Lambrusco. Unfortunately since Ryan and I haven’t made Lambrusco a big trend just yet, it isn’t the easiest thing to find, but if you are in Chicago you can get it at Binny’s and Eataly.
Huge thanks to Ryan for sharing his knowledge! Now go out and try all these food and wine combinations!