Dornenburg & Page, Part Two: In Which I Learn About Wine and Eat Terrific Food at Bar Carrera

After my embarrassment at having stood Andrew and Karen up on Sunday (and if you click here you can see they actually wrote a play about it! Funny!) I was sure to be early on Monday for our rescheduled rendezvous. The place, this time, was Bar Carrera in the East Village:

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I pressed Karen to choose a place and this is what she came up with. When I poked my head in at 5:45 (we were meeting at six) I saw a peculiar couple sitting at the bar holding plastic bags. Since I’d never seen Andrew and Karen except for the back of their book and their website, I vacillated on whether or not to approach these people with plastic bags. I ultimately concluded that Andrew and Karen, being the gracious people that they are, would not have already sat and ordered food and wine before my arrival. And they would not be holding plastic bags.

So I stepped outside and waited and then I saw two people approaching who were not holding plastic bags. I gave them a look, they gave me a look and we’d found each other. Hands were shaken, introductions were made and in we went.

The man behind the counter recognized Karen and Andrew and they recognized him. They told him to put together a plate like he did last time and they quickly set to studying the wine list. I confessed that I didn’t know much about wine and there began my education.

“Ok take out a piece of paper,” said Karen, and luckily I had a piece of paper in my pocket. “Now draw six circles in two rows of three.” I drew the six circles. “These,” she said, pointing, “are the six noble grapes.”

“Now,” she continued, “the top row is white and the bottom row is red. Fill in the glasses from left to right, on the top: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. On the bottom: Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

I did as she said and she then explained, “Ok, so going from left to right you’re going from the lightest to the heaviest. Both Riesling and Pinot Noir are the lightest and therefore the most food friendly wines.”

“We love Riesling,” said Andrew. “In fact, for our book, we surveyed sommeliers across the country and almost all of them, when asked which wine they’d take to a desert island, said Riesling. It goes with everything.”

I told a Riesling horror story about our family visit to Joel Robuchon in Monaco (click here to read about it) where my dad gave me the wine list, I chose a Riesling and it ended up being way too sticky and sweet.

“That can happen,” said Andrew. “Riesling ranges from very dry to very sweet.”

“But a good Riesling goes great with food,” said Karen.

Only ten minutes in, and this was a supreme education.

The wines at Bar Carrera, however, could not be analyzed on these terms because the wines at Bar Carrera are Spanish wines.

“So this chart doesn’t work?” I asked sadly.

“Nope,” said Karen. “You’re out of luck.”

So Karen and Andrew told the waiter we wanted to share a glass of Cava Rose (sort of like champagne), Txacoli (“The Riesling of Spain”), and two sherries (because I’d never had Sherry): Fino and Solera.

Here are the bottles that he poured from:

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Watching him pour the Txacoli (which I don’t remember how to pronounce even though it was pronounced many times during the meal) was fun: it’s poured from a great height. (And this bottle, I wrote down, was specifically Txacoli Txomyn Etxamiiz ’05—though my handwriting is shoddy, and the second and third word are questionable.)

Now for the food. There was cheese and chorizo:

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There was egg and shrimp on a skewer; there was smoked salmon and honey, and two awesome bites on the very right–bread with tomato and olive oil powder:

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Here it is up close:

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And finally, savory wise, there was this pork belly which had Andrew falling out of his chair with love:

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The food at Bar Carrera, as you can see, is lovely and authentic and perfectly proportioned. Even better, though, was the advice I was getting on what to drink with what I ate. (Hey, that’s the name of their book! You should buy it!)

The formula, I suppose, is obvious: for something light tasting you want to drink a light wine. For something heavier and richer–a big gamy piece of meat, for example–you want something heavier that can match it. “The goal is balance,” I said. “You don’t want the food to overwhelm the wine or the other way around.”

Karen and Andrew nodded. “That’s a great quote!” I said. “You should totally put that in your book.”

Soon I was asking more questions. Here are my questions and their answers, as reinterpreted by me since I didn’t have a tape recorder:

So what wine do you like the most? What do you drink at home?

Our house white is Dr. Loosen Riseling. It’s a great quality Riesling, and it’s inexpensive–it costs $9. Our house red is Osbourne Solaz, a medium bodied Spanish wine that is also very cheap at $8.99. It goes with everything. Plus we also like Hard Cider. That goes with everything too.

What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever had?

David Lebovitz already asked us that question.

Ok, fine then, I suppose David asks ALL the good questions. Here’s a good one: what do you guys NOT agree on? Do you ever disagree about what foods go with what wines?

Well we almost always agree on everything but there are certain things that are just a matter of taste. Like with caviar, Karen prefers champagne and Andrew prefers vodka.

Excellent. Let’s return to dinner, shall we?

So back at dinner our conversation wandered and we discussed movies–(I think I horrified them with details of “Little Children” which I’d just seen the day before)–we discussed their favorite New York restaurants (all of which I’ve never been to: Inside, in the West Village is one; Solera on 53rd and 3rd is another); and then came our dessert, strawberries and chocolate.

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To pair with the chocolate Karen ordered tawny port. “You should order that like a pirate,” I said. “Argh! Give me here a glass of tawny port.”

The tawny port did match the chocolate quite well and I concluded that these people really do know what they’re talking about. And while shilling for a book is occasionally disingenuous, I really feel like if you want to know more about wine, what to pair with it and how to drink it you can do no better than to buy their book. And I’m not just saying that out of guilt for having stood them up on Sunday night, I’m saying that because after two hours with these people I’m already 50 times more knowledgeable than I was about wine and incredibly eager to learn more. So check out their book, check out Bar Carrera, and if you order tawny port with your chocolate make sure to do so like a pirate.

Argh, Karen and Andrew, thanks for a great time!

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