Champagne, It’s What’s With Lunch
There were about 20 of us “happy few”, as the French would say, and we were the guests of Christian Holthausen, the International House Communications Director, which means the guy who travels around the world spreading good cheer and pouring great champagne. At 33, Christian, whom I’m so lucky to call a friend, is the youngest person to have such a job for a major champagne house and he’s the only American in the lot! And boy was Heidsieck smart to nab him – he’s cute, charming, gracious, generous, articulate in a couple of languages and passionate about champagne.
We were welcomed to the luncheon with a parade of hors d’oeuvre, among them Keller’s signature salmon-roe cones, warm gougeres filled with melted gruyere, potato croquettes to be dipped in truffle mayonnaise and teensy brioche toasts topped with foie gras and apple gelee. And while you would have thought that we’d be sipping champagne with these canapes, you would have been wrong: we drank water, all the better to keep our palates fresh for the 11 – count’em – champagnes to follow.
So, right off the bat, conventions were broken – no champagne as aperitif. Instead, each course of our meal would be paired with a flight of champagnes. Christian had chosen the champagnes, a few of them quite rare, and Per Se’s kitchen and sommelier teams came up with a menu, which Christian said he thought was perfect from the start. Everyone around the two tables looked to be in complete agreement. And, why wouldn’t they be given what we had:
CAULIFLOWER “PANNA COTTA”
with Island Creek Oyster Glaze
and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
Paired with Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve
Think of this as the caviar and creme fraiche you might ordinarily have with champagne
HAWAIIAN HEARTS OF PEACH PALM
Spring Ramps, Poached Nectarines
Petite Mache and Hazelnut Butter
Paired with Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Rare
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Vintage 1998
The pickled ramps and poached nectarines in this dish were a terrific go-together. Keller often has fresh hearts of palm on his menu and, for anyone who’s only known these from a can, they’re a revelation – as was the Cuvee Rare.
RIB-EYE OF FOUR STORY HILL FARM’S VEAL
Butter Braised Morels, Thumbelina Carrots
Split English Peas and Sweet Pea Shoots
with Creme de Morilles
Paired with Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995
Charles Heidsieck Blancs des Millenaires 1983
Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 1989 en Jeroboam
A perfect dish and perfect with champagne. I fell in love with the Blancs des Millenaires 1983, which is a shame because the odds are so against my ever having it again.
Vanilla “Moelleux,” Frog Hollow Farm’s Bing Cherries
White Chocolate Cream, Kirsch Foam and Morello Cherry Ice Cream
Paired with Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose Vintage 1999
Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage
Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime
If I weren’t having such problems getting the lighting right for these pictures – aarrgh – I would have been able to show you the gorgeous color of the Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage. (It was a much deeper red than most rose champagnes because 35% of the pinot noir grapes were vinified as red wine before being added to the blend.) It looked so beautiful with the dessert; tasted great with it too. And I was really happy to have the Cuvee Sublime, which is a demi-sec (or “half dry”, slightly sweet) champagne. I’m told that demi-sec champagnes are not in the favor they once were, but I love them. I also loved the Vanilla Moelleux, a white version of the beloved soft, normally oozy, dark chocolate cake.