David Burke and Staglin Family Winery teamed up on Wednesday, Nov. 28, for an incredible food-and-wine-pairing dinner at New York's Townhouse. Chef Burke's menu was out of this world, as always, and Napa wine just doesn't get any better than the four Staglin gems that were served. But the evening was not just about the wine and the food. It was an important fund-raiser for the International Mental Health Research Organization. Hosted by Garen and Shari Staglin and attended by former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, the meal was a capacity-crowd event that raised money for an important cause while it delighted diners with the Staglins' brilliant wines and Chef Burke's plated perfections.
Shari introduced the first wine, the 2010 Staglin Salus Chardonnay. Showing wonderful freshness and well-balanced oak, the Salus paired seamlessly with a unique course of Taylor Bay Scallops. Wonderfully succulent, the scallops were presented in shells, served on a puree of parsley root and topped with cara cara and shiso. If you're unfamiliar with cara cara, you're not alone; no one at our table could be certain what it was beyond a sweet, citrusy, slightly tangy fruit. Executive Chef Jason Pringle informed us that cara cara is, in fact, a red-fleshed navel orange. Good to know. Also good: the flavors and textures of the whole dish blended with the Chardonnay to create an exquisite tension between the rich mouthfeel of the scallops and parsley root and the bright tropical flavors of the orange and Chard. A warm breezy summer day at the beach on the tip of your tongue.
The second course brought a richer, oakier white, the 2009 Staglin Estate Chardonnay. It was served with Rabbit Balentine (ballotine?), a tender piece of meat cuddling decadent foie gras and succulent quince. The Chardonnay sang wonderful baritone notes of baking spice and vanilla. A lovely pairing.
The rack of lamb came third, and I have to say, this was truly my write-home course of the evening. The beautifully pink meat, clinging to a slender rib, was impossibly tender and flavorful. On the side were spaghetti squash and a bolognese, also made from lamb. The 2009 Staglin Salus Cab was poured: deep dark berry fruit with black currant, plum and cinnamon, together with sweet tannins. This was the course that my table and I took our time with and pondered. Just a magnificent pairing that made me forget that lamb hasn't always been one of my favorite meats. When I was a child, my experience with lamb was horrible. I thought it was all like the pungent, gray mutton that my grandmother used to prepare and serve with with mint jelly. It was a difficult time. Now things are different. I'd be a happy man if one of my weekly meals was Chef Burke's rack of lamb. Love you, Nana – just not your lamb.
That course proved unbeatable, at least in my book, though the cheese plate, served with figs and honey, and chocolate petite fours became event-worthy when paired with the 2005 Staglin Estate Cab. This red was deep, rich and complex, and it would have made a fine dessert for me all by itself, with its luscious flavors of chocolate-covered raspberries and cherries. It's one of those rare Cabs that does exceptionally well with chocolate – in general, a real hit-or-miss pairing as far as I'm concerned.
Never to be forgotten was the important reason that this meal was taking place. The Staglins have for years been at the forefront of fund-raising for mental health and brain research. Both Garen and Shari spoke movingly about their son's struggle with – and current success managing – schizophrenia, and Patrick J. Kennedy gave an impassioned speech on the ongoing need for much more research regarding diseases of the brain. David Burke's Townhouse proved itself an excellent venue for the event, drawing enthusiastic, generous diners from around the city and beyond. The event drove home the fact that celebrating great wine and great food can achieve a greater end. The chance to be a part of this important cause while dining at one of New York's best restaurants ranks as one of my top pleasures going into this holiday season.
To learn more about the International Mental Health Research Organization and make your donation, visit www.imhro.org.