Wowed by the Widow
By Karl Klooster
A fine méthode Champenoise is like no other experience in sparkling wine. And a tasting of bubbly from one of the great Champagne houses is a special treat any oenophile would savor. But a gourmet dinner centered exclusively around Champagne or other superb sparkling wine transcends mere potable delight, elevating it to the realm of a gustatory extravaganza.
On the evening of Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, long-lauded Bluehour Restaurant in Portland’s Pearl District presented such a dinner featuring the iconic Veuve Clicquot.
The “Widow” Clicquot’s distinctive yellow label is one of the most widely known and well-respected around the world. Every wine in the portfolio of this 214-year-old house is at the top of its class.
Pairing each of these wines with a dish showcasing the complementary flavors in a memorable manner poses a creative challenge worthy of even the most skilled of chefs. So it was with some considerable anticipation that my wife, Regina, and I attended the dinner. Not coincidentally, this was our anniversary gift to each other.
And we can now say, without equivocation, Bluehour chef Thomas Boyce rose to the occasion. His creations proved to be inspired in content, superb in execution and stunning in presentation.
The Bluehour & Vintage Veuve Clicquot Dinner was held in L’Heure Bleue, the restaurant’s private dining room at the rear of the building. It has been the setting of many a notable event. Our host for the evening, Veuve Clicquot representative Doug Brockert, introduced each course with a brief description of the featured wine. Brockert works for the Moët Hennessy Group, which owns the brand.
Bluehour general manager Didier Porteaud served as master sommelier for the dinner. Himself a French import, Porteaud poured with aplomb and beguiled guests with his continental charm.
It was our good fortune to have two special tablemates. Catherine McLeod, who is controller for the Bruce Carey restaurant group, and Erin Sillasen, general manager of sister restaurant clarklewis. They admitted being unable to resist the temptation to attend. And this is what was presented to us and the four dozen other guests over the pleasurable pace of a nearly four-hour evening.
I didn’t have to read any further than oysters and lobster to have my wife, a native of Boston, salivating at the prospect; coupled with the all-Champagne accompaniment made it irresistible.
One could picture Chef Boyce sipping each of the Champagnes while pondering the menu, sipping as he put together the ingredients, sipping with the finished products and sipping again simply to toast the outcome.
Point-by-point critique of cuisine-specific particulars is not part of this writer’s playbook, but evaluating the overall effect certainly is.
None of the dishes was overcooked, under-seasoned or vice versa. Nor were any of them swimming in sauce, poorly prepared or improperly presented. Quite the opposite. Everything spoke of first-class execution and attention, which always amazes when taking into account the fact that it’s haute cuisine being served to a sizable crowd.
Great ingredients never hurt, of course, but the ability to achieve perfect flavor harmony between the food and the wine is something to be admired in the art of cooking.
Boyce excelled throughout and, with the dessert, his kitchen soared to the ceiling. The Fromage Blanc Tart was nothing short of world class. Variations entirely on an apple-based theme ventured far beyond merely palate pleasing to almost ambrosial. Tangy tart wed to cool and creamy, semi-sweet merging with juicy ripe gelee.
Though the food lived up to expectations, the center of attention remained on the widow’s wondrous works. Each Veuve Clicquot wine proved more than equal to its billing.
Without question the highlight, as expected, was the house’s Tête de Cuvée, the finest Madame Clicquot and company have to offer: the 1998 La Grande Dame Brut. The tangy taste of yeast was like a fresh basket of baguettes, the fine effervescence persisted, bursting with a tingly poof on the palate. La Grande Dame represents the epitome of Champagne.
There couldn’t have been a better conclusion to an excellent evening.