America's suburbs rarely support extremes of anything. Certainly, in the restaurant business, suburban restaurants are generally safely themed and executed. So, when a chef like James Beard award winner Michael Ginor opened his personal cuisine restaurant, Lola, in Great Neck in September 2009, I got involved and waited to see how daring he would be.
The restaurant is modern with some exposed brick walls and a mix of white table cloth, bare wood tables, and large red colored rounds. Silent classic movies play on the back wall, and the music is a little louder than my parents would be comfortable with. Right from the start his ever changing menus were filled with items such as cockscomb, whole suckling pig, snails, black cod, sweetbreads, and an assortment of game birds. His style leans very much on a classically studied almost pre-nouvelle French cuisine with very modern touches; mixed with inspirations he has developed in extensive world travels. His vast food knowledge and ambitious urban styled restaurant features snout to tail cooking that is really more geared toward trendy lower Manhattan, but is right smack dab in the middle of suburbia . Wine lists, beer lists,cocktail lists, spirits lists, etc... take their lead from the menu, so the daring quality of the menu allows me to follow suit with more esoteric wine choices.
At the heart of Lola's menu are duck and foie gras preparations. Michael and his wife Laurie, are co-owner of Hudson Valley Duck Farm, where 80% of the foie gras in America is produced. So, Lola is a farm to table concept for him to make duck, duck products and foie gras into the center piece of his menu. Torchon of foie gras is a cold preparation of sliced foie that is a signature of the restaurant, and used in tasting menus, as well as an option on the appetizers section of the a la carte menu. We offer customers three by-the-glass wine offerings for this dish that give three completely different experiences. Somehow, they all work.
1) Chateau Laribotte 2005 (Sauternes, Bordeaux, France)
This classic foie pairing of a wine that has a combination of sweetness (botrytis), high acidity, and fruit and floral flavors. The sweetness makes for a natural combination with the luxurious texture of the foie, while the acidic quality works as a contrasting element to cut through the richness.
2) The Rare Wine Company Historic Series Savannah Verdelho "Special Reserve" NV (Madeira, Portugal)
This is an incredibly complex fortified Verdelho, with some sweetness and bracing acidity. There is a decadence of flavors, such as orange, cream,caramel and subtle chocolate. These flavors add even more richness to the dish, while the bracing acidity performs a much needed balancing act.
3) Moulin Touchais 1996 (Coteaux du Layon, Loire Valley, France)
One of the true gems of the Loire Valley, this 100% Chenin Blanc spends at least ten years at the property before it is released. This is not a botrytis wine, but rather a shockingly great complex balance of sweetness, minerality, acidity, and floral qualities.
The food is bold. I have needed to think about general wine types that have the flexibility to both and complement and contrast bold flavors. In looking at white wines, the list has a lot of aromatic wines that can play with heat, spice and bold flavors well. Some of the grape varietals that have that quality are;unoaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Torrontes, and Viognier. I also have light and crisp wines with the capacity to serve as a flavor contrast from varietals such as; Cortese, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino. Grape varietals that have combinations of both; Albarino, Greco, Grenache Blanc, and Gruner Vetliner, add a heightened layer of complexity to the dish by complementing and contrasting flavors in the same sip.
And then, there are the reds. We have found great success in pairing lighter meats and fish dishes with low tannin wines with bright fruit. Two popular examples are a dry Brachetto from a Piedmont producer, Corregia named "Anthos", and Sicilian Frappato from producer Valle Dell' Acate "Il Frappato".
Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Tempranillo, primarily from the Rioja region of Spain, provide moderately weighted dishes, to have a wine pairing that is also can match earthy characteristics. Then come the big reds that can match up to the bigger red dish meats from the menu; Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends, Barolo, Malbec, Red Zin, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Amarone are all wines that fit into that zone.
Champagne and sparkling wines play a great role in pairing with diverse flavors, and in particular spicy and salty foods. For those of you who don't think you can pair Champagne with red meat, you have never tried a great Rose Champagne with duck breast. Awesome.
Lola is like a small, but growing number of restaurants, bucking the trends to provide a terrific dining experience in a place you would never expect it.