For our May issue (on newsstands now!), we rallied our appetites to come up with our list of “The 75 Best Restaurants in L.A.” What were those extra little somethings that helped each spot rise above the rest? Here, we showcase the X-Factors.
I make no secret of my love for Walter Manzke’s newest venture, République. I’m there for brunch, dinner, snacks, and I am the proud owner of its Foursquare mayorship. But the one thing that I must have on hand for every bite is a glass of wine. Not that the food needs it. I just want it. And despite its alluring cocktail menu, beverage director Taylor Parson’s wine list will not be ignored. The man has worked at Osteria Mozza and Spago Beverly Hills, so his picks beautifully complement whatever Walter dreams up.
“I took Walter’s approach to food as the inspiration,” he said. “Walter is tuned in to what’s happened in American cooking over the last 15 or 20 years. I think he has got a whole lot of Asian cooking that’s very important to him. So he’s able to have this central core of France and then have these orbiting satellites of other stuff. I wanted to do the same thing here with the wine program.”
Parsons’ one-page wine list is approximately 50 percent French with Californian elements, and like the menu, it’s ever-changing. The cellar ranges from $12 bottles to $1,000 ones (wholesale). “I’d much rather have it be an approachable list that’s sort of like something for everybody, but also the opportunity to ask for what’s up there,” he explains, pointing to the wine cellar upstairs where he keeps the good, off-menu bottles.
This accessible attitude carries over in the way he and his sommeliers go over the wine with diners. “I try to describe wine and I try to have the staff describe wine like they would a person, describing the character of the wine rather than specific technical or geographical details, or aromatic notes. I’m vehemently opposed to describing wines like fruit baskets. I think it’s terrible. The primary point of contact for [diners] is the texture of the wine. It’s how it feels in their mouths. If we’re standing discussing a wine, we’re basically smelling it with very little tasting. But at a table, people just pour it and drink.”
Here are Parsons’ picks to pair with a few of République’s popular menu items:
Kimchi Fried Rice, soft egg, braised short ribs
“For whites, something relatively mild and not too mineral or alcoholic. But I really like young, juicy, low-alcohol reds with this. Fresh, red-fruited, and low-tannin is the name of the game: Beaujolais. Nouveau works, but I tend to like Chiroubles. Or not-too-serious Arbois from the Jura, or Schiava from the Alto Adige in Italy. In the restaurant right now, I’m pouring a joven Rioja that is made along the lines of Beaujolais Nouveau (Luberri Rioja ‘Orlegi’ 2013) that goes great with the dish. Heavier rosé also works very well.”
Tourte de Gibier (Game Pie), duck liver, veal sweetbreads, porcini mushrooms, sauce rouennaise
“This is a dream wine dish. Pig blood in the sauce, which adds a ferrous/iron note and an incredibly luscious texture. Beautiful mushrooms. Liver. Gizzard. Pork fat. Sweetbreads. Pastry dough. There probably isn’t a red wine in the world that wouldn’t play well here in some respect or other. For me, though, this is a profoundly earthy dish: mineral, deep, intense and decadently rich. Medium-age Bordeaux with some residual tannin is an obvious choice, but a bolder Burgundy would work just as well. You need some tannin to help cleanse the mouth of all the fat, so if you go Burgundy, nothing too soft. I really love this with mid-aged Rhone wines. We tried it the other night with a bottle of Robert Michel Cornas ‘La Geynale’ 2004 and it was fantastic. A structured, spicy Chateauneuf would work great, too. Another winner would be a Nebbiolo from Lessona or Bramaterra, two of my favorite areas of northern Piedmont.”
Mary’s Organic Rotisserie Chicken, black kale, roasted fingerling potatoes
“This is another great canvas for wine, and it’s probably one of the easiest on our menu to pair, because it goes equally well with both reds and whites. And this dish has incredibly pure flavors that are deep without being overly complicated: just chicken, potato, smoke, and a faint wisp of herbs. One of the keys here is not trying to reinvent the wheel. I go Burgundy (red and white) more than 50 percent of the time. For whites, something rich and not too acidic is best. Like Meursault, maybe from a warmer year. I’m pouring Leroy 2009 Bourgogne Blanc right now by the glass, and it ROCKS. A go-to white would be a dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, something like the Patrick Baudouin Anjou ‘Effusion’ 2012. For reds, again, I keep it simple. If I can convince the guest to go with something lighter, the Pataille Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ 2011 is a slam dunk.”
Meyer Lemon Tart, blueberries, crème fraîche
“As a general rule, I’m not a believer in strict rules for food/wine pairings. This one definitely applies, though: When pairing wines with sweet foods, the wine has to be as sweet or sweeter than the dish. If a dry wine is served with something sweet, the sugar in the food basically strips the wine of any balancing sweetness or fruitiness and you’re left with lean and mean acid-water. That’s step one. Step two is pretty intuitive: I like serving bright, citrus-inflected wines with most of our fruit desserts, and particularly with the Lemon Tart. We have lately been pouring La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti ‘Bricco Quaglia’ 2012 by the glass, and it works great: fresh, not too cloying, and very citrus-dominant. I also really like Renardat-Fache Bugey-Cerdon with this, but more because it adds a top-note of tart red fruit that plays well with the lemony tang.”