Water for Chefs—Rachel Dow, The Betty, Chicago
The diaries of chefly oenophiles.
February 25, 2016
Chef Dow turns out small plates of what she calls "modern grandma" cuisine at The Betty, an eclectic neighborhood favorite in the city's West Loop. An art school grad and culinary convert, she's happiest spiking comforting dishes with surprising flavors. When it comes to wine, you can leave the Perfect Pairing dogma at home, thanks. She'll drink what she likes.
"There are natural pairings, and we can lead people in a direction," she says. "But no one likes a know-it-all."
1. Would you call yourself a wine drinker?
I have enjoyed a fair amount wine in my drinking years. I'm not well-versed in varietals or vintners, and I can’t drink much as the acidity bums my stomach out, so... sort of? I do enjoy a rosé spritzer to cut the acidity and alcohol a bit. DON’T JUDGE ME! Ok, you can.
2. Paint the whole picture of your bangin'-est wine experience REAL or IMAGINED.
Myself, one of my best friends and four other folks took a trip to Honduras and stayed on an island in the Utila Cays. It was just us surrounded by ocean, and we cooked meals for ourselves with daily grocery (and beer) deliveries by boat. I was stoked to cook in a bikini with a beer in hand (though-ill advised while making bacon). The highlight meal of the trip was two huge, whole snappers we grilled on the beach. One person brought the battery-powered speaker out so we always had a soundtrack to family-style meals, I was definitely rocking the shit out of Van She's “Jamaica” on that trip, though we were not anywhere near it. One well-prepared friend brought a gigantic, inflatable eight-person raft he dubbed “The Ultra Mega Station,” which we anchored not far from the main dock. Pressed with the quandary of how to keep our white wine cold whilst swimming to, and sitting upon, said Ultra Mega Station, we fashioned a makeshift wine chiller out of a ziplock bag, ice, and duct tape. We dubbed it the “Hoosier Cooler." It stayed cold, the wine was drank, and the day was saved. Now I really want to go on vacation.
3. If you could choose the ultimate wine mate for the food you specifically cook, what would it be?
I’m just gonna get super specific and go with the Broadbent Vinho Verde Rosé. This wine is almost too easy to drink, with its mild effervescence and balanced acidity leaning a bit on the tart side. I think it pairs with almost anything, and I am a staunch advocate of rosé year-round. I would pair this with the Black Eyed Pea Cassoulet on our menu right now. It’s a belly warmer for winter with pork belly, chicken confit and a boudin blanc sausage. The Broadbent cuts through the richness and cleanses the palate after each bite. I lovingly referred to it as ‘Baby Bubbs.'
4. Have you experienced a wine pairing that you felt truly elevated your food?
I have not had a transcendent moment when I thought to myself, "THIS IS THE BEST PAIRING EVER!" I find that discrete food and beverage pairing is often a challenge due to the diner's preferences. A customer is still going to order and drink a Cosmopolitan with a meal if that's what they want. Let them go for it and enjoy it. All the of the logic and reasoning for the pairing that seems perfect doesn’t mean much if that person doesn’t like red wines, sour beers, bitters...I also feel that sort of specific pairing lends itself to tasting menu restaurants who have complete command over the dining experience, and that just isn’t my style. The number one priority is that guests enjoy their experience.
5. What makes you like a wine? What makes you not like a wine?
My personal preference is either something complex with flavors that linger and let the fruit really shine through, or something in the vein of vinho verde — straightforward, refreshing and easy drinking. Not keen on wines that are super oaked, aggressive, cloyingly sweet or overly dry and boozy.
6. If you could drink one wine RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, what would you want?
Rosé all day. Everyone can use a little glass of summer now and again.
'Baby Bubbs' is here exclusively for your drinking pleasure. It's the kind of wine that's right at home floating in a makeshift cooler somewhere off the coast of Honduras, being guzzled by bikini-donning chefs while they serve up dinner on a beach and rock out to hipster-pop EDM. (The fact that it has yet to be featured in a music video is sort of shocking.) Vinho Verde has been the snobbily maligned adult soda of choice for generations of beachgoers — its lemonade-like acidity and soft fizz are undeniably chuggable, and it's generally cheap enough to risk losing a bottle to the ocean every so often. All indulgence aside, however, its versatility and citrus zip also make it a great food wine, something that beverage geeks have been catching on to in recent years.
As Portuguese wines see a surge in market interest, we all have Vinho Verde to thank for being our gateway drug. Some would also argue that we should give the Broadbent family a nod for their longtime history of exporting and championing the wines of the Iberian darling, and their proprietary label rosé is as good a place to get hooked as any — a blend of around eight different native grapes from contracted growers around the region of Vinho Verde, it's a vibrant pink pop of refreshment, year-round.