Water for Chefs—John daSilva, Spoke Wine Bar, Somerville
Get a glass of that damn fine fizzy juice for the chef, please.
March 11, 2016
If you're looking for the poster boy for creativity from constraints, Chef John daSilva's your mark. A 2015 Rising Star Chef and winner of Boston Magazine's Best Up-And-Coming Chef Award, he dreams up killer small plates from the absurdly wee confines of Spoke Wine Bar's 80(ish) square-foot kitchen. The fact that he's been in an apron since the tender age of 13 probably has something to do with his ability to crush it in a closet, but the chef-dad-to-be credits a stint on a friend's farm with helping him hone his culinary perspective — what the guy can do with a vegetable is pretty ridiculous.
Like a true creative, daSliva's transcendence of limitations runs right on through to his drinking habits. "There are too many tasty beverages out there," he says. "I can’t be tied down by just one."
Would you call yourself a wine drinker?
I love wine, but I wouldn’t call myself a wine drinker. After work, it’s almost exclusively beer or scotch (usually both). If I’m out with friends, I’ll reach for the cocktail list. When it comes to wine, I do most of my damage at the dinner table.
Paint the whole picture of your bangin'-est wine experience REAL or IMAGINED.
My bangin'-est wine experience went down at Hog Island in Tomales Bay. My wife Molly and I had only been dating for about two years, and this was our first big vacation as a couple. The air was cool and there was a thin layer of fog over the bay — a perfect day compared to whatever the weather was back in New England. We were equipped with a bottle of Viader rosé gifted to us by Molly’s friend (and former roommate) Janet Viader. We bought oysters, clams and Dungeness crab fresh out of the bay. I still remember the flavor of those cold, briny oysters, sweet clams, and the smell of burnt crustacean on the grill. The chilly rosé was crisp and peppery and rinsed the saltwater from our mouths. It left us salivating for more shellfish.
If you could choose the ultimate wine mate for the food you specifically cook, what would it be?
It’s tough to say. Our menu changes so frequently and always runs the gamut of flavors, textures and aromas of whatever’s in season. I’d hate to paint our little wine bar with such a broad brush, so instead I’ll say, "Just ask your server."
Have you experienced a wine pairing that you felt truly elevated your food?
My great friends, Scott Jones (Chef de Cuisine of Menton) and Alyssa DiPasquale (Director of Communications for Cushman Concepts) were dining at Spoke one night. In the middle of their dinner, their server came into the kitchen, handed me a glass of wine and said, “It’s from Scotty and Alyssa.” I walked over to the table to find my friends melting in their seats. They poured me another generous splash and said, “You’ve got to try this with the duck meatballs.” As a rule, I don’t eat off of guests' plates at my restaurant, but these were my pals, so in the name of friendship AND research, I obliged. The wine was a 1989 Le Piane from Boca in Alto Piemonte — a Nebbiolo blend. The dish was one of our most popular; roasted duck meatballs spiced with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. We serve it over a silky purée of smoked almond ajo blanco, and a spoon salad of grapes, pickled jicama, smoky almonds and chopped mint. The wine had aged beautifully; its tannins softened over the years and its bouquet smelled of dried fruit and leather. It was far and away the most beautiful pairing I had ever tasted. The food and wine sang in perfect harmony.
What makes you like a wine? What makes you not like a wine?
I like a wine that is well-balanced and delicate. It should also be universal -- meaning, it tastes good on its own and doesn’t need to be paired with one singular food in order to shine. I’ll take berries over barnyard any day.
If you could drink one wine RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, what would you want?
I’m at the end of a long day, and I’ve been sitting in front of a computer for the past two hours. If I could drink one wine right now it would be a Lambrusco. Something light-bodied and refreshing, with a slight chill and enough effervescence to wake my ass up! We drink a lot of Lambrusco around the daSilva household. We simply call it "juice."
This ain't your grandma's Lambrusco, and thank baby Jesus, because that Riunite junk was brutal. The red vivace (read: fresh n' fizzy) juice from Emilia-Romagna got a bad rap in the 70's and 80's when sugar-spiked versions of the stuff were all but pipelined to the States in an ill-conceived plot to hook housewives on Italian vino. It worked for about as long as most propaganda campaigns do, but eventually the market came to its senses and sent Lambrusco the way of disco and shoulder pads.
That's a bummer, because real deal Lambrusco is flippin' delicious, and there's nothing we'd rather drink with... basically everything. There's a mini resurgence of the good shit Stateside today, but Saetti was one of the torch-bearers. Made the old-school, bottle-fermented way, it's fresh and vibrant but maintains a hallmark rusticity. Pizza? Lambrusco, please. Charcuterie? I'll have Lambrusco. Duck meatballs? Hands off my Lambrusco, dude. Get your own.