This past Tuesday's Challenging Flavors dinner at The Elephant Walk in Waltham was a lot of fun. The spirited group dove right into all the dishes, which included plenty of pork belly, tamarind, shrimp paste and, of course, prahok. In fact, nothing daunted a soul, nothing until the durian served warm over sticky rice, that is!
It's always dangerous to generalize based on feedback from a self-selected group such as ours, but my biggest take-away from our guests is that flavors that once were extreme may be much closer now to the mainstream than even 10 years ago. Diners' palates have grown so experienced and sophisticated in the modern era of so many wonderful restaurants showcasing the full rainbow of global cuisines that there's not much people really don't like or can't handle. [Except maybe durian.... ;-)]
The wine component of the dinner was matched to the family-style presentation of the food: We offered 4 wines - 2 whites, 2 reds - up to the group to taste through in random fashion. Rather than the strict "this wine goes with that dish" traditional wine dinner format, we went free-form to acknowledge the fact that pairing Western wine with Eastern food is far from an exact science, or no science at all. As I suspected, personal choice ruled, with no obvious, perfect matches.
The one wine surprise to me was that the darker and more concentrated Toro - made with tempranillo - was much preferred over the brighter and fruitier Beaujolais-Villages - made with gamay. No question the Toro was the more elegant wine but what I didn't expect was that it would find such favor with our guests in the context of an unusual meal. To me, that's robust support for this truism I personally adhere to: "Have wine you like with food you like and very likely you're going to have a meal you like." - Tuesday's Challenging Flavors dinner was a good meal indeed.