Cambridge-Boston cook-off with wine
BOSTON — What took place recently in a South End shop was a customer’s dream evening. Imagine paying $35 for a wine tasting with small plates, while a DJ spins hip-hop, and a roomful of 50 strangers soon turns into a party.
“Two Chefs and a Microphone” was the first wine tasting event for the new The Urban Grape location on Columbus Avenue, which opened last month. Billed as a battle of “Old School versus New School,” the evening featured wines paired with dishes crafted by Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square and Seth Morrison of The Gallows, also in the South End. “We always said we wanted a wine bar to create community for our long-term clientele,” says Hadley Douglas, co-owner of the shop with her husband, TJ. The couple own another location in Chestnut Hill.
The night was conceived last February over dinners between the Douglases, Morrison, and Scelfo, then planned over Twitter. “We are birds of a feather,” says Scelfo. “We have a passion for music, we like spending time together. I enjoy this kind of friendship. There’s an honesty to it and this event is showing what we all do on a basic level.”
The Douglases are Gallows regulars so Morrison wanted to help with their store opening. “Community has always been important to us and they are part of our community,” he says.
The chefs were given the same basic ingredients and prepared five dishes accompanied by samples of eight wines and two spirits. Russell House served old-school variations with European wines while The Gallows plated contemporary fare accompanied by New World wines. The individual dishes focused on oysters (on the half shell with brambly bacon or warm “Kennedy” style with spinach), late-harvest vegetables (torched Delicata squash or pumpkin soup), fish (roasted char belly or bluefish pate), pork (braised neck or confit), and cheese.
As the two-hour event wound down, TJ Douglas emerged with a decanter of 12-year-old whiskey (Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or) for a Scelfo cheese dish with prunes and honey jam. He paired a mini apple-cheese pie with Willet Pot Still Reserve bourbon with a frozen cherry to maintain the bourbon’s chill without watering the drink.
Scelfo calls TJ Douglas “a master when it comes to pairing” food and wine. Combinations made by the former wine bar manager and wine salesman appeared to be a success with guests, if surprising. “I never would have thought of pairing an [Island Creek] oyster with a sparking wine,” Rena Demeo of Chelsea, who used to work in a wine bar, says about the NV Punkt Sparkling Gruner Veltliner. “I always go with beer, but it was good.”
Some attendees were already fans of The Urban Grape’s “progressive shelving” method of featuring wines organized by weight, light to heavy body. They find the system less intimidating than traditional stores. And events like this “make wine more approachable,” says Chris Haynes of Brighton. “With music, food, and wine together it means it’s not just about wine. It’s not too serious.”
Kara and Stephen Cromack of the South End attended to support a local business and also taste food from The Russell House Tavern. “We’ve been to The Gallows but we don’t make it to Harvard Square often,” Stephen Cromack says. “When you live here you don’t need to go there.”
The event was further evidence of a changing cultural dynamic that includes food. “Boston is in the midst of a battle between old-school and new-school ideals,” says Paul Francois of Bridgewater, the DJ known as Pfranchize. Among the artists he featured were 2Pac (West Coast), 3rd Bass (East Coast), Maze & Frankie Beverly (old school), and Jay-Z (new school).
“Over the past 5 to 10 years we have started seeing a more progressive culture building in the city,” Francois writes in an e-mail after the event. “There are food trucks, sneaker trucks, apparel stores posing as corner bodegas, restaurants where people can come as they are and enjoy fine foods . . . shops and bars where different races and cultures come and party together. Boston is in the midst of changing from a traditional city to a progressive one like several areas in New York City or places in California.”
On Oct. 28, the wine shop hosts another event that includes pinot noir paired with small plates from West Bridge restaurant in Kendall Square, Cambridge; the event is at 7 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill. On Nov. 18 the shop will host “Beer for Wine Lovers” with Mei Mei Street Kitchen food truck, taking place at 303 Columbus Ave., Boston. Tickets are $20. For more information, go to www.theurban