In Our Backyard - October 2011

There was a quiet culinary happening back in early summer that offers hope to Rockland foodies desperate for a little more dining sophistication. Chef and owner of the Commissary restaurant, Daniel Foti, and Joe Printz, owner of the Grape D’Vine wine shop, joined forces to pair a wine tasting with a fivecourse prix fixe meal. Foti and Printz first selected the wines, then Foti designed a seasonally inspired menu to highlight the food and drink equally. Invitations were sent and responded to via email, and at $60 a head, the event was fully booked within a couple of weeks.

On a balmy June evening, forty patrons filtered into Foti’s modest Tappan restaurant to be greeted with a flute of crisp Adami Prosecco and ushered to their seats. Always a festive starter, this particular Prosecco hails from the northern Veneto region of Italy and Adami, being one of the leading producers of Prosecco Spumanti, signaled the thoughtful refinement of what was to come.

After some welcoming words from Printz, Rachel Tieger, the New York based rep from Martin Scott (a distributor Printz orders from) announced each wine as it was poured, simply giving the region of origin and letting the spirits speak for themselves. The evening was on. The first course was a chilled summer pea soup with mint and crema paired with a Salneval Albarino from Spain. This fruity white offered a nice counterpoint to the surprisingly spicy kick in Foti’s silky smooth soup laced with mint.

Next up was, in my humble opinion, the triumph of the evening; a crab ravioli basking in a shallow pool of roasted tomato broth and coupled with a Triennes Rosé from France.

My, oh my!

Foti’s paper thin homemade pasta encasing morsels of fresh crabmeat was topped by asparagus tips, roasted corn and shaved raw fennel; an exquisite combo of toothy crunch, smoke and licorice bathed in a delicate broth that only suggested its brash tomato origins. This coy little festival-on-a-plate met its match with the Triennes Rosé, an award-winning dry rosé from Provence. (I was immediately seduced and ordered half a case from Printz the following week.)

Next came a watermelon granita as a palate cleanser. This treat could easily be dessert at any fancy weightloss spa, but here it was just the right amount of tart and sweet to keep the taste buds lively.

The main course of grilled jumbo shrimp on a bed of braised spinach and topped with Romesco sauce was the most rustic, and most predictable, part of the meal. The heavy sweet of roasted red pepper in the Romesco almost overwhelmed Foti’s perfectly grilled shrimp and the spinach didn’t do much more than look gorgeous on the plate. Nonetheless, this was a tasty main dish – just not as refined or imaginative as everything preceding. A Routulaia Ciliegiolo - best described as a red cherry bomb from Tuscany - provided hearty accompaniment without blowing the leaves off the meal’s summer lightness.

Last was strawberry tiramisu shortcake; fresh strawberries, whipped cream with a hint of anise and a hefty patty of crumbly shortcake. Foti’s fondness for home-style cooking was evident here as this dessert was only slightly more sophisticated than what your grandmother might have made, but who cared! It went down easily with a fizzy, sweet Saracco Moscato from the Piedmont region of Italy. I do believe that there wasn’t an unfinished plate in the place.

Amazingly, after enough food to satisfy the heartiest of eaters and at least five glasses of wine, I was satisfied without feeling stuffed (or drunk, I might add). I’m sure this is what Foti is referring to when he says that wine and food pairing is all about making the right choices to bring out the optimal qualities in both. Modest as always, Foti didn’t emerge until the end of the meal to greet guests and receive some well-deserved praise for what was a truly spectacular meal.

Foti and Printz have done several wine and food pairings before and another is planned for October. If you enjoy the pleasures of good wine coupled with an artfully constructed meal, then I suggest you email Danny at and get yourself on his list.

After all, it’s right here in our backyard.