Drinker: Jeff Porter, Beverage Director B&B Hospitality Group
Cheap Eats: Falafel King Halal cart
Jeff Porter: I cannot speak for all members of the hospitality community, but the Halal cart has played an important role in my New York City restaurant life. After a busy night’s service I tend to be quite hungry and even in New York the late night dining options are never quite as expansive as I might hope for. It always seemed such a dichotomy to have on one side just served some of the most amazing food and wine and then be stalking a lamb gyro with red and white sauce on the other. That’s more often than not the deal, though.
I never was intrepid enough to roll out of work with a "roady" to pair with my Halal until this past week. I decided to pair some of the wines I might serve to a guest with the food that has sustained me after many nights at work.
I often leave work with a few colleagues to share in the night’s exploits and together find hunger quenching gyros, so on this night I enlisted the help of Michael, the Wine Director of Babbo, Will, the Cellar Master of Del Posto and Sara, the Director of Events for Del Posto. We walked together to our usual spot on the corner of 9th Ave. and 16th St. but were disappointed to find that our normal Halal cart had taken the day off – so we went towards 14th St. and sure enough we found the "Falafel King" on the southwestern corner of 8th Ave. and 14th St. The man working the cart explained that he was not in fact the actual King of Falafel, but instead just worked for the King and his cart. We made sure he knew he was the Prince of Falafel to us!
We went full tilt and ordered the lamb gyro, the chicken gyro, two falafel gyros, and a chicken kebab. Wanting an equal playing field, all dishes were requested with both red and white sauce. For dessert we were in luck! Right down the street a lovely woman was selling bags of mangoes garnished with salt and chili. A true street food steal! All in for the four gyros, kebab, and two bags of mangoes we spent $25 with tips included (of course we tipped). A feast for restaurant folk!
Each attendee brought a bottle or two to play around with and see what might work best as a pairing. Our lineup included Vilmart & Cie "Cuvée Rubis" Rosé Brut NV, JL Chave Hermitage Blanc 2012, Domaine Mittnacht Frères "Les Terres Blanches" Gewürztraminer 2013, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe "Télégramme" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 & the late addition of a Maculan "Dindarello" Moscato 2013 for the mango dessert.
First up was the Champagne and out of the gate we had a winner with the lamb and chicken. The red sauce was quite spicy and aggressive but the rosé held its own and the lush ripe fruit tempered the heat. We were all really excited about the JL Chave Hermitage Blanc as it is a wine that one does not see very often on any occasion. The wine was amazing – but it was roughed up by the red sauce – if we had just gotten the white sauce I think it would have been aces with the falafel and chicken but one hit of the red sauce and the beauty of that wine was destroyed. The Gewürztraminer worked really well with all the dishes. I am not the biggest fan of the Gewürztraminer grape variety but on this day I was glad it was on the table. The ripe stone fruits tempered the heat in the food and added exotic spice notes to the lamb, which was a group favorite for a pairing.
Not wanting to go 100% white wine – and knowing ahead of time that I wanted lamb, I went Rhône for red. I originally wanted to try something from the North, but ended up glad we veered south to Châteauneuf. The "Télégramme" was lushly ripe, but balanced with savory spices and enough acidity to keep the wine together. It immediately harmonized with the red sauce and had the group doing the happy dance. This was a pairing I will revisit more often when Halal is on the table.
Finally we dug into the mango bags. We all thought that the Gewürztraminer might work, but the mangoes were too sweet for that wine. The Maculan "Dindarello," however, hit the jackpot. The sweetness was perfectly matched with the mango and together they were singing. It made me realize that sometimes the best sweets are just simple fruits.
We thought a lot about the high-low nature of all of this. After all, these are wines that can make your heart skip a beat. Michael commented that the beauty of the Halal cart and mango lady were that they served pure and honest flavors, and that these helped show the real nature of the wines. Pure flavors combining to make something better together. Or in the case of the Chave, reminding us that sometimes the best flavors and intentions don’t work out.
Street food might lack the ambiance of a nice table or candles, but NYC summer nights are beautiful anyway and I’ll be honest, there is a lot of room to experiment with wine and this type of food. I’ll definitely be exploring that some more myself. The simple flavors of street food can strike a pleasure nerve that sort of reminds me of the happiness I used to find in wine when I was just getting started with it.
Will maybe summed up the night best when he said "I felt at home pairing wine and street food because being young and poor and in the wine business you put your money into the liquid and try to find the best food you can afford at the moment." On this night we did alright.