Sunday, July 13, 2014

The night the lights went out at Bern's Steakhouse

It was Friday July 11th, 2014. And we were there. But that was not the marquee memory of our evening at that venerable establishment. Rather, that honor was reserved for the components -- as well as the totality -- of the lineup that we consumed over the course of the evening.

But wait. I am getting ahead of myself.

Allan Frischman, of Chicago-based Hart Davis Hart Wine Company, was coming into Orlando on business and, as he had never been to Bern's Steakhouse -- a gap in his wine/food experience that he was anxious to fill -- Ron arranged for us to host him at the restaurant on the aforementioned date. The opening of the Epicurean Hotel across from Bern's has made traveling to Tampa to eat at the restaurant even more appetizing as your bed is only a stone's throw away from a stellar dining/foodie experience.

Dinner was at 7:00 but we began the evening with a pre-dinner Selosse fix in Ron's suite. A little before 7:00, we descended to the lobby and made our way over to Bern's.

The Bern's reception area was crowded as usual but we were quickly buttonholed and ushered to our standing table. Our regular Somm at the restaurant is Brad and before we were fully seated he had appeared with the first of the many wonderful wines that we would have that evening. Now this was a dual purpose visit: (i) the Bern's education of Allan and (ii) drinking a lot of great wine. The wine lists were handed out (a ceremonial process really as we tend to come to the restaurant with a set of defined targets in mind -- wines that have to be drunk before the carpetbaggers drink them all) and Allan remarked that he thought the list would be more commanding in size. Brad left and returned with the list as it used to be in the olden days -- behemoths that had to be chained to the table.

Ron and Allan examining a ginormous vintage Bern's wine list

While Allan and Ron perused the old wine list, Brad opened our first bottle and poured its contents into our glasses. This wine was the Bouchard Père et Fils 1978 La Romanée. This wine was a study in evolution during the course of its residence in the glass. It started out with sweet red fruits (cherry, strawberries) with a molasses undertone along with blood, raw meat, and a hint of dried cork. It was youthful and fully engaging on the palate, with a slight alcohol burn on the chest. Tannins were still aplenty. At the second visit, coffee and mocha began to show along with a perception of increased acidity. On a third visit, herbs became dominant with rosemary and thyme implicated. On the palate the wine was now smooth, elegant, and refined. The wine continued to evolve with a highly perfumed phase (vintage-Barolo-like) followed by a cinnamon and baking-spices phase. A definite hint of tamarind on the palate in these latter phases. This was an absolutely awesome wine.

The second wine poured was the 2000 DRC Grand Échézeaux. This wine was much more rustic in comparison to the La Romanée. It exhibited cinnamon and baking spices along with turpentine, pimento, mocha, coffee, road tar, and animal skin. Over time the mocha and coffee gave way to mushrooms and dried herbs. On the palate, elegant, fine grained, with drying tannins. Layered complexity with a long, elegant finish.

I paired the Grand Ech with an Escargot appetizer and it was a perfect match. The slight salty character associated with the cheese was muted by the Burgundy while the mushroomy, earthy character of the snails was reinforced by similar characteristics in the wine.

The third wine opened was the 2000 DRC Richebourg. Floral with coriander and cumin on the nose and baking spices layered on top. Coconut oil and orange rind. Sprightly and elfin on the palate though bolstered with an earthiness. Paired with a rich, thick lobster bisque.

Before the lobster bisque arrived, the lights went out. Luckily this is hurricane country so emergency lights flipped on immediately. The lights stayed off for about 5 minutes during which time Bev kept assuring Allan that this was highly unusual. "This has never happened before," she said. There were no grand announcements from management. No one seemed overly concerned. So I began wondering whether it was a divine message targeted at me. Could it be that some higher power was saying get out while you still can? Bern's has it hands halfway down your pockets but if you leave now you will still be able to feed your family in the future. I looked around but no one else seemed to be paying attention to this voice. So I ignored it. And I paid. Dearly.

And then, just like that, the lights went out

Lobster bisque
With lights once again abundant, we turned to the fourth bottle from the Grand Cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée/Flagey-Échézeaux, the 2000 DRC La Tâche. This wine was dusky, ephemeral, and muted, with a loose tea leaf note. Expressive on the palate, much more so than on the nose. Bright red fruit. Rich but elegant. Appropriate acidity. Stony minerality with a drying character. Balanced with a tea finish.

As Ron pointed out, the drinking of this bottle of La Tâche signals the end of an era. Brad had told us a few visits ago that we had drunk the last bottle of 2000 La Tâche but then he had found two more cases in the byzantine cellar. He again informed us on Friday night that we had bought the last bottle of the wine. This means that if you ever see this wine on the Bern's list, they would have acquired it at auction ( a non-Bern's original) and it will be priced accordingly.

We ordered steaks for our main courses and decided to pair it with a Bourdeax. After some hunting around on the wine list, we settled on a 1934 Leoville-Poyferre. This wine had a tar, black olive, and dill nose. Rich and oily. Mint, dried sweet red fruits, tobacco, and an earthiness. Bright with a long finish.

Having just completed a tour of the Mugneret-Gibourg cellars in Burgundy -- and been impressed with the wines -- we were excited to try a 1995 vintage of that wine that was on the Bern's list. It was disappointing. It was both tight and closed. We also had a less-than-stellar 1990 Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne and a 1987 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco. The Tondonia was bright and fresh and was less oxidative than I had expected. It was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate at the end of the evening.

In keeping with the educational thrust of the evening for Allan, Brad had taken him on tours of the dry-aged room, the dessert room, and the wine cellar. He was now fully up to speed on the charms of the restaurant. I can only hope that we have not created another carpetbagger.

A wonderful time was had by all. It was now 2:30 am and the strategic nature of the Epicurean Hotel positioning was clear to all. We had intuited it. Now we were experiencing it.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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