SBWFF 2010: Au Bon Climat Wine Dinner at Emeril's Miami Beach

While it was not an official SBWFF event, last night's Au Bon Climat wine dinner at Emeril's Miami Beach sure felt like one. Oenophiles and foodies alike came together for a six-course dinner and wine pairing. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse was in the kitchen expediting the New Orleans' style cuisine for the 80-plus crowd, while Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen was seated in the dining room rhapsodizing about his wines from northern Santa Barbara county. The duo have been working together since 1995 (they met in Miami at a dinner at Grove Isle, when Mark Militello was the chef there) and they often put on festive wine dinners at Emeril's eateries around the country.

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Photos by Jacquelynn D. Powers
In the kitchen at Emeril's Miami Beach: Brandon Benack, Emeril Lagasse, Greg Richie, Jim Clendenen and Bernard Carmouche.
The theme of the dinner was "old school," and Emeril's first course was a smoked salmon crepe with apple, fennel, cucumber and Uruguayan caviar. It was paired with a rich, creamy pinot gris (2008) from Santa Barbara county. Next up were mussels and frites with a saffron herb wine broth. The white wine served with this course is called "Hildegard," and refers to the wife of King Charlemagne. According to Jim, the king was a sloppy drinker, who often had red wine stains on his clothes and in his beard. Hildegard wisely suggested that they plant white wine grapes instead of red, to cover her husband's drinking. And this is why Clendenen named his mixture of pinot blanc, pinot gris and aligote after a woman from the 800's.

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Hazelnut crusted snapper
Hazelnut crusted snapper with new potatoes, spinach, jumbo lump crab and papaya butter sauce was matched with a powerful 2004 Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley. In a nod to Miami, there was a Cuban pork stew with sweet potatoes, black beans, brussels sprouts and a chorizo crust. The Isabelle pinot noir (2007) that went with this course was named after Jim's 15-year-old daughter. We tasted another pinot noir (2006) from the Santa Maria Valley with the confit duck thigh, which was served over dirty rice. For dessert, there was Emeril's signature banana cream pie (it's one of my favorite desserts in Miami), which was paired with a 2007 Riesling from the Sana Ynez Valley.

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Confit duck thigh over dirty rice.
The night was a huge hit with Emeril making several appearances in the dining room. Clendenen was likewise mobbed by female wine groupies who were digging his hippie style and long locks. Jim was unfazed by the attention; he regularly hosts these wine dinners with celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud. Au Bon Climat will be showing up at several SBWFF events, although Jim did not feel the need to be an official part of the Festival last night. "They charge $10,000 to participate in the Festival," he said. "I don't blame them, but why do I need to pay that to be hooked up with a guy I already know." I'll drink to that.

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A tangle of wine glasses at the end of the night.
Emeril's Miami Beach
1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
305-695-4550

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