Veritas is a now seven-year-old restaurant built around a pretty amazing wine collection of what the current vernacular calls hedonistic wines. There are huge Californians, trophy Bordeaux, and quite a collection of Rhones, along with a chef who seems to be creating a simple cuisine to support the list but, in fact, has created food that makes some of the best wines of the world better for their association.
We started with an ’85 Veuve Clicquot La grand Dame which was all about yeast, lemon, brioche, and green apple. It was very mineraly, with blazing acids. We were finishing it up when we were served:
Our amuse of marinated squid with pureed avocado, chive, and chorizo oil. Light and fresh, it had late winter notes, moving into spring. The chives brought a bite to the citrus tinge of the avocado puree, the squid was resistant to the tooth while in no way seeming tough, and it was all grounded by the earth, smoke, and paprika notes of the oil.
Our second wine was an ’01 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru LES PUCELLES by Leflaive. More acidic than expected, it got richer as it warmed but stuck to notes of lemon, herbs, and minerals and was great with:
Chilled Lobster Salad fava bean purée, peas, peppercress, and old sherry vinegar. The peppercress salad contained many herbal notes, which led me to assume there were things like tarragon and chervil mixed in. The favas were almost as sweet as the lobster meat and there was an herb oil along with the vinegar. Different levels of similar flavors layered in this dish to make it perfect for the chardonnay and probably many other rich whites.
’86 Leoville Las Cases was our second choice after learning they were out of the ’82 Beychevelle (which was never going to last). This outcome was fine with me. What a grand wine – all the power and structure of a great Bordeaux with the balance to make it interesting. Powerful notes of cassis, currants, and spice that made room for lighter bits of bell pepper, spearmint and bubblegum, it was exactly right with:
Roast Saddle of Lamb chevre potato gratin, olive oil braised artichokes, garlic confit and rosemary. The lamb was tender and flavorful, so gently roasted that the browning looked as if it had been painted on rather than burnt in. The gratin was rich and creamy and was permeated with the cheese’s aroma while keeping the integrity of the potato’s structure. The artichoke, a daring choice with wine, seemed to have had all its cynar leeched in the braising process, leaving a nice, green compliment rather than a bitter one that would draw sweetness from the wine. The garlic is the story of the night; it was pinkish and had a very interesting berry zing in its flavor. I was so intrigued I asked Rachel, our waitress, to get me the details of its process. She returned with the answer that it was simply poached in olive oil.When I said, “but it was pink, that can’t be all tha was done. Can you make sure I am not confused?” she seemed suspicious I was trying to give her a hard time and it took us most of the rest of the entrées to win her back (we finally decided the garlic had picked up color from the lamb’s juices).
A wine list built on a collection is obviously going to favor a specific taste. Although well-rounded, Veritas’ list definitely favors big reds, so to go and not grab a cabernet from California would be to miss the experience. To take us through the end of our dinners, Laser suggested a Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet and we had an ’00. Without any pejorative inference, this was a seriously good, big, new world, cabernet. Alone as a cocktail, it would have been boozy, heady, kirsch, cassis, cherries, and toast with all kinds of jammy extraction. With my dish, herbs and minerals got to show when the richness of the cheese tamed the alcohol.
Dessert was Grapefruit Sorbet Campari biscotti. The harsh bitterness in both ingredients was tempered, leaving more a bitter aroma of the Campari and an ascorbic zing to the sorbet to make this a refreshing end to the meal.
Since the wine list is the heart of Veritas, people of all types make their big wine nights there. So those special, super-awesome, cherry-picking moments are getting thinner and the “Wow, I never thought I’d see one of those” moments are also a little more sparse. This led me to a deeper perusal of the seemingly an all-encompassing list, and these soft spots became apparent.
Calderone was having a rabbit risotto so I went looking for a Barolo and found mostly recent vintages by great makers, on the better side of fair market price. This is only upsetting if you set expectations for a mid-70’s gem that no one had plucked yet; expectations built by a list that, although enormous in scope, is comprised of a dwindling commodity.
As the shiny glint of the revolutionary list burnishes to the pretty patina of a well cared for labor of love, what you are left with is a great place to go enjoy food and wine, with some real value rather than amazing deals. Chef Scott Bryan, whose skills receive accolades in Tony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, has written a menu that, although it probably would be fine alone, is almost the perfect compliment to wine — and not some wine, all wine. Each of the dishes has things going on that pair up well to different elements of wine so, although obviously some combinations will match better than others, each dish straddles a wide range of wines it will compliment. You will only go wrong if you do something like lobster and Chateauneuf du Pape, and probably not as wrong as you would have gone elsewhere because of the herbs and the vinegar.
Pairing to create something transcendent is easy here because of the quality of the list and the types of dishes offered. Get a pinot with the duck, get a Cali cab with the steak, get any Burgundy with the chicken, have a Bordeaux with the lamb, and you will definitely enjoy exemplary pairings. The deftness of Scott’s hand, though, is in the touches – well-chosen tarragon in my lamb tamed the Bryant well so that, rather than abusive fruit running over the lean saddle, herbs and earth were pulled forward and the wine seemed more harmonized. The menu is rife with effects like this. If you love wine, or want to love wine, Veritas is well worth a visit.