“Love is a burning thing . . . and it makes a fiery ring.” Johnny Cash’s singing floats through my head as I’m seated fireside at Hotel Irvine’s outdoor EATS Kitchen & Bar on a blustery night. The 10-foot ring melts my face as much as my heart, and finding out about the eatery’s fireside chat with chef Jeff Moore and sommelier Andrzej (pronounced like André) Lewczyk, happening every Saturday, got me uncorked.
“I’ll pour three wines and guide you through the origin, varietal, food pairings and a very relaxed chat,” explained the level two sommelier, fire reflecting off his face.
The cost? “Just order a drink at the bar, and the three pairings are complimentary,” Lewczyk says with a grin. This is probably the best deal for a date night in the county. And the pairings change weekly, so there’s an incentive to come back a few times.
Though I’ve made wine at the homebrew level, I consider myself a novice. Spending an hour with a sommelier is a great time to bust out those curious questions one might have, such as “Why do you cut the foil on the low side instead of the top?”
“Sparkling is always a great way to start,” says Lewczyk, and I agree. The Chloe Prosecco he pours is bursting with stonefruit, green apple notes and some citrus zing. Paired with it is Moore’s take on deviled eggs: breaded and fried, topped with yolky Mexican chorizo, then capped with shaved Manchego cheese and a fresh oregano leaf. I can’t say I’ve ever had a fried deviled egg; it eats like a lighter version of its Scotch cousin. It’s creamy, vibrant—and yes, I’ll have another.
Pairing No. 2 starts with a Sauvignon Blanc from Groth in Napa Valley. The beer geek in me has an epiphany: The white wine has notes of Nelson Sauvin hops, which are actually named after the wine grape. For me, both the hops and that grape have a distinct tropical-diesel character. Plus, winery owner Dennis Groth came from the tech industry after working for years at Atari, which causes me to have Ms. Pac Man cut-scene flashbacks.
The third pairing alone is worth the price of admission: A juicy hunk of seared New York steak is speared with flavor-packed cherry tomatoes and served alongside a perfectly spicy harissa-based béarnaise sauce for dipping. The inclusion of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Artemis Cabernet was a surprise, considering the producer shocked the wine world at the great Judgment of Paris in the ’70s by coming out on top. Without this wine, who knows if California would be regarded as highly as it is?
What pairings will be available next Saturday night? I might be there to find out!
Fireside Chats at EATS Kitchen & Bar at Hotel Irvine, 17900 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 225-6780; www.hotelirvine.com. Every Sat., 7-8 p.m.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!