Mama Squirrel and I attended our first wine dinner Friday night at the Tower Room at Clark Tower hosted by John Adams of Star Distributing. It was a very pleasant evening with good company, good food by executive chef Carlos Quinn and good wine by Pepi. Best of all, we got a four-course dinner with wine for a very reasonable $40 each.
Like any tasting menu, there isn’t a lot of point in describing the menu of a wine dinner because it won’t be the same again. The whole point of the dinner is to try new dishes and new wines that pair well and complement one another. Still, the experience is worth recounting.
The Tower Room was an excellent location for the event. The dinner was held in a private dining room on the east side of Clark Tower. If you’re not used to the room, arrive early. The view can be mesmerizing. It’s amazing just how many trees are still standing in Memphis. After a few minutes to absorb the view, it fades to the background, leaving a pleasant sense of tranquility. We are thinking about going back for dinner just so we can see the view to the west at sunset.
Dinner began with an amuse-bouche of polenta and crab cake with melted Asiago and Boursin cheeses. We love polenta and crab cakes. This was a really nice combination of the two. The Asiago added a nice bit of crunch and the Boursin melted to a creamy sauce. The crab blended well without being overpowered. The wine for this course was Pepi Sauvignon blanc. This was a lightly crisp wine aged in stainless steel. Nothing too complex, but it went nicely with the food. The almost pineapple sweetness was a very nice match with the Boursin.
The appetizer was firecracker shrimp rolls with ponzu dipping sauce and sweet chili garlic sauce. There was also a tropical vegetable salad and dabs of wasabi and pickled ginger. The shrimp in rolls was firm and tasty in a crisp wonton wrap. The small salad was a crisp counterpoint. I was careless, though, and dragged it through the wasabi on the tight plating and got quite a jolt. The wine with the appetizer was Pepi Pinot grigio. It too was light and none too complex, but I didn’t think it was as smooth or as satisfying as the Sauvignon blanc. Mama preferred it though. She liked the slight sweet-sour tang and the citrus overtones.
The entree was smoked pork loin with whole grain mustard Bordelaise paired with sweet potato duchess and sauteed jicama and carrots. The dish was good, but it just didn’t live up to the expectations set by the room and the first two courses. The pork was bland and the potatoes only average. The sauce’s flavor didn’t match the description. The wine paired with this course, Pepi Shiraz, however, was better. It had a nice body and the tannins left a gentle tingle. It was my favorite of the evening, but Mama still preferred the Pinot grigio.
Dessert topped things off nicely, Clement Creole Shrubb tarts and a chocolate covered strawberry. The tart was creamy with a subtle undertone of orange. The accompanying Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb Liqueur d’Orange was quite bracing. I am not much of a drinker, so the transition from a nice wine at 13% or so alcohol to an 80 proof liqueur left my lips abuzz. After I finished my dessert and about half my rum, I walked around and talked to some of the folks at the dinner. When I returned, Mama had finished her glass. “After the first half glass, it stops hurting so bad. This is dangerous stuff,” she says. I need to keep an eye on her. No telling what she’s going to get into in Hawaii.
We have to miss the next Tower Room dinner because we’ll be out of town. We’re definitely going to the one in September though.
Tower Room American Grill
5100 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38137