While wine and beer pairings aren’t anything new, sometimes we want to have a cocktail with dinner that’s designed to complement a dish, or a couple smaller pours so we can try more drinks. Enter Coppervine, a new restaurant in Lincoln Park that takes the mystery out of pairings by offering wine, beer or cocktails paired with dishes from chef Michael Taus, formerly of Zealous, who’s a consultant on the project and still present in the kitchen.
"I strongly feel that food tastes better with the right drink and the drink tastes better with the right food," says beverage director and partner Don Sritong, who also owns the Just Grapes wine shop, which is currently closed for building construction. "I wanted to create a concept that allowed that experience to happen in a simple format and make it approachable for the everyday guest."
While the concept seems simple, the overall goal is far-reaching.
"We're really trying to change what the average Chicago diner thinks about dining," Sritong says.
Diners usually order drinks and food separately, but the pairing concept encourages diners to make those decisions together.
"We created a format to make that process easier for the guest,” Sritong explains.
On the menu, three suggested pairings—one wine, one beer and one cocktail—are listed underneath each dish. So that drinks and food arrive at the table at the same time, bartenders wear earpieces to coordinate with the kitchen. Since Coppervine pours are smaller—you’ll get 3 ounces of wine, 5 ounces of beer and 2 ounces of a cocktail—and range from $4–$7 each, you can try a couple different pairings with a dish for the cost of one beverage elsewhere.
The whole team—Sritong, Taus, dining room manager Ben Drescher, who develops beer pairings, and cocktail consultant Paul Sauter—collaborated to figure out how the dynamic between food and drink pairings would work.
"On a higher level, the basis for pairing is that you are either dealing with the taste or you are dealing with the texture," Sritong says. "You are trying to match it by comparing or contrasting it with both texture and taste."
The team started with food, then developed the drinks, then tweaked dishes to fit the pairing. To give us an example of their process, Taus and Sritong walked us through the pairing for the Lobster BLT dish.
“Starting with the bread, we wanted to butter the hell out of it like when my mom made me grilled cheese at home as a kid,” Taus describes. “We oven-dry the tomatoes with thyme and olive oil to bring a little sweetness and acidity to the dish. We are also making a truffle mayonnaise in-house with a little lemon juice and dry mustard.” The dish is finished with oven-roasted applewood smoked bacon that’s been brushed with maple syrup.
Sritong focused on certain elements and flavors of the dish to help make decisions on each of the pairings.
The Paring White from New Zealand is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier, and Sritong says it works well with the dish because it’s a blend.
“The lobster and bread are rich and buttery and the Sauvignon Blanc brings an acidic note,” he says. “Semillon brings a floral element and the Viognier brings a very rich, decadent, tropical fruit flavor to the dish.”
For beer, Sritong and Drescher, chose Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian beer that has a fruit forward flavor profile that plays well with the sweetness of the lobster and the maple syrup on the bacon.
For the cocktail option, Sauter came up with the Modern Man’s Manhattan, which imparts smoky flavors from the Redemption Rye that pair well with the smokiness of the bacon.
The restaurant has a dedicated test kitchen that’s slated to open in the next couple months on the second floor of the restaurant. The plan is to make the kitchen a completely interactive experience for the guest.
“The idea and the concept of pairing is an organic thing; it is constantly evolving,” Sritong says. “When the test kitchen opens, any guest can experiment with us and see behind the scenes what we are working for on future menus.”