What started as a mini catastrophe in my kitchen last weekend ended in a beautiful dinner at Pairings Bistro. As usual, I was trying to accomplish umpteen things at once – fold laundry, catch up on my cooking shows, wash dishes, check my Blackberry, gossip with a girlfriend, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, I was also trying to cook a simple chicken dish and left the stove on. The next thing I know, the pan is practically on fire and the house is filled with the stinkiest smoke you have ever smelled!
But what I also smelled was a golden opportunity! Here was my chance to convince my husband that a nice, romantic dinner at Pairings would far exceed pizza or Chinese takeout. Crossing my fingers (and my toes) I quickly dialed the restaurant, praying that they had an available table. Pairings Bistro is a small venue, so sometimes a reservation can be hard to come by at the last minute. My prayers were answered, and off we went.
As the name suggests, Pairings specializes in handpicking a wine to complement each course. Although I completely trust their judgment, our first stop was the little wine shop that is located in the back of the restaurant. It houses some very nice wines that I have come to love over the years. Immediately we found 4 different wines, 2 bottles for our dinner and 2 to take home. There is a corkage fee of $10 per bottle. By the way, the Murphy Goode Red Zinfandel, Liar’s Dice, was excellent. The Sofia Moscato, made by the Francis Ford Coppola winery, was dangerously pleasing if your palate tends toward a sweet wine. Our waitress admitted that she was nervous about opening a bottle in front of a customer and commented that “they don’t train us very well on using these corkscrews”. Luckily, I am a low-maintenance kind of gal, and her inexperience didn’t bother me. However, I would suggest that the servers become comfortable with that aspect of their job.
Anyway, onto the cuisine. On Sunday evenings, Pairings has a special Prix Fixe menu. Many of their dishes have a Belgian or Mediterranean influence and a Chesapeake Bay flair with a focus on locally grown/created items (Hawks Hill Creamery cheese for instance) . On paper, it sounds like a strange combination, but it worked. We ordered the Prix Fixe Menu of The Season ($55, or $79 with wine pairings) which consisted of Butternut Squash Soup, Crispy Scallops over sweet potato hash in a cider reduction, fresh quail stuffed with wild boar sausage and cherry cornbread stuffing, a cheese selection with honey pecan butter and fruit crepes with Brooms Bloom cinnamon honey ice cream. Yum, yum and YUM! The Butternut soup was smooth and creamy with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg and was served with a fresh piece of lightly toasted French bread. Three gorgeous scallops came next, perched atop a bed of cubed sweet potatoes that had been sautéed in bacon. It had never occurred to me to cook bacon with sweet potatoes, but this was a winning combination. You can’t really go wrong with bacon, right? Quail was a new gastronomic experience for me and it mostly tasted like chicken. The wild boar sausage and cherry cornbread sounds like an odd couple, but trust me, it was my favorite part of this entrée. The cheese plate was served with more of the same French bread and Carr’s crackers. Too much bread, not enough cheese. By the time the crepes were served, we were already full, but they were still delicious.
We also created our own Prix Fixe meal for $39 which was a bargain. A salad of baby greens, golden beets, red grapes, walnuts and chevre was served first – a stunning blast of color on a pristinely white dish. Next in the food parade was barbeque shrimp on habanero cheese grits, tasty but not as spicy as I had hoped or expected. Coriander duck breast with creamy risotto was the main event. My first experience with duck was when my husband recently cooked it for Valentine’s Day. With any luck he isn’t reading this because I enjoyed this one more – 6 sliced medallions cooked to medium doneness with a coriander crust married quite well with the risotto. And for an amateur, I thought that MY zinfandel wine pairing was superb with this dish.
Pairings is the sort of place that makes you feel a little like a celebrity – an intimate setting and three delightful servers scurrying around to ensure that we enjoyed every morsel. On our way out I noticed that there were several outdoor tables with propane heaters and customers were actually sitting there on a chilly March night. They must love Pairings as much as I do!
2105 Laurel Bush Road
Bel Air, MD 21015