I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been at a wine dinner where a patron has destroyed a door. I can now raise one more finger after attending the Billy Kawaja Wine Dinner at The Park Grill (top floor of TRIO) last Saturday night. Kawaja is the chef at the Canadian Embassy and he teamed up with The Right Honorable Campbell Thompson of ASC Fine Wines and the staff at The Park Grill to put this dinner together. (Thanks to TRIO marketer Nicole Pang, who will soon leave Beijing, and all-around party animal e-Von for the invites. And yes, for the cynics out there, I did pay the 750-kuai fee.) Here are the course-by-course details and the fate of The Door:
We started with Champagne Laurent-Perrier matched against oysters with tomato juice and a touch of vodka. His Lordship Thompson explained that this Champagne has more Chardonnay than most and is “creamy and fine.” It also has a LOT of bubbles.
The door: Still on its hinges
The Dinner: We sat down and found our mostly Canuck table between those of the Aussies and the Kiwis, who cheer their wines as if they were rugby teams, and thus need a buffer. The first wine, the Knappstein Riesling 2005 (Australia), had hints of Scope and citrus fruits. Paired with grilled prawn on fava beans, with ravioli and a light curry sauce, this wine had an “acid finish that allows it to balance with the creaminess of the food,” said Sir Thompson. He added that Knappstein was “regarded as one of the best Rieslings in Australia.” Well, that was Riesling enough to drink it, ha ha ha ha…
The Door: As I babbled with my five tablemates, four of whom I was meeting for the first time, little did I know that one was a ticking time bomb that would soon go off.
The Dinner: Next up was the imposingly named Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2004 (Italy). It had a creamy, fresh nose with scents of butter, apples and peaches. This was a light wine and matched nicely with the halibut. As Chef Kawaja later explained, “I wanted to try something new and did smoked halibut, rather than smoked salmon.” I liked him because he didn’t go for the easy “I served this fish just for the halibut/hell of it” joke.
The Door: As I sipped my wine, I thought I saw a crazed glimmer in the eye of the patron opposite me. I attributed it to the light reflecting off either the silverware or that slick prawn shell. If only I had paid more attention. Instead, I sat there and wondered if TP, at the next table and ubiquitous on the bar scene the past few months, ever sleeps. Yes, I decided, but only during days and only in a narrow wooden box (100 percent French oak, of course, and stocked with a couple of good bottles of Bordeaux).
Next was a double serving of quail. I have to admit that tiny bird breast looked forlorn and I felt as though I were tearing into Huey, Dewey or Louie (whichever was least plump). The Montana Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 (New Zealand) was ripe and spicy, and smelled of cherries.
The Door: The patron opposite, who was at that point merely in the “pleasant human” category, but about to leapfrog to the “cold-blooded door killer” file and take on the name Ray-Chill, headed for the toilet. A normal ritual, one might think, unless…
Next up was roasted venison loin on crisp sweetbread and paired with Vina Aquitania “Lazuli” Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Chile), which had a rich and powerful nose. We hardly had time to experience this wine, as…
The Door: Suddenly a ripple went through the room. An image of terrified forest animals racing ahead of a ferocious fire swept through my mind. A moment later, Ray-Chill sat down. It dawned on us that she had just destroyed the toilet door. How did we know? “I just destroyed the door to the toilet,” she said. Apparently, in a moment of fury, she went on a rampage, much as an enraged polar bear smashes through an igloo and gobbles up Eskimos like pies. Except the igloo was The Park Grill and the bathroom door was… well, anyway… she knocked the thing off its hinges like Godzilla smashing through a skyscraper. Then, we heard a dull metal clang. “I dropped my fork,” said DC nervously, sitting beside Ray-Chill her and obviously terrified of being the next victim.
We stuck with the Cabernet Sauvignon as we moved on to the whipped goat’s cheese, salty beet chips and watercress salad. It was a nice combination of savory and pungent flavors, but I personally found this dish offensive. I mean, isn’t it a bit much to whip goats?
“What do mean ‘destroyed’?” I asked Ray-Chill, looking down for fear that eye-to-eye contact might inspire more carnage.
“There was no hardware left,” she answered.
“No hardware!” we all hoarsely whispered. Our eyes widened in terror as we realized that this seemingly normal human could transform into the equivalent of an enraged polar bear smashing through an igloo and gobbling up Eskimos like pies. Wait, I already wrote that. In any case, I chastised myself for carelessly leaving my tranquilizer gun at home and decided the best strategy now was keeping the beast at bay by keeping it busy.
“Well, now, that’s very interesting. Kind of a hobby, I guess. Uh, how many doors have you destroyed in your life?”
“Zero. Is that so?”
“So, you, uh, only destroy windows?”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Really, it’s okay, it’s more than okay, they’re cheaper to fix.”
“I don’t destroy windows!”
“Waiter! Tranquilizer gun!”
DC chimed in and claimed a good name for her crime would be “de-port-ication.” Yes DC, we still know you are there. Eat your beet chips!
The last wine was a Kracher Cuvee Beerenausalee 2005 (Austria). Here’s a one-word review: sweet. The Rightable Honor Campson Thompbell said, “This wine, if you could call it that, is 110% sugar. I wouldn’t even recommend it to a polar bear, crazed or not. You’re better off pouring it on pancakes.” Actually, he made some pithy remarks, but I missed them, for I was deep in thought.
The Door: As I felt the Kracher raise my blood sugar level to record highs, I wondered what fate held for Ray-Chill. Destroying doors is not exactly the most diverse skill set in the world. Nor, do I imagine, is there much demand for it. Then, it hit me. I had been a fool and had missed the forest for the trees, or at least the house for the door. This was not about destruction; it was about creation. It was not about pulverizing things; it was about unifying them. This was about removing something that not only keeps toilets and dining rooms, but also people, apart – doors. With this realization, I now interpreted that glimmer in the eye of Ray-Chill as one not of wildness, but of wisdom, and realized that while we had been seeking to decipher the wine, she had been giving us coded messages about the meaning of life. Indeed, if only we could look at the barriers we erect and dismantle them one by one, then, someday, we might also say, “There was no hardware left.” Cheers, Ray-Chill, cheers!
Note: Ray-Chill provided “go for it” permission for writing this story (for the record, she does fit in the “pleasant human” category and apparently destroyed the door simply by opening it). No polar bears or Eskimos (“Inuit” as they are properly known in Canada) were injured. DC got a new fork. Campbell retained his titles. Billy escaped the kitchen and got to use the (open-air) toilet. A good time was had by all.
(From Beijing Boyce XXVII, first emailed on November 23, 2006)