There was a time in my heyday when I could down an entire bottle of vino and, well, a whole lot of liquor. I doubt that my tolerance could brand me as a connoisseur of sorts, but it would be safe to say that I’ve had my fair share of purple lips moments to know when I’m sipping a good bottle or not.

So imagine my adulation when I received an invitation to join an exclusive wine pairing degustation by the Wine & Spirits Club of the Philippines. I knew I could not pass up a 9-course haute cuisine dinner meticulously prepared by a chef who’s honed his craft in France, let alone a wine 101 session with palates passionate about wine.

La Girolle

The dinner was held at La Girolle, and the chef in question is Ian Padilla, a New England Culinary Institute alum, and the so-called “Mushroom Man” of sorts. La Girolle is french for the mushroom Chanterelle, which is reminiscent of his experience as fungus cleaner at Le Restaurant Taillevent. From chanterelles to champignons, he slept and breathed mushrooms. Hence, La Girolle was born.

The restaurant is well hidden from plain sight, and only a bright blue signage at the mezzanine of the Bleu Sapphire building is the telltale. You must be on the lookout for haute French cuisine to be able to find this needle amidst the Bonifacio Global City haystack. Only a smattering of tables and seating options available, La Girolle is a cozy restaurant with an exposed kitchen opening up its operations and craftsmanship for all the diners to see.

And so the degustation begins, alongside the wine pairings. Each attendee was supposed to bring a bottle of vino to pair with one of the 9-courses of the dinner. And we begin with…

Ravioli of Foie Gras and Oxtail

Somewhat of an amuse bouche, this little package packs a punch with the meatiness of the oxtail and the richness of foie gras coupled with a delectable beef jus. The presence of Honjimenji mushrooms lent an earthiness to each bite.

The ravioli was paired with a 2006 Schloss Vollrads Riesling, a sweet and aromatic white wine from the Rhine Valley region of Rheingau in Germany. It was light and countered the heftiness of the meaty ravioli with its citrus tones. I was surprised at the sweetness of my first sip, since I’m not a fan of very sweet wines.

Mille-Feuille of Brie & Ricotta Cheese

On a visual standpoint, this course lends its inspiration from the Terroir course at The Goose Station, the restaurant connected with Global Academy. The creamy cheese was surrounded by micro-greens and  beetroot, carrots, apple, nuts and a gastrique sauce. I would have appreciated a little more salt to enhance the flavor of the cheese and to balance the sweetness from the fruit.

The cheese course was paired with a 2006 Stolpman L’Avion white wine blend from the Santa Ynez Valley in Lompoc, California. The bottle is a blend of 90% Roussanne and 10% Viognier that has a fragrant and fruity undertone. I was tasting something like a nectarine or apricot, yet was dry at the same time. I had a feeling I would enjoy the L’Avion more with a strong bleu cheese.

Discussing the food with the wine.

Pied de Cochon with Sauce Gribiche & Deviled Quail Eggs

Pig-trotter croquette atop an acidic Sauce Gribiche made with vinaigrette, eggs and capers was the perfect balance of vinegar cutting through the fat. I could have had 5 more of the cochons if not for its cholesterol content. The parsley lent a beautiful herbaceous tone to subdue the trotters’ richness.

The Cochon was paired with a 2008 vintage Momentum from Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley, a cross between a cabernet sauvignon and merlot with blueberry and licorice tones. The Wine & Spirits group waxed poetic about Napa Valley wines, and why this bottle has significance to their palates; I cleaned the plate and listened intently at their passion for the grape.

Tartare of Australian Lamb Loin with Black Olive Puree, Tomato Confit & Rosemary

A beautiful plate of raw lamb, with an aromatic tapenade that mellows down the gamey flavor of the meat. The table drew mixed reviews about the intensity of the lamb, which I actually appreciated, and since we don’t grow our own lamb in the Philippines, this Australian lamb loin must have been frozen before it became a tartare. I ignored that realization and enjoyed the flavors nonetheless.

The tartare was paired with a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Corte Riva vineyard and is rated 93 pts by Robert Parker, Wine Advocate. The trivia underneath the label is that the wine is produced by two Filipinos, namely Cortez and Rivera family names, who emigrated to California from the Philippines in the 70′s and began their winemaking career tending grapes in Calistoga. The rest is pure Filipino hardwork and history. I felt proud taking a sip of rich red wine born from the cultivation of Filipino ingenuity. The boldness of the Corte Riva was, IMO, the perfect pairing of the night amongst all courses and bottles.

Salt Cured Torchon of Foie Gras with Caramelized Fruits & Vegetables

Instead of the normal pan-seared goose liver, the foie gras was cured amidst vats of sea salt and maintained its silky mouthfeel, a texture not very many are comfortable with. I actually enjoyed the departure from the normal preparation, and especially loved the deep-fried grape atop the foie, but the caramelized fruits and veggies were beginning to get old at that point in the courses.

The Torchon was paired with a 2005 Furstentum Pinot Gris from the Alsace Grand Cru region in north-eastern France. It was not very acidic and a mellow wine which allowed the richness of the foie gras to shine through.
Wine + Foie

Basil Sorbet

Two words: frozen pesto. Definitely cleansed my palate.

For the bird course, we had a secret bottle contributed by Arnie, and was kept under wraps until someone could guess the year, and the vineyard. I wondered, are these connoiseur’s olfactory nerves that sensitive that they can literally guess the bottle in the dark? I didn’t even act like I had a chance and focused on the next plate.

Pan Seared Duck Magret a’la Dragee

A beautiful plate of duck with red onion marmalade, edamame beans, market vegetables, and duck jus Dijon Mustard. The duck skin was crispy and exciting in my mouth and the meat was tender with a slight nudging of the knife.

Elizabeth joins the guess-the-vintage game

Arnie, the secret bottle purveyor

When it was uncovered, I was shocked to discover a bottle just one year my junior in age.

1984 Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, Napa Valley, USA

The years 1983-85 was the first stage of the Dominus estate when Christian Mouiex took over the vineyard. With roots developed in french vineyards such as Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, amongst others, the 2nd generation Moueix acquired the Napa Valley vineyard and made French wine with NorCal ease. Interestingly, the Dominus Estate is not open to public tours or tastings, but one rainy afternoon, Arnie charmed his way to have a private audience and a once in a lifetime chance to step foot in Dominus. What a story indeed.

48 Hour Sous Vide Short Rib of Beef with Red Onion, Bearnaise Beignets & Beef Jus

Paired with a 2001 Chateau Haute-Marbuzet from Saint Estephe, France

A debate about sous vide and meat ensued around our table. Many believed that the sous vide bastardizes the texture of meat, but some argued that short ribs would not be as tender as the plate above had it not been on the water immersion for 48 hours. The normally tough section was fork tender and beautifully seasoned. The  piece de resistance was the bearnaise beignets which seemed to ooze creamy goodness once pierced. What an ingenious way to encapsulate sauce!

I am an advocate for having something even if you don’t need it, rather than needing it and not having it. That said, there was no shortage of wine bottles on our table, exceeding the allotted 9 for the courses. Our extra bottle was a 1989 Grand Cru Classe Chateau La Lagune from the Haut-Médoc appellation in France. The bordeaux blend had hints of cherry and other dark fruit and had quite a bit of sediment on the bottle for the vintage that it is. Admittedly, after all the bottles and sips, I had lost track of what wine I was pairing with which dish.

Chocolate au Pot de Creme

One word: luscious. It was the perfect amount of sin and cream and chocolate blended into a smooth pudding that lingered to the very tip of my tongue down to the back of my throat.

Paired with the Pot de Creme was a 1998 Chateau Clinet from the Pomerol region in France. Another bordeaux blend, the smooth wine actually had tones of chocolate which just complements the rich dessert.

The finale was a Caramelized Lemon Tart, which was the perfect ending to a robust tasting menu. Light and tart with sweetness from the caramel, it cleansed our palates without leaving us feeling heavy, which, at 9 courses, cannot be helped. This dessert reminded Chef Ian of his Parisian days at Le Restaurant Taillevent and brought it with him all the way back to the Philippines.

The Lemon tart was paired with not one, but two bottles of white. Tokay, an Australian white wine from the muscadelle white grape variety used to make table wine.

And a 2006 Riesling from Dönnhoff

2006 was an amazing year for German Riesling and since Donnhoff is a pretty well-known vineyard, the production of this bottle was exceptional. The mandatory sweet wine was enhanced with lime and pear and had a tinge of bubbly to it. Perfect ending.

The Wine & Spirits Club Dinner Table sharing some vino with Chef Ian

The outcome…

So there is a funny story about why I ended up bringing a Russian bottle of Vodka to a wine event, but I’ll save that spiel for when I get to shoot it. It is currently held hostage by Ariel until the next degustation event.

Since our dinner ended quite late, we had a vantage point of the kitchen prep with veal stock being extracted for the next day’s service.

Chef Ian & ToT

For my review of La Girolle, it’s French fine dining with a smattering of molecular gastronomy. Definitely not a manly meal, but worth dressing up for a special dinner with someone who appreciates technique and days of preparation for a nuanced arrangement of flavors on a well-plated dish

L-R: Chef Ian Padilla, Jay-Jay, Will, Nelson, Atty.Bodjie, ToT (seated), Arnie, JayLab & Ariel

It was an impressionable first date between ToT  and The Wine & Spirits Club gentlemen. Having 3 brothers means I held my own during the dinner, be it my appetite or non-PC conversations. I’m hoping I can redeem my Vodka faux pas with another invite to their gustatory events.

Learn more about The Wines & Spirits Club of the Philippines

Restaurant La Girolle

2nd floor Bleu Sapphire Building

30th Street and 2nd Avenue

Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

+632 478-4119