By Jim Campanini, IWS
If you’re thinking of doing something new and exciting in a the new year, why not go on an adventurous food and wine tour – and from home.
Sound interesting? It’s fabulous. It’s also less expensive than going on a wine cruise.
Books, bottles and a Belgian feast. Those were three ingredients in the planning of an exciting house party in honor of the legendary (and fictional) Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, the creation of British mystery writer Agatha Christie’s brilliant imagination. The final key ingredient, of course, were the party guests, or friends of Poirot, who completed the festive affair with elegant flair. They dressed to the nines in 20th century period couture – the women wore sparkling flapper dresses and evening gowns while the men emulated Poirot’s impeccable fondness for the black tuxedo, replete with his famous lapel vase pin which the detective received in “The Chocolate Box” episode from the very desirable – and smitten – Vergine Mesnard.
The hostess for the evening was The Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, who assembled the five-course Belgian menu and cooked every tasty morsel for our eight dazzling guests. I, the host, filled a small but grand part as Hercule Poirot himself, greeting guests at the door with a replica of the detective’s iconic black swan cane and (itchy) moustache. For the balance of the evening I served as sommelier, a role I took most seriously pairing Champagne and French wines to the textures and flavors of the European cuisine.
Before I describe the food and wine – afterall that is why I write this weekly column – let me first say how much fun this evening of elegance turned out to be. Yes, the dinner was exquisite. But the communion of friends, spirited conversation and bright laughter made it memorable. It is something we all agreed to do again. And that, my loyal readers, is what La Bella Vita is all about: sharing a wonderful experience of wine, food and friendship that, as Poirot would say, sinks into “the little grey cells, Mon ami,” for all time.
The evening’s theme was inspired by the Wine Goddess’ love for the Agatha Christie PBS television series on Hercule Poirot’s cases. It features most of the famous episodes including “Murder on the Orient Express”, “Death on the Nile”, ” “Hunter’s Lodge”, and many others. Between Agatha Christie’s books and the TV adaptations, there are nearly 90 Poirot mysteries to choose from. The Wine Goddess had one problem, however. While Poirot was a man of impeccable grace and style, which extended to the dinner table, he is rarely seen eating an extensive meal of consequence. So the Wine Goddess improvised with a lavish meal from Poirot’s Belgian homeland. (Christie based Poirot’s character in London where he often complained about the bland food and weak tea.)
This was the second themed dinner originated by this Belvidere group. The first was held in December and based on Amor Towles’ beautifully written “A Gentleman in Moscow.” The novel follows the trials and tribulations of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov who is ordered to forfeit his property following the Bolshevik Revolution (1914). An aristocrat, Rostov is condemned to live in a 100-square foot room in the attic of the grand Metropole Hotel for the rest of his life. With Russia serving as the backdrop, Mike Kiskiel, his wife Pat Montaperto and neighbor Erika Larson prepared a sumptuous feast from the Metropole’s menu that appeared on page 343 of the book. (Veal Pojarski in mushroom sauce, cold Polish cucumber relish, carrots, asparagus and wild rice. Vodka, Bandol rose, Chateau D’Yquem (1983), Eric de Suremain Rully 1er Cru Preaux, and The Count’s Barolo filled the many crystal glasses throughout the evening.)
A themed party is fun and there are so many ways to be creative. We’ve settled on books for ideas, but movies, music and historic dates (Prohibition is now being considered for a spirits party) will do just fine. My advice is simple: Start a trend that brings friends and neighbors together with food, drink and adult dinner talk (no politics, please!) and live the good life!
The Hercule Poirot Dinner Menu
Aperitif – Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Champagne ($37.99) with warm brie and strawberries.
Hors d’oeuvre – Moules in white wine sauce; Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuisse 2016 ($19.99).
Salade – Belgian endive with walnuts, pears, figs and gorgonzola; M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cote-du-Rhone 2016 ($12.99).
Le Plat de Resistance – Belgium Boeuf Carbonnade, Yukon mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots; Notre Dame Pallieres Gigondas 2015 ($21.99) and La Guintrandy Cotes du Rhone 2016 ($11.99).
Le Dessert – Tarte Tatin, Belgian chocolates; coffee, Crème de Menthe.