Friday, August 24, 2012

A South African Wine Journey: Five Course Pairing Dinner at the Explorer's Lounge at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court

The Explorer's Lounge
When you write about food for a living, many of the tastings and multi-course pairing dinners and cocktails and nibbles - even the best ones -  eventually blend into one another. The nuances and intensity of the flavors gradually fade from sense memory.

I love the rare exceptions to this phenomenon.

As Poppa Trix (who took all of these lovely shots) and I ate and drank our way through a recent five-course wine pairing dinner at the Explorer's Lounge at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court in Baltimore, I knew that this was one of those special meals that would stick with me for a very long time.

The dinner was structured around the South African wines of A.A. Badenhorst, and the pairings, conceived by chef Josean Rosado,  managed to be smart and inventive without feeling at all gimmicky or forced - all of the elements worked together organically and unforgettably.

The clubby, lush, British Empire decor of the Explorer's Lounge provided a fitting backdrop for this culinary adventure:

When we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of Badenhorst Secateurs Rose 2012.
Fruity and spicy with a crisp dry finish, this was a lovely way to begin the night. As I sipped my drink, I chatted with Chef Rosado about how the dinner came together:
Rosado explained that when he and his team tasted the wines, he came up with his ideas for the pairings on the spot. Although I have not met the winemaker Adi Badenhorst, I suspect that, given what I learned over the course of the evening about his independent spirit and originality both in his approach to winemaking and life, he would definitely approve of such spontaneity.

I think this joie de vivre is on full display in this photo of Badenhorst in his vineyard in Swartland:
Before the first course, the event's co-host, Lisa Norris, a regional manager with wine importer Broadbent Selections, said a few words about Adi Badenhorst: "He's been making wines since he was 13," she said. "We care very deeply for him."
Lisa Norris, left; Chef Rosado introducing the first course, right
Rosado's playful first course, which paired with the rose, set the tone for the fun to come - a rockfish crudo with rose gelee, pink peppercorns, and cotton candy:
I never thought I would be eating cotton candy at a formal dinner, but somehow it all worked, particularly when I tasted everything together and the satisfying crunch of the pink peppercorns contrasted with the lightly-salted fish, perfume-y gelee and airy cotton candy.

The next surprise came when I realized that we would be enjoying braised rabbit and baby carrots with a Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc.

This combination was entirely unexpected, and yet completely perfect. The wine had a round, supple, bright quality, with a subtle honeysuckle note that played so well with the smoky bacon-wrapped rabbit and rich silky broth. If I had been at home, there is no question but that I would have licked my plate clean.

Course three was a housemade charcuterie plate paired with a Badenhorst Secateurs Red Blend.

This wine had exuberant notes of ripe berries without being overly sweet - rather the bright finish was just the right foil for the smoky and intense meats, particularly the pate.

 The final two courses introduced more complex wines. The 2009 Badenhorst Family White Blend is made up of over 11 different varietals, and the result is nothing short of lush: the initial intense saffron nose gives way to what one guest (Royal Sonesta director of operations Bob Haislip) correctly described as a subtle unfiltered yeast. With this bold and elegant white, Rosado presented a pan roasted veal sweetbread with a green tomato and a tomato avocado buerre blanc. Pairing this rich dish with a white that could stand up to it was a stroke of genius:

The meal ended with just the right amount of bold meatiness: a peppery and spicy wine, the Badenhorst Family Red Blend, paired with local Gunpowder bison tartare and crispy Yukon gold potatoes:
After the last course, the staff took their much-deserved bows.

And here, my friends, is where things get a little fuzzy. Let's just say that the pours throughout the evening were more than generous. And then ...

The cocktail happened.
And a shot of the stuff as well. You see, I had mentioned my fondness for a certain Polish honey vodka to one of our dining companions, a wine consultant for the Country Vintner. So, after the meal, he and the hotel's director of operations - here he is:
were kind enough to offer me the lovely, lemon-y, Comb-based cocktail.

I seem to recall that it was quite good. I also have a vague memory that I thoroughly enjoyed these petit fours and desserts:

But I haven't told you about this fabulous evening simply to make you green with envy. If you like, you can have your own, albeit different, Explorer's Lounge experience. Starting in October, the hotel plans to have monthly pairing dinners - October's will feature beers from Flying Dog Brewery.

Badenhorst wines are available locally at Urban Cellars and Perfect Pour

My meal was complimentary, however, all of the opinions expressed here are my own, and no promise of a positive review was made. 


  1. What a beautiful blog... professional, informative, respectful and fun! Perfection, just like Adi's wines! Thank you

  2. Great photos and shots of the food.. you always ace the writing ... sounds like happy year for you both!

  3. Wow Trix! Such a wonderful post….and such a gorgeous meal! Photos are amazing!

  4. What spectacular photos! I wish I was there.

  5. Sounds delicious - great comments

  6. I AM green with envy. This looks like a fabulous meal.

  7. There are a number of good South African wines. It's too bad they don't pop up more often in different restaurants. Love the look of that bison tartare! Glad you made it to the very end of the dish with only slightly fuzzy results. :)

  8. wow looks amazing happy for you and you have talent as a photographer and writer

  9. What a fantastic meal and event! The food and photography are exquisite...thanks for sharing all the details with us. your comment: to complicate matters, Bill will only eat cooked peaches, not raw. His crown for pickiest husband stays intact :)

  10. Soooo jealous. I want to be there! And these photos are gawdgeous!

  11. Thank you for the lovely report Trix, wish we could have been there ourselves. I have posted about your blog post on our blog, as we do.

  12. I love going occasionally to these fab event, especially as guests ha ha. They are amazing experiences and you were very lucky to taste and sip your way through this one.

  13. I am jealous and I want your job:) It sounds like my kind of restaurant and event. Thanks for sharing your experience Trixie.

  14. I don't know how people do those enormous meals with wines on a regular basis.... or maybe its just that I enjoy the wines too much. By the end of the meal I need a week of lettuce leaves and green tea!
    You've done great reporting and wonderful photos. These dishes look fabulous... love some of the ideas. GImme some rose gelée please, love it.

  15. When I read your writing at the events like this you attend I am always so impressed with you. Well, I always am impressed with you my friend but shall we say I am REMINDED of why when I read such great recaps of your adventures. And Poppa should go full time as a photographer I think. Just wow.