This summer, Atria is pushing the boundaries when it comes to its wine dinners. Gone are the boring days of pairing reds with meats and whites with fish. We’re saying adios to the typically rigid wine dinners and saying hello to a summer wine series that will surely be the talk of the town. I had the pleasure to attend their latest wine dinner, an open-fire pop-up featuring wines from Argentina.
As I walked into the event, the smell of smoke filled the air. Martha’s Vineyard and Brooklyn–based chef Tim Laursen was manning the grill, along with chef and owner Christian Thornton and chef de cuisine Noah Kincaide. I was instantly handed a glass of wine and mingled with the crowd, who were all in awe of the open-fire cooking techniques.
Typically, food at wine dinners is cooked in a hushed kitchen, away from the guests’ view, but not this time. The restaurant’s front outdoor patio was sprinkled with guests enjoying wine as they saw their entire meal prepared. Chef Thornton stirred a cauldron of caldo — a pork-based broth with shredded pork, sweet potato, garbanzos, tomatoes, and collards, that would become our first course, along with a salad of charred and grilled ingredients. Alongside him, Chef Kincaide put together a passed appetizer, while Chef Laursen kept an eye on the fire, making sure it was at optimal temperature.
The end result was a menu including:
Appetizer Picadillo Empanadas, Anchovy Persillade over charred bread and burned tomatoes
First course (soup and salad) Caldo, a pork-based broth with shredded pork, sweet potato, garbanzos, tomatoes, and collards; Treviso Salad with burned oranges, charred beets, and a honey tarragon vinaigrette
Second course Gambas (Hawaiian blue prawns) with a parsley and garlic marinade and a pimento purée; Grilled Octopus with smoked paprika, pimentón aioli, picholine olives; Pacific King Salmon with escabeche and saffron aioli
Third course Smoked Chickens with Red Chimichurri; FARM Institute Beef Ribs and Ribeye with Chimichurri over spring onions, leeks, and baby carrots
The whole experience was mesmerizing. There’s something so human about cooking over an open fire, something we can all connect to because it’s where we started. Chef Laursen’s grill-centric approach changed the way we thought about Island ingredients and the open-fire cooking technique. As we watched them cook on a plancha, parrilla, and cauldron, we knew the food was going to be good. Sam Decker, Atria’s wine director, summarized it in the best way possible: “Less important is the ingredient, more important is the preparation.” At least in terms of pairing, because when you’re cooking large, whole king salmons over the plancha, the char and smoke infused into the fish pair best with a red wine, rather than the classic white.
As we sat down to dinner, an array of sauces sprinkled the table in glasses with small spoons tucked in: a bright green chimichurri, an orange saffron aioli, a bright red piquillo vinaigrette, a pimentón aioli, and a red chimichurri. Interactive, I’d call it. We were allowed to dollop, slather, and dip into a variety of sauces that paired exceptionally well with everything. Our plates at the end of each course looked like a Jackson Pollock piece.
I hope the days of sit-down, stuffy wine dinners are over in the culinary world. May the rest of the world start embracing wine dinners that elevate food and wine in a new way.
If you’d like to host your own open fire dinner in your home, call Tim Laursen at 508-560-2084. If you’d like to experience an Atria wine dinner this summer, here’s the list of what’s coming up. You can find more details online at atriawine.com.
Terroir Series: Wines of Spain, Wednesday, July 27
Maker’s Series: Withers Winery, Wednesday, August 10
Maker’s Series: Caymus Vineyards, Wednesday, August 24
Burgundy and Champagne: An Evening with Peter Wasserman, Wednesday, August 31
Terroir Series: Wines of Provence, Tuesday, Sept. 6