It seems hard to believe that there hasn’t been an official state dinner at the White House yet during the Obama Administration. I thought those were fairly regular sorts of occurrences for visiting ambassadors and heads of state of other nations, but in fact this seems to be the first one, to honor the visit of the Prime Minister of India. And this is the menu:
White House Arugula with Onion Seed Vinaigrette
2008 Riesling Brooks “Ara”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Chick Peas and Okra
Green Curry Prawns
Carmelized Salsify with Smoked Collard Greens and Coconut Aged Basmati
2007 Granache, Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez, California
Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce
Sparkling Chardonay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia
Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelees
Chocolate Dipped Fruit
First off, let me concur with Stephen Bainbridge that the Grenache paired with the prawns sounds like a disaster in the making. I’ve had the Beckmen Grenache and while I think well of it and I’m excited to see a maker I’ve patronized get this sort of publicity, I think the White House sommelier could have made a better choice in this case. It’s a lighter, sweeter red, to be sure, but it is still going to be way more powerful than those shrimps. I’d serve it with a salmon, a char, or some other robust pink-meated fish that had been simply grilled, but otherwise I’d reserve it for a stand-alone drink.
Unlike Prof. Bainbridge, I also think the potatoes in tomato chutney are a bad pairing for the Grenache. Unless that chutney turns out very light and watery, or is made from naturally-sweet grape or pear tomatoes, then I think the Grenache won’t stand up to it — tomatoes carry a hearty, acidic, robust taste that Grenache won’t be able to compete with. And it’s very bad form for the sommelier to misspell “Grenache.”
Finally, this is heavy on the sweets and desserts. The sweet end courses all sound good, to be sure. But so many! And in fact, all the wines are sweet. I’d say the driest wine of the bunch is the Sauvignon Blanc they’re serving with those famous White House arugulas — and that’s about a middle-of-the-road wine on the sweet-versus-dry scale. Frankly, I’d have thought that sophisticates like the Obamas would have preferred drier wines than this.
Given that this is a dinner for the Prime Minister of India, the prominence of the vegetarian selection is wise. And maybe the plethora of sweet tastes is intended to cater to the preferences of Prime Minister Singh (or his wife). To be sure, Indian cuisine has a sweet component to which is generally lacking in the heartier, more savory fare of European or New World origins, a sweetness which mixes with the heat of peppers and curries to much pleasure. But all the same, man, this sounds like it was a sugar-heavy meal for President Obama, Prime Minister Singh, their families, and 220 of their closest friends crammed on short notice into a too-small room in the East Wing.