Please forgive me. My notes from the dinner in Denver are a little sloppy.
I had met up with a group of Coloradans in the main room at Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen. Dinner was a private affair, and the purpose of the meal was to pay close attention to pairings—to all the mysterious ways that food and wine interact. We had guides for this task: Carlin Karr and Matthew Mather, whose connection to Colorado restaurants such as Frasca and Tavernetta means that as sommeliers go, they’re sort of like Navy SEALs. Even with their sure hands steering a course through the bottles, however, I found it hard to focus.
That’s because this January pairing dinner had a third component: cannabis. Five years after the first sales of recreational marijuana got rolling in America’s most weed-forward state, I traveled to Denver at the urging of Adam Weiss, a marijuana entrepreneur who happens to be married to Karr. The dinner, with food cooked by Mile High City chef Jason Somers, was intended to serve as a dress rehearsal for a scenario that Weiss and Karr and Mather talk about all the time at home: With legal cannabis now having made its slow trek into the mainstream, what’s the most, well, debonair way to maximize the pleasure you get from using it?
The all-too-typical answer these days, as delivered by shows and books like Bong Appétit and roughly one third of the emails I get, is to cook with the stuff—to infuse the bejesus out of everything. Edibles, a recent cookbook from San Francisco chef Stephanie Hua, wants you to spend some time with the careful charts about dosages and terpenes and decarboxylation before you dive into the recipes for Booty Call Brownies and corn-dog muffins. With tinctures and cannabutter at hand, you can surf through the day on ebbing and flowing tides of THC and CBD, from your infused granola in the morning to an infused goblet of sauvignon blanc and an infused chocolate on your pillow as the sun says “Hasta luego.” (For those who have the luxury of being baked all day long, we salute you.)
The deluge of infusions, though, feels to some observers a bit like the sort of giddy bender that tends to follow the end of any sustained period of suppression, whether we’re talking about Prague after the Velvet Revolution or kids gorging on candy when they’re allowed past the well-protected gates of Willy Wonka’s sweets compound. Let’s not get carried away. Infusions are cool, Weiss will assure you, but eating weed obviously sidesteps one of the hallmarks of smoking weed, which is the way it intensifies the deliciousness of the other things you are eating. He and Karr dream of the day when, in a traditional restaurant setting, a puff is followed by a sip that is followed by a bite, the triad of ingested delights—leaf, wine, food—all engaging in a heightened, curated conversation about one another. Ideally, each would say something about the land it comes from: Think of it as terroir in triplicate. “That’s truly, in my opinion, what’s missing—bringing it to that next level,” Weiss told me. “I’m not against an infusion. But everyone’s trying to infuse.”
During our dinner in Denver, this connoisseur’s approach to weed-driven fine dining manifested itself in the way a kale salad with butternut squash and pomegranate seeds felt right at home with a glass of Emmerich Knoll 2016 Grüner Veltliner and a vape puff of a cannabis strain called Lemon G. And how a tender Koberstein Farms short rib eased into a dialogue with a Pierre Gonon 2013 Saint-Joseph and freshly rolled joints of Natty Rems OG. And how lemon sorbet (the dessert, served in a bowl) and Sunset Sherbet (the strain, served via spliff) buddied up to Del Maguey’s “Chichicapa” mezcal.
They dream of the day when, in a traditional restaurant setting, a puff is followed by a sip that is followed by a bite.
At least I think so. All I remember is that everything started tasting really good. “The idea tonight is to have a great sensory experience with smoke and wine and food,” Mather said. “What I hope is that they’re all coalescing in a harmonious way. It makes the food taste better. It heightens everything.” Well, not everything. By the time dessert arrived, the gathering at Rosenberg’s wasn’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table. Conversation had slowed to a crawl. “Oh my God, that’s so good,” one of the guests said, according to the scribbles in my notebook, and after that came what seemed like a long, strange period of silence.
From: Esquire US