A traditional wine pairing dinner at a favorite restaurant may seem out of bounds right now due to the constraints brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but Royal Oak’s Café Muse has found a way to bring the experience directly and safely into one’s home through virtual wine pairing dinners. Guests pre-select their meal ahead of time; pick up their chosen food and optional wine on the afternoon of the event; follow heating instructions at home; and then tune into a Zoom call where hosts promise a lively evening of wine and food talk — dressing up is optional. After past successes, Café Muse has scheduled its next such dinner for Saturday, Feb. 13.
According to Café Muse chef and co-owner Greg Reyner, the idea was a response to both the restaurant’s need for revenue due to COVID-related closures plus a community of food and wine enthusiasts’ desperation for something to do. Between The Lines spoke with Reyner, who is openly gay, to hear how sometimes crisis brings opportunity.
“One of the things that made us think we could do this was for Easter we did boxed meals for everyone to pick up, so it was kind of a takeoff from that,” Reyner said. “Just doing the next step [was] doing it with Zoom. Doing it with wine pairing, [and] having our wine salesperson, Michelle DeHayes, come in and actually walk us through the wine portion.”
Reyner, DeHayes and co-owner David Smith will host the upcoming dinner. For those new to wine pairing dinners, Reyner provided a description.
“We’ll go course by course,” Reyner explained. “We’ll discuss the wine. We’ll discuss the food. We’ll discuss the history of the wine, how the wine interacts with the food, and we’ve even had courses where we’ll backtrack and try the previous wine to see how that interacts with that course. So it’s kind of to educate people as far as, there is no right or wrong wine, but this is something that may work better with this [course], but could also work really work with this course as well.”
Reyner reported that of the previous pairings the café held this way, about 80 percent of the individuals who purchased the food and wine packages also tuned in later for the dinner party. He says the set-up appeals to a wide variety of patrons.
“I think that another aspect that a lot of people like is that even though you are at home, you’re still in a group with other people,” Reyner said. “And I think for the more shy person, this is actually a great opportunity … because you can actually type in a question. We get a lot of typed-in questions and we answer them. Or people are more comfortable being in their own kitchen or dining room.”
There are advantages for the hosts, too, especially for the more well-attended dinners.
“One thing that I’ve found to be easier is if there’s more people participating, because Michelle and I and David actually feed off of the questions that people ask,” Reyner said. “It’s just being able to interact with your fellow human being even though it’s only online and getting their reaction to the food.
“Typically, when we’d do wine dinners in the restaurant, I wouldn’t eat and I wouldn’t drink,” he added. “I would come out and talk, and then go back and serve everything. So this … gives me an opportunity to be there and actually interact more with the people that are participating.”
The four-course dinner will consist of soup, salad, main entrée and dessert. Reyner offered a glimpse of what’s in store for prospective diners.
“We’re doing lamb chops a la Lark,” Reyner said. “The Lark had probably one of the best recipes for lamb chops around. We’ve actually commandeered their recipe, which is amazing, with hoisin, shallots and honey. And for those who don’t like lamb, we’re actually doing a tournedos of beef, prepared in the same style with hoisin. And dessert, we’re doing apple pot de crème with salted cashews. And the salad, grapefruit with arugula.”
The soup is French onion.
While those who purchase the wine pairing dinners will be tuning in from home, the hosts will be broadcasting live from Café Muse.
“We’re at the restaurant,” Reyner said. “Michelle is my wine merchant; she’s kind of in my ‘bubble,’ so we sit on one screen and there’s the cheesy banter between us. David’s on another screen. And we do like three different trivia questions during the meal and whoever’s correct gets a bottle of wine.”
Since the food and wine are sold separately, the dinners also appeal to individuals who simply enjoy fine dining without alcohol. And for those who do enjoy wine, another advantage is that one needn’t give a second thought as to who’s driving home.
“It’s a chance in these trying times to interact and be around other people but still be safe and comfortable,” Reyner said.
Feb. 10 is the deadline to place orders for the virtual wine pairing dinner to be held Saturday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. See menu for complete details and Café Muse’s hours of operation.
Learn more about the events online at cafemuseroyaloak.com.
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.