My Experience At Plates & Pages
Never before have I been so excited to share a dining experience with you all.
Today I’m here to tell you about Plates & Pages, an extraordinary event put on by a restaurant in Cincinnati called Five on Vine. I had never heard of them before, but it’s the sister restaurant to Losanti Steakhouse, which I absolutely adore and wrote about a few weeks ago.
Five on Vine hosted a five course wine pairing dinner in collaboration with Household Books, a local bookstore that features used books, vinyl records, and vintage clothing. For this event, Household Books held a pop-up bookstore inside the restaurant.
The doors opened at six, and the first hour was allotted for guests to arrive, grab their glass of welcome Prosecco, and peruse the books that were hand-picked by the owner of the bookstore. There was classic literature, some rare books and first editions, some fiction, and best of all, vintage cookbooks.
A ten dollar credit towards a book was included in the cost of the event ticket, so of course I had to grab one. Or three.
First, I got The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot:
I really like the no-nonsense minimalistic style of the cover.
Of course I had to grab this 1967 Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook:
I mean, come on, it has over 400 guest-tested recipes!
And I knew this 1953 Open Sandwiches and Cold Lunches by Asta Bang and Edith Rode was too good to pass up:
After grabbing my books, I went and sat at my assigned table. Since I had come alone, I had expected to be seated by myself and dine in solitude. Much to my surprise, I was seated at a table with five other people. I don’t mind socializing, and I like making friends, so I wasn’t too worried about the situation. Little did I realize how amazing the company would end up being, and how much richer my dining experience was for it.
The meal began at seven with an amuse-bouche. An endive leaf stuffed with red and gold beets and topped with a radish slice.
I’m not the biggest fan of endive for the same reason I don’t really care for arugula. I find it to be too bitter and there are other greens that I prefer that are an easy substitute. That being said, this dish was simply delicious. I couldn’t figure out what about beets and endive made for such an incredible dish, and the details of the amuse-bouche weren’t on the menu, so I called the restaurant to see if they could give me more details. They were kind enough to let me speak with the chef, and he told me all the aspects that made this dish truly great.
The beets were made confit-style with garlic, thyme, and bay leaf, and the liquid from the confit was used to make the vinaigrette. Alongside the endive leaf was a blue cheese mousse with celery seed that added a nice richness. I mentioned to the chef that despite not liking endive, I loved this dish, and he said he soaked the endive in gin and sweet vermouth for a few minutes, which totally eliminated the bitterness.
As you can see, the amuse-bouche was beautifully crafted, and was only the beginning. Here’s what was in store:
For each course, they’d bring out the food and pour the wine, then the chef would explain each dish, and the wine expert would talk about each wine, and then the bookstore owner would read a quote from a book he’d selected to accompany the course.
First up was this scallop crudo paired with a pinot grigio from Italy:
As someone who loves scallops, I had no doubt this course would be good, but I must admit I was hesitant about the “crudo” aspect of it. I have never had raw scallops before. I don’t mind raw seafood, as I’ve eaten plenty of salmon and tuna in sushi, but I definitely have never thought to try scallops raw. I thought the texture would be displeasing, but both the texture and taste ended up being amazing. The brightness from both the watercress puree and the pineapple-citrus-cilantro mixture paired with the buttery scallops wonderfully, and the crispness of the pinot grigio was the perfect accompaniment to this light and delicious course.
I was especially surprised about liking the pinot grigio, because I have never cared for dry wines. I knew this event would have a lot of dry wines, and that didn’t bother me even though I’ve never liked them before, but something about this one in particular was really nice. It was refreshing, crisp, and not overly dry. This course really gave off “summer on the coast” vibes, and I was all about it.
Going off of this, the book pairing for this course was The Talented Mr. Ripley. It was said that this was because of the themes of simplicity and class, as well as the ability to really “feel the breeze”. It was quite eloquently put.
Next was this beautiful medley of summer vegetables:
When they brought this dish out, it reminded me of the ratatouille from the movie Ratatouille. This particular mélange featured summer squash, tomato, eggplant, onion, and was topped with an olive tapenade. The sauces were wildly different from each other, one being sort of similar to a pesto, and the other being a thick, white anchovy sauce that was intensely flavorful and creamy. The chef said that this course was like a tribute to the end of summer, and indeed it was a perfect encapsulation of saying farewell to a season filled with so much fresh produce.
Were it deemed socially acceptable, I would’ve licked this plate clean.
As for the wine, we were given a Chablis. Much like the previous course, it seemed to pair exquisitely with the dish at hand. It was from France, and was actually the only French wine of the evening.
The quote for this course was from With Bold Knife & Fork: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
This quote really speaks to me as someone who loves to make baked goods for my loved ones, to share meals with the people I care about. My favorite way to spend time is eating good food with good company, so this quote has a bit of relatability to it.
Following this was a lovely butternut squash soup:
Butternut squash not only happens to be my favorite type of squash, but one of my favorite types of soup, as well. Especially when it’s as creamy and pleasantly sweet as this one was. The candied walnuts on top certainly assisted with that, while the smoked paprika added a nice warmth. I could’ve eaten a drum of this.
I found the details for the wine particularly interesting for this course. It was a Reyna Barbaresco, which we were told is the queen of Italian wine. The grapes were harvested later than normal, which reduced the acidity. Apparently the previous winter had been full of heavy rainfall and snow, making for a plentiful water reserve and balanced the ripening. The science behind everything was honestly really fascinating.
This next quote was a little more on the philosophical side of things. From Redwall: “Knowledge is a thing that one cannot have enough of. It is the fruit of wisdom, to be eaten carefully and digested fully, unlike that lunch you are bolting down, little friend.”
Onto course four, the seared trout:
I actually quite like trout. I mean, I can’t think of a fish I’ve had that I don’t like, but trout is definitely a good one. What I did not expect from this trout, though, was sweetness. There was a slightly sweet glaze over the fish that when mixed with the citrus vinaigrette and orange on top made for a delectable bite. As for the lentils, here was another ingredient I generally steered clear of, yet found myself loving every bite of them this time around.
The wine description for the Crognolo Toscana, another Italian red, came with an interesting history lesson. Apparently the name of the estate, Setti Ponti, means seven bridges, and is in reference to the seven bridges over the Arno River that connects Arezzo and Florence. Turns out, one of these bridges is visible behind Mona Lisa!
As for the quote for this course, it comes from Ernest Hemingway: “There is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else.”
Again, as someone who believes there is love involved in making food for others, in sharing a meal with others, who romanticizes baking on rainy fall days and loves indulging in delicious foods, this quote seemed like it was made for me.
The owner of the bookstore took this time to show us this awesome first edition of The Sun Also Rises:
I believe he said it was from 1926, but correct me in the comments if I’m misremembering.
Moving on from the sea to the land, we have some duck:
Duck is one of those things that I’ve only had a handful of times before, and have always found to be perfectly adequate, but never something I would go out of my way to order. This duck completely changed my opinion on duck as a whole. It was the best duck I’ve ever had, and was so next level that I’m now afraid to try duck anywhere else ever because I doubt it will be as delicious as this dish was. Not only was the seared duck breast tender, flavorful, and accompanied by a deeply savory sauce, but the crispy phyllo dough was filled with more duck, quinoa, goat cheese, and dried cherries. I happen to really like all of those things!
The wine for this course was called Tortoniano Barolo, the third red from Italy. This one was super cool because its name comes from the tortonian era, which was nine million years ago. That’s how old the soil is that the vines are planted in. Tell me that isn’t so cool! All of the dry reds up to this point had not been really to my taste, and this one was especially dry and had me making a bit of a face upon trying it. Can’t say it was my favorite, but I can understand how it would pair well with something as intensely flavorful and savory as the duck.
Before I move on to the dessert, I want to talk a bit about the final quote. It comes from the late Anthony Bourdain, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from the get-go.”
Food is everything we are. Food is culture, food is community, food is connection. And that is exactly what I experienced at this event. The staff was so inviting and friendly, they made me feel more like a guest than a customer. The people I sat with were interesting, super cool, unique individuals that I enjoyed learning about and getting to know throughout almost four hours of dining together. The chef, the wine expert, and the bookseller were all such awesome, artistic people with a burning passion for their field that showed in every dish, every glass, and every quote. This event was planned and curated with a level of artistry and intentionality I have never experienced before, and I can only hope I get the chance to do it again.
With all that being said, the night ended on a sweet note:
Mounds of toasted marshmallow fluff, macerated berries, peanut brittle, chocolate budino, what’s not to love? Admittedly, I was confused when I read “quenelle” of the chocolate budino (more or less a chocolate pudding), because the definition on Google for quenelle is a meat and fish mixture. Turns out, there’s a second definition that means a carefully shaped small amount of a soft food. That made a lot more sense. And now I know a new word. Yay learning!
Every bite of this dessert was pure decadence. Sweet, marshmallowy goodness alongside plump, juicy blueberries amidst silky chocolate. I’m drooling just remembering how heavenly this dessert was. It may very well have been the single greatest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.
The wine was a port. I expected no less given port’s depth of flavor and sweet richness that makes it the perfect pairing for any dessert. The small pour was just the right amount to really top off the sheer indulgence of this finisher.
After buying a bottle of the port and the pinot grigio to take home, and with my new books in tow, I headed out for the long drive home, satiated not just in being full from good food and wine, but in conversation, connection, laughter, and artistic expression.
What looks the best to you? Which wine would you have loved to try? Are you a fan of duck? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!