I'll admit that lately I have been feeling the Zoom fatigue pretty hard. I spend a good portion of my week on Zoom calls in some form or another, and while jumping on a call for happy hour with friends in the beginning of the pandemic was the best possible way to maintain sanity - it's certainly lost some of it's charm for me.
However, it was my 10th anniversary with my husband and I was determined to do something special (and delicious.) I'm no stranger to Wine Wise and if you haven't done one of their wine sails you can thank me later for pointing you in their direction. What I had never done, however, was one of their Virtual Wine Dinners that they have been offering throughout the pandemic.
So, with a bit of reluctancy to add another Zoom meeting to my cluttered calendar, I signed my husband and I up for the "Spain in Maine" with Chef Damian Sansonetti from Chaval and Erica Archer, founder of Wine Wise and Sommelier extraordinaire.
Erica delivers. And I mean this both literally and figuratively. She literally drives to every attendee's house and drops off the food and wine a couple hours before the event and most dishes come ready to be plated or they provide the minimal instructions needed to heat or prepare a dish or two.
We got our table setup as instructed by Erica and joined the call. I was delighted to see a couple faces I recognized and a whole crowd of people I didn't. I expected to be lead through the wine pairings and walked through Chef Damian's approach to our magnificent food we got to eat, but what I didn't expect was the sense of community within the Zoom Room. In the beginning, while taking our first sips of wine, we were all asked to go around and introduce ourselves.
It was one gentleman's birthday, and he thanked us all for coming to his party. There was the couple who were frontline workers that got their vaccines recently. We cheered and celebrated the milestone with them. One woman expressed how much she missed hugs, especially ones from her grandkids - which was met with nods and deep breaths of agreement. There was one couple who had gifted this dinner to their neighbors - all four on the call, drinking, laughing and enjoying each other's company - virtually, for now. We got to hear about Chef Damian's fight for his restaurant and this industry during the pandemic and his deep love of his incredible wife, Chef Ilma Lopez. There were repeat customers who came back not just for another dose of great food and wine, but for another dose of the atmosphere. I held my husband's hand under the table, just like I would on any other date night at one of our favorite spots. Besides there being 20+ other people on our date, I forgot I was on a Zoom call altogether.
Chef Damian talked us through his process on crafting each dish and Erica guided us through what to look for in each of the wine pairings. If you've ever eaten at Chaval, I don't need to tell you how inventive the dishes are. This food during this virtual dinner was no exception. And the wine! Both wines came from some of the most well regarded wine producers in Spain. They were something that I wouldn't normally pick out for myself, but now I will actively seek them out. For the food, my personal favorite was the first dish: a Tortilla Española de Langosta. This dish would have taken me 4 years to make. My husband's favorite, pictured below, was the Maine Turnips & Radishes, Boquerones, and Maine Bluefin Tuna "Mojama de Corazón." And I'm embarrassed to say how quickly we ate the surprise treat from Ilma Lopez at the end of the meal: a beautifully intricate, delicate Crema Catalana with Maine Wild Blueberries. Learning that their daughter helped make the sugar crystals we sprinkled on top made it that much sweeter.
And I'm not sure if Erica knows it, but she's not just a sommelier - she's really a skilled performer. She helped seamlessly weave the conversation all night, welcomed and invited everyone to contribute thoughts or ask questions while also managing to keep us on track. As an actress myself, let me tell you: it's a skill to keep your audience actively engaged for two hours. She had no problem doing so.
When I closed my computer at the end of the night, I looked at my husband and said "I loved that." Besides the dinner, I was captivated by listening to Erica and Chef Damien talk about their respective areas for the evening. Though you can taste the love and thoughtfulness that goes into one of these dishes, it's a different experience when you get to actually hear about it from the Chef. The conversation flowed so effortlessly the whole evening, but I guess that's what happens when you witness someone talk about what fuels them. It's their whole world, and I was just grateful to share in a moment of it.
If you're like me and feel like a Zoombie at this point in the year - make the exception for one of these Virtual Dinners. Because it's more than the food and wine that will make you one of the regulars - it's the feeling of finally being a part of something again. Unmute yourself and join the fun.