The term “student-run” usually conjures the image of a haphazard experiment – sometimes muddled with an overdose of creativity, sometimes with a misinformed sense of ambition. Yet, when I attended the April 25 “student-run” Damiani Wine Cellars Educational Dinner at Taverna Banfi, I felt that I absolutely needed to re-define what I understood as “student-run”.
Set in a cozy private room with less than 20 diners, the Tuscan-inspired dinner was an utter delight. Doing away with the vestiges of complex, over-thought dishes that top chefs in the country find themselves trapped in, the evening’s offerings were down-to-earth yet tasty. A simply adorned salad, followed by a filling roasted duck breast with garlic mashed potatoes, rounded off with a modest stuffed apple, was all it took to make the diners around me go “ooh” and “ahh” all night, as if coming to some kind of unexpected enlightenment. There is no doubt in my mind that the fine wines provided by Damiani Wine Cellars from the Finger Lakes Region truly made the dishes worthy of worship.
The absolute match made in haven, in my opinion, was the roasted duck paired with the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. I just knew it the moment the aroma of burnt caramel from the duck’s honey soy-sauce glaze reached my nose before my plate even arrived at the table. Wide grins and sighs of satisfaction were also visible when our salads’ rich, pasty Chevre cheese met the citrus notes of the crowd-pleaser that was the Sauvignon Blanc 2010. The connection was instant and stimulating.
As the food and wine continued to titillate our taste buds, the event organizers, who were the students from a Hotel School required course, Hotel Administation 3305: Restaurant Management, had not stopped working one moment. Some slipped in and out of the dining room in their stained chef torques to introduce the dishes they had just prepared. Others made conversation with the guests, combining the flair of a seasoned maître d' and the excitement of a newbie restaurateur.
For a winery with a less established name compared to the big boys of the New York wine-making circuit, Damiani Wine Cellars is still jostling for space in this saturated market. But its artisanal, hand-crafted wines, which founder Lou Damiani claims “honor the land”, surprised me with their sophistication and clean flavors.
“Wine reflects life," Damiani said after the dinner. “It’s all about balance.” Indeed.