These two Haute Mamas are lovers of all things culinary, but especially, a good steak and a large glass of wine. So, when we were offered the opportunity to visit the best place in Boston to enjoy both of these things, famed Back Bay restaurant, Grill 23, not even a driving snowstorm could stop us!
Steakhouses come in many varieties. There are the steakhouses stuck in a vortex that make you start to question if Lyndon B. Johnson is still president, where curtains and wall paper have a certain sheen and smell painted on by the tar in 2nd hand smoke from so many years ago. Their steaks are so thin and tough you might as well take it home to play Frisbie with Fido. And then there are those new flashy steakhouses; glitz, glam, music, but no substance on the plate.
When we think of a quality Steakhouse, Grill 23 is really the only one that comes to mind. For over 30 years, “The Grill” has stuck to a tradition of decorum, great service, and of course fantastic food. When one first enters the establishment, there’s always a warm greeting from staff. Beautiful marble columns call attention to architectural details, such as meticulous mill work on the ceilings in a delicious creamy color. Crisply dressed tables, gorgeous floral arrangements and a back-lit glass bar set the tone for an impeccable dinner.
Besides a well-maintained image, Grill 23 has a secret weapon to protect its position as the best steakhouse in Boston. And no, it isn’t the phenomenal steaks that melt in your mouth. Really, those aren’t a secret at all. The Grill’s trump card comes in the form of one cool cat, named Brahm Callahan.
Mr. Callahan is a Master Sommelier, making him a rarefied individual. He has a title only 229 people in the world can print on their business cards. On top of that distinction, he’s one of only two in Massachusetts, and the only one working in a restaurant. There’s a reason this group is so exclusive. The distinction of “Master Somm” (jargon for those in-the-know) is earned via a test more challenging than a “Game of Throne’s” battle. Basically, one has to prove they are a better resource than Google when it comes to wine. Brahm Callahan gives the right answer for any wine-related question on the first hit.
One of the working wine rooms throughout the restaurant.
This means Grill 23 has a living and breathing wine encyclopedia curating their most impressive and well-known wine list. And when the wine list in a top restaurant is just about as important as the food, having Brahm Callahan as the beverage director is quite the coup. Not bad Grill 23. Not bad at all.
So, when we learned we had a chance to interview this rising superstar in the wine industry, we were simply giddy! Brahm, however, is anything but giddy.
Brahm has the aplomb of James Bond and a gentleman’s demeanor, much like Atticus Finch. So, basically, he’s really cool and very nice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with him. Wine has been part of most of his life. Growing up working on a family vineyard in Western Mass, Brahm Callahan developed an affection for wine that would guide him to be one of the most impressive people in the wine community today.
To enjoy during our chat, Brahm chose a delightful bottle of Red Burgundy, (otherwise known as Pinot Noir, when not from the Burgundy region of France). We were already learning interesting facts just talking about the wine label!
Looking at the above pictured bottle of wine as an example, quite often we see the words “Clos” and “Ouvrees” on the labels. These terms indicate specifically how many workers are required to produce the wine. Clos refers to the walls around the Vineyard, and Ouvrees to the artisans making the wine. So, for the La Pousse D’or Vineyard, it takes 60 workers to create and bring this light, easy, and delightful wine to our table. Only a few minutes into our interview, and our wine knowledge had expanded! And that was just the beginning. Here’s what we learned from this wine genius on that wonderfully snowy day.
Does the Glass Matter
As we sat down to enjoy a nice bottle of Pinot Noir with Brahm, we noticed the gorgeous funnel shaped bowl of the wine glass. We couldn’t help but ask if the glass really matters. Especially, since Jess has taken to drinking wine from stable, heavy-bottomed old-fashioned glasses, which seems a necessity, since her boys travel through the house like Mowgli from the Jungle Book.
Pinot Noir or Red Burgandy wine glasses
But, as we expected, of course the glass matters. For example, the pinot noir we were about to enjoy with Brahm has a lower alcohol content. And so, the narrowing at the top of the glass traps and focuses the aromatics, enhancing the flavor both through one’s sense of smell and of course taste. A wine with a higher alcohol content, such a Bordeaux should have a nice wide opening to allow the alcohol to escape. Otherwise, the aromatics will stack upon each other and become too intense. So, if you’re pouring yourself a nice vintage wine, then it is worthy of the appropriate glass.
How to Serve Wine
We’ve talked about the glass, but what about the temperature? Many of us have the notion that red wine should be room temperature and white wine should be so cold it makes the glass sweat. Our Master Sommelier, Brahm, gave us the real low down on the appropriate temperatures for wine. At the Grill, red wine is served between 62 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. White wine is poured between 47 and 52 degrees. Not as chilled as you might be use to from your refrigerator, but these temps will allow you to taste more of the wine’s profile. Something like a red granache (YUM!) can be served at a cooler temperature of 55 degrees, making it a delightful red wine for the summer.
Does Any Wine Pair Universally with Food
Champagne not only pairs perfectly with fun, but also with any appetizer, entree, or desert. Brahm also recommends Gruner Veltliner as a wine that will go well with most foods.
By contrast, wines with heavy tannins, such as in a Cabernet Sauvignon make it difficult to pair with any old dish. Those powerful little tannis attach to the fat molecules in food, which help to mitigate the astringency of the wine, smoothing the flavor of the wine and enhancing the flavor of the food. So, a beautiful bold Cab is perfect for a nice juicy rib eye. (Excuse us while we day dream about this for a minute or two…)
Storing and Breathing Wine
One of the highlights of our visit was a tour into the Grill’s basement working wine cellar.
We couldn’t help but be impressed by the volume and value of what surrounded us. From bottles of Barolo from 1964, to high end champagne, to bottles of wine worth $15,000, we knew we were in a good place during a snow storm. 🙂
In the above picture, you’ll notice the first bottles are labeled using non-adhesive tape, rather than the traditional neck cards. There is a very good reason for this. When a bottle of wine costs as much as an economic car, you’ll take all the care in the world to protects its value. Just the slightest mark in the foil wrapping could decrease the value of the wine; hence, the use of the tape. Why risk putting something over the neck and potentially damaging a premier bottle of vino.
It’s fairly common knowledge, wine should be stored in a dry and temperature controlled space. At Grill 23, they treat their bottles of wine like living and breathing babies. When a wine comes in, they will open it and have a first taste, then again in an about hour, then in five hours, and even the next day. If the wine is “cranky,” as Brahm described, then that baby goes back down for a nap. And sometimes a long one. Some of the wines have been napping for three to four years in that cellar, just waiting to fill up a glass. This is the magic that is happening in the basement of Grill 23.
What Wines Are on the Rise
We don’t think this is quite insider trading, but we did get a little bit of wine forecasting from Brahm. He tells us that Portugal will be the country to watch for great exports, and at a reasonable price. They have been improving techniques and the vineyards are about the produce the benefits. Especially, the white varietals.
What Wines Do You Recommend
So, here’s the million dollar question to ask a Master Sommelier. What does the man who knows everything about wine recommend for us all to try?
In the $20-$30 range, Master Sommelier, Brahm Callahan, recommends we head to our friendly neighborhood wine store, and pick up one or all of these following wines:
- Nigl Freiheit Gruner Veltliner, kremstal Austria 2014
- Trimbach Gold Label Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2012
- Malvira Barbera d’alba, piedmont, Italy 2010
For a more special occasion, in the $70-100, he recommends these bottles:
- Pol Roger, Extra cuvee de reserve, brut champagne
- Domaine Testut, Montee de tonnerre 1er cru Chablis, France (chardonnay)
- L’aventure, Optimus, Paso Robles, California 2011 (Cabernet sauvignon blend)
During our discussion with Brahm, we were also lucky enough to be introduced to the Grill’s new menu program, due out a little later this year. And trust us, any of you foodies are going to be thrilled with the additions! Grill 23 plans to roll out a new “Silver Service Burger Menu.” We were lucky enough to sample the Bahn Mi burger, which will truly make the Boston burger scene excited.
Billed by Corporate Culinary Director, Eric Brannan, as a reintroduction of an old “street meat” recipe, this burger definitely belongs on a silver tray rather than a vending cart. Heritage pork, Vietnamese braised beef short rib, organic chicken liver pate, lemongrass aioli, nuac cham (fish sauce, garlic, rice vinegar, chilies, lime juice) dressed vegetables (julienne carrot, cucumber, daikon), cilantro, mint and Thai basil are all gently hugged by a griddled brioche roll. The combination of all of those carefully selected ingredients created flavor fireworks in our mouths! We can’t wait till it hits the menu and we can have it again!
Bahn Mi Burger
But, the Bahn Mi won’t stand alone. There will be a few other exotic burgers on the menu too. One we’re dying to try is the proposed all ground beef burger, with black garlic, mushrooms, and truffle butter. Hello!
Oyster shooters are also expected to appear as a new item. We think these are a sexy addition, especially with the presentation. A succulent little oyster waits in a shooter glass for a lovely cocktail of tomato juice, lime juice, lager, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tumeric, and rimmed with Old Bay Spice. We think it looks pretty chic, all nestled into a bed of freshly shaved ice chips.
We could not have imagined a better way to spend our snow day. We are so grateful to all of the staff at Grill 23 for making us feel so welcome and allowing us to march around the restaurant as they were hustling to prepare for the busy Friday dinner crowd! Thank you so much to Brahm Callahan for the generosity of his time. Thank you to the Himmel Hospitality Group, to Susan Erabino, Himmel Hospitality Corporate Culinary Director Eric Brennan, and Executive Chef Jay Murray.
We can’t wait to head back to Grill 23 to enjoy the fantastic service, a gorgeous bone-in rib eye, and a nice bottle of wine. Plus, the ambiance that can only come from the good vibes of other diners who are enjoying a wonderful meal!
Kim & Jess
Enjoy the Gallery!
Photography Credit to Todd Mazer
Executive Chef Jay Murray
Himmel Hospitality Corporate Culinary Director Eric Brannan
“Wine is constant proof that god loves us and loves to see us happy.”
“Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”
“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”
“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.”
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
– Earnest Hemmingway
“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”
– Louis Pasteur
“Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
– W.B. Yeats
“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
“his lips drink water
but his heart drinks wine”
“In wine, there’s truth.”
-Pliny the Elder