What we paired with Frito pie at Cullen’s Upscale American Grille

From the “just for the sheer fun of it” department…

I won’t conceal that cousin Marty and I were a little bit skeptical when we rolled up to Cullen’s Upscale American Grille the other night, not far from NASA Space Center, south of Houston. It’s a huge, sprawling events space, high-end restaurant, and music venue located smack dab in the center of one of those golden triangles of obscene wealth that orbit Houston proper. Honestly, it’s not the type of place that we would seek out. But after hanging with GM and wine director Ryan Roberts a few weeks ago at a very cool dinner where he and Cullen’s chef Paul Lewis cooked for 200 persons on a farm in the Texas plains, I knew that something interesting lay beneath the surface of this shiny, sparkling castle of indulgence in the wasteland of America’s greatest opulence.

You’d think that there would be only California Chardonnay and Napa Valley Cab to drink in a joint like this, but Ryan greeted us with raw gulf oysters and a white blend by one of my favorite Provence producers, Le Grand Blanc by Henri Milan. So salty and with such bright acidity, perfect for the oysters. Not bad, eh?

Next came the now famous Frito pie (check the thread of suggested wine pairings here). Ryan’s pairing was simply brilliant: Étienne Sauzet 2007 Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes 1er Cru. The gentle wood and subtle malolactic fermentation sang beautifully in the key of minerality with this rich and intensely flavored dish. Here’s the menu gloss btw: “Pork & Chairman’s reserve beef chili, Fritos, Texas goat cheese, Oregon cheddar, crème fraîche” (forget sour cream: crème fraîche on Frito Pie?) Chef Lewis’s meats are sourced rigorously from the Jolie Vue in Brenham where the owners employ strict pasture-based farming (Ryan told me that his restaurant was the first restaurant in Texas to be certified “Green,” btw, another surprise in what appears from the outside to be a purely commercial venture.)

The southern-style oysters Rockefeller were pretty awesome, too.

Paired beautifully with a palate cleanser in the form of Ferran Adrià’s new beer, Inedit (the beer is salty and delicious, the website is annoying but I thought I’d include it).

My main event was chicken fried steak paired with Boillot 2006 Pommard-Rugiens 1er Cru, another brilliant pairing, where the power and spiciness of this famous cru was just right against the richness of this dish.

The night couldn’t not end on a sweet note… Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad 2004 Scheurebe Auslese.

I knew Ryan would have a lot of great stuff in store for us: we’ve met professionally and socially a number of times and he’s an awesome guy, with a great palate (and a ton of experience in this business). He has all the usual suspects on his lists (think big Napa Cab and oaky California Chardonnay) but he also has a ton of wines that really thrill me, like the Henri Milan above, and even a 2002 Gravner white, which he sells for a great price. He’s the perfect balance of someone who is trying to do well by his family and get ahead in life but never forgetting what’s great about real wine, all the while turning his staff and anyone else willing to listen on to this groovy stuff…

My only regret? I wish we would have made it down earlier to do the tour of the Space Center! Next time…

Buon weekend, ya’ll…

5 thoughts on “What we paired with Frito pie at Cullen’s Upscale American Grille

  1. CFS, I knew it would make an appearance soon. Hey at least the raw oysters were fat and cholesterol free. Guess it’s vegan for the Holidays.

  2. @Michael H Ryan is awesome. His list has so much soul in a place where you would least expect it! Amazing…

    @TWG Believe it or not the lady who wrote the _Oxford Companion to American Cuisine_ entry on CFS spent the night at our house last night! (Alfonso’s SO, Kim)

    @Vinogirl when you and Vinomaker come to your sense and come visit us in Texas, the fun will be a-waiting! :-)

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