Andrew Scrivani
Pichet Ong's truffles in three flavors can each be enjoyed with its own Champagne pairing.
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Bubbles & More

Gary Tucker - September 2010

The Bubble Lounge revamps its upscale drinks-only concept to include equally tempting exclusive wine-worthy desserts in a friendly East Coast-West Coast rivalry between its two locations.

Aiming to generate new buzz and excitement as The Bubble Lounge, New York City's preeminent Champagne bar, was nearing its 14th birthday, co-owner/managing partner Emmanuelle Chiche was inspired by the idea of adding a dessert menu to supplement their drinks list of more than 300 sparkling wines in addition to a fully stocked bar. She reached out to pastry pro Pichet Ong, of Village Tart, Spot Dessert Bar, and Batch, to create a selection of exclusive bubbly-friendly desserts.

Ong, a New Yorker who grew up in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore, is a self-taught pastry chef who has worked at such lauded kitchens as RM, Jean Georges, Tabla, 66, and Spice Market, and is known for his innovative twists that incorporate vibrant Southeast Asian seasonings and aromatic spices with classic Western dishes. His intensely flavorful desserts, already low in sugar and butter, make them ideal pairings for Champagne.

Drawing from nearly 10 years of wine experience in Paris, Oumy Diaw, consultant for The Bubble Lounge, notes that, while desserts are often matched with a demi-sec, it's important to note that nowadays demi-secs taste less sweet and syrupy than in the past. Instead, says Diaw, consider the nose of the wine to enhance the experience of the pairing.

Ong's menu, which debuted in early April, was followed a week later with the Champagne lounge's Secret Cellar release of rare and high-end vintages dating from 2002 and going back as far as the 1950s for a summer-long festival of "Bubbly Treasures." Each week a different area of Champagne is featured, offered both by the glass and the bottle, including one week dedicated to biodynamic wines and one solely devoted to California sparkling wines, while others highlight lesser known producers like Alfred Gratien and Egly-Ouriet. The festival will culminate in a two week harvest celebration starting September 20 with special vintages available by the glass.

"Either we will choose a non-vintage that our Bubbly Treasures program offers each week to pair with Pichet's desserts, or we can experiment with unusual bottles also featured," explains Diaw. "The most challenging is probably his oh-so-popular dessert of chocolate truffles in three flavors: Champagne, Grand Marnier, and Chambord. ‘Tasty' Champagnes with very strong acidity are good options. I personally would pair it with a young Champagne dominated by Pinot Meunier grapes. While Meunier-based wines tend to be rustic and fruit forward, the youth of the wine translates into more intense bubbles. Otherwise, full-bodied rosés are the winners for this one." For California sparklers week, she eyes the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2006. "It's an extremely elegant wine with great finesse and pear aromas to match the subtleties of the Grand Marnier flavored truffles. The tartness of the wine helps balance the chocolate. The Chambord flavored truffles pair well with Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour.

To complement the nutty flavors of frozen tiramisù cannoli with bittersweet cocoa and pistachios, Diaw reaches for "older vintage Blanc de Blancs or blended Champagnes that harbor smokiness and toasted nut aromas, with a fuller texture to hold the dessert. The minerality and acidity will balance the rich and creamy texture of the dessert." Of the California sparklers, she favors demi-secs for this pairing. "The lean and elegant Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec would work for all of Ong's menu, as would Domaine Chandon Extra-Dry Riche, which I personally think is the most well-made blend from Chandon. It's rich, with ripe apricot and almost botrytised aromas, combined with its balanced acidity and body."

While a demi-sec or sec could work for any of the chocolate chip cookies, served warm and baked to order just the way you like them—rare, medium, or well-done—any non-vintages could pair just as well. However, Diaw sees other options that could bring more fun to the table. "For rare, with their intense chocolate flavor, I recommend Ayala Rich Majeur Demi-Sec, whose well-balanced sweetness is pretty mild, and the dry and clean Iron Horse Classic Vintage 2004, with its beautiful fruit, works well with the raw cookie dough. Both the medium and well-done cookies, though, overwhelm the wine, calling again for a demi-sec or a bright crisp non-vintage.

"For medium, go with a full-bodied rosé or rounder non-vintage style like Charles Heidsieck Cuvée Reserve or Gosset Grande Reserve. With well-done cookies, with their fuller caramelization, slight bitterness, and less sweetness, pair a classic non-vintage, dry crisp Champagne such as Stéphane Coquillette Brut from Chouilly or the fruity Dosnon & Lepage Blanc de Noirs from Aube."

In a case of friendly East-meets-West rivalry, Ong challenged his West Coast counterpart Elizabeth Falkner and her assistant, Lexi Barry, of Citizen Cake and Orson in San Francisco, to create a dessert menu for The Bubble Lounge's 13 year old sibling there. "I wanted to come up with some great desserts that go especially well with all Champagnes and bubbles," Falkner states of her menu, which started on June 15. "None is too sweet, and they all have fun textures."

Sabawun Kakar, wine director/director of operations for 10 years, chose to highlight the freshness and the blueberry component of the Lemon Drop (lemon curd, yogurt, blueberry compote, musli crunch, and Champagne granita) with Fleury Carte Rouge. "It also pairs well with Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage 2006, heightening the lemon curd and bringing out the mineral qualities of the wine. "

Fluffy upside-down cheesecake with buttery graham streusel and glazed fruit was "tough because the cheesecake is really rich and it dominates the Champagnes, but Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs has enough acidity and richness to complement it." He also notes that the texture and acidity of Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2006 also complements the cheesecake, bringing out its cherry notes.

"Pol Roger works well with the olive oil madeleines with strawberry/fennel salad, rose vinaigrette, and olive oil ice cream because it adds freshness and acidity, while also enhancing the flavors of the fennel," Kakar continues. "And even though there is a bit of contrast with the flavors of the wine and the dessert, the texture and weight of Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2001 complements well."

For Falkner's composed ice cream sandwich of pizzelle wave cookies, chocolate sorbet, passion fruit sorbet, pistachio ice cream, caramel sauce, and candied pistachios, "the texture of Jean Milan Blanc de Blancs complements the hard cookie texture and brings out the flavor of the ice creams. On the other hand, the mineral and biscuit notes of Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée enhance the ice cream flavors."

East or West, Champagne and dessert pairings have now become a standard element of our culinary vernacular.