The marriage of delicious dishes with the right libation is both an art and a craft.
During Horseshoe Casino's "Perfect Pairings" special events, the culinary staff is currently getting that recipe right. For the last few months, Horseshoe Casino in Hammond has been presenting its "Perfect Pairings" events held from 7 to 9 p.m. on select Thursdays.
In the spotlight are various wines, beers and liquors paired with locally sourced foodstuffs. Guests gather in the casino's Lakeview Room to taste the offerings. Live entertainment is often featured as well.
"All the food is paired with the vendors in mind," said Mark A. Angelus, executive chef of Horseshoe Casino Hammond.
Angelus, who's been at the culinary helm at Horseshoe for the past six months, said he pairs the flavors of the food with the flavor characteristics of the libations carefully.
Before crafting the menu, Angelus takes a look at what vendors will bring to showcase and then gets to work creating the dishes.
At the pairings event on April 17, a diverse selection of food and drink took the spotlight.
Starring on the menu were:
• Roasted ramps with sweet lemon vinaigrette, paired with Tabor Hill's Demi Sec Red, Demi Sec White and Chardonnay
• Stuffed suckling pig with fresh blackberries, paired with St. Julian Winery's Cock of the Walk, Blue Herron and Forbidden Fruit Moscato
• Lollipop lamb chops with spring botanicals, paired with Lagunitas IPA
• Charcuterie Station with meats, cheeses and breads, paired with Cupcake Wines' Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Moscato D'Asti, Riesling; and Chloe Wines' Red Blend, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay
• Mushroom-crusted salmon with braised salsify root and buerre rouge, paired with Oliver Winery's Red Blend, Moscato and Chardonnay
• Parsnip and caraway eggs with sweet breads and foie gras along with a Cadbury Egg Station, paired with Traverse City Cherry Bourbon
Chef Angeles said he tastes to see if a wine has "light, dry, fruity" or other overtones and tests what dishes will go best with each one.
He said while many of the same vendors participate in the Perfect Pairings nights, they'll often bring different wines, beers and liquors to try each time. So, Angelus' menu is always changing to fit those offerings.
"But nothing is so hardcore when you're matching (the drinks) to food," he said. Sometimes people just have to go with what they like.
Angelus said if he's looking to pair a heartier meat dish with a wine, he'll opt for something with a crisp taste as well as something with a bit of a bold taste. Matching the intensity of the drink with a recipe is a good way to pair.
The pairings events, Angelus said, have been attracting a good deal of attention.
"It's growing," he said, adding interest in local wines and beers is popular now. "This is a nice event where people can come out and relax and not have the burden of choice," he said. Everything's set out and paired so all guests have to do is taste.
FYI: The next Perfect Pairings event is from 7 to 9 p.m. May 15 at Horseshoe Casino, Lakeview Room, 777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond. Tickets are $40. For tickets, visit chicagohorseshoe.com