Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dry Soda

I've never been much of a drinker — I love wine and beer and some spirits, but I generally only want them in fairly small quantities. So when I go out for a splurge dinner and get a tasting menu, I'm often put off by the wine pairing option. Wine pairing often nearly doubles the price of the meal, and if the meal is 6 or more courses (as tasting menus often are), I get completely trashed by the end of the meal and no longer enjoy the food as much. On the other hand, I'm a big beverage fan and a good pairing of beverage and food can greatly enhance a meal. Even a hot dog is enhanced by a beer, or a slice of pizza by a root beer. So why does it always have to be wine with fancy food?

Wine, the mandatory fine dining beverage, and water, its optional companion

One of my many fantasy restaurants I would open if I could would have a tasting menu where the pairings are not confined to the wine world. There are so many great juices, sodas, waters, milks, and teas, why confine yourself to one type of beverage, especially an alcoholic one? Instead of pairing foie gras with sauternes, try Navarro Gewürztraminer grape juice. Tea smoked duck? How about some smokey lapsang souchong tea? Normally expect a white wine with your salmon? Why not try an elderflower soda instead? You might even have a Belgian wheat beer with your rib eye steak. Would it be so wrong to pair a flourless chocolate cake with an ice cold glass of whole milk?

Unfortunately, high-end restaurants have at most two types of water (one of which is nearly always San Pellegrino), few if any interesting sodas, and are generally completely lacking in the juice end of the spectrum. Tea is viewed as an after dinner drink, and the options are confined to black tea, peppermint, and chamomile, with a few places venturing into more creative options. A few places, to their credit, have started pairing beers with food. I was very impressed at a recent meal at Hibiscus in London when near the start of the meal, instead of some variation on a champagne cocktail, we were served a homemade hibiscus soda with pineapple juice bubbles and a hint of ginger — fun and delicious.

So I was naturally intrigued when I read about Dry Soda in an article by my current favorite San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, and it has received quite a bit of hype from food bloggers and columnists over the past year. Of course, reading the words "dry soda" I immediately thought of some bizarre powdered creation like astronaut ice cream. Luckily "dry" refers to the fact that the sodas aren't super-sweetened like most sodas and would be more appropriate for pairing with food as, gasp, an alternative to wine. Just last week I stumbled across Dry Soda in a shop in Oakland and bought one out my normal soda curiosity. At the moment Dry Soda comes in four unusual flavors: kumquat, lavender, lemongrass, and rhubarb (soon there will be two new flavors: vanilla and juniper berry). I applaud their creativity, but lavender? Smells nice, but tastes bitter and soapy - I speak from experience. At $3 a bottle I wasn't about to try them all, so I got a kumquat soda as a trial (I should note that you can get them for as little as $1.79 if you go to Beverages and More, but I wasn't there unfortunately).

Dry Soda, produced by squiggle

It certainly wasn't sweet, so they got that right, but there was almost no flavor at all and what flavor there was didn't seem so kumquaty. There was little to like or dislike about it, but about halfway through the bottle I simply got tired of drinking it and didn't know what to do with the rest. Everything about Dry Soda is unfortunately pretentious from the flavors to the strange box on the bottle that reads "Produced by: [illegible squiggle]". I can't find anywhere on their website or elsewhere that explains who or what the illegible squiggle refers to nor why it would mean anything to me. Also, looking at the four ingredients in the soda (water, sugar, natural extracts, phosphoric acid) and the fact that it is clearly 99% water, why so expensive? Does the squiggle make it more expensive? It quickly dawned on me: this is nothing new. Dry soda is simply flavored sparkling water, a product that has been around for generations. I'm happy that someone is out there trying to create new options in the bevearage world and alternative pairings for fine dining, but Dry Soda sadly does not live up to the hype.

But seriously, ice cold milk and flourless chocolate cake would rock.

1 comment:

andy's bro said...

I know you'd expect me to accuse you of all sorts of wussiness on this one, but I actually agree with you, esp. in regards to the decreasing enjoyment of excellent foodstuffs as one becomes more inebriated. It always seemed such a pity to be served some wonderful dish, knowing that you're too pissed to really enjoy it. Since I love to talk about food to other food geeks, I can't stand that post-drunken amnesia that sets in the next day. Two things interest me, then: Why do people continue the habit; and what are the options? Do we continue this out of some mild sense of naughtiness, recklessness, what? Those grape juice wine thingies are just too damned sweet, I'm not drinking fricking milk with any parts of my dinner other than dessert, and you're absolutely right to be disappointed in virtually every soda that pops onto the market.