Compiled by Meda Kessler and Tod Stigall
A SPECIAL OCCASION dinner for two doesn’t always call for oysters and champagne or steak and cabernet.
We think it’s all about sharing food you love with people you love, whether at your favorite restaurant or at home. When Valentine’s Day 2021 kicked off a week of super-cold weather, we hunkered down — and invited friends over — to share grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. We uncorked some Beaujolais, chilled a six-pack of hefeweizen and toasted the fact that our pipes didn’t freeze. We hope for better weather this year and look forward to a night of good food, great company and toasts to a better year ahead.
Chicken and dumplings spiked with herbs — a lot of love goes into the homemade version — is one of the most satisfying comfort foods. We say, break out the board games and settle in for good food and fun.
Emmanuelle Mellot Pouilly-Fumé Dans le Miroir
Traditionalists might open a buttery chardonnay, but we like to pair it with this sauvignon blanc. The citrus and mineral qualities enhance this comfort food’s flavors while the dried tarragon notes complement the herbs in the dish. $40, Central Market
La Chouffe blonde ale The coriander, citrus and grass notes of this easy-to-drink beer complement the herbs while the lightness contrasts with the creaminess of the dish. Find it at your favorite craft beer retailer.
Who doesn’t love a tender pot roast swimming in its own juices and paired with seasonal vegetables? Mississippi Pot Roast is the creation of a home cook in Mississippi — two of the ingredients are pepperoncini and a packet of ranch dressing mix — and perfect for a small dinner party.
Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape
This complex Rhône wine is made of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre and has flavors of red fruits, baking spices, rosemary and vanilla, all of which pair well with the herbal notes found in the ranch dressing. The black pepper notes complement the piquancy of the pepperoncini peppers. $50; find it at Central Market locations or through your favorite wine merchant.
Altstadt Brewery amber altbier
Brewed in Fredericksburg, this beer’s malty, nutty and slightly sweet flavor complements the savory elements of the beef. Its clean, refreshing finish offsets the heaviness of the dish. Find it at your favorite craft beer store.
French onion soup is a decadent comfort food, full of flavor thanks to its rich broth and sweet, caramelized onions topped with melted cheese. Serve it for your soup course or as a main dish, along with a salad, for a simple date night at home.
Saint-Amour Domaine des Fonds Beaujolais
Beaujolais and French onion soup are a classic combination. Like many gamay wines, this Saint-Amour wine is fruity and refreshing. The bright acid that offsets the delicious umami of the soup resets the palate after each sip, but it won’t overpower the subtle sweetness and nuttiness in the caramelized onions and melted Gruyere. $21, Put a Cork In It, putacorkinitwine.com
Panther Island Brewing War Chant
This red ale-style beer has toasty, caramel taste notes that complement the sweet onions. The slight bitterness in the beer pairs well with the cheese.
Sometimes, you crave caviar; other times, you’re happy with a bowl of chili and all the fixings. Date night in front of a roaring fire on a cold night sounds like heaven.
Pedernales Cellars tempranillo
A Texas favorite deserves a Texas wine. Lone Star State winemakers, including Pedernales in the Hill Country, continue to improve on hot-weather grape varietals like tempranillo. This one, with its medium berry and chocolate notes, is delicious with the spicy elements of chili. The fruit and earthy notes of the wine offset some of the bitter notes in ground chiles to round out the flavor experience. $18 to $25; find it wherever Texas wines are sold.
In more than 35 years of exploring craft beer, we still come back to Guinness stout as a favorite. (The canned version has a nitrogen widget that injects creaminess into the beer when opened.) This slightly sweet beer with coffee notes complements the spices in the chili, and its mouthfeel also has a cooling effect — useful if you like a lot of cayenne in your bowl of red. Widely available in cans and bottles.
Bouillabaisse is an impressive-looking soup that’s easy to make and can be adjusted to suit your taste. And the tomato-based broth is perfect for dunking chunks of crusty bread smeared with good butter.
Domaine de La Rosière Vin de Savoie rosé
Many people think of rosé as a warm-weather wine; its enhancement of bouillabaisse is a good reason to change that paradigm. This rosé from southern France complements the tomato-based fish soup with bright acidity, a mildly creamy mid-palate mouthfeel and herbal notes including anise. And the price is nice. Starts at $17; available at Central Market and Willow Park Wines & Spirits, willowpark.net
Yuengling traditional lager
The balanced flavor profile of Yuengling’s amber beer, which is brewed in Fort Worth, pairs nicely with the bouillabaisse thanks to the tinge of sweetness that enhances the flavor of the seafood while the character of the hops stands up to the acid in the tomato base. Widely available at grocery and package stores.