palate pleaser: sweet bitter’s stephanie danler
Published Sep 29, 2016 11:00 AM
The author of the hit novel Sweet Bitter on how she developed an appetite for living.
portrait by PIPPA DRUMMOND text by LILY SULLIVAN
“I realized that our tastes are often the way we experience the world,” says Stephanie Danler, explaining the idea behind her recent coming-of- age novel, Sweet Bitter. Published in May to glowing reviews, the book follows a young waitress’s fast-paced indoctrination into New York City’s restaurant scene. Fresh out of college, Danler’s heroine is hungry for all that the city has to offer, including post-shift alcohol-and drug-fueled nights, eventually coming into her own.
Danler, too, started her New York life as a server in some of Manhattan’s hottest eateries, building a seasoned career managing and launching restaurants and wine stores. She ended up at the West Village mainstay Buvette while writing Sweet Bitter as an M.F.A. student at The New School. “I’ve seen the way paying attention to food can change people’s lives,” she says of her time in the industry, which served as the main inspiration for the book. “It gives them a more heightened experience of the day-to-day.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Danler unwinds by poring over her cookbook collection and treats every meal as an occasion. For her birthday each year, she creates a full menu, listing a six-hour bolognese and cacio e pepe as guest favorites. Danler is also obsessive about wine. “People think they can’t taste, but it’s really about slowing down, letting an experience impact you, and then trusting yourself to articulate it,” she explains. Ultimately, though, her approach is simple and something anyone can emulate: “The basis of my entertaining philosophy is as soon as someone walks in the door, you get them a drink.”
“A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again.”
—Stephanie Danler, Sweet Bitter
DRINK LIKE AN EXPERT
Stephanie Danler’s no-nonsense insights on knowing your wine.
NO LINGO REQUIRED
Don’t be intimidated by the language.
LEARN WHAT YOU LIKE AND HOW TO IDENTIFY IT
For example, “This is high-acid,” “I love how bold this is,” or “I love the stoniness.”
REFER TO A MAP
Seeing where your favorite wines come from is how your education really starts.
GOOD WINE CAN COME AT A GOOD PRICE
The sweet spot is $20 to $30—and some days I just want the cheapest rosé because I’m going to drink 10 of them.
ULTIMATELY, WINE IS JUST PART OF A MEAL
It’s accessible and not something that’s by invitation only.
DRINKING WINE IS ABOUT CURATING YOUR EXPERIENCE
I drink to complement a mood, an outfit, a song…
Find the right wine for four different tastes—and the dish to match.
THE FLAVOR: Sweet
THE DISH: Mousse au Chocolat
THE WINE: Bugey Cerdon (sparkling—demi sec), $24
THE PAIRING: I love going back to sparkling at the end of the meal. This is a blend of Gamay and Poulsard, a demi-sec (there is a touch of sweetness). It’s also a great counterbalance to bittersweet chocolate.
THE FLAVOR: Bitter
THE DISH: Escarole Salad
THE WINE: Domaine Tempier Rose Bandol, $50
THE PAIRING: This is not your typical cheap and cheerful rosé, but a complex, elegant, versatile one. The Tempier comes from a tiny appellation near the sea in southern France, Bandol, which turns out the best rosés in the world.
THE FLAVOR: Salty
THE DISH: Butter and Anchovy Tartinettes
THE WINE: Cremant de Jura Domaine de Montbourgeau, $26
THE PAIRING: I love sparkling wine with anything salty, even if it’s just potato chips. Made in the méthode champenoise but not produced in Champagne, cremants are kind of your everyday sparklings—rich but bone dry. And this one drinks above its price.
THE FLAVOR: Sour
THE DISH: Risotto with Meyer Lemon
THE WINE: Julien Cruchandeau Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits, $27
THE PAIRING: The crazy aromatics of this white burgundy will make Chardonnay drinkers—and anyone else—flip. The tiny estate has serious terroir and is run by a musician-turned-winemaker who fixates on every step of the process. Fills out a risotto perfectly.
Recipes for each dish can be found in Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food.