Has anyone ever put together an eight-course menu in which every dish involves coffee—and mostly without using the beans themselves or the drink made from them? Frank Kramm, the chef at Daylight Mind, my cousin's ambitious coffee bar, café, restaurant and coffee school in Kona, Hawaii, creatively pureed the coffee fruit itself to flavor a butter, burned chaff from roasting the beans to smoke roast duck, and sprinkled coffee-flavored salt over slices of raw fish.
Combined with ingredients and techniques special to Hawaii, these ideas made memorable dishes. For wines to match, however, I was flying blind, never having tasted anything similar. Fortunately, Kramm led me to expect, correctly, that the flavors would be subtle enough for some really good wine.
My Honolulu friend Dr. Gene Doo generously furnished bottles of Roederer Champagne Cristal 2005 and Château Margaux 2002 from his cellar, and I raided mine for some Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Belles Soeurs Shea Vineyard 2002.
So, how did it all work?
I matched the crisp structure and toasty pear flavors of the Champagne with the three starters. The first, "Reverse Macchiato," presented an espresso cup of almond gazpacho topped with the foam from cold-brewed coffee, and the Sumatra coffee salt added an earthy note to silky Kona kampachi (a yellowtail tuna) with lilikoi (passion fruit) mignonette.
But the winner in this trio was a seared opakapaka (a Hawaiian snapper) with coffee cherry butter. Before the seeds are dried to make coffee beans, they must be separated from the soft, gooey, sweet substance inside the small round fruit known as coffee cherry. Reducing this fruit to a syrup, Kramm made it into a subtle, buttery sauce, the caramelized flavors a perfect balance with Champagne.
For the red wines, served side by side, the soft texture and gentle currant flavors of the Margaux loved the chaff-roasted duck. The brown, papery coating on the coffee bean, which flakes off in the roasting process, usually is discarded, but Kramm added it to the fire, much like wine country chefs use grapevine cuttings, to smolder and give the duck a haunting flavor.
The bean itself went into a smoker with pork belly to make a fabulous dish with corn grown in Ka'u, a rich farming area just south of the Kona coffee district. The corn made a puree, delicate succotash and a tender yellow corn leaf to garnish the pork. The Oregon Pinot Noir, with its ebullient fruit and rich texture, hit the spot here.
Both wines showed their best attributes with coffee-braised Waimea beef short rib, a regular on Daylight Mind's menu, made from grass-fed cattle that graze on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
O nly the dessert missed the target. A demitasse made of chocolate held a "panna cotta" that tasted like jelled black coffee and lacked the sweetness expected of a dessert. It lost out to the charming, spicy Leydier & Fils Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise Domaine de Durban 2009. But the inventiveness and success of the rest of the meal sent everyone home with sweet smiles.