Movie studios scramble to have big-name stars headline their films, but in many of my favorite movies, food is the star. Few things are better than pairing a foodie film with a great meal so we can enjoy ourselves just as much as the folks onscreen are enjoying their own aliments. In this series, we'll highlight a movie in which food plays a leading role and suggest one or more local spots to provide an accompanying feast for you. Pull up a table and dim the lights, the show's about to begin.
Synopsis Ah, the road-trip film. Road trips are a staple of cinematic plot lines, and Sideways offers up an alternately depressing and hilarious one set against the backdrop of the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is a depressed, divorced, borderline alcoholic writer and wine-lover who embarks on a weeklong trip with his buddy, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), a failed actor. Jack is soon to be married, and Miles, the best man, wants to go on a trip through wine country for a relaxing bachelor party, and Jack wants one last fling before he's a married man, so the two decide to hit the road in Miles's convertible and tour a few wineries with which Miles, a veritable wino, is already fairly familiar.
During the trip, they stop at the Hitching Post, a restaurant where Miles has often come to eat and to admire Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress. With Jack's help, he strikes up a conversation with Maya and finally gets to know more about her. The next day, Jack and Miles meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a pour girl at a local winery, and upon discovering that she and Maya are friends, the men arrange a double date.
Miles worries about the date because he's still enamored of his ex-wife, Vicki, who is now remarried. He drinks too much, especially in the evenings when his depression worsens, and he has difficulty expressing himself without the aid of wine. The date goes well for Jack and Stephanie, who quickly progress to physical intimacy, while Miles and Maya try to make conversation, despite his insurmountable awkwardness.
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As the week goes on, both couples become closer, with Jack eventually admitting that he's falling in love with Stephanie and wants to move to the Santa Ynez Valley to be closer to her, despite the fact that he's to be married in a few days. On a date with Maya, Miles accidentally reveals that Jack is engaged, and Maya leaves, furious that he would keep something from her. She also tells Stephanie about Jack, who becomes violent and breaks Jack's nose with her motorcycle helmet.
The men spiral down after this, Jack sleeping with another waitress and Miles, upon learning that the manuscript for his book has again been rejected, drinking from the spit bucket at a winery. Jack learns that his latest female conquest is married when her husband comes home and Jack is forced to flee without his clothes or wallet. The wedding rings are in the wallet, though, so Miles sneaks back into the house and retrieves it for him. Injured and dejected, the men return to San Diego for the wedding.
At the wedding, Miles runs into his ex-wife, who he learns is pregnant. More depressed than ever, he goes alone to a cheap burger stand where he pairs his expensive, prized wine with a few hamburgers and feels sorry for himself. But all is not lost! Miles receives a message from Maya, who says she read his book manuscript and loved it. The film ends with him returning to the Santa Ynez Valley and knocking hopefully on her door.
Why this is a foodie film
Sideways is, of course, more tangentially about wine than it is about food, but wine and food go so well together. This is a film not only for foodies, but also for wine lovers and gourmands and people who enjoy fine writing and acting.
The food plays a supporting role to the wine, which is discussed in great detail, and with a lot of actual wine knowledge behind it. Miles, in particular, can riff on varietals for hours, often boring his friends, but at the same time spouting a lot of interesting tidbits, particularly about Pinot Noir (as you'll see in the clips below).
The film also shows several wine-tasting rooms and the tasting process. Some of the scenes are exaggerated for comedy, but in general, the depictions of wineries are accurate, and they help you realize just how comedic wine tasting can be.
Best food scene
Note: It's really difficult to find good clips from Sideways on Youtube. Sorry. The second clip takes place immediately after the first, but for some reason, no one has merged them into one on Youtube.
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Another great scene, which you can see here, involves Jack giving Miles a pep talk before the men join the women for dinner. If you've ever heard anyone say, "I'm not drinking any fucking Merlot!" this is where it comes from.
What you should eat/drink Wine, of course! Though there aren't any great wineries at which you can get the full counter tasting and spitting experience here in Houston, there are dozens of wine bars. Two of my favorites are 13 Celsius and Camerata, both of which have an incredibly knowledgeable staff (like, just as knowledgeable as Miles, but less annoying), a great wine selection and good eats to go along with the vino.
At 13 Celsius, you can get one of my 100 favorite dishes and a glass of wine served by our Best of Houston® Best Sommelier winner from 2013. At Camerata, our favorite wine bar, enjoy sandwiches from Paulie's as well as other small bites and special dishes prepared by Felipe Riccio, a chef who also pours wine. Sidenote: Camerata plays sound clips about wine from films and stand-up routines in the bathrooms. Sometimes you can hear Miles yelling about not drinking "any fucking merlot" while you pee.
Both are great spots to sit and sip and learn about wine, or to pull a Miles and drink too much and then embarrass yourself in front of the ladies. We do not condone the latter option.