Turning Wine into Water: Houston Sommeliers Give Their Two Cents About L.A.'s 45-Page Water Menu

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Apparently California, more specifically Los Angeles, is ahead of the culinary curve. Ray's & Stark Bar recently created the most extensive (and probably the only) water menu with the first water sommelier, Martin Riese. Riese is a self-proclaimed water sommelier and the general manager at Ray's & Stark Bar. He specializes in pairing certain types of water with certain types of food, just as you would with beer and wine.

I know you're probably asking yourself, "There are more types of water than tap, filtered and sparkling?" And yes, there are enough specialty waters to fill up a 45-page menu. In fact, the extensive menu includes 20 different types from nations all around the world, like Canada, Denmark, France and Italy, and three waters from our beloved country.

Each page of the water menu includes probably the most detailed description of water you have ever read. Every single item on the menu includes a brief paragraph of background information, the mouth-feel and sometimes which types of food the water pairs well with. There's a graphic that shows how sweet or salty and smooth or complex the water is, as well as a small bit of information about the type of water (still or sparkling), contents, size and price (this water ain't free).

Is this just a load of crap or could certain types of water actually enhance your meal?

While alcohol and beverage stores like Spec's and specialty grocery stores like Central Market do carry specialty sparkling and still waters, Houston restaurants haven't jumped on the bandwagon of pairing water with food. When I called Joseph Kemble, "Grappa Joe", at Spec's Warehouse to ask him what he thought about the newly released water menu, he said he had never heard of pairing water with food. Although the store does sell specialty bottles of sparkling and still water, Houstonians haven't asked him about his thoughts on pairing water with food.

Similarly, Vanessa Treviño Boyd, sommelier of Philippe, said no one has ever asked her for her opinion on pairing water with food, but she says that having the selection of certain sparkling and still waters is important to people, especially in a metropolitan environment.

"I do believe there is such a range of water out there," Treviño Boyd says. "I am not sure I could come up with 45 different pages of waters out there. There is a range of water in terms of how they taste and minerality."

Ray's and Stark Bar Water Menu

Treviño Boyd says that when she worked at Alaine Ducasse in New York, restaurant guests were focused on the water they were consuming. She says that people have a preference depending on the bubbles, saltiness and general makeup of the water.

"You have different levels of effervescence," Treviño Boyd says. "If you are dealing with a rich, viscous sauce, you will want a water with large bubbles, and the less viscous, you will want smaller bubbles."

Sean Beck, sommelier of Backstreet Cafe, Trevisio and Hugo's, explains that this is not the first time he has heard about someone pairing water with food and treating specialty waters the same way they would treat wine. He says that water can affect the taste of food based on the pH level and how much acidity is in the water. However, you can get the same effect if you simply add a squeeze of citrus, like most restaurants do, anyways; and it's free.

"If someone puts a lemon or lime in your water, it is going to affect the taste of your wine and affect the taste of your food," Beck says.

While Beck recognizes that some people care about the type of water they drink with their food and wine, he believes that we should focus more on perfecting the pairing of wine with food before we shift our focus to pairing water with food.

"I think we want people to pair their wine with their food instead of water," he says. "If we can't even get them to correct that, it seems like a lost cause."

Both Beck and Treviño Boyd think it is fascinating and intriguing that someone has developed an extensive 45-page water menu, one that some people refer to as the water bible, but they don't think it will catch on in Texas as much as it has in California and European countries.

"There's only so much people are going to pay for water," Beck says, "and you're talking about something volume-heavy...If you're doing a wine dinner or tasting menu, you should definitely take some consideration of what water you're serving."

Financially speaking, holding that much expensive water in a restaurant doesn't make sense for restaurant owners if there isn't a high demand for the product. It costs them a lot of money to keep it on stock and it costs customers a lot of money to purchase it at the restaurant.

I'm curious what Houstonians think about a 45-page water menu and a "water sommelier." Would any of you like the option to order a specialty water at a restaurant? And would you like an explanation of which foods it pairs best with?

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