Steal this trick
Where Belinda Chang and Danny Grant go, a party inevitably follows. As wine and service director and executive chef of Maple and Ash in Chicago, the two conspire to create a modern-day steakhouse with a wicked glint in its eye. While the standards—wood-fired t-bones, filet mignon, New York strips, surf and turf, and sides like creamed spinach, mushrooms, and all manner of potatoes—are all accounted for, the presentation and flavors are deliciously irreverent. A bone-in “cowgirl” steak is served with a pink, sequined hat to take home. A $145 “I Don’t Give a F*@k” chef’s choice option is smack dab at the center of the menu. Grant leads the charge in slurping “bumps” of American caviar off the back of one’s own hand. The warmth of the skin enhances the flavor, he says. It’s also just plain fun.
It’s tempting to steal all of Chang and Grant’s party tricks (not to mention pricey), but if you want to bring the hardcore fancy to your next brunch blowout, consider a Champagne tower. Chang—who won a James Beard Awards for her innovative, but approachable wine service at New York City’s The Modern in 2011—is a Champagne evangelist, ever on the hunt for interesting bottles and eye-popping serving styles. The Champagne tower, she says, offers maximum impact with no special equipment required—just plenty of glasses.
A Champagne tower is simple to build, but Chang notes that there are a few structural rules to keep in mind:
All glasses must be the same size and shape. Any variance could lead to instability, and instability leads to broken glass, wasted Champagne, and sadness.
The glasses should all touch, packed as closely together as possible on a flat, stable surface. This way, the liquid flows gorgeously from bowl to bowl, and not bowl to table.
The tower should be built in squares, anywhere from two by two, three by three, or four by four to 16 by 16, 50 by 50, to infinity by infinity—so long as the infinities are equal. Start the next layer with one fewer glass (a three by three layer atop a four by four) and build until there is a single glass on top.
The liquid should be sparkling for maximum visual impact. While Champagne is the classic, there is nothing stopping you from mounting a La Croix pyramid at your next brunch.
Carefully pour the liquid into the topmost glass and let it cascade downward. One it has settled, serve the glasses (or counsel your guests) from the outer edges of each layer and work in. As Chang counsels, “This is Champagne, not Jenga.”
Let the bubbly games begin.