The Pairing Ace
With a new menu every day at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, sommelier Tahiirah Habibi Allen is a pairing machine.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TK; ILLUSTRATION BY TK
he first thing that most people notice about Tahiirah Habibi Allen is her sense of style. Chef Michael Schwartz did. That’s why when he was dining at J&G Grill at The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort where Allen was his sommelier, he decided he had to have her. “He was impressed by persona and my style,” says Allen, who grew up in Philadelphia, moved to Miami in 2011, and started at Michael’s Genuine in December. “I put time into what I wear and how I do my hair and makeup. My appearance is important to me. It’s the first thing people see.” Once a rapport is established, Allen will tickle the taste buds with some of the best pairings in town. She often fields questions along the lines of, “I really like red wine but I’m going to eat fish, is this okay?” Her answer is always, “Of course, drink what you like.” (But don’t go crazy and order “an oily fish like cod with a super tannic wine, because the tannins will make the fish taste metallic.”) “To me, the sauce is more important than the actual meat on the plate. You may get a chicken dish that is going to go well with a Burgundy as opposed to a Chardonnay, and it really does depend on the sauce,” she explains. Once she started as a sommelier working under Wine Director Eric Larkee at Michael’s Genuine, Allen was faced with the ultimate pairing challenge. “The menu changes literally every day, so you have to always be on your toes and be able to pair on the spot,” says Allen, who has certificates from the Wine School of Philadelphia and the Court of Master Sommeliers. “You’re challenging yourself consistently, the guests are challenging you, and you really have to know your stuff.” On a Champagne kick, Allen loves pairing Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Champagne with black grouper ceviche at Michael’s. “It’s one of the best lunches I’ve had,” she says. That pair goes right into the memory bank with the rest of her mental catalog that she uses on a nightly basis. “If I taste a sauce or a dish, all the wines that I’ve had before start registering and I start to think what will go well with it.” 130 NE 40th St., Miami, 305-573-5550; michaelsgenuine.com
1/16/14 5:03 PM