Musical Pairing Pop Up Dinner At Ruth’s Chris

Does food taste better when accompanied by music? Our goal for one evening was to explore our senses a little bit further to see if pairing food with music enhances the overall dining experience. Everyone has listened to music during a meal at one point or another. Have you ever found yourself bouncing to the beat of a song in a restaurant, enjoying every last bite? Fodor’s Guide named them one of the “2015 Top Ten Can’t Miss Pop-Up Restaurants Experiences.” To help guide us through our meal was Barbara Werner, the architect behind Musical Pairing. Although a great talker with a frenetic pace only a New Yorker could pull off, she didn’t try to sell us on the idea. It was more of a see for yourself type experience.

Here she is explaining something with the number four. Maybe she was describing how many seconds she could sit still during our meal! Her energy was infectious and you couldn’t help but root for her and her passion for Musical Pairing. I think what she was actually explaining was how we only use four senses when we eat: sight, smell, taste, and touch. Once you include hearing a good dish can become great.

They have an app by the name of, you guessed it, Musical Pairing, which you can download for free. It gives you song suggestions depending on what type of food you are eating. For example, an entree has a rating depending on what type of protein it is, how it is prepared, if there is any accompanying sauce, and the spice level. The lighter the dish, the lower the number.

After settling in and getting to know our neighbors we were ready to get this party started. Provided for us were nice squishy headphones to lose ourselves in the music. They were connected to ipod’s Barbara and her daughter Victoria controlled throughout the night. The numbers represent the rating for each dish and corresponding songs they played for us.

Vanilla ice cream (6)

Vanilla ice cream. Palate cleanser? Maybe. A delicious way to start any meal? Most definitely. I love music and I of course love food. Pairing them together seemed like a good idea, but I did not want any hype to ruin the experience. Let’s just say I came in cautiously optimistic. Barbara instructed us to taste the ice cream on its own. Very smooth, sweet, and how could it be bad? It’s ice cream after all. Then she played Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major (6) followed by Les Toreadors from the Opera Carmen Symphony #1 Act 1 (4) while we continued to taste the ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. I enjoyed it even more. The flavor of the vanilla came into focus and became not just another vanilla ice cream, it was the vanilla ice cream. What just happened? I think I looked around to see if people were as much in disbelief as I was, and most people looked either confused or full of giddiness, like they were about to go on Space Mountain.

Seared Ahi Tuna – with a beer mustard sauce (5)

The next appetizer course of seared tuna featured three different songs to give us a feel for how things tasted depending on the song rating. They started us off with We got the Beat by The Go-go’s (14) followed by Danny Boy by Harry Connick Jr (4) and ended with Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen (5). By the way, we weren’t given the ratings for any of the dishes or songs beforehand, meaning we weren’t able to form preconceived notions about which song would go best with which dish. The first song was fast. I enjoyed the tuna, but as soon as Danny Boy came on I started to concentrate more on the flavors. Then it switched to Call Me Maybe and I noticed the spiciness and tang from the lemon came through that much clearer. I may or may not have been lip syncing at that point…

Warm bread with butter (7)

Barbara recommended we lather our bread with as much butter as we could fit on the bread. The bread was paired with Touched the Sky from the movie Brave (7).  I couldn’t remember the song before it was played but as soon as it came on I had an “aha” moment. I’ll admit I didn’t really get this pairing upon first bite. Everything was working so far, so it must be my fault. I grabbed the butter and slapped all I could fit on the butter knife. That’s more like it. It wasn’t my favorite pairing of the evening although there more more than a few people with smiles as wide as the sky.

Ruth’s Chris Manhattan

They also paired our various courses with alcohol. Their Manhattan featured I believe a bourbon with cherry juice.

Sweet Potato Casserole
Stuffed Chicken Breast – Oven roasted free-range double chicken breast stuffed with garlic herb cheese and served with lemon butter (8)

Chicken at Ruth’s Chris? This was kind of like one of those moments where you find a gem of a dish at a restaurant that specializes in something completely different. Think lobster tail at Lawry’s Prime Rib or chicken strips at Burger Lounge. Don’t knock it until you try it. The chicken was one of the favorite bites of the meal. They played White Room by Cream (8) for us. I heard this song before but it wasn’t as close to my heart as say Stairway to Heaven or Magic Carpet Ride. Still, the beat of the song kept me fully engaged with the moist chicken.

Along with the garlic herb cheese that flowed generously from the center of the chicken and the crispy sweet potato casserole (which I do not usually like), I wondered to myself, did they plateau too soon?

Fresh Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
4 Ounce Filet – The most tender cut of corn-fed Midwestern beef, broiled medium (11)

At this point in the meal they were not playing around with multiple song choices. It was all about indulgence and pure bliss. If Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti ~ Turandot (11) doesn’t accentuate filet mignon, I’m not sure what will. I don’t think of myself as very sophisticated (I’m no caveman by any means either), and certainly one that doesn’t have opera on my playlist. But I was into it all the way. The cherry flavor in the Manhattan also seemed to elevate the steak a bit.

Thinking back it reminds me of this scene in The Matrix when Cypher is eating a steak with Agent Smith. He knows the steak doesn’t exist, but the matrix is telling him the steak is juicy and delicious. Is music my matrix? Is this really that much better with Pavorotti belting those impossible notes?

Espresso Martini

Our dessert courses were paired with an espresso martini. I liked this a little better than the previous drink because it was sweet and had a strong coffee flavor.

Mini Créme Brulee (8)

I guess It Had to be You by Harry Connick Jr (8) went with the smooth nature of the créme brulee and berries. But honestly I was gearing up for the final course…

Chocolate Explosion (11)

Guess what was paired with the chocolate explosion!? Gangsta Paradise by Coolio (11)! What!? Barbara is as cool as they come. Purely judging from the demographics of our group, I don’t know how many of us were raving rap fans. And did it matter? I don’t think so. She noted that the lyrics don’t really play a integral part in the science or math behind the pairings. It is more about the tempo and pitch of the song. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and there were many heads bobbing up and down to the beat.

Even Darren (another Darren, woop!) who helped serve us was enjoying himself. It was shortly after this moment that we realized Faye from Faye’s Fork was seated right across from us! We didn’t get a chance to take any chopped off head pictures of her. 🙁 lol

Here Barbara is with her daughter Victoria after our memorable meal. I think San Diego was their last stop before they headed back home to New York. Their energy and enthusiasm was off the charts and if they told me it was their first stop I wouldn’t question it for a second. It was so much fun listening to different songs and tasting the various courses. I found myself enjoying each course more with music, albeit more so with certain musical pairings. However, putting on the headphones and listening to the songs completely drowned out all background noise. It really allows you to focus on your sense of taste. I was amazed at how much clearer the flavors were. Whatever they did to me that night I was happy they did it. Beer and wine pairings can be found just about every week, but a Musical Pairing? Not so easy to find.

They are getting ready to go on the road again soon so check their website for more details if you are interested in trying it out for yourself. And you can download their app if you want to test it out at home.

Also, see Faye’s take on Musical Pairing.

Disclaimer: We were invited to dine here, but the opinions stated are our own.

Musical Pairing

About Darren

Fooood! I love it if you can't tell already. I love everything about it. The taste, the smell, the look, the feel, the satisfaction, the gratification, and ultimately: the fun! I've been in San Diego for about 10 years now and it amazes me that there are still places to uncover. Traveling, eating, and taking pictures of food has always been a hobby of mine. So naturally Michael and I thought it made sense to share what we found with all of you. I tend to side with the savory but never shy away from a knock out dessert. If you have a place you think we haven't tried let us know! We're always on the lookout...

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8 Comments on “Musical Pairing Pop Up Dinner At Ruth’s Chris”

  1. Those are most excellent pictures of the food! I love the steak comparison to that scene in the Matrix. That’s spot on. It was a memorable meal and Barbara/Victoria were great. I’m glad you guys rocked out to Gangsta Paradise too.

  2. Ice cream is how I start my meal at Ruth’s Chris too! I never listen to music there though. That’s good to know about the chicken. I always get the filet with shrimp. Love that creme brullee. 🙂

      1. I do that at Flemings and Morton’s too. 🙂 I go to lunch n learns every month where they have a prix menu with salad as the starter so I gotta negotiate with the waiter to get ice cream instead.

  3. What? No chopped off pictures of Faye? Lol. I thought for sure there would be one after reading her post. This sounds like such a fun idea though I think it’d be hard to eat here next time without the music!

    1. Yes she didn’t tell me we were playing that game. Plus, at the time she took that picture I didn’t even know that was Faye! I will just have to bring my headphones next time I go to recreate the magic.

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