Swati Bose and Kabir Amir deepened their love for wine and food in tandem with the blossoming of their own relationship. When asked how they met, Bose laughs: “Kabir crashed a party of mine about 15 years ago and… that was that!” It wouldn’t be long before that auspicious pairing would take the couple to California, France, Italy and beyond in search of vinous adventure.
Still, when Bose, 40, and Amir, 46, began dating, the idea of going into the restaurant business together was a far-off one, something to try decades down the road. Bose is a Washington, D.C., native and women’s studies major who started on a trajectory of policy and law, fund-raising for a political action committee and then studying bankruptcy law in New York. Amir grew up in Afghanistan and moved to the U.S. 25 years go; he was working in finance on Wall Street when he met Bose.
The couple decided to take the plunge into restaurants sooner than later. Amir kept his day job while Bose went to culinary school and worked at New York establishments such as Balthazar, Ardesia and Brooklyn Winery. In 2014, having relocated to D.C., they opened Flight wine bar in Chinatown, with a focus on by-the-glass and, as the name promises, by-the-flight offerings. Bose and Amir strive to introduce D.C. drinkers to exciting, hard-to-find wines in a friendly, neighborly environment, and for their efforts, Flight received a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence in 2016. Between two nights of service, the couple spoke with assistant editor Emma Balter about their travels through wine country, the vision behind their wine program and a surprising pairing with a burly Greek red.
Wine Spectator: Was food and wine already a hobby of yours when you met at that party 15 years ago?
Kabir Amir: For me, since childhood, food always played an integral role—just being an Afghan, food is a huge component of our life. My family always made amazing food. Wine really came into play later, as we moved to the U.S. With Swati, we dived into it and did a little more travel. We just fell in love with it.
Swati Bose: Kabir was my catalyst into food and wine, it was something that I discovered with him definitely. One of our first joint trips was to Napa Valley. At some point we realized all of our trips were wine-and-food–centric!
WS: You then decided to open a wine bar of your own, Flight, and specifically chose Washington. What was that like?
SB: We had two reasons we wanted to do it in D.C. I had grown up here and felt a connection to it, but we also felt that D.C. was in the middle of this huge food and beverage movement. Growing up in D.C., it was largely a power lunch, power dinner place. We didn’t really have that much of a local food scene. In New York, the wine bar concept has become pretty standard, but in D.C., the idea of the neighborhood wine bar still had room to grow. We felt there was a market for it.
We spent three years looking for a location, and that was something we hadn’t anticipated—we’re glad we waited for something that worked for us. And of course, opening a restaurant [is] an experience like no other. We had to learn to work together. Our customers seem to be very open and adventurous, which is what we wanted for our wine list, and that part has been really rewarding.
WS: Your wine list is very wide-ranging in regions and styles, and you have an extensive by-the-glass list. What was the idea behind this?
KA: Our goal was to see if we could get hold of amazing wines from countries that a lot of people, at least here, haven’t had a chance to try. Including Coravin pours, we have about 55 or 60 wines that we pour by the glass. We’ve experimented with a lot of different things, like southern Italy Aglianicos, Pinot Noir from Germany, red wines from Greece, Jurançon whites from southern France, or even Georgian orange wine.
SB: The philosophy behind Flight was to make wine more accessible and approachable, for people to be able to come and not be afraid of not knowing about wine, or wanting to try new things.
KA: The flight concept has helped us tremendously because that gives people a chance to compare and contrast wines, but also learn new things. We have a flight of Pinot Noir [from] three different countries: Germany, France and the U.S. People can see how the same grape can produce such amazingly different wines.
WS: Can you share any recent highlights or surprises in your experiments with food-and-wine pairings?
SB: We do the blue cheese gnocchi with roasted walnuts, honeycomb and trevisano (which is [a type of] radicchio), and we were looking for a pairing for it. We initially tended toward trying the whites, but then we tried this Merlot and Kotsifali blend from Greece that we carry, [Klima, from Karavitakis winery in Crete], and it was just amazing. That was unexpected for us, and we found that customers really enjoyed it.
WS: How do you guide your guests through your wine list?
SB: I usually ask someone, what do you drink normally, what kind of body are you looking for?
KA: For customers who want to try our flights, my first question usually is: How experimental are you? If they’re open to anything, I would direct them to areas like a Balkan red wine flight—indigenous grapes from Serbia, Croatia, or Greece—things that they’ve never tried before. That’s always exciting that they see that good wine comes from that part of the world. I had a couple come in a few days ago, and they said: We’ve heard about natural wines, but we don’t know what they are—can you offer something? They ended up drinking a bottle of Radikon, an orange wine from Italy, which is something that they’d never had before in their life. They ended up coming back two days later asking for the same bottle.