Monday, June 04, 2012

Winner, Winner, Beer Dinner Part 2

Wednesday night of Asheville Beer Week brought another night of great food and great beer.  The event was held at the beautiful Century Room at Pack's Tavern, and was sponsored by Bruisin' Ales and the Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR).  The setup was a unique change of pace from your typical beer dinner, as each chef had a station that allowed you to pick and choose the order of the dishes and beers they were paired with.  The evening started with an introduction from Bruisin' Ales Julie Atallah, who announced the special guests for the evening, which included Brian Grossman from Sierra Nevada who will be heading up the new Sierra Nevada brewery by the airport, as well as Terence Sullivan, former brewer and current Field Educator at Sierra, and Grady Hull, Assistant Brewmaster at New Belgium. It was nice to have some beer royalty at the event, which also included an unannounced visit from Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of Russian River Brewing Company out of California.

With the formalities out of the way, lets move on to the beer and food, shall we? I guess we will start off with the first course that I decided to try, which was Chef Chazzy Edwards' stuffed crab with an aioli from Bluewater Seafood that I believe was made with the beer that this dish was paired with, the Saison Dupont. This was a great start to the meal, and I can't tell you enough how much I love Saison Dupont, but I will try to do it anyway.  The Dupont is considered the quintessential example of the Saison style, which happens to be my favorite style of beer.  Saisons, or farmhouse ales, were traditionally made with a lower alcohol content to be drunk by farmhands during the harvest season (need to talk to my boss about this idea).  Today Saisons are much stronger, but they retain their origin using lighter malts and having a refreshing taste and a little bit of funk.  This was a fine pairing, not that I am an expert at pairing food and beer (I think beer tastes good with just about every meal).

Next up, I tried the Chinese steamed buns with shortibs and kimchi and pickles, which was paired with Bacchus Sour Ale. The dish was made by Chef James Balchak of Pack's Tavern.  James is a great friend, and also a great chef.  The sweetness of the steamed buns and the Bacchus reduction paired well with the Sour Ale, and contrasted nicely with the mildly spicy kimchi.  This was the first time I had tried the Bacchus Sour, and it won't be my last.  The style of the beer is called Flanders Oud Bruin, or "old brown", and the beers are typically aged for up to a year, yielding fruity flavors that have a refreshing sour finish.

I am in the camp that says there is no such thing as too much shortribs, so I went straight for the shortrib pastie made with Dubbel pimento cheese, Lusty Monk Mustard, and a pickled slaw made by Chef Jason Brian of Jack of the Wood.  A pastie is not what some of you may be thinking, but is actually a traditional Irish stuffed pie, and the shortrib was braised for 24 hours.  It was paired with one of our new 'local' beers, a Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel.  The style is named for 'double', which denoted a stronger version of the lighter beers that were typical of Trappist breweries, and it originated at Westmalle Abbey in 1856. Not unlike several other dishes, the shortrib was braised in the Dubbel, as well as the pimento cheese being made with the beer.  The Ovila Dubbel is a great American brewed version of this classic Belgian beer.

A plate that caught my eye early was a braised elk dish that was made by Chef Mauricio Abreu of Chef Mo’s.   The elk was braised in New Belgium Trippel and served along with rice and cornbread.  The New Belgium Trippel was used in just about every part of the dish.  The elk was wonderfully tender, and had a hint of earthiness from the ground achiote that coated the outside of the elk before braising.  The New Belgium Trippel is a American brewed version of a Belgian style beer that got its origins roughly eighty years ago, in what was rumored to be an ale that was meant to compete with the ever more popular pilsner style beers of the day.  Trippels are light in color, fruity, and often a little bit spicy, which was the case with New Belgium’s Trippel whose addition of coriander complimented the elk nicely.

One of the more playful dishes of the evening was the Lamb Fennel ‘Hot Dog’ that was made by Chef Greg Kilpatrick from Homegrown It more closely resembled a small pulled pork sandwich, with a spiced minced lamb that was topped with fennel which gave the dish a nice twist, along with a great homemade ketchup and a side of sweet potato chips.  The dish went well with the Omer Traditional Blonde, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale that had a fruity, slightly spicy finish that held up to the lamb without overpowering the dish.  This was my first time having the Omer, and if you like Duvel, I would suggest giving the Omer a try.

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night was the braised pig “wings” (knuckles to be exact) by Chef Michel Baudouin from Bouchon.  Once again, we see the chef incorporating the featured beer into the dish. This time the beer was The Ovila Quadrupel, and the pig knuckles were braised in the beer to tender perfection, leaving a wonderful broth behind that I wish I had more of.  Quadrupels are so full of rich, dark fruit flavors that I think they really lend themselves to being used in cooking preparations (me, I would be too tempted to drink it all).  The Ovila Quad was also one of my favorite beers of the evening, and it goes to prove that Sierra Nevada can successfully brew any style they want to.

My last course before heading to dessert was one I knew I would love before I took my first bite. Luella’s BBQ has outstanding ribs, and the ribs that were being served this night did not disappoint.  Yes, there was some great potato salad as a side, but really, this was all about the Chef Jeff Miller's ribs, which were fall-off-the-bone tender and were served with a mustardy sauce made with New Belgium’s Belgo-IPA.  The Belgo-IPA is New Belgium’s take on one of the newest styles to emerge from Belgium.  Most Belgian style beers are not known for being aggressively hoppy, but Belgian brewers began to experiment with a new style that appealed to American tastes, and the Belgian IPA was born.  It retains some characteristics of beers like the Tripel, but they incorporate more hops that play nice with the spicy character that Belgian yeasts often impart.

And finally it was time for dessert, which was made for us by Chef Anthony Cerrato of the new downtown restaurant Strada Poor Chef Serrato had little to do while most of the people at the dinner made their way through the seven other food stations.  But before long, people needed to get their sweet on, and he did not disappoint.  A natural given his Italian cooking roots, Chef Seratto made a wonderful tiramisu, consisting of cream, and I am guessing marscapone, coffee, and ladyfingers (I can never tire of saying or writing the word ladyfingers).  This was paired with a Kasteel Rouge a Belgian fruit beer that is flavored with cherries.  Unfortunately, this was not my favorite pairing.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the tiramisu and would gladly order it at Strada.  I just did not think it went well with the sweet and sour cherry goodness that is Kasteel Rouge, which I also love.  Others that I talked to liked the pairing fine, so what do I know.  I think some sort of dark chocolate dessert would have matched better.

I hope you are still awake after this long post.  Two nights in a row of great food, great beer , and great people.  If you haven’t been to a beer dinner before, I suggest keeping your eyes and ears open for the next event.  Beer and food go great together, but more important to me was having a shared experience with old and new friends alike.

 Thanks Sue.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Winner, Winner, Beer Dinner Part 1

This week I have felt like royalty.  I was lucky enough to attend two beer dinners on consecutive nights that were part of Asheville Beer Week, and they both were outstanding events.

First up was the Thirsty Monk and Curáte dinner on Tuesday night.  The evening started at the Thirsty Monk with the Spanish beer Estrella Damm Inedit, a witbier that was developed in cooperation with Ferran Adria, former head of the world famous Spanish restaurant El Bulli.  It was quite an appropriate first beer, since Curáte's chef Katie Button interned at El Bulli before opening her Tapas restaurant here in Asheville.  The Estrella was paired with a red snapper and shrimp ceviche and a chicken mousselline with orange and fennel on a crustini, with both dishes prepared by the Chef Todd Mallin at the Thirsty Monk.

After a couple of beers, the group walked down to Curáte for the main attraction.  There is a nice private room downstairs, and every beer was paired with three courses that were shared family style, with the last beer that was plated with dessert.  First up was the Westmalle Tripel.  Westmalle was one of my first introductions to Belgian beer, and it has been awhile since I have had their Tripel, and it is such a great beer.  The first three courses were toasted bread with tomato and olive oil, cod and potato puree, and the oh so delicious spanish ham.  If you have not had the ham at Curáte, I suggest going there to try it.  Right now.  You can finish reading this blog when you get back.

The second course featured Orval, one of my favorite beers by the trappist breweries.  The interesting thing about Orval is the addition of brettanomyces, which gives the beer a slightly funky (in a good way) aftertaste. The taste of the beer changes over time, ensuring that every time you have an Orval it is a unique experience.  The food in this course was amazing.  First off was a green salad with sunchoke, carrot, peas, and a sherry brown butter vinaigrette that made the whole dish sing.  This was followed by a shrimp and garlic dish that had a wonderful broth for dipping your bread into.  Lastly, we were served asparagus with romesco sauce, which is similar to a pesto but with red pepper instead of basil.

Course number three included the Chimay Grande Reserve (or Chimay Blue), which is a Belgian Quadrupel.  Quads are wonderful beers that are high in alcohol and great in flavor.  The high alcohol comes from the addition of dark candi sugar, and that combined with using belgian yeast strains yields a beer that is rich with notes of fig, date, and raisins.  While enjoying this beer, we were served lamb skewers with Moroccan-like spices, mushrooms sauteed with sherry, and the last course was fried eggplant drizzled with wild mountain honey.  All the courses were delicious.

The final course was a dessert that was made especially for the dinner that was introduced to us by Chef Katie Button.  The beer for this course was the Rochefort 10, another quad style belgian beer and is considered to be one of the best beers in the world.  The beer was paired with a take on a turrón, which is a spanish style confection that resembled a creamy nougat and also had carmelized almonds.  The taste reminded me of one of my favorite childhood cereals, Sugar Smacks (Dig-em!).  In addition to the nougat was an apricot sorbet, and it all went together surprisingly well considering all the contrasting flavors.

Overall it was a fantastic meal.  I love the pacing of a long beer dinner, and while I was tired at work the next day it was well worth the experience.  The good news is that many of the dishes that were served with this dinner are available on Curáte's Spring Tasting Menu (small menu, large menu), which will not be available long.

Thanks mom, and Caroline, Barry and Donita.