Tuesday 26 October 2010

The Wanderer Returns Pt. 2

Okay, so last post I promised to tell you a bit more about my recent meanderings across the globe so here's a bit more from my trip to the States.

As someone who firmly believes that beer & food are fantastic natural partners (in fact I'm currently making French onion soup with Fuller's Golden Pride, which will be served with Cantillon-washed cheese croutons & Sharp's Single Brew Reserve), so when beers & wings at Rock Bottom (which are very good) were upstaged by an invite to Mizuna, a fine dining establishment from the lovely Matt Stinchfield for a beer & food-matched dinner I couldn't resist.

The at-times whimsical menu was matched with beers from various breweries, including Stone, Great Divide, The Bruery and Moylan's, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not but the collaboration and effort that went into the evening is definitely something to build on and there were stand-out matches that were certainly a winner (see below).

It also gave me the opportunity to spend time chatting with the delightful Denise Jones from Moylan's, (whom I consequently had some good fun drinking with later in the week) and who makes great beer including an awesome Scotch Ale in the form of Kilt Lifter, very dry for the style but (in my humble opinion) fantastic for it – I also have her to thank for a very cool new t-shirt declaring my undying devotion to Humulus lupulus!

But anyway, there is a bit more of a point to this post than just taunting you with pictures of delicious food and it's about the UK restaurant scene and its failure to capitalise on beer, despite some bright spots!

I was mortified to hear about the recent experience of two high-end restaurant figures to whom I recommended a trip to Le Gavroche, because they want to give beer some serious thought and, given all the shouting about the beer & food matching that's gone on around the restaurant over the past few years, I couldn't think of a finer place.

Oh dear, according to my sources, the waiter, when asked about beer on the menu, repeatedly told them that there was a big brand lager and that was it, even when prodded that there was supposed to be a more extensive beer list - which says to me there's one of two problems here:
a) said beer list has been taken out
b) staff are insufficiently trained on beer because there isn't a real commitment to it

To bring it back to my experience at Mizuna, and the reason why I'm mentioning it, is because I'm just so over places that talk the talk but don't walk the walk and why I would like to sing the praises of the two young chefs in the kitchen who have a love for craft beer were given their head - which is the only way for beer & food matching to be given the creative attention it needs.

And whilst they freely admitted some things didn't work, by god they were going to be polishing their beer & food-matching skills until they were right - you could see that burning out of them as they talked.

So, I guess, what I'm trying to say to anyone who is thinking about beer & food matching is this: don't do it unless you're going to commit - beer & food matching is not a gimmick, it's not a passing fad and it's not something you just play with because it deserves more respect than that, and so do your diners.

Anyway, that rant over, I hope to have some new restaurant news for you this week about where to go to get great grub & good brews and I'll also be posting some further musings from my wanderings, and keep an eye on Twitter for my Amsterdam adventures at the end of the week - I promise all pictures will be suitable for workplace viewing!

But before I go, here's the menu as I promised, I've put in bold the beers I think worked with the dish:
Spanish Mackerel
w/macerated raisin, candied citrus, fregola
Collette Farmhouse Ale, Great Divide Brewing Company (CO)
Hottenroth Berliner Weisse, The Bruery (CA)
Wagyu Beef Cheesesteak
w/Ale gougere, Gruyere fondue, caramelised onions
Moylan's IPA, Moylan's (CA)
Stone IPA, Stone Brewery (CA)
Hudson Valley Duck Breast
w/squash flan, toasted barley & glazed onion
Autumn Maple Ale, The Bruery (CA)
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Stone Brewery (CA)
(sorry but neither beer was subtle enough for this dish & just dominated)
Corned Beef & Cabbage
(house-cured short rib w/butter melted cabbage)
I can't find the pic for this, it's possible I ate it before I could take a snap - it was AMAZING! (thanks to Matt for having more restraint than greedy me!)

Moylan's Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale, Moylan's (CA)
Rugbrod Ale, The Bruery (CA)
Beer Battered Cherries
w/espresso Chocolate Ganache
Moylan's Old Blarney Barleywine-style Ale, Moylan's (CA)
Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Great Divide Breweing Company (CO)
(the cherries were less than stellar but the coulis & ganache were superb)


Cooking Lager said...

Those are not big portions are they? Or was it acceptable portions on giant plates?

Was there a lot of courses or did you go for a kebab afterwards?

These posh restaurants would be better if they asked you whether you wanted to "go large for 30p"

The Palate Jack® said...

Hi Melissa,

You and your reader Cooking Lager have both characterized the dinner fairly. Some things worked better than others and portions were indeed diminutive. Instead of après dîner kabobs there were simply more beers at the Falling Rock.

I'm sending you a picture of the corned beef separately and reminding you, as if you need it - that your digest of the meal is accurate to a T. Remember how we were excited by the mysterious and subtle flavors of the sauce surrounding the beef & cabbage? It seemed buttery, meaty, salty, and cleverly spiced. I thought celery seed and others had their own take on it. We found out from our gregarious waiter (who loved you unconditionally I might say) that the sauce was the sieved jus from the boil, with pickling spice infused afterward - typically bay leaf, peppercorn, mustard seed, clove, etc.

Yes, the cooks were earnest. But building a dinner on whatever the distributor promotes to the resto had mixed results and should not be the formula for future pairings. I'm in favor of a little more intimate marriage between the beer and the food. We found out after the fact the in some of the pairings the cooks hadn't even gotten advance bottles of the beer. That's inexcusable for a dinner costing a hundred clams. I want to know that the brewer and chef got together in the back room and discovered their chemistry, then they came out of the kitchen with guilty looks on their faces that implicitly told us the part of the story they thought they were keeping from us. In the best dinners one element (i.e. food, drink, discourse, entertainment) should not upstage the other and I felt there was a certain disconnect from both the restaurant and the various breweries. Not to mention that a particular brewery from Escondido sent terribly stale beer and a sale rep who didn't know when to shut up.

Don't get me wrong, your company, my dear, and that of others at our our table, needs no apology. A lovely evening! Love the pearls. But message to the ethos: If you're going to charge a day's wage for a meal, do your homework and make it resonate.

Matt, The Palate Jack®

Susan said...

Some day, when visiting the US, make a stop in our "fly over" region: Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and so on.
We have some fine chefs doing excellent beer/food pairings on a daily basis. Or more fun yet- attend a National Homebrewers Conference awards banquet for a Sean Paxton creation. Beautiful food cooked with and paired with Rogue beers- for about 800+ people!