Clearly, all of my disposable income goes to food, but still a newbie to San Francisco, I don't quite have a grasp of the entire spectrum of food events around town. Fortunately, I have friends who do, and I had the pleasure of attending the Monk's Kettle "Dinner of the Trappist" back in February. Having experienced firsthand what a stellar job the Monk's Kettle team does at food and beer pairings, there was no doubt in my mind that when the menu for the Great Divide dinner was announced for this past Monday AND knowing one of my best friends would be in town that tickets were to be purchased immediately.
Good decision, or best decision?
I've always found the staff at Monk's Kettle to be not only intelligent and informative, but more importantly, happy. Then again, what is there not to love about working in a place where you are surrounded by fantastic beer and delicious food and, generally speaking, a crowd that can appreciate it?
Brian, Kevin, and Hedes
Three of us were welcomed with smiles and, in contrast by name, Hedes - a Belgian-style golden ale packing some heat for our reception at 7.8% ABV. Light, crisp, and fruity, this is one of those that will sneak up on you and kick you in the pants before you realize what hit you. Apparently, most Belgian ales have these demonic names, because what better describes Belgium than the devil?
Not originally planned for the menu, head chef Adam Dulye was inspired by the peach notes in the Hedes and the ripe peaches at the Ferry Building Farmers Market just a few days earlier to create a crostini with peaches, candied bacon and fromage blanc. The fruity sweetness was pleasant, the saltiness of the bacon gave it a nice contrast, and the fromage blanc was smooth and mellow. The pairing was just light enough to whet the appetite in anticipation for courses to come.
Peach, candied bacon, fromage blanc
For me, the best parts of these pairings are the explanations from those who actually know what the hell they're talking about: namely, Mike Reis, beer program co-director and certified cicerone. Mike intelligibly walked us through the process of finding these beers and their perfect pairings, as well as the occasional interesting tidbit about the beer name itself. Colette, for example, was chosen when the brewers at Great Divide tasted their farmhouse ale and imagined walking through the fields and happening upon a pretty young woman and thought, "What would this young girl's name be?"
Apparently, it was Colette.
I Want To Love You - Pretty Young Thing (PYT)
Lots of tree fruits here - bananas, apples, and perhaps a little grapefruit bitterness coming through, in addition to some earthy undertones. A nice "funk" that you get from some farmhouse ales, that subtly reminded me of some Jolly Pumpkin beers I'd had back in Ann Arbor. As for the food pairing - some roasted cauliflower, spring peas, and what was supposed to be a bintje potato brandade. Let's say that Chef Adam took some liberty with the "brandade," - the salt cod was removed, for one, and the potatoes were deep fried.
Good decision, or best decision?
Roasted Vegetables, Spring Peas, Bintje Potato Brandade
I'm glad the salt cod was removed - I don't think that would have played well into the rest of the dish, and I think it would have overpowered the beer in a bad way. As for the potato - well, can you really do harm by deep frying anything? Crispy outside, and smooth starch innards made these a hit, and the earthy root vegetables helped to bring out Colette's more subtle features. The kicker for me was the very light lemon zest that really made the dish pop and tie it all together. And, you know, it looked pretty.
A term of endearment or friendship, Hoss had the least friendly food pairing. The beer itself was solid - almost like eating a slice of rye bread, it had deep caramel undertones and a grainy-ness that made me want to pour it over some pastrami and let my inner New York Jew have a field day. The dish was a boudin blanc with caraway dumplings and a currant chutney. I think the issue here was the sausage, which, though cooked perfectly, just didn't have the flavor that I wanted it to have. I think a fennel sausage may have played better into Hoss's strengths. The caraway dumplings were phenomenal, made almost more like a spaetzle, and the sweet currant chutney cut right through the spice of the rye.
Hoss - Named For Writing On A Kid's T-Shirt
Boudin Blanc, Currant Chutney, Caraway Dumpling
The 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA was up next, and it didn't disappoint. Strong bourbon flavors really hit from the wood-aging, along with some deep red fruits and a hoppy backbone.
18th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA
Game hen two ways was the pairing of choice. The roast was a bit dry, but the confit was quite literally falling off the bone. The corn and fava bean cassoulet was fresh and bright, and added a nice crunch to counter the soft protein. This was the first time that I had a cured egg yolk, which is apparently just made by dumping an egg yolk in salt and letting it sit there until it turns into a giant jelly bean of a yellowy deliciousness. Overall, a solid dish with a great beer.
Game Hen Two Ways, Shell Bean Cassoulet, Cured Egg Yolk
The beer we had all been waiting for had arrived not a moment too soon. The Yeti, an Imperial Stout that clocked in at a fun 9.5% ABV, was a treat in-and-of itself. Easily consumable as a dessert by itself, the aromas of dark chocolate and coffee were matched with a pleasant bitterness and a sweetness of molasses.
Yetis Apparently Do Exist...And Are Delicious
What impressed me most was that Chef didn't take the easy route. Sure, throw a delicious imperial stout in with virtually any coffee or chocolate dessert and you've got yourself a winning pairing. However, the easy route is rarely fun. Instead, salmon smoked over oyster shells with asparagus and black truffle potato gratin was the venture.
Oyster Shell Hot Smoked Salmon, Asparagus, Black Truffle Potato Gratin
As much as I LOVED the flavor of the salmon, it was pretty dry. And sure, I understand that cooking salmon is difficult, let alone for 50 people, but I was nonetheless disappointed. The potatoes were wonderful - creamy and cheesy...scallopy? And the dish as a whole was a phenomenal pair - despite the stretch from an imperial stout to an untraditional dish.
Finally, the last taste of the night - the Titan IPA paired with hop sugared pretzel donuts, white chocolate, and candied orange preserve.
The Titan had a surprisingly light feel to it - a hint of orange and citrus on the back and a nice, well rounded hop character. It went really well with the preserves, which was more like a syrup than I envision a preserve to be. The citrus notes of each played off of each other well. Yet for whatever reason, the white chocolate really stood out to all of us. It managed to stay at a point that was not clawingly sweet and was a smooth saucy texture.
...of Hop Sugared Pretzel Donuts...
...With White Chocolate and Candied Orange Preserve.
I attempted a bite of the pretzel donut on its own. Chewy innards, crispy exterior, hoppy sugar coating, and an awesome pretzel taste. Well done. But then I tried mixing and matching the dipping sauces - each individually, then in tandem. Somehow, the simple bite of all three components made for a taste that hit all the right senses - sweet, savory, bitter...but I guess that was the point.
Three men; three best friends - employed full-time and reunited after a long year apart, using our minimal amount of disposable income on an incredible dining experience. We owe this great memory to you, Great Divide and Monk's Kettle. Thank you for a night we will never forget.