I haven't been to a Monk's Cafe dinner in a while, so when the invite came, I shuffled my schedule (more about that shortly) and said yes! I was not disappointed. I left home Tuesday night in a blowing snow shower -- I'd driven out of it within ten minutes and only had the cold wind to contend with. I stopped on the way at the Grey Lodge Pub; that was the schedule I had to shuffle. Scoats had put together a 'holiday mix,' 24 cases of Christmas/holiday/winter beers, 24 people, mixing cases so we each got one of the 24 beers (hey, it's a Pennsylvania thing!)...and I had picked up Cape Anne Navigator (a holiday doublebock) and Wachusett Winter (an ESB, this year) when I was in Massachusetts last month, so I had to drop them off to be mixed. I headed on down to Monk's from there, figuring to leave the dinner a bit early to get back for the mix.
Traffic was bloody awful -- I hate the lights on the Boulevard -- so by the time I got the beers dropped off and got parked in Center City, I was at Monk's ten minutes late. No big deal, they were just serving the warm-up beer, De Ranke Pere Noel. I saw there was bouillabaisse coming, so decided to hold off on the De Ranke, and got a glass of Tripel Karmeliet to tide me over. Saw friends and said hi to Bryan Kolesar, Jeff Linkous, and my NJ Breweries co-author Mark Haynie (congrats on upcoming retirement, and happy birthday!), then sat down with George Hummel and Nancy Rigberg at the back bar to get ready for fun.
The promised bouillabaisse was -- hey, it's Monk's -- crazy. Big shrimp hanging over the side, lots of creamy-textured fish inside, and a toasty crust with cheese jammed in there. The De Ranke was...okay. Good beer, dry, tasty, but not sure about how it worked with the feesh. The next pairing more than made up for that (and the best was yet to come): Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi and a rabbit terrine (What's the diff twixt terrine and pate, I asked George. 'The shape?' he speculated, and looking at the goopy goodness I assumed was an additional small portion of pate on my plate, I guessed he was right.) The beer, tasty and yet restrained, was the perfect foil for the rich bunny meat, easily matching and mediating the delicious fattiness.
Next up was the Mikeller Red/White Christmas. Good beer, but I'll admit: I pretty much forgot the beer when I tasted the next course: pork loin stuffed with pancetta on apple sauerkraut, with a nice knob of roquefort on the side and sweet potato straws on the top. That was delicious. Then came another Scandinavian beer: Nøgne Ø Holiday Ale. It was a seriously spiced beer, with sage and juniper, and I didn't know what they were going to pair this one with to make it sing...because honestly, it was a bit overpowering.
The pairing was genius. Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter, topped with fried sage leaves. This is what beer pairing is about: the two together changed each other. The ravioli came alive, and the beer mellowed into spicy richness. I exclaimed out loud (no, really, I did), and enjoyed this one terrifically. Unfortunately, I had to leave at that point to get to the Grey Lodge, and there were three courses yet to come! (Cassoulete w/Corsendonk Christmas, cheeses with T'sjeeses Reserva, and the traditional buche de noel with 2009 Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper and a jeroboam of Mad Elf). Thanks, Tom Peters: he made me up a take-home plate of the cassoulete!
Up the road to the Lodge, where I stayed till 11 PM, talking with old friends, and drinking a glass of Sly Fox Rauchbier, and a sample of this year's Philly Brewing Winter Wunder (nicely done, guys). A very nice night indeed.
Thanks to Bryan Kolesar for scanning the menu and sending it to me: I left mine on the bar!