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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Philly Beer Week: the "That's Not Belgian!" dinner at Chick's Cafe

Monday of Philly Beer Week saw me getting an early e-mail from Jon at Chick's Cafe: we had a beer change. The Italian chestnut beer we had scheduled for the main course (a wild boar dish on polenta) was not available, we were getting Chocarrubica instead, a chocolate/carob beer. Okay, let's put that with the dessert, and we decided to put the BB10 with the boar instead, a choice that turned out to be brilliant...wish I could say it was my decision, but I think it was Jon's. I spent the day working on my vodka story for Massachusetts Beverage Business, and left for Chick's about 4:30 for our "That's not Belgian!" dinner (which was, I'm gratified to find out, the FooBooz "Beer Week Pick of the Day" yesterday).

Traffic wasn't too bad, and about 5:20, I walked into the bar at Chick's, said hi all round, and went over the menu with Jon one last time. We made a decision to roll the cheese course before the entree; I wanted the BB10 later in the dinner. That done, I sat and awaited developments. Pretty soon Suzanne Woods developed, always a pleasant situation, but she was just stopping in to say hi to Jon and all before heading off to run the Beer Geek Trivia semi-final at Triumph. Not long after she left -- ships passing in the night -- Iron Hill West Chester brewer Chris Lapierre and his assistant showed up. For the dinner. Really? I was honored.

Eventually, closer to 7 than 6:30 (with Jon tossing out a variety of samples of really interesting Italian beers not on the menu to keep folks interested), we got started. The first beer of the night, Sesonetto from Birrificio Piccolo, was perhaps the best beer of the night. It's brewed with juniper, coriander, and chinotto fruit, an Italian bitter orange that is at the heart of many of the Italian amari, the bitter digestif/aperitif drinks that the Italians prize (because they assist in eating more delicious food). The nose was sweet orange, the flavor was dry and bitter...but still wonderfully orange. Great stuff.

The food was also excellent. After that, we had a smoked mussel tart with goat cheese and green apples (with La Bavaisienne Blonde, quite nice pairing); a selection of Spanish and French cheeses with a Spanish cider (okay, but not great) and La Choulette Framboise (excellent: not syrupy, almost a bitter raspberry; I had Jon re-fill me on this one); and a wild boar and mushroom ragout on polenta that was everything you hope for with 'wild' food: rich and earthy and bold. That was with the BB10, a 10% beer made with Sardinian grapes that was neither overpoweringly strong or more than faintly grapey: it was actually dry and hinted with cocoa. Impressive display of brewing. The chocolate truffle tart for dessert was insanely good (at $9 on the menu, this is one dessert that is perfectly priced and proportioned for sharing), and the Chocarrubica...had brettanomyces character. With chocolate and carob. Still, as I told the diners, I'm not sure if that's intentional or not, but it worked: really dried out the chocolate.

The dinner was a great success. Everyone seemed to have a very good time, we talked, we laughed, we enjoyed the food, the beer, and the pairing. Jon brought out some Haandbryggeriet Norwegian Wood afterwards, made with malt smoked with juniper, and it was striking. There are amazing things going on at microbreweries in Europe, and while I suspect some of them will pass without note, some will become established and spread.


TC said...

Norwegian Wood is made by the Haand Brewery, not Nogne O. I think the guys there are literally brewing out of someone's garage. No matter how they're making it, the three beers I've had from them (Norwegian Wood, Norse Porter, and Dark Force) are all excellent, and Norwegian Wood is my favorite of the bunch.

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks for the catch. We were talking about Nogne O last night, and I must have been typing too fast this morning. Stunning beer, and as Jon said, you won't be tasting much else after this one!

Anonymous said...

Was the Spanish Cider properly aerated? This is done on the north coast of Spain by holding the bottle as high as possible over the head, the glass (a large tumbler) down by the hip, and pouring. Of course, a certain amount misses when neophytes do this (to the amusement of the locals). The trick is to move the glass, not the bottle. See the cider board's directions if you don't believe me. Note that the bottle in the photo is unlabeled; this is typical -- El Gaiteru (The Bagpiper) is an exception.

Lew Bryson said...

Jon did demonstrate the aeration technique, but only for the idea of it: the cider we had, La Gaitera, was carbonated. And sweet. And, well...was all we could get.

kmudrick said...

The dinner was great. Lew, you are totally relaxed and let the flavors/tastes flow to our tastebuds. I had a great time and was not overwhelmed. Jon, as always, put together a stellar beer list - his demonstration on the Spanish pour technique was brilliant - I wish I had the video to show everyone!

Looking forward to future LB/Chick's events..

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks, Kevin, and yeah, Jon's cider-throwing demo was priceless!