Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brick Store Trappist Beer Dinner: European-Style Drinking and Dining

One of the things I loved about eating out in Belgium is that when you reserve a table, you reserve a table. You are seated when you arrive, the maitre'd whisks away the little stand with the card that has a script-printed "Réservé" on it, and for the rest of the evening, that's your table. The service is excellent, the food is wonderful, and you don't have to worry about them wanting to turn the table, so the pace is yours and the kitchen's to set.

Mike Gallagher and the Brick Store Pub achieved a similar vibe with the Trappist Belgian beer dinner on October 19. Hubby, Babysis, and I were seated at the six-top in the corner of the Belgian Beer bar ("upstairs and to the left") with some of the guys from the Cypress Street Pint & Plate. This was at 7:00. At 10:00, things were just winding down. It was great food, better beer, and a European sense of dining.

The things that made this Beer Dinner unique and quickly sold-out included the focus on Trappist beer, an assortment of chefs from well-known, emerging, and one to-be restaurant, and Belgian beer celebrity Francois de Harenne from the Orval Brewery. During the second course, he gave a lecture on the brewery process as well as the history of the place. Our table happened to be by the stained-glass window picturing the Orval fish and ring logo. The legend is that in 1076, Countess Mathilde of Tuscany lost her wedding ring in the fountain at the head of the monastery's spring. She prayed to the Virgin Mary to restore her ring, and a trout brought it back to the surface. The Countess dubbed the place as the "Golden Valley," or "Val d'Or" and gave a bunch of money to the monks to found the monastery.

The "Reception" course included passed hors d'oeuvres by Rian Tittle of the Brick Store Pub and Eric Ottensmeyer and Robert Lupo of Leon's Full Service accompanied by a "6 Months Young" Orval. The Olive Oil & Sea Salt Roasted Celery Root, Ginger Pickled Beets, and Spiced Poached Cranberry turned out to be a tangy complement to the hops in the Orval (I know this because Francois said so). The Jerk Chicken Confit and Mango Jam served on a Plantain Chip was the table's favorite with its combination of spicy, fruity, and crunchy, and it smoothed out the beer. Finally, the Seared Lamb Chop with Chow-Chow and Wild Mushroom Sauce made for a savory finish to that course.

The first course, by Richard Neal of Decatur favorite Cakes & Ale was a good representation of the style of dish for that restaurant. Seared Wild Alaskan Halibut (from Sawicki's? – my speculation) served with Spelt Grain Salad, Sunflower Sprouts, and Radish lured us into a false sense of healthiness. It was served with the Westmalle Tripel, which, according to its creator Brother Thomas (no, he wasn't there, but was quoted), demonstrates "well-balanced and beautiful complexity." No, I've never heard a Belgian explain anything so efficiently, and I would know, being half Belgian (yeah, yeah, that explains a lot on this blog). Light in color, slightly sweet, but with that Trappist tang, the Westmalle is a great beer, so I concur with Brother Thomas.

Westmalle, like Orval, is made with raw materials only. Rochefort (couldn't find web site) and Chimay have spices added to them. The Rochefort 10, served with the next course, was darker, a little sweeter, but also smoother, kind of like the Quadruppel style. No, I'm not sure what the Rochefort numbers mean. This was one of the more anticipated courses of the night, Scrambled Farm Eggs with Candied Bacon, Spent Grain Bread, and Truffled Gouda by Chris Hall of the not-yet-open restaurant Local 3. Ohyeah, breakfast for dinner:

I talked to Chris after the dinner, and he said he wasn't sure how the course would go over. Silly chef! That's the one I'm still thinking about over a week later.

It was back to Westmalle for the third course, Riverview Farms Berkshire Pork Rillette, Crusty Bread, Cornichon Slaw, and Westmalle Dubbel Mustard by Todd Mussman of Muss & Turner's. The Westmalle Dubbel was another light, sweeter beer, and it balanced out the richness of the pork, which had a slight layer of fat over a tuna-like texture. Sounds strange, but it worked, especially when combined with slaw and spicy mustard:

The Rochefort 8 appeared with the fourth course by Ryan Smith of Holeman & Finch. It was Duck Two Ways: Duck Mortadella & Duck Pastrami with Chestnut Ravioli & Quince Paste. The smoothness of the Rochefort complemented the quince paste, which was served in a cube. The Duck Mortadella was served as the center of the Duck Pastrami (I think – things were a little fuzzy by that point, hence the lack of picture), and I ate mostly that part. The Chestnut Ravioli was excellent.

Finally, dessert. As one of our table mates put it, this was a distillation of the flavors we love in Belgian beer: Spiced, Roasted Baby Banana, Chocolate Orange Crémeux, & Caramel Canellé. The artist behind the dessert was Mel Toledo of 5 Seasons Prado, where they brew a pretty good Belgian-style beer, and the beer pairing for the course was the 2007 Vintage Orval. As Francois told us, the alcohol increases to 7.1% a year after bottling, the beer is "less aggressive and more round," and the foam is creamier. Here's dessert:

The chefs came up to be applauded once the dinner concluded, and I got to talk to a few of them. It sounded like they had as much fun as we did, and I think it showed in the food. I will definitely look for Local 3 to open up, if only to see if they have breakfast for dinner on the menu.

Now that I look back on it, I'm not sure what was more exciting: great Trappist beer and amazing food, or having a spot held just for me in the Belgian Beer Bar at Brick Store, which tends to be impossible to get into after work hours. The service was European-style as well, especially how the staff made sure to come around with water frequently. I will definitely be looking out for the next beer dinner, and if it's a Trappist one, count me in!

Random Notes: I apologize for the delay in this post. Last Friday was our fifth wedding anniversary, and I'd had a crazy busy week, so I didn't get my usual Friday writing time. We spent the weekend at my parents' cabin in North Georgia. More about that trip in a future post.

Thursday evening October 29 will find me at JavaMonkey, where we'll be tasting Spicy Reds. Tune into my stream on Twitter for live tasting notes.

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