Sunday, September 05, 2010

BEERflections ~ French Quarter Beer Dinner August

It’s always a nail-biting affair starting something new, a permanent fixture without fads or gimmicks. If the hearty showing at our 2nd beer dinner at French Quarter in Vero Beach is any indication, good libations are surely abloom. The community within French Quarter and French Quarter within the community is soon to be synonymous with gastropub delights, opening the world of good beers and good food to all. Not the first and certainly not the last, this isn’t some childish competition to see who can be bigger, better, stronger, and fastest. We are building a community, an enrichment of life and times along horizons broadened and memories cherished. Bloated impersonal chains of the lowest common denominator need not apply. This is local and local matters.

Our beer dinner format is familiar to those who have attended their wine dinners. On the flip side, our beer dinner format is different than most that have a set starting hour for the festivities to begin, requiring all parties to be present and seated on time. During these beer dinners ala social affairs, brewery reps and chefs take turns dishing out tantalizing tidbits about the beers, the food, and the two together as eager tables fill the air with the cozy din of social cheer. One could say that in those few short hours a new community is born, enriched, and shared. Having participated in both, I can say that neither is better, just pleasantly different. For our purpose though, relaxed and personal is the chosen format. As I gaze upon my beer dinner tables and feel the warmth of personal space sharing in precious memories, I know well enough to leave magic alone unless invited.

It’s a bit of an unspoken rule in life that when building something new, something lasting, a minimum of three tries are needed to feel at least one foot firmly planted while the other prepares to move further forward into tangible realization. The first dinner’s turn-out wasn’t meager, but it certainly wasn’t what we were hoping for. A few notable factors became readily apparent, two of which were addressed for the second dinner in August:
  1. Hosting a beer dinner in the middle of the week, Wednesday, is not conducive to people’s schedules.
  2. Scheduling and promoting a new endeavor in just over a week’s time is not enough notice for planning one’s attendance.
So, this time around we planned for a Sunday, the weekend, with an ample three weeks advance notice to entice the beer and food curious into adding us to their planner.

Lessons learned. Knowledge filed and stored. Success gained.

For our second beer dinner on Sunday August 15th from 5pm to 9pm burgundian aspirations reined with a total of twenty-two confirmed reservations, zero cancellations, and a few additional walk-ins. Fabulous! Something very special is happening; I can feel it. As I release unto the eager ladies and gents of Vero Beach many more beer dinners of varied origin and style, a solid mix of tasted veterans and newly curious will fill hearth and home with good times and cherished memories for all. Seeing as the seasons are creeping upon us, look forward to a bit of something different this September and beyond. Far be it for myself or the French to keep it the same when there is so much room for playful fun. It will not to be missed. Trust.

But! If for some reason you are still not convinced, stay with me as I delve deep into mouth-watering detail after mouth-watering detail in sweet literary love.

That being said, a few shout-outs are do for the fantastically generous showing of my fellow burgundians united under the flag of beer dinner nirvana: To you, the Colontrelle 5. To my hot rod duo, Mike and Paula. To Robert and family, happy birthday and cheerio. To Laura and Tammy, keep it real sisters. To Timmy-poo and Ryan-boo, stay thirsty my friends. To Alex, the good times have only just begun. To dynamic Dave, jiggy Johnson, and your lovely ladies, see you soon. To John and Patty, Go Gators!

And to all of you fine ladies and gents who graced our resplendent evening, Thank You very much. Be sure to keep those calendars open for future beer dinners because you aint seen nothing yet, baby!

Arriving early and staying late, I enjoyed the campy company of an eclectic mix of their Sunday staff. Boinky Boinkertons, a true blast and heavens if I can’t remember your birth name…and that’s ok. Also helping to mix the funk up Sunday night were Eeyore and Noodles while Spence rocked the night away in his duckly decorated khakis of dangerously sexy proportions. Our chef du jour was the one and only Ed-tastic *kisses* and of course, a heartfelt thanks to all the lil helper chefs unseen but well-tasted. Good show.

My peeps pimped and culinary wizards crowned, tis time to hit up the trio of tantalizing dishes you have read so patiently through to savor.
  • Appetizer – manila clams steamed (and thirstily paired) in Avery White Rascal with the equally fabulous additions of garlic, butter, and scallions for a light and flavorful broth.
  • Main Course – braised Angus short ribs with a bacon mushroom bread pudding, glazed carrots, and frizzled leeks paired with Oskar Blues Old Chub.
  • Dessert – dark chocolate pate with fresh berries and vanilla bean ice cream paired with Lindeman’s Kriek.
If those brief descriptors alone weren’t enough to set the tastebuds tingling in anticipation, maybe a twinge or two of envy, then let me digress…

Part of my reason d’être behind choosing the White Rascal from Avery for the appetizer was for the very real reason of Monsieur Rascal himself. Not the childhood character of yore, but the devilish rascal on the label smiling at you and me, glint in his eye and tasty beer in hand. That same devilish rascal also graces a classically retro poster found within the comfy confines of the wine bar. The only difference is in the bottle of vino being held versus the bottle of beer, a fitting union of our two worlds of flavorful libation in a setting where beer and wine diversity is celebrated.

As for the first pairing…fabulous of course.

I’m well familiar with White Rascal and have demolished quite a few shellfish ala Belgian Wit pairings. Manila clams were the shellfish of choice this round, a tasty twist on a mussel’s classic. There was certainly no shame felt here as I thoroughly ravaged my clams and Rascal. A light sauce, her whitish hue revealed gentle spices and a soft mouthfeel exquisitely received and reciprocated in the beer in hand. Scallions crunched with a zap of heat before letting green herbs, lip-smacking butter, and a whisper of garlic take over. The clams were tender morsels of earthy brine and sweet dew drops bursting before my reverent ministrations. Not to be outdone but instead to stand hand-in-hand, my White Rascal was decked out in her finest Belgian whites. Hidden within were brilliant notes of blanched wheat, sprightly lemon zest, orange kisses, and mischievous nips of white pepper and coriander. Twas a luxurious cruise of flavors joined and parted in unspoken harmony, sending these tastebuds into an orchestrated dance of delight.

Being a relaxed affair, I slowly savored each course in all their aromatic flavorful glory. Last dinner I dined with Patty and John. This time around I dined in the dashing company of Tim and Ryan with a late-night showing of Alex. The appetizer having duly got the party off to a tastetacular start, we awaited the timely arrival of our main course amidst beery banter.

Enter the tenderest slices of braised Angus short ribs ever to seduce my senses. Ever. I’m still not quite sure why they included a steak knife. It made me feel a smidge guilty for woefully neglecting her proud purpose for the simple function of the fork. Pushing guilt aside, upon placing my fork over the thin slices of braised Angus ribs, she parted neatly and effortlessly into mouth-filling morsels of orgasm inducing proportions. Foodphoria all over again…and again…and again with each heavenly bite. Tender. Juicy. Succulent. Brown sauces meet beef juices and flavor harmony sings. Not to be outdone, the bacon mushroom bread pudding was differently and equally flavorphoria inducing. Ohmygawd. Firstly, bacon anything is good. Period. Add to that one of my favorite fungi, mushrooms, wrap it all up in a mini loaf of melt-in-the-mouth bread pudding and my tasteometer rocketed through the upper stratosphere in negative zero seconds. All savory bites thereafter sent delightful shivers from toes to nose and back to toes again. A moment please… Okay, onto the glazed carrots and frizzled leeks. I like me some sweet and crunchy glazed carrots, the frizzled leeks not so much. Overall though, she was a culinary culmination of life-affirming proportions. Her beer in arms was the Old Chub from Oskar Blues, the first craft brewery to solely can their beer. Old Chub is a Scottish-style ale whose rich flavors of candied apples, dark pitted fruits, black breads, treacle, and shadowy smoke was the only accompaniment needed. No other beer need apply which makes sense since Ed builds the dishes around each particular beer of my choosing. Hands down, a team effort I am proud to be partner to.

A full tummy would hardly be conducive to an enjoyable third and last course no matter how fanfreakingtastic it may, should, and will be, and so time was taken. Minutes laze on by. Then our mini siesta over, it was time to bring out the chocolate and the cherries. If you didn’t like this dessert than it is my solemn duty to inform you of your failure as a human being, your existence on this fine planet relevant no more. Sad but true, yes sir, yes ma’am.

Dark chocolate pate, how I love thee, let me count the ways… Up until that evolutionary moment of foodvana Sunday August 15th, I had no clue what dark chocolate pate was, tasted like, and how horribly incomplete my life had been. Rich, heavy, moist, and light all at once. Sliced into reasonably thick pate slices, two graced my dessert plate decorated in raspberry and chocolate drizzles with fresh blueberries, raspberries, and a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. Voila! Life was complete. Judging by the judicious low moans of myself, my merry mates, and patrons aplenty, she was a tantalicious sentiment shared by all. As my imagination contemplated the tastefully naughty potential of a dark chocolate pate Kristyn sandwich, casting avarice my way was a champagne flute of luxurious berry hues, the Lindeman’s Kriek. A Belgian Lambic, she is brewed and fermented with their native Schaarbeekse, a naturally tart and mildly sweet pitted cherry.

To try and explain here what was and is Lambic would require its own epic dissertation, and so I will offer a smidge of what I can and leave the rest to the reader’s adventurous curiosity:
Lambic is a beer style native to the Pajottenland region of Belgium which enjoys an official EU Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) of origin. Brewed almost continuously for over 400 years, Lambic has earned a unique pass on the foils and tribulations of encroaching time and overzealous modernization. Choosing the unique micro-climate of Mother Nature over Mankind, the Lambic brewers revere wild yeasts along with the wood barrels and old barns they call home. Touch not the cobwebs. Disturb not the dirt and dust. Lambic breweries exist outside of time as one of the last and greatest micro eco-systems. These rare living liquid works of art and history are reverently treasured for their wild funky tart musty rustic old-world nature, and I wouldn’t have them any other way. Young, blended, or an old gem straight from the barrel, Lambics are one of the most coveted works of beery culture still alive today.

Now, throw in some of Belgium’s sour-sweet Schaarbeekse cherries and my dessert pairing was off the chain. An amazing fusion of new world and old world all wrapped up in flavortastic funk, her simplicity of pleasures were profoundly moving.

Simple is beautiful. Taste it. Share it.

As much as I dreaded this turning point in my beer dinner evening, doors were inevitably locked as the last of my peeps and peepettes left in contented silence. I lingered at the bar with Alex for a while before we too bid farewell. Confirmation of a third beer dinner officially on the calendar (and approaching fast) my mind was already pondering what next. Mix it up a bit. Do a little something different. Keep the adventure pumping. While those thoughts mused amongst themselves in the annals of my brain, Alex and I headed my way home for a nice bourbon nightcap. Thank you Palm Ridge Reserve for bringing good bourbon home to Florida. As a native, I couldn’t be prouder.

Finally sated and sleepy, I answered the sandman’s call and drifted off to slumberland where dreams unexplored lay in wait.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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