Monday, May 7, 2012

Mill Street Brew Pub - 1st Brewmaster's Dinner - March 15, 2012

And I'm back! Miss me?

Alright, I admit, I'm kind of a fan of the Mill Street Brewpub, as my last post may have indicated. I love their beer, the service is really good if you get the right server, and the food is generally quite tasty (and even that which didn't 'wow' me was still adequate).

So, when the Gods of Food and Birthday Interaction decreed that the first Brewmaster's Dinner was to take place on the magical date of March 15th, which just happens to be the lovely and talented Kari's birthday, it seemed pretty clear we had to go to this thing! So, we booked our tickets quick like little bunnies and waited giddily and impatiently for March 15th to arrive. And when I say 'giddily', I mean jumping up and down giggling like Deadheads on nitrous as the date got closer.

Well, sure enough it did and, funnily enough, we had no idea what to expect, except for the menu (which totally added to the giddy) which had been posted weeks in advance. We walked in to the back upstairs room to find our places set as follows at a large 20-24 person table (luckily we had the end seats):

Really impressive table setup, not so impressed with their spelling of "Brennan"

So, pretty neat score of a bottle opener! AND there was still food and beer to come!

We did notice a bit of an 'energetic' vibe coming from our table-mates. I'm not sure what their story was, but by the end of the night we'd earned the moniker of the "Loud Table". At one point in the evening, I was a little worried we'd be known as the "Started a Brawl Table" after a heated exchange between the guy sitting next to me and someone at the table behind us. Eep! Luckily, cooler heads prevailed before night's end and no one had to be arrested.

But, that's neither here nor there, what matters is the BEER! Well, and the food...

So here's the setup: It was a five-course menu, each course paired with a glass of beer (of varying sizes depending on the beer in question). The menu had been online for weeks, so it wasn't a surprise and that's probably for the best because I have to commend the chef on putting together such an interesting sounding menu.

See for yourself:

First course - Wild Boar Sausage on Potato Pancake with In-House Mustard paired w/Organic Lager

Well, this was a quick little bite, but it was tasty. Admittedly, the boar sausage (which reminded me of grilled summer sausage from when I was a kid, always a plus) and mustard overpowered the flavour of the potato pancake, so I have no idea how good the pancake really was. The beer pairing was pretty basic considering that Organic Lager is the most "mainstream" tasting beer Mill Street brews. So, really, a flavourful trip down memory lane, but nothing that totally blew me away. I also could have used a second piece...

A small bite, but tasty!

As for the beer itself, well, it's Organic Lager, so obviously good for the planet and so on, but not a very flavourful beer when put up against powerhouses like Tankhouse of Coffee Porter. This is more of a "serve ice cold on a hot day and quench your face" kind of beer. At least, it is to me. Also, as with the potato pancake, it was subdued by the strong flavour of the sausage.

Second Course - Vanilla Scented Lobster Bisque with Saffron Crème Fraiche paired w/Vanilla Porter

OH MY VANILLA SCENTED GOD! This was quite possibly the best bowl of soup I've had in my life, I kid you not! The soup was rich yet delicate, creamy yet briny, and just so damn delicious! I've had/made Lobster Bisque before, but this was something far different. For one thing, it wasn't overly salty or 'fishy', which is something that has always made Kari averse to seafood and fish. In this case, she was gripping the table the soup was so good. The flavours were all complimentary between lobster, cream, vanilla and saffron. SO. FREAKING. GOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could eat this all day, every day...

I'll take a gallon please!

And what could make this spectacular dish even better? Pairing it with our good friend Mr. (Ms.?) Vanilla Porter! It was absolutely complimentary with the soup, adding even more creamy depth. I think Kari's expression says it all...

Bliss in a glass

Third Course - Chickpea-Cauliflower Curry on Basmati Rice paired w/Tankhouse Ale

Well, this was the "come back down to Earth" course. After the nearly-transcendent and sinful soup, this was a much more comforting plate with the great earthy tones one expects from a good curry. I can't really say that it 'wowed' me, mostly because it's Chickpea Curry, I've had it more times than I can count and no matter how well it's made, it's probably never going to blow my mind. But it was really tasty and cooked perfectly. The chickpeas were firm, the cauliflower tender but not mushy - same with the rice. 

Must remember to photograph before eating...
As for the beer pairing, it was Tankhouse, which is my favourite beer, so no complaints here! In fact, there was a little more than the standard heat you'd find in a Chickpea Curry and the Tankhouse did a great job of cutting through the spice, but not overpowering the flavour of the dish.

Fourth Course - Scotch Ale Braised Lamb Shank with Smashed Potatoes and Grilled Broccolini paired w/Scotch Ale

Now THIS is a main course - A big ol' hunk of meat and potatoes (and something green in there somewhere)! This was the second best course of the meal (sorry, but that Lobster Bisque won my heart). It was a beautifully cooked piece of lamb shank, braised until dissolvingly tender. The meat fell apart off the bone as soon as I put my fork to it. The flavour of the meat was rich and fresh (Ontario lamb) and not gamy the way most people think lamb is. It was impossible not to shovel bite after bite into my mouth. The flavour of the veal stock and Scotch Ale it was braised in came through and yet was nicely complimented by the rosemary jus on top (and the jus was deftly handled by the kitchen staff, no small feat considering how easy it is to add too much rosemary to a dish). As for the potatoes and broccolini, I must admit that they kind of got eclipsed by the awesome tastiness of the meat. Not that they weren't good, just that it's hard to remember how good Jimi Hendrix's drummer is in the middle of a guitar solo... I do remember that the broccolini was cooked to perfection and the potatoes were made with a lot of butter. Sorry sides, that's all I got... Now, back to the lamb. DROOOOOOOOOL....

Steak knife = unnecessary

Wait, I'm forgetting something... Oh right, THE BEER!!!! Well, the Scotch Ale obviously paired well with the meat since the meat was cooked in it, but how did it taste? Well, it was delicious! It was a darker beer, but not thick in the way of a stout or porter, so it went down very easily. It reminded me of the love child of Upper Canada Dark and Newscastle Brown, but lighter tasting. The lightness served as a good balance for the meat, a heavier beer would have made the main course a bit of a slog.

Fifth Course - Baked Brie and Berry Compote Tartelette with 'Bière de garde' Syrup and Pecans paired with Ambre de la Chaudière (French-style Winter beer - Bière de garde)

So, it was now time for our final course, a tasty little bit of dessert with a very sweet beer to match. To be fair, I'm not a big dessert person and my taste buds were a little overloaded at this point, so my review might not be doing the food justice. Now, that aside, I did really enjoy the flavours of the tartelette. The crust was crispy and flaky, the brie was creamy and understated (which is how I like cheese in desserts), and the compote reminded me of a really good homemade fruit jam, which is one of the best flavours in existence.

Now, I can say that the beer paired well with the dessert, with the fruitiness of the beer complimenting the fruit in the tartelette. The only problem is that the 'Bière de garde' is pretty much my least favourite style of beer. There's something in the aftertaste that reminds me of the way formaldehyde smells. I've tried to get over it, to force my palette to expand, but I'm not there yet. Luckily, the acid in the fruit was able to cut through that aftertaste and left me with a fairly happy and refreshed palate. So, I guess the lesson here is that some beers need a complimentary food!

Dammit, did it again...

Another bonus feature of the meal was, between courses, descriptions of each beer were given by Brewmaster Joel with great enthusiasm and passion. I learned more about how beer is made, and the different varieties of beer that exist, than I ever knew was out there! It got hard to pay attention to each description (some tangents were set off on) and none of the guys next to us at the "Loud Table" could give a flying fig, and made that fact quite vocally evident (hence the potential brawl with the next table who told them to shut their holes while Joel was talking). But, I enjoyed learning about the intricacies of the beer-making process. Oh, and we got to keep our pint glass!

So, that was the first Brewmaster's Dinner! All that goodness for 60 bucks plus taxes each, including tip! It was a great value for a night out and a great way to celebrate my favourite lady's birthday.

I'll be posting again soon on the second Brewmaster's Dinner that took place a few weeks ago and, God and shift-trading colleagues willing, attending the Mill Street Brewery vs. 13th Street Winery "Street Fight" later this month. Maybe they should put me on the payroll? Does Mill Street need an official blogger? HA! I wish...

Till next time! Enjoy!

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