Friday, June 22, 2012

Mill Street Brew Pub's 2nd Brewmaster's Dinner - April 26, 2012

Hi there!

Alright, I'm not exactly a master of timely blogging sometimes, but I've been pretty damn busy cranking out posts for the past couple of months that I kind of overlooked blogging about the second Brewmaster's Dinner at the Mill Street Brewpub. So better late than never!

I must admit right off the bat that I was a teensy bit disappointed with this edition of the Brewmaster's Dinner compared to the March 15th masterpiece. While there were some elements of this dinner that were better than the first one, overall I was more impressed by the inaugural event. But that doesn't mean I won't be going back on June 21st for the third edition, nor that it was by any means a waste of time or money!

As I mentioned in my post reviewing the first Brewmaster's Dinner, there really isn't much better value for the dollar than this dining format: five plates (mostly small except the main which is quite hearty) and five beer pairings for 60 dollars (plus tax), with gratuity included!

So with that being said, let's explore the second Brewmaster's Dinner!

Here's the menu:

First Course - Shrimp Ceviche with Belgian Wit Beer

As with the last dinner, this was the "amuse-bouche" - just a little bite to start the evening. I liked the shrimp very much, but I'm an easy sell on ceviche. It's freakin' tomato, lime juice, cilantro, seafood and other bits of tastiness! How can you go wrong? I did have some objection to the phyllo pastry cup in which it was served. It somehow lacked the buttery texture I think of in connection with phyllo and was rather more like a pappadum - a bit too dry for my liking.

Having forgotten to photograph before eating, I was fortunate to be able to get an image of the Shrimp Ceviche from a neighbouring table.  

As for the Belgian Wit beer, I was more than skeptical, having a strong aversion to both Belgian-style and wheat beers. I've had Hoogarden before and my reaction was more or less "meh" with a little revulsion to the aftertaste. This had a similar flavour profile but was about a million times better. Clean, refreshing, beautifully complimented by a slice of orange, it was a very pleasant surprise to start the evening. Kudos to the brewers on this one!

Second Course - Corn and Chipotle Chowder with Portage Ale

These guys know how to do soup! While this course was not quite the life-changing soup that the Lobster Bisque from March's dinner was, it was another bowl of exceptionally good flavour. It was rich without being heavy, and laden with smoky, spicy sweetness. It even had little homemade hickory sticks on top for a bit more crunch and texture. If I have one complaint, it's that the little corn kernels in the soup were a bit tough and chewy.

2 for 2 on soup courses
The pairing was with Portage Ale, a fairly easy-drinking cream ale. I enjoy it normally as a quaffing beer as it has a light refreshing flavour typical of cream ales. I don't really know why they paired such a subtle tasting beer with such a flavourful soup other than as a foil to the heat from the soup, which it was.

Third Course - Salad with Maple Fig Vinaigrette, Pears, Figs and Goat's Cheese with Valley Irish Red

OK, I'll admit it, this one kind of disappointed me. Not because the salad wasn't good, nor because of the beer. In truth, I kind of feel I got ripped off on portion size. The salad was TINY! It was pretty damn tasty, though, especially the goat cheese, which really was best eaten on its own  because the strength of the tangy cheese flavour kind of decimated all the other elements. The figs, pears and lettuce were really good on their own, but I was finished in two bites. Sigh...

Hey salad, be bigger!
Now, the beer, the Valley Irish Red, is one of my favourite offerings from the Brewpub and it's only available here in Ottawa (so far as I know). The beer here was the winner, probably my favourite of the evening. What's interesting is that there was some kind of boo-boo with this batch: it was not quite as carbonated as it was supposed to be. But that really didn't matter that much to me, it was delicious and paired beautifully with all the elements in the salad. I've since come to call Valley Irish Red my #3 Mill Street brew, only surpassed by the reliable Tankhouse Ale and the ephemeral Vanilla Porter.

Fourth Course - Duck Breast with Bok Choy, Rice and Lime-Coconut Sauce with Doppel Pils

I must admit that I was super-backflip-excited about this course when I'd first seen the menu weeks ahead of time. When I was served, my excitement dissipated a little. This is one of those cases where the presentation DID matter to me (which is rare). Maybe it was the excess of white on the plate: white plate itself, white rice, and white sauce. I just found it not very appetizing to look at. Also, the duck was overcooked. Siiiiiiiiiiigh... I'm not a duck expert, but I'm pretty sure the centre is supposed to be a lot darker than pink and it's supposed to be a LOT more tender than this was. I suspect this was a case of "lowest common denominator" cooking and there may have been complaints if the duck was cooked as it should be; maybe not everyone knows that duck is supposed to be served rare. It was certainly tasty though and all the elements worked well together. I do think the sauce could have used more heat and colour - both issues solved with a decent application of red curry paste.

Tasty plate, off-putting prezzo - something about a thick milky-white sauce...? I'll let y'all figure out what I'm hinting at... 

As for the Doppel Pils, it was a very tasty Czech-style beer that I'd definitely like to try more often, but the pairing didn't quite work out for me. The hoppiness and bitterness weren't marrying well with the sweet creaminess of the coconut milk. All in all, this was maybe the big disappointment of the evening because, while it was a pretty good main dish, it wasn't the heavenly meat masterpiece that the Lamb Shank from March's dinner was.

Fifth Course - Blueberry Cheesecake with Blueberry Wheat Beer

I think the Mill Street Chef (Shawn Jackson) and Master Brewer (Joel Manning) and I might share the same love of the blueberry. It's such a versatile little fruit, good in both savoury and sweet cooking. Here it was certainly the star. The cheesecake was cheesecake, it was tasty and rich as cheesecake should be, although the base was a butter pastry dough instead of a graham cracker crust, something I personally enjoyed because it kept the dessert from being too sweet.

But it was the blueberry sauce that was the highlight of the plate. It was bright and tart and blueberry-y, without being super-sweet, which is such an easy mistake to make with blueberries. Not much more to be said than that!

A lovely little ending to the meal.

As for the beer? Well, let's just say that my long-standing grudge against fruit beers has finally been ended after a glass of the Blueberry Wheat. It was refreshing, delicious and not over the top with the fruit. And again, not too sweet, which is the main problem I've historically had with fruit beers. Turns out this would not be the last time this beer would be appearing at a Brewmaster's Dinner...

So, there you have it. A very good meal with some great beers, but not the "OMG! SOOOOO GOOOOOOD" experience that was had in March. Because damn, that was good Lobster Bisque (I know, I'm obsessed, I admit it).

This is by no means a bad review of the second Brewmaster's Dinner, more like "when the last time was an 11 out of 10, an 8 is a little disappointing". Still one of the best ways to spend 60 bucks and 3 hours on a Thursday evening that I know of!

Coming soon, Brewmaster's Dinner Episode III - Revenge of the Short Rib!

Until then, cheers!

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