Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mill Street Brewpub's 3rd Brewmaster's Dinner - June 21, 2012

Round 3 - FIGHT!

Seriously though, this is the 3rd installment of Mill Street Brewpub's Brewmaster's Dinner, and after the first two, my expectations were pretty freakin' high. Said expectations were also fed by the fact that the Brewpub posts the menu ahead of time on their Web site to get the ol' mouth watering. Par for the course with the 1st and 2nd Brewmaster's Dinners, the second (appetizer) and fourth (main hunk o' meat course) courses were the ones that were most intriguing for me. The app was a Trout Cake with pickled veggies (a new passion of mine) and the main was Braised Beef Short Ribs (DROOL!).

Needless to say, I'm a pretty big supporter of the Brewpub and as long as they keep putting on these Brewmaster's Dinners, I'll be there! Another bonus was that this Dinner was in honour of Ontario Craft Brewing Week. So, as might be expected, Brewmaster Joel Manning had a lot to say about the recent growth of craft brewing in Canada. In a nutshell, Canada had its brewing industry decimated by the temperance movement and prohibition in the 1920s, leaving only a few stragglers who learned to make beer that is, as Mr. Manning put it, "extraordinarily OK". Luckily, restrictions have eased in the past ten or so years, allowing for far more interesting and tasty Canadian-made beers to hit the market. And that makes me a very, very happy little drunkard!

OK, time to move on to the food! Before we get started, here's what was on the menu:

Looks tasty, eh? So, let's get into it!

1st course - Meatball in pastry w. Blueberry-Shallot compote - with Blueberry Wheat Beer

Ah, the amuse-bouche. There's been a kind of humorous chaos in each of these dinners where the service and presentation of this course seems a bit slapdash, probably because there are always stragglers filing in while the servers are trying to get things underway.

But, how's the food? Well, in this case, I was quite pleased by two out of the three elements, a little ambivalent towards the third. The pastry shell in which the meatball was served was spot-on: buttery, crisp and flaky, but still light-tasting. The sauce was totally delicious: bright, sweet, tart with the undertone of umami that can only come from a shallot. As for the meatball, well, it was good, but not great. There was a nice bite of fennel, but no spice and the meat itself was a bit dry.

Oh, the blueberrific goodness...
As for the beer, it was an absolutely perfect pairing. The blueberry in the sauce brought out the blueberry in the beer without making it too sweet or cloying. This will certainly not be the last glass of Blueberry Wheat Beer I'll be consuming this Summer! Oh wait, as of this writing, I've had at least two bottles of it...

2nd course - Trout Cake topped with Pickled Vegetables w. WeissBier

Oh yeaaaaaaah, now it's getting interesting! As you may or may not know, I loooooooooove fish, I also loooooove crab cakes, and the resulting fusion was a beautiful rendition of an old classic that was moist and flavourful, and not nearly as rich than one would expect from a crab cake, probably because of the use of such a light-tasting fish. That was not a bad thing (keep in mind, 3 courses remain!) The addition of pickled vegetables also added a nice tangy element to the dish, giving a pleasant, almost refreshing, balance.

Almost too pretty to eat. Almost...

Then there was the beer... The WiessBier was a refreshing Summery white German-style beer with all kinds of freaky little flavour notes. The tasting notes on the menu made mention of a bit of clove flavour coming from the yeast they use, but on top of that there were hints of turmeric, fennel, and even banana chips!

When paired with the Trout Cake, the result was a kind of flavour explosion that blended into a beautifully creamy finish on the palate. All in all, it was a very well done pairing. Once again, the second course was one of the meal highlights. I'm beginning to wonder if there's some of tradition in the 5-course meal that courses 2 and 4 are meant to be the standouts, or is it just how Mill Street's Chef Shawn Jackson operates? Regardless, he and his staff three-for-three on epic appetizers/soups!

3rd course - Salad w. Apples, smoked cheddar and prosciutto w. Pilsner

Next up was the salad course (an absolute necessity on this hot Summer night). Now, last time, I was disappointed by how small the salad was. Clearly, my mental projection of dissatisfaction was heard by the powers-that-be in the kitchen. This was a very simple salad, only 3 elements other than the lettuce (not counting the dressing): apples, crispy prosciutto and smoked cheddar, but they came together to provide a whole range of flavour combinations: sweet, salty, smoky, creamy, tangy and bitter. The apple-honey dressing was a simple flavouring that highlighted the apples and made the whole thing come together very well.

Now THAT's a salad!
The Pilsner beer pairing was an added bonus in this dish. It really served to tie all the salad elements together and make a very well-rounded course. And now, a little something about Pilsner. As someone who lived in the land where Pilsner was invented (the Czech Republic), I can tell you that what we have here called Pilsner beer (e.g. Labatt Blue) is a poor imitation of what the real thing is supposed to taste like. So, when Mill Street starting putting out a Pilsner at the Brew Pub, I was intrigued to see if I'd enjoy it. Turns out I do! They very capture the Czech flavour profile very well.

Unfortunately, the menu writers made a small mistake when printing the beer menu. They say the beer is in the "German style". Not even close! German-style beers are usually much more bitter and less tasty (in my opinion). I was glad Joel the Brewmaster cleared up the mistake and pointed out that this is in the "Bohemian style" (Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic). So, as a good Czech beer fan, I couldn't let the typo stand:

Making a critical correction.
4th course - Braised Beef Short Rib w. Stilton jus, potatoes, grilled asparagus and crispy onions w. Brown Ale

Main event, I mean course, time!

Oh man, did they ever get this one right! This was a symphony of beefy goodness. Stilton jus? Crispy onions (think onion rings without batter)? Asparagus? Drooooooooool...

The beef was fork-tender, coming off the bone effortlessly (all I really had to do was look at it) and so rich and salty (but not too much so)and delicious! The jus added even more depth of flavour and richness. It was like the best elements of a pot roast done to the nth degree.

The asparagus was a perfect bright contrast, giving the plate a bit more lightness and making it easier to justify all that meat.

If I have one complaint, it's that I found the potatoes a little dry. Luckily, there was a lake of gravy deliciousness to soak 'em in!

Image slightly blurred due to meatgasms
Oh, what's that next to my beefy masterpiece? A Brown Ale you say? How did you know that's one of my favourite styles of beer? You peered into my dreams? OK, well thank you for invading my brain, Beer Faerie! You're kinda the best!

Yeah, the beer pairing took the Short Rib home run and turned it into a grand slam. The beer's deep caramel colour and flavour, with nutty, chocolate elements all served to bring a fantastic mouth-feel. One comparison I made to my table-mates was that the combined elements were like God's Bovril. Another bonus to the Brown Ale is that, while have a deep rich flavour, it's actually a pretty easy-drinking beer and not at all as filling as a dark beer can tend to be.

All in all, they totally nailed the main course.

5th course - "Banana Split" - Spice cake and banana ice cream w. praline and vanilla-beer sauce w. Ambre de la Chaudière

I have to admit it, the dessert courses from the first two Brewmaster's Dinners were good, but they didn't blow my mind. This one, however, came pretty damn close! The cake was moist and tasty but not overpowering with the spices (not even close to the painfully overflavourful fruitcake-type dessert one thinks of when they hear 'spice cake') and paired very well with the banana ice cream, which was also made with the Ambre de la Chaudière beer, but I didn't taste too much of the beer in it, more a sort of a nice complimentary richness. The vanilla-beer sauce (the dark spots on the side of the plate) evoked my beloved Vanilla Porter, so that was a win also. The only flub was in the pralines, which were delicious, but a little to hard to bite through. I kept thinking I was going to crack a molar!

Beer and ice cream? Why not? Beer in ice cream? Even better!
Moving on to the pairing, well, it was Ambre de la Chaudière, which had also been the dessert beer at the first Brewmaster's Dinner. I didn't much care for it then, except when tasting it alongside the dessert, and it was the same case here. The beer was really only good when tasting it with the cake and ice cream (and it was pretty darn good then).

I know the Mill Street folks are really jazzed about their Ambre de la Chaudière and if you're a fan of that style of beer, I'm sure it's the cat's PJs. I simply don't enjoy the "bière de garde" style on its own. It does pair very well with sweet food though!

And there you have it, another grand ol' time at the Mill Street Brewpub! If I was to rank all three dinners Olympic-style, I'd say the April one gets the bronze, this one gets the silver, and the first one in March narrowly gets the gold, mainly due to the Lobster Bisque (best. soup. EVER!).

On the "sad trombone" side of things, it appears that the next Brewmaster's Dinner won't be until October, in celebration of Oktoberfest. Let's hope it doesn't conflict with Beau's Oktoberfest!

Until then, I'm going to have try a beer and food pairing dinner of my own! If you do the same, please let me know how it turns out via comment.


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