Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Toast to my Hometown's Better Eateries - Brothers Beer Bistro

It's a good time to be a beer lover in Ottawa!

It first started about 20 years back with local restos introducing micro-brewed beer here and there. Then the Clock Tower opened its doors in the 90s and there were a few little microbreweries that opened in the early 2000s. In the past 6 or so years, however, it's like a floodgate has opened. This region has seen several new breweries open their doors: Beau's Brewery opened in 2006 as a fairly small mom n' pop operation and is now renowned across the region, Brasserie du Temps opened their brewpub in 2009, Kitchissippi is a recently opened local brewery, but they too are growing. More and more "micros" are opening across Ontario and Quebec every year. By the end of 2012, three new brewpubs will have opened in Ottawa: Mill Street Brewpub, Big Rig in the West End and Montréal standard Les 3 brasseurs will open a brewpub right in the heart of the government district in November.

Stemming from this "Beer Renaissance" is a renewed respect for beer as a worthy contender in food pairing to wine. Beer is no longer just for frat boys and NASCAR fans, it's come into its own as a beverage of depth, variety, quality and flavour. So, surely there's a market need for be a restaurant that caters to the beer-drinking gourmet and offers more of a variety to sample than the in-house product provided by most brewpubs (not saying what the brewpubs provide is bad or inadequate, it's simply limited by their own unique approaches to making beer). Enter Brothers Beer Bistro.

This place is fairly unassuming with a very bare-bones decor that's nicely accentuated by art on the walls, but it's clear that they're looking to attract the more casual upscale diner. I was also impressed that our server was a tattoo-sporting charming young Acadian lady named Marie (if you've ever spent time with Acadians, you know they're pretty much the coolest people in the country, even if you can't quite understand their French). Clearly, even though the menu looked pretty high-end (conceptually at least), pretension was not on it.

So, we got a couple of drinks to start our meal (Kari is one of those occasional beer drinkers, so she decided on a vodka-soda for her first drink, what can you do?). A nice touch at Brothers is their wide selection of beers; they have both a bottled and draft beer menu but it doesn't go into the "100s of beers" selection that some places have, which I always thought was a bit tacky... That being said, it is a fairly fluid menu as there are items on the restaurant menu that aren't on the Web site. Oh well...

I was lucky to find Cameron's Rye Pale Ale on the menu. Cameron's is one of those breweries that makes super-tasty beers that I don't drink nearly often enough, probably due to an instance many years back of ingesting too many too fast and getting extra-messy as a result. So, I figured I was due.

Now this was the second time I'd ever had a "Rye Beer", the first being at Pain Béni in March. That beer tasted like gingerbread, this one tasted more like a very light rye bread that somehow was baked with a lot of hops. It was freakin' delicious either way, but VERY hoppy, which when pairing with food can be a bit heavy-duty on the palette.

Cameron's Rye Pale Ale

Now, moving onto the food. We ordered a bunch of small plates, mainly because they tend to be more interesting fare and it's more fun to share, right? We went with the Asparagus Salad, the Pierogies, the Tuna Crudo and their Cheese Plate.

Marie started us out with bread and two kinds of butter. One was made with hops and it was a little sour but not remarkable. The other one, though, was a Roasted Malt butter that tasted of chocolate and angel kisses. SO GOOD!

Roasted Malt butter... droooool...

We got everything all together and shared so I'll review it a plate at a time.

Pierogies w. Confit Pig Cheek, Sauvagine Cheese and Potato Broth

This was a fairly simple rendition of a staple of Slavic cookery. The pierogi dough itself was perfect, tender with just a little bit of elasticity and a slightly sweetish flavour reminiscent of pancakes. The cheese filling was tasty, if a bit understated and we both found the broth a little bland. All of this matters not a whit because of two words: Pig Cheek. Imagine the Food Gods decided to make bacon-flavoured perfection. Well, I think this was a pretty decent approximation of that divine concept. It was luxurious and buttery and utterly delicious. So, just for that element, the plate was a winner.

Worth it if only for the pig cheek!
Tuna Crudo (Radler Cured) w. Pig's Ear Crackling, Tarragon Remoulade and Dulse
OK, so you might be looking at the write-up on this one and wondering "what the eff does all this mean?", and I don't blame you, because I was wondering the same thing. So, I'll break it down for you. Tuna crudo, is essentially cured raw tuna. OK, that was simple enough. What do they mean by "Radler cured"? Well, Radler is (according to wikipedia) a German drink consisting of beer mixed with soda pop or lemonade, kind of like a Shandy. So, the tuna was cured in that, which nicely corresponds to the Bistro's vision of preparing a lot of their food with beer. The cure lent a nice brightness to the fish (making me think it was beer and lemonade they used in it). Next is the crackling, which is basically pig skin crisped up. This added a big dose of prosciutto-like saltiness to the dish. It was delicious, but kind of elbowed the delicate tuna in the face. The tarragon remoulade (the whitish little dots all over the plate) was a nice creamy touch and paired perfectly with the tuna. The dulse is a kind of algae (I KNOW, CRAZY!) that adds a nice salty, but complimentary, crunch to the plate. I found that the plate didn't actually need the crackling as an element (maybe on the side as a bonus?) simply because the dulse took care of the salty requirement. Oh, and the little pink dots were pickled radishes that added a fun little tang to the plate. In the end, I really enjoyed this one. Extra bonus points for the gorgeous presentation.

Tuna Crudo - So pretty!
Asparagus Salad w. Smoked Parmesan, Artisan Lettuce, Crispy Capers, Preserved Lemon and Anchovy Vinaigrette

As you read through the might be noticing a trend here: The Beer Bros. chef (Exec. Chef Darren Flowers) likes his saltiness! Well, it does make some sense considering that beer and salty food pair well together (more salt leads to more beer drinking!). But also, consider this: the salty elements of each dish are actually part of ingredients that make up the dish (capers, anchovies, cured pork) rather than the chefs just dumping a bunch of salt in the food.

OK, so as it relates to this salad, I found that it was a really fun play between the tangy citrus flavours in the vinaigrette and preserved lemons and the salty anchovies, capers and cheese. The mix of flavours was in danger of overpowering the flavour of the asparagus (which is supposed to be the star of the dish, after all), but it was just restrained enough not to. And then there were the Crispy Capers. Move over Doritos, potheads have just found a new best snack!

All kinds of fun going with this salad.

Next up was the Cheese Plate, featuring Tomme de Savoie (a semi-firm cow's milk, brie-like but creamier), Magie de Madawaska (sharp and creamy, very tasty), Valdéon (Spanish blue, smooth but potent), apple compote, and pickled ramps. It was all very good, as a proper cheese plate should be.

Not sure what the burn marks are for...

By this time, we needed a new round of drinks. I decided to give the Spearhead "Hawaiian-style" Indian Pale Ale (IPA). It was a very nice brew with a strong hoppiness, but countered with the sweetness of pineapple. A really good summer beer, I wager!

An added bonus on the wine menu was Kari's next drink: a glass of Velvet Devil Merlot out of Washington State. I've mentioned this wine before, but I feel the need to repeat: GODDAMN THAT'S GOOD WINE! Too bad you can only get it at certain restaurants. Methinks a bootlegging run to the Pacific Northwest is in order...

After we had our drinks and finished our food, we got the bill, which came out to around 100 bucks total. Not too steep at all considering the quality and variety of the food and drink. I won't say Brothers is my new favourite establishment, but it bridges the gap between 'pub fare' and gourmet very well without being "gastropub" expensive, and that's always a good thing! So, give it a shot, chances are you'll be well pleased, especially if Marie serves you! (What? Acadians are hot!)


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