The right venue, the right menu, paired with the right craft beers, leads to more than harmony; it can lead one plus one to equal three. Unique contributions by a beer can reveal new facets of familiar foods, and the true artistry of a beer can breathe anew between bites of seasoned morsels. This is the sweet spot of synchronization Eureka! Restaurant recently struck with its Crooked Stave Beer Dinner in five courses of internationally-inspired small plates.
As Matt Gilman of Crooked Stave Artisan Brewing welcomed each guest to the dark barrel-wood lined restaurant on west Pearl Street, the evening light slowly fell, and the modern American grill came alive. Live folk and R&B guitar rifts punctuating his remarks about the softer side of Crooked Stave, whose reputation lies in robustly sour style beers, and the night’s showcase of the brewery’s most approachable projects.
Dinner began with a palate-cleansing “pepper roulette”– a dozen Shishito peppers, flash fried with lemon zest and tossed with tobiko-flying fish eggs. The golden roe glistened on the lightly toasted dark green peppers, one in about 50 of which can pack a real kick. On the plates I shared with my companion, we each had one pepper exuded a deep earthy heat similar to a Habanero.
Crooked Stave paired its Von Pilsner with the peppers, a golden lager with light yeast esters and a kiss of lemongrass, highlighting a common lemon flavor with the food. A crisp floral hop finish on each sip gently cleared the palate for the next bite.
The second course delivered an enlightened Mahi Mahi street taco beside a vinous wine-inspired beer. The taco burst with color and flavor, adorned with ruby watermelon radish staves, bright mango salsa and a creamy avocado-tomatillo sauce. Juxtaposed to the light char on the fish, the Petite Sour Rosé beer introduced tannins and fruits with a golden sour base. Gilman described the unique technique behind the beer as melding the practices of vintners and brewers. It starts with a lager base to which blueberry and raspberry skins are added, which lightly tint the beer a ruby orange. The aged beer’s fruity tart nose belied its low acidity, dry finish and light bacterial funk, mingling complex Old World sour characters with the spiciness of the New World fish taco.
In the third course, Eureka! introduced a fresh salad beside Cooked Stave’s Just Hazy India Pale Ale, a special project of brewery founder Chad Yakobsen.
The salad of rice noodles, arugula, carrots, bell peppers, and peanuts came lightly dressed in a sweet soy, ginger and sesame mixture. The beer style suggested a departure from Crooked Stave’s sour line-up, and surprised with a cross-style embodiment that could have stood on its own as well as in the pairing. The cloudy orange IPA opened with a floral citrus nose and malty background, as expected of the style, then inconspicuously slid into a tart fruitiness more familiar in a Lactobacillus sour. The delicate balance of bright hoppy notes and sour tartness lifted and intensified the myriad subtleties of the salad components, and made the evening worth it.
The dinner returned to fish in the fourth course with pan-seared salmon sautéed in Sauvignon blanc and herb butter. Lemon drizzled across the modest steak, zucchini and beet piqued the dish with freshness. Though the expertly prepared fish carried no oily feel or character, if it had, the bright L’Brett d’Or beer could have handled it. The care put into preparing the fish was equaled by that put into the beer, as Gilman explained the history of this “house gem” of Crooked Stave. The beer exuded a cheery fruitiness with curt acidity that cut through the earthy beet and aromatic salmon, while accentuating the fish’s seasoning. Layered and nuanced, this was the rarest and finest pairing of the night.
The fifth course completed the night in a traditional fashion– a sweet with a slow deep-oaked drink. The bourbon barrel cake, drizzled with caramel, and fresh vanilla bean ice cream delivered a soft sweet pillow to close a richly crafted meal. The aromatic dark sponge cake also surprised with a dense mouthfeel and exotic date character. Beside the cake, Gilman presented what he considered to be Crooked Stave’s finest dark beer: Serenata Nocturna 2016. The small batch brew released in November 2016 was aged six months prior to its release and had bottle conditioned at the restaurant for another eight months prior to the dinner.
The beer poured a ruddy gold, built on a Belgian Trippel base and enriched with barrel aging and fruit to become a Flemish Red tribute. Mushroom and dank barrel notes kissed the surface of the beer’s thick mouthfeel and wrapped with the cake’s caramel sweetness around the tongue. Stone fruit flavors and firm malts masked the beer’s light funk and accentuated the grainy vanilla ice cream in a sweet crescendo.
Pairings of unique beers and unique foods can either compete, complement, or pass each other in the night. The food-beer pairing skill at Eureka demonstrated by the recent dinner with Crooked Stave revealed they can do any of the above and you’ll always come away with a great experience. Expertly-prepared dishes bringing together new flavors and rich colors, beside complex layered beers crafted over years, this was more than a great meal; it was the type of experience foodies and beer geeks deserve.
Craft and artisanship from end to end!