Once we were seated, Chef Dustin Heisler introduced himself to the assembled guests and told us with sparkling eyes about the menu he had prepared. After discussing each course, Nate French of Lagunitas stepped up and described the beer that would accompany, also regaling us with humorous tales of the brewery’s origins.
Confession time, I’m a huge fan of Lagunitas Brewing Company. It’s like everything they touch turns to gold. The brewery’s history confirms this, it’s fraught with accidents turned in to successes. Apparently the very existence of the place is due to the founder’s home brew operation being shut down by his wife after a particularly violent boil-over.
My second confession is that I’m not much of a gourmand. Usually I’m happy with ample quantities of pretty good food. Therefore, tonight piqued my sense of adventure. A menu on which I can’t pronounce all the words is a step out of my comfort zone, but I was led willingly by the prospect of each course mapping out new territory in the profiles of the beers. I was not disappointed.
Each course was so well paired with its companion brew that my friends and I exclaimed over and over, “how do they do that?!?” First we enjoyed fusion tacos filled with soft veal belly and kimchee with a pistachio chutney. This was a delightfully sweet, yet zesty opportunity for street food to move in to the upper class. It was paired with Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’, a fusion beer in its own right, made like an over-hopped IPA that is mellowed by replacing half of the barley with wheat. The result is utterly delectable, with a slight bite and smooth finish. Tangy hops provided a palate cleansing balance to the multi-faceted tacos.
Next came a Frisee Salad with Lardon (slab bacon, I’m told), an IPA vinaigrette, and poached egg. This was a smoky, unique course that was tempered beautifully by its pairing with Lagunitas’ signature IPA. I never realized how robust and dank feeling the IPA is until tonight, when it was there to provide a solid foundation from which the bacon and balsamic bounced around my mouth.
Straight from mom’s kitchen in the old country, meatloaf sliders appeared next. These were rich, thick slabs of nutty, savory goodness covered in mashed potato and cheddar. A touch of piquant sauce provided a spicy finish. Nothing about this dinner sucked, except for the ironically titled beer pairing: Lagunitas Sucks. It’s an IPA with a chocolate nose and musky flavor. Nutmeg in the meat drew out these rich qualities from the slightly rose colored brew. Sucks is another accident gone right-the brewery discovered that they didn’t have capacity for one year’s batch of Brown Shugga Christmas-time ale, so they whipped this up as an apology. It’s still flying off of the shelves.
Lastly, we were treated to a barrage of dessert, perfectly balanced by its partner, the Imperial Stout. Like a cup of buzz inducing coffee, the stout kept the sweets at bay. A peanut butter ‘blondie’ sat nestled in its individual baking dish, blanketed by Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, black cherries, and covered in rich Stout Caramel. This was almost too much for my savory-leaning palate, but each sip of stout cleansed my taste buds and sent my spoon diving back for more. The counterpoint of each flavor led me back to the other in a see-saw of pleasure.
Tonight, the view was one of an event done correctly. From the private setting to the classy introduction, to the food itself, all paired perfectly with some of the best beer available, everything went right. The staff was professional and gracious, and each course built upon the last until my belly was pleasantly full and my head just a touch abuzz. Cheers to an artful menu, and a brewery partnership that will live long in my memory.