Thursday, 23 January 2014

Soured Beers and Savoured Tastes: January 2014 Beer Dinner at The Crest

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

As I continue to settle into living in Columbus, one of my more consistent weekly routines is participating in Excesss Trivia every Monday night (beginning around 8.45pm) at The Crest Gastropub. In addition to four rounds of fast-paced and often-intense Jeopardy-style friendly competition on topics from football coaches to kitchen tools and indie bands to African geography (perhaps you can guess which side of the spectrum my strengths are in), The Crest offers $4 Ohio drafts, $5 Ohio liquors, and half-off selected appetizers (the sliders are an especially great deal). I share this info not only as a plug for The Crest's weekly specials, but as a contextual opportunity to say it was during a previous Trivia Night that Brittany, who I first met when she waited on our anthropology department's happy hour back in September (and have since seen nearly every week along with the rest of The Crest's friendly staff on Mondays), told me about a then-upcoming beer dinner. Just as had been the case with previous beer dinners, such as the one I attended last August, drink pairer Braden worked with executive chef Dustin to create another enjoyable and mouthwatering menu inspired by an eclectic range of flavour profiles. This time around, they worked with the folks of Dexter's (Michigan) Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; and as I'm guessing Brianne can attest, I had many a food moment throughout the evening.

Lo and behold, the first moment came with the first course: smoked blue cheese & panchetta crisps. Enrobed in a deliciously fried exterior, finely diced panchetta meshed incredibly well with the creaminess and added texture from crumbled blue cheese. The salty tones bounced around warm flavours, and got my taste buds going, as the bitterness from the lightly dressed arugula cut through the inherent fattiness of the meat and cheese. Truth be told I would have been content with just this course, but thankfully that wasn't the case.

Paired perfectly with the crisps was a glass of Calabaza Blanca (by the way, calabaza is Spanish for "pumpkin"), a 4.8% abv Belgian Bière Blanche spiced with coriander and orange peel, and whose dry and light start transformed into a slightly sour end with a champagne-like finish. Just as was the case with the other beers of last Sunday's menu, the Calabaza Blanca gets its sour notes from the fact of being aged in oak barrels.

The 9% abv Noel de Calabaza was served as part of our second course. This holiday ale had definite sour notes and a noticeably sweeter tone to it, tasting like an incredibly caramel-molasses-like syrup against my palate at the finish. Completing this flavour profile were other holiday flares including figs, raisins, sugar plums, cashews, and rum truffles.

The nutty notes of the beer played quite well with that of the pickled walnuts and woodsy-reminiscent components of the "knuckle sandwich" (i.e., reminiscent in terms of what I think of when I contemplate pigs roaming French-German woodlands for truffles). Perhaps not as intentionally directed as what I conceived in my head, this round also conjured up notions of the American south, with the braised pig knuckle, stone ground honey mustard, and doughy slice of bread intermingling with the very well cooked collard greens which had a balanced level of acidity to them.

Speaking of woodland creatures, the third course featured cold-smoked rabbit saddle (one version of prep may be viewed here). Rather than being stuffed with the liver and kidney as is done in other dishes (such as this one), this rabbit saddle was wrapped around leg mousse and beautifully cooked candied striped beets, the stripes of which weren't all that visible as it was hidden by the delicious white sauce draped over them. The livers, however, were fried and added as the textural and flavour-packed meat component of the dirty couscous (versions: 1,2), the couscous itself of which was one of my favourite components of the entire dish. My one critique, though, of this dish and really the whole meal was the overall doneness of the rabbit, which I thought was a tad overcooked and not as tender as I expected.

The 8% Oro de Calabaza, rated in 2010 by the New York Times as the best Belgian Golden Ale in the world (in 2004 it won the gold medal among French & Belgian Ales in the Great American Beer Festival, and bronze in 2005), was paired with the rabbit and was actually my least favourite of the beers presented with this menu. I should note, though, that I'm not an incredibly huge fan of beer to begin with, and this was the least distinctive of the lot, tasting the most like what I think of when I think of beer.

For our fourth and final course, we ended with a bang, trapped in three tiny and unsuspecting nuggets of flavour. The trio of truffles were simply amazing, the well set chocolate exteriors encapsulating complex centres of chocolate deliciousness. Each sat next two representatives of what we should expect to find, divided on the plate by milk and white chocolate curls. On the far left of the above photo, we began with a texturally crisp pain perdu (or payn perdue in 18th-century French; aka, French toast), drizzled with a light maple syrup. On the far right, we found a tart cherry folded into a deep chocolate mousse, aside the cherry sauce to its right. And last, but certainly not least, sat an orange peel & corriander confection of pure joy. This was certainly the ultimate food moment for me to end an overall successful dinner. Paired with this course was the Maracaibo Especial, a 7.5% abv brown ale aptly brewed (and appropriately matched to the truffle trio) with real cacao, and spiced with cinnamon and sweet orange peel.

Brittany, me, and Brianne, during 4 November 2013's Excesss Trivia night, photo via Excesss Trivia

And with that, I'll end here. Another round of sincere thanks go to Dustin, Abed, and The Crest crew for a great experience and continued support, as well as Megan and Lauren of Jolly Pumpkin for teaching us about each of our beer pairings. For these, and additional photos from this beer dinner, click here. And for photos from my previous Trivia Night visits, click here.

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