Someone must have pulled on the beer bell in town. There seems to be special beer-themed dining events happening daily this week and next — from private tastings and small presentations, to elaborate multiple-course dinners.
On Sunday evening (Jan. 24), Carolina's kicked off its 2010 special events season with the second annual Pigskin, Pork & Beer Dinner — an all-pork, six-course "tailgating party" in the posh Perditas Room. Chef Jeremiah Bacon and his kitchen staff designed a surprisingly light and varied menu paired with local mircrobrewery COAST's 32/50 Kölsch and San Francisco-based micro Shmaltz Brewing Company's Coney Island Lager. They set two flat-screen TVs along the wall for diners to watch the big Saints-Vikings playoff game.
It was probably the most elegant game day I've ever experienced — but not too stuffy or formal. "This is definitely a much more casual beer dinner than we usually present," Bacon explained to the cozy crowd. "We normally serve a different beer with each course. We'll serve two nice beers throughout the dinner this evening, so enjoy yourselves."
General manager Jamie Waby politely halted his own introductory greeting as one of the American Idol pretty boys sang the national anthem on the screen. Waby and the servers poured the two beers from ice-cold pitchers throughout the evening. Viking fans outnumbered the Saints fans in the room.
In Germany, Kölschbier is a top-fermented, straw/golden-colored specialty ale brewed in the Rhineland city of Cologne. Mild and bready, it's refreshing and highly drinkable. COAST's version (one of their signature styles) is slightly darker in color and fuller in body than the German stuff. The 32/50 Kölsch was literally pale in comparison to Shmaltz's orange/amber-colored Coney Island Lager, a fuller-bodied, hoppier beer. Both beers were clean and refreshing, but differed in aroma and flavor.
The first course featured a rich, pleasingly salty, country-style Pâté de Campagne made with pistachios and cranberries, served with char-grilled bread and a dollop of stone-ground mustard. The crisp, light flavor of the 32/50 Kölsch went well with the course. Next up was a hearty pork broth with Carolina Gold rice, fresh mushrooms, and cabbage. The rich, roasty, smoke character of the soup was terrific, especially followed with a few sips of the Coney Island Lager. A fatty, tender "lacquered bacon" arrived with pureed spinach, resembling a Chinese orange chicken crossed with traditional braised short rib. Bacon said they used honey in a long-simmering reduction sauce.
Halftime in the game coincided with the halfway mark of the dinner as attendees switched from beer to beer, anticipating the three main dishes of the night. Bacon and his team garnished a beautifully charred, generously portioned slice of pork tenderloin with a sweet and velvety onion soubise. They followed with a handsome braised pork shank (the menu labeled it as petit, but it was massive on the plate), surrounded by lemon-accented cannellini beans. While the Kölsch cleansed the palette, the bold hop and malt flavors of the Coney Island Lager best complemented the rich, caramelized flavors of these two pork dishes.
Bacon's dessert course could easily substitute for breakfast sometime: a scoop of candied bacon ice cream over a fluffy cornmeal johnny cake and a side of smoked apple chutney. The subtle vanilla sweetness of the ice cream allowed for the smoky flavors of the finely-chopped bacon (like vanilla bean specs) to shine through. Delicious. It was a toss-up over which beer went best — they both paired nicely with the finale.
The monthly Carolina's beer dinner series continues through October (every last Wednesday evening).