Sunday, April 21, 2013

Uncommon Ground - Central Waters Beer Dinner

While Uncommon Ground has been on my radar for several years, going to Wrigleyville is not one of the first neighborhoods that I think about when I decide to go out for dinner.  When Central Waters Brewery scheduled a beer dinner there though, I decided it was time to go.  While I was familiar with the Central Waters name, and I may have even had one of there beers, I wasn't exceptionally familiar with them.  The Uncommon Ground space is actually divided into two rooms.  The room in which you enter contains a large bar, several side tables, and a small lounge area with upholstered furniture, a central table and a fire place.  Other than the furniture by the fireplace, the room is largely light wood.  The other room is also light wood (floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture) and while it is used as a performance space, it reminds me of a hunting lodge.  There are tables along both walls and a large common table in the center. A window wall looks out on Wrigleyville, and on the other side of the room is an open space where performers perform.  There is no stage, but there is a carpet to demarcate the performance area.  Also, on the walls in the performance space, are paintings for sale from local artists.  The beer dinner was held in the performance space and I was seated at the communal table in the center.  The food that they regularly serve is local and organic and they have a vegetable and herb garden on the roof of their Edgewater space.  Uncommon Ground is listed as the Greenest Restaurant in America.  Central Waters Brewery is actually a good partner for Uncommon Ground because they aim to be as sustainable as possible as well, using solar and wind power, a water treatment plant, and recycling their used mash.  When I arrived, the dinner had already started (in a matter of speaking).  While we were seated, the first course(s) were served as hors d'oeuvres.  Hors d'oeuvres are generally served during a cocktail hour with waiters walking around with a plate of them while attendees walk around with a drink.  I do understand though, while we were seated, because having a standing cocktail hour would have required more space than the restaurant had and we would be sitting for dinner in any case.  The first course was actually two hors d'oeuvres, the first were Braised Moullard Duck Ragout Tacos and the other were Crispy Wisconsin Cheese Curds served with Harvest Moon Heirloom Tomato Puree.  The hors d'oeuvres were paired with Central Waters Ouisconsing Red.  As I was seated, the waiter offered me the last "taco".  I wouldn't have called it a taco myself because the ragout was served on a flat tortilla chip.  It was a little messy to eat because there was a lot of ragout on the chip and there was no plate but it was good.  The ragout was very savory and had chunks of tender duck in it.  The chip was crunchy and remained crunchy with the ragout topping it.  It provided a good textural contrast to the ragout.  I actually had several more cheese curds than I did the "tacos", so I was more able to experience the taste.  The cheese curds had a light breading which was crispy.  The curds also seemed to be very fresh as they actually squeaked when I bit into them.  The tomato puree was thick and sweet which both contrasted and complemented the saltiness of the cheese curds.  It actually reminded me more of a jam than a puree.  The beer went well with the cheese curds.  I imagine it went well with the taco as well but I really didn't have enough of the taco to make the comparison.  The beer was a red ale which was slightly hoppy and had a light head.

For the second course, we had Braised Grass-Fed Beef Stuffed Calamari with Watercress and Horseradish.  This was probably my favorite dish of the night.  The calamari was breaded which was very crispy.  The horseradish was used in the breading.  It was subtle and surprising because the taste of the horseradish snuck up on me, providing the sinus clearing burn that you would expect from horseradish.  The watercress was used as a garnish which added a little bitterness.  The beef-stuffed calamari was obviously meaty, but it was also very tender and had none of the rubberiness of many fried calamaris that I have had.  The beer served with the calamari was the Glacial Trail IPA.  It had a good head and a nice hoppy taste to it and went well with the calamari.
For the main course, we were served an Organic Lamb Loin with Citrus, Fennel, and Olives.  I am generally not a huge fan of lamb because it can have a rather strong flavor.  In this case, the flavor of the lamb wasn't as strong as I have had but it was strong enough.  This was actually a good thing because all of the side ingredients were also strongly flavored.  The flavors of this dish were strong and diverse, but they all went together well.  There were a variety of citrus fruits used including tangerines, mandarin oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.  They were all sour and most provided with some bitterness which went well with the lamb.  The olives were black which are also bitter and the fennel, which was tender, provided a nice light licorice flavor.  The beer served was a Slainte Scotch Ale.  It was dark and malty bitter with some peatiness and slight chocolate notes.  The bitterness played well with the bitterness of the food.

For dessert we were served Dark Chocolate and Organic Coffee Tarts with Coffee Ice Cream.  This was paired with Peruvian Morning, a Russian Imperial Stout.  While the tart wasn't bad, with this pairing, I preferred the beer more.  The tart was bittersweet and I really liked the ice cream that was paired with it.  The tart crust however was a little on the tough side and it took some time to break through.  Once that was achieved though the chocolate-coffee part of the tart was creamy dense and pretty good.  The beer was very thick, black, and very bitter, with a slightly sweet finish and not much of a head.  It poured like a thin syrup and was very good.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food and beer pairings were very good, the staff was friendly, and the space was very nice.  I have been here a few times since this dinner so it has been a fast favorite.  

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