Monday, May 29, 2017

Hopewell Brewing Company - Monday Night Dinner with Lula Cafe

I have liked Hopewell Brewing Company's Monday Night Dinner series, but this one was special.  They invited a neighbor restaurant that is one of the forefathers of the scene, and a favorite of mine, Lula Cafe.  Lula Cafe also does a Farm Dinner every Monday and while I'm sure that they did one at the restaurant, they also continued it at Hopewell.  In addition, they invited Good Beer Hunting, a marketing company that works with craft breweries to increase there relevance.  One of the ways that they do this is with a  program called Uppers & Downers where they connect a brewery with a coffee roaster and have them collaborate.  For Hopewell, they invited Metric Coffee, who worked with Hopewell to make several interesting beers.  The Hopewell Space is pretty spartan with a bar and three communal tables.  While I generally like to sit at the end of the table because I am left handed, this time I was asked to move to a seat mid-table in order to allow for a couple to be able to sit together.  This can be awkward at times, but luckily the seats were far enough apart that there was no elbow bumping.  We started with a cocktail which is standard in this series.  As it was a beer cocktail, it was served through a tap.  It was a Tepache Michelada made with Mezcal, Fermented Pineapple, Anaheim Chile, which was what the edge of the glass was rolled in, and Hopewell First Lager.  It was very good, with a lightly smoky flavor,  some bitter tartness from the fermented pineapple, and a light burn from the pepper around the edge.  When we made our way to seats, we found a bag of pins and stickers from the participating companies.
While the dinner was presented as a four course dinner presented family-style, because of the way the Antipasti were presented, it was closer to 8 courses.  We were presented a variety of simple courses that could all be tied to farm and beer.  We started out with Baby Turnips Fermented in Spent Grains.  They were served whole with the (limp) greens attached and were very good.  They had the texture of a slightly undercooked potato, but a good flavor.  The fermentation added a little sweetness.  Next came the Casteltrevana Olives in Celery Salsa Verde.  I am generally not a huge olive fan, but these were really good, although I will admit, I wasn't crazy about having to eat around the pits.  They did have an olive flavor, but it isn't as strong as your standard green olive and the celery salsa verde added a slightly bitter and spicy finish.  The Coppa came next  (while the different dishes were presented individually, they were all brought out to sit on the table together).  When I think of Coppa, I generally think of Bologna, because it is generally very similar.  This Coppa was actually closer to Prosciutto.  It was very good on it's own, but the Coffee Oil, Walnuts, and Young Mustard Greens provided some nice contrasting and complementary flavors.  The Bread, a Sourdough with a good hard crust and a very soft interior with many large air holes, was served with Green Almond Oil for dipping similar to, but with a much better flavor than, Olive Oil.  The last of the Antipasti was very simple, but also very good.  It was a dish of Fresh Radishes served with Butter, Sea Salt, and a heavily Seeded Cracker.  While the radishes were good on their own, when combined with the buttered cracker and sprinkled with salt, it brought the level up significantly.  All of these were paired with a very interesting first beer.  Called Santa Ana, it was an Oak Barrel-Aged, Wild Fermented, Farm & Family Saison that had been steeped in Cascara (the dried skin of Coffee Cherries) for 45 minutes.  The Farm & Family Saison is one of Hopewell's standard beers, it has a good flavor with the standard saison funk.  The barrel-aging added a depth of flavor, the wild fermentation added some tartness, and the cascara added both color and a nice coffee finish.
The Primo (First) Course was a Green Garlic Barley Risotto with First Harvest Onions and Artichokes.  I like Risotto and this was very interesting and flavorful.  Barley is usually the main grain used in beer.  The grain is a little bigger than the standard rice and the chew was a little different (al dente with a little different texture).  The artichoke and onions were crisped and caramelized and added more a crispy texture and a lot of great flavor.  Paired with this, we were served Ultra Glow, a dry hopped table saison featuring Pacific Gem Hops.  It was cloudy and had a nice head, but with this beer, the first thing that you tasted was the hops.  It was quickly followed by the funk of the saison.  It was not, however,  overwhelming, and was in fact, very smooth.
For our Secondi, the main course, we were served a very tender Glazed Pork Shoulder with Aparagus, Scallions, Swiss Chard, and Bagna Cauda Aioli.  The shoulder was amazingly tender and flavorful and the greens provided some contrasting flavor and texture.  Bagna Cauda is a Piedmontese sauce generally used like fondue that uses Garlic, Anchovies, Olive Oil, and Butter.  I would say the flavor of the sauce and the meat was similar to a thickly sliced vitello tonnato.  For our pairing, we were served a Swift IPA, one of Hopewell's standard beers.  It is hoppy, though not a hop bomb, and the flavor is strong enough not to be overwhelmed by the pork shoulder and/or the bagna cauda.
For our Dolci (Dessert) we were served an Espresso Budino (Pudding) with a Fig Almond Crumble.  It was pretty amazing with a nice sweet coffee flavor which paired well with the figs in the crumble.  The almonds added a nutty crunch.  The beer pairing was Hopewell's Anniversary Quad which was made recently for their 1st anniversary.  It was big, boozy, and they provided a lot for us.  The sweetness of the quad paired very well with the sweetness of the figs.
We finished things off with coffee in Beer, Espresso, and Bag form.  The bean was a Villa Rica Pacamara from Peru.  It had floral, cinnamon, and mango flavors, and was good both in espresso and in beer form.  It was combined with a brown ale for the beer and was a great finish to one of the best Monday Night Dinners that I have gone to.  It was a lot of fun, the food and beer were really good, and I will continue to do this.       

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Saint Lou's Assembly

In the 40s and 50s, there was a style of restaurant, similar to a diner, called a Meat and three, which originated around Nashville and was popular among the blue collar crowd.  Like it sounds, it is a style where a main course, the meat, is chosen from a list of three to six choices like meatloaf, tasso ham, country fried steak, or a pork chop, and then three sides from a list of up to 12 selections are chosen to make your meal.  Restaurant group 16" On Center recently opened an upscale meat and three called Saint Lou's Assembly in the West Loop which was also the former meatpacking district, so would have been a place where a Meat and three would have thrived.  Located in a non-descript brick building with a small sign, it was originally going to be a counter service, cafeteria tray, find your own seat type of place.  While it still has the long order counter and metal cafeteria trays, it has since gone to a wait to be seated place/menu place.  I went one night recently when I was in the west loop.  The place looks like a factory cafeteria with brick walls and small windows.  There is a menu posted at the entrance like you would find in a counter service cafeteria.  Decorations included sports trophies, newspaper clippings, and pictures of Lou, the grandfather of Bruce Finkelman, one of the managing partners of 16" On Center, who owned a meatpacking place in the area.  The seating in the narrow dining room is booths on one side and banquette seating on the other with overhead lighting in the drop ceiling.  I don't imagine that you would find many meat and threes with a beer and cocktail list, but the beer list was pretty good with choices from the big brewers as well as a pretty good craft selection.  The cocktail list was pretty good with many spins on classics.  I liked the look and appreciated the effort that they took to make it look authentic.  My one complaint was the fact that there was an odor of blood in the room (as in a butcher shop).  If that could be addressed, it would be very nice.  I started things off with a Fluffy Gin and Tonic.  A spin, obviously on the classic gin and tonic.  It used London Dry Gin, a Custom Bitter Cube, Tonic, Lime and Egg White, which was what made it fluffy.  It was an interesting drink with a light top and a flavor that changed as the ice melted (adding tonic).
While this is primarily a Meat and three, it also has appetizers and I figured that I might as well try to get the full experience.  Appetizers included Burrata, Artichoke Dip, Beef Tartare, and Bone Marrow.  While I was really interested in the Bone Marrow, the diners beside me got an order so I saw how enormous it was and decided if I was going to eat my meat and three, I would have to scale back a little (or so I thought).  I ordered the Beef Tartare which was also enormous.  In addition to the tartare, which actually looked lighter than I am used to (more fat?), it also included a Foie Gras Torchon (a round slice vice the typical rectangular piece), Fried Celery Root, and Cocoa Nibs.  It was served with Rye Toast.  This was rich, meaty, and very good.  The celery root added some crunch and the cocoa nibs added a bitter finish.
For the meat portion of my meat and three, I wanted Pork Belly, but they had run out.  I did stick with the cured pork though and went with the Tasso Ham with a House Glaze.  For my three, I chose Beets and Carrots, Red Curry Lentils, and Truffled Celery Root Gratin.  Tasso ham is not actually ham, but is a cured pork shoulder using a spicy cure and has a flavor somewhere between ham and bacon.  The glaze was sweet and spicy and seemed to be a cross between brown sugar and cayenne.  The meat was spicy and tender and the glaze went well with it.  For the three, I expected to like the beets and carrots, which I did.  It was simple, but well prepared consisting of the well prepared beets and carrots and had a sweet and earthy flavor.  The Red Curried Lentils I also expected to like.  I have a soft spot in my heart for lentils, but I have to say that other than the slight spice, I found it pretty boring and disappointing.  The Truffled Celery Root I was unsure about.  I expected it to be bitter and have a truffle funk to it, but other than that, I really didn't know what to expect.  It was tender and creamy and kind of reminded me of scalloped potatoes with a truffle finish.  It was really good and I really glad I ordered it.

After finishing my appetizer and meat and three, I was done.  I did think about a dessert, they were serving pie and a tart on the night that I was there, but I was already pretty full and dessert would have made me uncomfortable.  I will say that the food that I had was very good.  They execute the food and look of the place very well.  Other than the small hiccups, I would easily return.          

Sunday, May 7, 2017

SBK - Lamb Dinner

I have been lucky to make it to many of Sauce and Bread Kitchen's dinners recently.  Their latest was a Lamb themed dinner.  I thought going in that all courses would include lamb, which did make me a little nervous about dessert.  These fears were luckily unwarranted.  As SBK is a BYOB and cider goes well with lamb, I decided to bring a couple of ciders that I had on hand at home, Ember and Glow from Alpenfire Ciders in Washington.  They were both lightly sparkling, semi-sweet, and went very well with our meal.

As SBK is both a bakery and the place where Co-OP Hot Sauce is made, bread and/or a good use of spices will figure into many of the courses in the meals of their underground supper club. The first course in our lamb supper featured both.  We were served Lambschweiger (Lamb Braunschweiger or Liver Sausage) with Methi (Fenugreek)/Green Rhubarb Mostarda, and Shaved Asparagus on a Seeded Rye Cracker.  The cracker was thin, very crisp, and had a nice rye flavor.  The Lambschweiger was smooth, flavorful and went very well with the very tart mostarda.  The shaved asparagus added some green freshness that cut the possible heaviness of the sausage.  It was kind of funny that there was another piece of sausage hidden under the cracker, so if you were trying to give yourself enough sausage to spread across the cracker, you could easily end up with surplus sausage (not that that would be a bad thing because it tasted pretty great.
Our soup course went with a Lamb Consomme with a Parmesan Crispy, Dried Ramps, and Chili Oil.  I am generally not a fan of consomme because they can so easily go wrong.  It is a very simple soup, consisting of a clear meat or vegetable broth.  It could easily be pretty flavorless (except for salt), but this had a good lamb flavorful, which was added to with the Parmesan Crispy and the Dried Ramps.  The chili oil, which was used sparingly, provided a spicy finish.
While the greens were very fresh, the salad was the least exciting part of the meal.  It was a Frisee Salad with Shaved Fresh Radish, a 5 Minute Egg, and Bo Peep Vinaigrette.  The frisee and radishes were very fresh and crisp with the bitter flavor that fresh greens will have.  The egg was very good.  It was soft boiled and cutting it up spread the yolk around which added flavor.  The Bo Peep Vinaigrette seemed to have some lamb flavoring as well, but it was pretty subtle, and probably wouldn't have changed my opinion had it not been there.
The main course was very interesting and probably my favorite course.  Called a Farinata, it was XO Braised Lamb Shoulder with Ramp Kimchi, and Fresh Mint on a Chick Pea Pancake.  XO is a Spicy Seafood Sauce used in Southern Chinese cooking which is something that I head to look up after dinner.  I knew that XO also means extra old when referring to cognac, but it didn't exactly apply.  This makes much more sense since it was pretty spicy and the flavor went well with the shoulder, which was pulled, and the kimchi.  The pancake was flavorful and reminded me of a thick tortilla, so this was eaten like a taco, and it was a very good, if unusual, taco.
For dessert we had a lamb cake which apparently went through several last minute iterations before service do to availability of things.  What they did turn out though looked like a lamb and was very good.  What we were served was a Basque Cake topped with Coconut Cream (for the lamb's fur) and filled with a Cherry Filling.  The face of the lamb was a Scallop Shell shaped Cookie decorated to look like a Lamb's face and it was served with Matcha Tea Powder and Black Raspberry Powder for extra flavors to go with the cake.  It was a very nice finish to a very good dinner.  I really enjoy SBK's dinners and their creativity and I have already planned on going to their next one.