Dimitrios and Ian’s Wild Ride
Monday was The City Beer Hall’s sold out Wild Game Night with Finback and Rushing Duck breweries. Usually, I buy my tickets to these before the menu is released, because I have a great deal of trust in this culinary team. And also these dinners can sell out so fast that by the time the menu is written, all the spots are gone.
Despite all the beers that come through these doors on a regular basis, I still find it challenging to make the trip downtown to grab a drink. The beer culture in this area has grown tremendously, and we’re lucky to have so many great options scattered throughout the region.
Over time I’ve fallen more and more in love with Westmere Beverage Center, and now, more than not if I’m drinking something special it has come from their tap lines on Western Avenue.
But I digress, because this post isn’t about beer, it’s about food. But instead of giving you the play-by-play of the whole night, I thought I would just skip to a few of the highlights.
First things first. “Wild game” is a bit of a misnomer. It refers to proteins that might typically be hunted, but to be served in a restaurant, even commonly hunted proteins like venison have to come from a farm. There’s a deer farm in rural Pennsylvania near the in-laws. It employs remarkably high fences to keep their deer in and wild deer out.
For this dinner, venison was turned into a delicious Ethiopian stew, which was some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had in a long long time. Oh man, that was good. Dimitrios even spent three days making his own injera. That was a totally badass move, but fermenting things is totally in the chef’s wheelhouse. It was a respectable first effort on the bread front, and it might have just inspired me to try doing something similar at home. Maybe sometime when the wife is away.
What I will never make at home is elk carpaccio, and that dish was a succulent treat. The meat was rare, thin, and silky. To accentuate it, there was a briney and herbaceous emulsion of oysters and watercress. For acidity, the plate had a mound of cabernet tomato tartare. And for sweetness there was a touch of blood orange marmalade. Putting together little perfect bites of all the components required some deft handiwork, but they were worth the effort.
Going into this event, there was one pairing that got me all hot and bothered. And as luck would have it, it was the final pairing of the evening. So I had to sit all night in anticipation.
The first wild game dinner I attended at The City Beer Hall had a dessert that included wild boar bacon. Certainly, I appreciated the commitment to continue the theme through the dessert course. However, I can also appreciate the restraint to have a dessert without meat in it.
Our meal on Monday concluded with a spruce pavlova, on top of a triple cream custard, and topped with a yuzu coulis. And this was paired with Finback Echelon, which is a double IPA brewed with yuzu and spruce tips.
I’m not typically a dessert person. And while I enjoy a double IPA every now and again, I never dreamed of pairing these big hoppy beers with something sweet. But holy cow, this pairing was absolutely brilliant, and I think that owes a great debt of gratitude to Ian’s triple cream custard.
Yep, it’s a custard made from a butter triple cream cheese. Technically, it’s not brie. But the cheese has a similar earthiness from the bloomy rind maturation process. It’s just so much richer and more buttery. Mixed with egg yolks, more cream, and a fraction of the sugar one might expect in a custard, this element brought everything together, from the crisp and shattering base of the pavlova to the assertive acidity of the yuzu. And then it served as a bridge to the beer, because while IPAs may not be a natural match for dessert, the fattiness of cheese has a way of softening their edges. Of course the Finback Echelon also mimicked the flavors of the dish, by design.
None of this happens by accident. It’s all on purpose. The driving force behind these dinners is for the kitchen to make food that makes the beers shine. To echo their flavors and enhance the experience of the beer itself.
I really enjoyed the Rushing Duck beers, but I think the most successful pairings this time around were for the dessert course and the elk carpaccio. The latter went with a seductive little number from Finback called The Sun Is Too Bright, which is a black gose brewed with lemon peel and sea salt, then aged in red wine barrels. It’s sour, funky, and decidedly lemony. This was complexity on top of complexity, and it worked beautifully.
Big audaciously creative meals for sixty six people aren’t easy to pull off. And the night wasn’t without its hiccups. But these events aren’t about perfection. They are about supporting flat out culinary creativity and collaboration. And they are about gathering with fellow food and beer lovers in a communal setting to eat for hours at picnic tables.
Next time, I may look for a seat with better lighting. Because it was fun to sit by the fireplace, but my pictures don’t do the food justice.