Finally got around to recapping the Brewmasters Dinner at California Café featuring the beers from former Firehouse brewmaster Steve Donohue. I could easily say that my plate was full, pardon the pun, but that would only be part of the story. I suppose the real reason it took me so long was that completing this recap would acknowledge the end of an era in two places I had grown fond of.
Beer: St. Eve’s Belgesque Goldish Strong Revolutionary Ale
Food: Seared Day Boat Scallops, vanilla-grapefruit butter, peppercress
Notes: The scallops were cooked to perfection; they were moist, supple, yet firm. The vanilla-grapefruit butter was subtle but added a nice layer of flavor to the dish. The peppercress and grapefruit added a nice, refreshing touch to the meal.
St. Eve’s Belgesque Goldish Strong Revolutionary Ale is slightly sweet ale with a Belgian pils malt flavor coupled with stone fruit flavors, peppery yeast character, and light herbal notes. The aroma is a balance of malt, fruit, and peppery notes. Hop bitterness is medium. This is a medium bodied beer that is high in carbonation with a dry finish.
I thought this was a fantastic pairing. The dish brought our the fruity aspects of the beer and took the bite away from the ale’s peppery flavors and character. I am not sure why but I always underestimate scallops. I always think that scallops are these delicate little things that require a light touch but, depending on their preparation, I’m finding they can stand up to a lot of bold flavors.
Food: Hefeweizen soaked Roast Chicken, banana mole, pickled papaya, plantain chips
Notes: The chicken was prepared well. The red rice added some body to the dish while the picked papaya salad/greens added a contrast of flavor and texture. The pickled papaya is complimentary to the fruity character of the beer. The mole sauce had a pleasant spice heat character that added another layer to the dish. The plantains were a little on the soft side but had great flavor, while the accompanying aioli provided subtle flavors and a contrast to the mole.
The hefeweizen has a lot of wheat malt flavor up front and citrus hop flavor towards the finish. Aroma is a balance between wheat notes and lemony citrus character. Hop bitterness is medium-low. This is a medium bodied beer with prickly carbonation and a balanced finish.
I thought this was a solid pairing. The papaya was complimentary to the beer while the heat of the mole sauce matched the intensity of the beer. The plantains seem to echo some of the fruity character of the beer as well.
Food: Pork Belly with organic micro greens, golden pea shoots, lychee
Notes: Pork belly was cooked well. It was moist, a great balance between fat and protein, and very flavorful. Micro greens were peppery and a good contrast to the richness of the pork. The lychee sauce was sweet and was a very nice compliment to the pork.
Brettanoweizen is the barrel-aged Firehouse hefeweizen. It has a tart aroma, with citrus notes. The flavor is tart, with some lemony citrus flavor, with some wheat malt character. I can also pick up some oakiness from the barrel as well as some of the characteristic “barnyardy funk” brettanomyces is known for. As the beer warms up, it becomes more prominent but it’s never overbearing. Hop bitterness is low. This beer is medium-low/medium bodied, with low carbonation, and a dry finish.
What a great pairing! The tartness cut right through the fattiness of the pork allowing the its fruit character to really shine. I think the beer really brightened up the dish.
Beer: Brendan’s Irish Stout
Food: Coffee crusted angus ribeye, wild mushroom risotto, blackberry-liquorice demi
Notes: As with all the other dishes, the ribeye was well prepared. The coffee crust added a little bit of tannic bitterness to the dish. The mushroom risotto was absolutely delicious; earthy, crunchy, and moist while the greens added some pepperiness to the dish.
Brendan’s Irish Stout, named after Firehouse brewmaster Steve Donohue’s son (at the time of the dinner, he still worked at Firehouse), has a roasty aroma with chocolate and slight sesame notes. The flavor is roasty, along with caramel and slight chocolate flavors. This beer has medium hop bitterness. The body is medium, with high carbonation, and a dry finish.
Another solid pairing! The coffee crust of the ribeye echoed some of the flavors of the beer while the earthy, mushroom risotto complimented the caramel and chocolate aspects of the beer. The dish matched the intensity of the beer as well.
Beer: Hardly Thomas Barley Wine
Food: Hardly glazed plums, pine nut-prune chutney, honey-cinnamon sabayon
Notes: Dessert was good. Plums were tart and brought a brightness to the custard. The shell was “fortune cookie”-like in flavor and texture. The chutney tasted of prunes and pine nuts while the other sauce tasted like a reduction of the paired beer.
Hardly Thomas has a malt forward flavor that is fruity, caramel, and toasty. The aroma is fruity, some caramel, with some noticeable alcohol. Hop bitterness is medium-high. This is full bodied beer with medium-high carbonation, and a dry finish.
Yet another solid pairing to close out the dinner. The plums and prune/pine nut chutney echoed similar flavors in the beer, while the custard helped to balance out the intensity of the beer.
The End of the Road
As you probably know, Steve Donohue is no longer the brewmaster at Firehouse Brewery & Grill. He had stepped down from the position weeks ago to pursue other opportunities. At the same time, California Café Executive Chef Mark Pettyjohn left California Café to pursue other opportunities as well. While he may not have cooked this dinner, the kudos of that feat goes to new Executive Chef Todd Yamanaka and Sous Chef Madison Montoto, Pettyjohn’s fingerprints can be felt in many of the courses.
In particular, the “surprise” course of pork belly has Pettyjohn’s influence all over it. If I am allowed to indulge in a small bit of conceit, I think this course was a “tip-of-the-hat” to me from Chef Pettyjohn. My love of pork belly is no secret and I’ve often joked that Chef Pettyjohn should do an entire 4-course dinner featuring pork belly in some way. So, my “thank you” goes out to Chef Pettyjohn for this dish, it was much appreciated.
Similarly, Donohue’s time at Firehouse was numbered. He was originally supposed to do his beer dinner in July but circumstances allowed him to move up the timetable. I was wasn’t surprised to see his Brettanoweizen paired with the surprise course (as I was given this information a week prior to the dinner but was asked not to publish it), but it was great to see him pull out all of his beers for a final hurrah. Donohue’s well regarded Hops on Rye wasn’t part of the menu but was used as the reception beer.
In Good Hands
The Brewmasters Dinner series, and California Café in general, is in the good hands of new Executive Chef Todd Yamanka. Yamanaka showed a deft touch with the dinner’s execution and a good handle on the palette of flavors at his disposal. Yamanaka was promoted from sous chef at the Los Gatos location of California Café and has served in the capacity of Executive Chef in several restaurants prior to this assignment. I missed this very first Brewmasters Dinner but look forward to the rest he will be helming.
This recap is bittersweet as it forces me to come to terms with the inevitable change that happens in life. That said, this recap has also forced me to remember what the Brewmaster Dinner series is about; celebrating great food with great beer surrounded by great people! So as we remember the good times, we must also remember that more great moments lie ahead.