Monday, February 16, 2015

Fat Tuesday (on Monday) beer dinner at Café NOLA

It’s only been three weeks since the last beer dinner at Café NOLA, but seeing as how Fat Tuesday begins today and this a New Orleans-themed restaurant, the timing couldn’t be better. Unlike the previous dinner, there was no theme to the beers chosen for the pairings because Abita is pretty much the only Louisiana brewery you can get around here and few other breweries make Mardi Gras-themed beers.

Mardi Gras Beer Dinner 005APPETIZER
  • Alligator Bites served with NOLA’s Remoulade
  • (Fried alligator tail meat breaded with corn meal, Cajun spices and fresh herbs)
  • Paired with Dogfish Head Piercing Pils (6% ABV)
If you’ve never had alligator bites, then I definitely recommend giving them a try. The breading and remoulade sauce are where a lot of the flavor comes from and gives it that classic appetizer texture and taste. It kind of reminds me of butterfly shrimp, only thicker and chewier.
I think beer dinners should always use a lager to start out with. It’s great to sip on while waiting for everyone to arrive and pairs with appetizers and works as a liquid refresher. I was worried that this beer, which is brewed with pear tea and pear juice, might be a bit distracting. However, I noticed that when drank after eating the alligator bites the fruity flavor virtually disappeared and the spicy Czech hops stood out. This seemed to impress most of the diners.
Mardi Gras Beer Dinner 007
SALAD
Saison might just be the best beer style to pair with salad (witbier is a good choice, too). San Francisco-based 21st Amendment just released this brew and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. It’s an interesting combination of lemon fruit and cardamom spice. It works well with the salad, especially considering its use of berries and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Literally everyone at the table remarked at how much they liked the beer and thought it paired perfectly. A few people even said it was their favorite course of the evening.

Mardi Gras Beer Dinner 012SOUP
  • Smoky oyster chowder with bacon
  • (Shucked fresh oysters blended with bacon, trinity, herbs and potatoes)
  • Paired with Abita Mardi Gras Bock (6.5% ABV)
I don’t think there could be a more appropriate beer to use for this beer dinner than Abita Mardi Gras Bock. Unfortunately, as is the case with many Abita beers, this one was just too mild. Drank alone it was a little bland, but paired with the chowder it did taste a little different. The hops emerged, oddly enough, when sipped after each spoonful. Everyone seemed to shrug at this beer, though we all enjoyed the soup immensely. Not every pairing is going to be a match made in Heaven I guess.












ENTREE
  • Mardi Gras Jambalaya
  • (Tender crawfish tail meat, shrimp, oysters and Andouille sausage. Blended with trinity, fresh herbs, spices, dirty rice, green beans and carrots with a piece of corn bread)
  • Paired with He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. (10% ABV)
This serving was more of a classic entrée as the fish, rice, vegetables and corn bread were all separated rather than blended. That being said, it was quite delicious indeed. Similar to the previous course with a savory, peppery spice – only in the form of a sauce rather than soup broth. I’m not usually a fan of seafood, but when I find myself in situations like this I almost always enjoy it and this was no exception.

Mardi Gras Beer Dinner 015

Going with the locally-brewed Bittersweet Lenny’s was a good idea. Though technically an IPA, it drinks more like a spicy barleywine. The rye was the first flavor I noticed; it followed up the jambalaya spice without missing a beat, and the malty sweetness and strong alcohol act as a palate cleanser. There’s even some citrus flavor from the hops that act as something of a refresher.

Much like the saison, everyone remarked at how impressed they were with beer. A few people said they don’t ordinarily like hoppy beers, but they thought this was an ideal pairing and they might try it at home.

Mardi Gras Beer Dinner 021DESSERT
  • Beignets
  • (A pastry made from deep-fried dough and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Injected with raspberry Melba sauce)
  • Paired with Harpoon Chocolate Stout (5.9% ABV)
A beignet is basically a doughnut. Usually, they’re served bite-size with an assortment of dipping sauces. Kevin and I thought it would be fun to increase the size and inject it with raspberry Melba sauce to turn it into essentially a jelly doughnut. I’ve found that raspberry pairs really well with chocolate (try blending a framboise with a chocolate stout).

I decided to go with Harpoon Chocolate Stout as the closer for a few reasons, but mostly because I remember how full and inebriated I was last time drinking Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée (which is about 10% ABV). Also, of all the “normal” chocolate beers on the market, this one is fairly light in alcohol and has an authentic chocolate taste. If you remember my blog from last week in which some friends and I did a blind tasting of chocolate beers – this one placed second.

Sure enough, the chocolate complemented the raspberry beignet wonderfully. It also finishes with roasted malt and a slight coffee flavor, so it’s reminiscent of doughnuts and coffee. Everyone said they loved this course.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As much fun as the previous beer dinner at Café NOLA was, I think this was even better. I was so happy to see that they invested in 5oz “taster goblets” – the same type of glasses used at some craft beer venues around town. I think they’re a fantastic way to present pretty much any style of beer, and is the ideal serving size for beer dinner courses. I was nicely satiated and not hammered by the time we wrapped up.

Thanks again to Robin and Kevin for including me on this fun event. And yes, we’re already planning on holding another one relatively soon. I hope to see you then. Cheers!