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Mmmm...beer - and double-mmm...food

Last night, the fine folks at David's in Monument Square hosted their first beer dinner with the brewers from Harpoon Brewery, from Boston. They were kind enough to invite me along to taste the menu Chef Neil Handwerger dreamed up with the help of Patrick Morang, the beverage manager, and (apparently) large quantities of after-work alcohol at a "sanctuary" somewhere in Portland.

Most of the food and drink introduced last night is available at David's as specials for the next few weeks, so if you're interested, stop by their Web site and check in to see what's on soon. (A couple beers aren't available - for seasonal or administrative reasons - so while their food components might be, the beer match won't.)

 

Let's go course by course:

Hors d'oeuvre Course

-- Harpoon Munich Dark: (spoiler alert) This was my favorite beer of the night, smooth, solid but not heavy, and oddly light-tasting for a "dark" beer. The mix of texture and flavor worked really well on its own (as evidenced by the amount I drank before the food even arrived). It is not, however, readily available in restaurants, though if you want to suck some down at home, grab a Harpoon multipack at the store and you'll get a couple. It went great with the food:

-- half shell oyster with Munich Dark mignonette: a deliciously salty (which is not a phrase I use EVER), and not at all snotty, oyster with a clear yellowy brine that just smoothed the way for the oyster itself. The mignonette skipped the usual vinegar and used the beer instead, which actually was a lot sweeter and much less harsh.

-- duck confit "corn dog" with Munich Dark whole grain mustard: If someone sold this anywhere in town, I would eat it for lunch every day. A smooth duck confit formed onto a skewer, coated in cornmeal, fried, and served with a stone-ground almost-crunchy mustard mixed with the beer. So much better than the "original" hot-dog-ish thing that inspired it.

-- local blue cheese bisque "shooter" with cayenne and celery salt popcorn: This was the least-familiar of the concepts: a chicken-stock reduction with blue cheese liquefied and served in a shot glass, with a small chunk of blue cheese and the aforementioned popcorn. You nibble the cheese, do the "shot" (which was far creamier than I had expected, and was the texture - though not at all the flavor - of an incredibly dense, thick New England clam chowder), and then munch on the popcorn, which cut through the thickness and richness with a little spice and crunch. I wanted a straw to suck up the last of the shot. While the intended effect was something akin to a liquid buffalo wing, it came out more like a really refreshing glass of rich milk with nice added savory flavors.

 

Second Course

-- Harpoon IPA: You've had it (or you've at least seen it); Harpoon's flagship beer, a crisp, hoppy IPA with just enough body to prevent the bitterness from being overwhelming.

-- jerk grilled quail over frissee with orange, avocado, and goat cheese fritters: Quail, for those who haven't eaten it, is very chicken-ish, with very little super-white breast-type meat. It was tender, and the orange and avocado were nice accompaniments. The best part of this course, though, were the goat-cheese fritters. They looked a little like tater tots, but their crispiness opened to gloriously silky partly-melted goat cheese that made the whole thing feel light as a feather.

 

Third Course

-- Harpoon Octoberfest: Frankly, a fairly standard Oktoberfest-type beer, with solid strength and a pleasant finish.

-- chestnut and sweet potato gnocchi with seared pumpkin, toasted pecans, fried sage and brown butter: I'd never had anything made with chestnut flour before, and I understand why now: It has no gluten in it (which is great for some diets, but makes it hard to get it to stick together). The gnocchi were dense but tender (tip from Chef David Turin: make your gnocchi fresh, freeze them overnight, and cook them from frozen for a more even outcome), and the brown butter helped ease their heft. The pumpkin, pecans, and sage were a very nice accent. In all, this for me was the least exciting course, but nevertheless a very solid and very fall set of tastes and textures.

 

Fourth Course

-- 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest '09 Wet Hop: A very rich, coppery pale ale that carried the flavor of the hops without the edge we use the word "hoppy" to describe.

-- Bajan style red snapper with seared bok choy and jasmine rice: Elegantly constructed, this had rice on the bottom layer, a thin layer of the bok choy, and was topped with the snapper, which had a little zing but was mostly a subtle happy Caribbean seasoning.

 

Fifth Course

-- Harpoon Leviathan Saison Royal: If you like Allagash White, you'll love this beer. And I LOVE Allagash White. Spicy, with some rosemary and white pepper somehow included in the beer itself, and yet very lightweight.

-- grilled Berkshire pork tenderloin with smoked bacon and new potato hash, sauteed spinach and apricot jus: The smoked bacon and new potato hash was the silent star of the night, lovingly diced, elegantly tucked under the pork, and forming the very solid flavor-and-aroma base of this course. Sure, the pork was fine, the spinach was indeed sauteed, and the jus was apricoty. But it was the earthy, around-a-fire aspect of the hash that made this dish what it was. I'd have a plate of that and skip the other stuff and be perfectly happy with myself of a Sunday morning. (Well, maybe I'd want a poached egg or two to accompany.)

 

Sixth Course

-- Harpoon Leviathan Quad: While part of a series and not available again for another eight months or so, this was a strong (11.75% ABV!) and very healthy draught with just the right amount of sweetness to lighten the power.

-- Quad braised buffalo short ribs with crispy herbed polenta, braised kale and quad reduction: I have to reveal that it was Morang who called this plate "the brontosaurus bones." (Buffalo apparently have very large short ribs.) The braise was almost at the edge of too much - with a very low fat content, the meat has a tendency to dry out quickly - but the soft polenta (with a very nice crispy exterior) absorbed the juices that did flow out and revived the meat's rich flavor.

 

Dessert Course

-- UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen: You may have had Harpoon's "standard" Hefeweizen, which they call the "UnFiltered Offering," because it's an only slightly contrived way to get "UFO" as an acronym, but this version has intense raspberry flavor. Very fruity, and much more like a fruit lambic than a Hefeweizen.

-- Raspberry Hefeweizen sorbet with autumn nut clusters: If you want to talk intense raspberry flavor, though, this sorbet is it. Somehow more "raspberry-y" (a word I may have made up) than even the densest of raspberry jams, and yet as creamy as a soft-serve cone, this dessert (served in a tall shot glass) was a big wake-me-up at the end of a steady flow of flavors. The nut clusters were a nice accent (and, because they were drizzled in chocolate, allowed me to uphold my vow to never eat dessert unless it has chocolate in it!).

 

 
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