June 25, 2008

"I had dinner with the Beer Chef"

Perhaps save for "Playmate Quality Control," is there any job more desirable than one with the words “beer” and “chef” in the title? Lucky Bruce Patton is the Beer Chef and his office is an easy walk from me at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. Ever since I heard about his beer pairing dinners, I'd been dying to go. K'ro answered my prayers with a surprise birthday dinner for me.

She tricked me into thinking we were popping into Tommy's Joynt for a beer before dinner. It’s my favorite SF institution. But instead, she yanked me into the hotel with the cocktail hour underway where we each met a glass of Belgian-style witbiers concocted by Craig Cauwels, brewmaster at Schooner's Grille & Brewery in Antioch. (Yeah, I didn’t know where it was, either.)

We took our seats after filling our bellies with beer and hors d'oeuvres and unwittingly sat at a table with Craig and his wife, Mary. Rounding out the table, to K'ro's left sat Renae, Schooner's manager, and to my right, Jay Brooks, celebrated writer with a beer blog of his own.

The way Bruce does it, and he’s got it down pat since the San Fran native has been doing this for over a decade, is he gives a spiel about his menu and the beers from the brewery featured that night. Then Craig got up and spoke. Then we ate and drank.

First course: Caprese salad, using housemade mozzarella and replacing tomatoes with farmer’s market fresh yellow peaches, opal basil, all on a bed of dried cherry vinaigrette. The beer? “Vindication.” Oatmeal stout aged in brandy barrels with cherries. The magic “critters” Craig employed, eschewing traditional brewers yeast, were a colony of Brettanomyces (“Brett”). No standard kriek beer, a style I find too sour and too, uh, cherry-y, this delicious creation struck me as a dessert beer, but life is short and I’m a proponent of having dessert first. Also, it’s 11% ABV.

I’d like to go on about the rest of the dinner, but did I mention how strong that last beer was and that it wasn’t my first or even second of the night? All I know is, the pork tenderloin was terrific, the Irish stout served up my favorite way—on nitro—was outstanding, and next thing I knew, everyone at the table was all kinds of happy.

In case you forgot, this was my birthday dinner. I’d forgotten, too, until, after Bruce spieled the dessert course (butterscotch bread pudding), then that li’l devil busted out a huge, chocolate cake of my own. I wanted to share with everyone present, which entailed me visiting every table, and in doing so, I met some other guests, including fellow beer bloggers, Joe and Todd.

I hope to dine with the Beer Chef again. And I’m now on a mission to make my way out to Schooner’s as soon as possible. Not because I'm eager to see the end of the BART line, but because Craig's creations are out of this world.

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