In Napa, pairing wine with food is the rule rather than the exception. Local restaurants seem to build their menus around their wine list and I can’t remember the last time I had a beverage other than wine with my dinner. Wine makes food better, digestion easier and your table-mate more attractive.
I was intrigued when the husband forwarded me an email from Carpe Diem Wine Bar advertising their upcoming beer dinner with Lagunitas Brewery out of Petaluma. We love Carpe Diem for its decadent eats (truffle popcorn, anyone?) and we’re enthusiastic beer drinkers, so of course we’d go. I looked forward to seeing how a restaurant focused on wine would do when faced with pairing its cuisine with barley-based fare.
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed with champagne glasses filled with Lagunitas Pilsner, served with Carpe Diem’s Fried Pizza Bites. Almost like dough-based arancini, the pizza bites were stuffed with herbs, gooey mozzarella and tomatoes. They were a nice accompaniment to the light pilsner, which had a slight whiff of honey. Beer and pizza, one of my tablemates noted, is a natural go-together, but this was definitely up-market.
After a cheerful and informative talk from a Lagunitas head honcho who seemed to delight in the high alcohol percentages of the beers (as did I), we were served a salad of mixed greens that included a beer-based dressing and Point Reyes Blue Cheese. The beer for this course was the IPA, a very hoppy, semi-bitter beer that worked well with the fennel and bite of the greens. I’m usually not a fan of hoppy or bitter beers, as they cause me to make an unattractive face when drinking them, but the cheese was a good foil for the beer, counteracting some of the bitterness with creamy, pungent love.
Next was the course I had really been looking forward to: Cocoa Crusted Filet Mignon paired with Lagunitas Imperial Stout. I love meat, and I love malty beers, so my expectations were high on this dish. One sip, one bite, and then one more sip confirmed that this was the sort of match that fairy tales are made of: Instead of Beauty and the Beast, this would be known as Beery and the Beef. In my head, I could see the glass of beer twirling the steak around in a ballroom filled with singing cows and bales of barley.
The following dish was a bit of a surprise: a sharp, dry Gouda with Lagunitas Gnarleywine, which is their version of barleywine, a strong, high-alcohol ale. This one was slightly sweet with floral notes on the nose and shot down the overt smoky quality of the cheese.
Do you see what’s happening here? I’m talking about the beer as if I would a wine and it WORKS!
Finally, our bellies bursting with beer bubbles, we were presented with a marbled cake topped with ice cream made from the accompanying beer, Lagunitas WTF (Wilco Tango Foxtrot). The beer had balanced hops and malt, which when paired with just the cake was a little odd (as any non-2 a.m. beer and cake pairing would be). But a good forkful of the cake and ice cream made it all symbiotic, and the chef, Scott Kendall, should not only be lauded for his creativity but implored to place the ice cream on his regular menu.
The beer dinner at Carpe Diem was a welcome aberration in our wine-soaked part of the world and I can’t wait for the next one.