The Harvest Moon Beer Dinner at Hillside Supper Club
The Harvest Moon Beer Dinner was excellent! The chef-owners of the Hillside Supper Club, Tony Ferrari and Jonathon Sutton, really knocked it out of the park on the food side and if I can toot my own horn a bit, I'd have to say that the beer pairings were some of the best I'd ever had. I know, I know, I'm biased, but seriously, they were freakin' fantastic! In addition, many of the beers I was able to source for the dinner were quite limited and special, which was a very nice touch and I believe is de rigueur for an $80 dinner.
We ended up selling the dinner out with 50 diners attending. Folks come to events like these for a variety of reasons - to support me, to support the Hillside Supper Club, or because the dinner just plain old sounded good to them when they saw the menu (which you can view below). But ultimately, the proof is in the pairings. We had to give them something that would be better than their already high expectations! Here are some of the tricks I used in addition to the fact that I generally thought the pairings were spot on:
1) A very sour tart beer as an amuse bouche pairing is something I'd never seen before, I thought it was entirely appropriate to serve that super rare Cask 200 sour with only a small bite so folks would really be able to taste it. That said, the bourboned pluots really took the tart nature of the beer down a notch for those who weren't used to sour beer. Cask 200 was the most exciting beer in the lineup, so it was a great way to get folks excited right off the bat. I wasn't worried about setting the bar high immediately because I knew the pairings coming up were going to knock their socks off, too.
2) I used Anchor Brewing BigLeaf Maple amber for one of the beer pairings in order to make the point that you don't need a rare and expensive beer to do a fabulous pairing. I love that beer, it's gorgeous and it's available at the local grocery store (at least in SF). I pointed out to our guests that there are amazing beers to be found on the shelves at everyday shops and encouraged them to try pairing them at home with dinner any night of the week.
3) I served a barleywine with the main course, rather than with dessert as is commonly done. The Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine is an amazing and intensely flavorful beer, right there on the flavor level of rich saucy short ribs. Not only that, but it has an enormous amount of alcohol presence (12%). When the beer is consumed by itself, the spicy alcohol can prove distracting for some folks, but when drunk along with rich meat, the alcohol is hardly noticeable, it becomes the perfect palate cleanser!
4) Of course, the TCHO chocolate cake with pork fat frosting, smoked cream, and chocolate mint leaves paired with the Vanilla Joe was an obvious, yet utterly divine, pairing. It was a bonus that this beer so was so fresh that the coffee and vanilla had literally soaked in it just two days prior to the dinner. The vanilla, espresso, and dark chocolate aromas were just bursting from it! Pairing this relatively dry beer with a rich cake helped make it a great pairing.
I started things out by welcoming everyone and introducing myself, the chefs, and the servers. Then, as service for each course was under way, I would get everyone's attention and tell them about the dish being served, the beer being paired with it, and what to taste for in that pairing. After speaking, I was able to observe the crowd and look for their reactions to the dishes and even catch the occasional bit of conversation. What I saw over and over were folks taking a bite and a sip, looking at each other, and then nodding their heads enthusiastically! By the final two courses, the crowd applauded after I told them about the dish and the beer, before they even got to taste it! The sustained applause at the end when I thanked everyone for coming and brought the chefs out nearly made my heart leap out of my chest! One only gets to experience the feeling of making a bunch of people really happy on the rare occasion, it's a really special feeling!
So, to put it simply, my first beer pairing dinner was a great success. I could not have been more pleased with the results. An enormous amount of credit for the success of the dinner goes to Jonathon Sutton and Tony Ferrari, the chef-owners at Hillside Supper Club, who really delivered with amazing dishes. In addition, Austin Ferrari and Steve Rosemire are servers who could serve at a Michelin star restaurant (in fact, Austin has served at Chez Panisse). I can't recommend more strongly that everyone in San Francisco go to dinner or brunch at the Hillside Supper Club. They're just killing it over there on food, service, and atmosphere. Frankly, after eating there my first time, I knew it would be the perfect place for this beer dinner and that's why I approached them about doing it. And by the way, I put together their beer menu.
Check out the menu and some photos from the dinner: