Wednesday, November 5, 2008

JT Baker's Beer Pairing Dinner

Thank goodness the election is over! Now I can move on to obsessing about some other question - like “Who will be the next Top Chef?” 7 days to the season premiere!

We had a quite fabulous dinner at JT Baker’s a couple weekends ago, when some family was visiting from out of town, and one of our dinner guests said it reminded her of ‘Top Chef.’ As expected, it was totally worth the long drive to Greenwich for Jason and Suzanne Baker’s food: a molecular gastronomy-tinged beer tasting dinner, in 5 courses. For just the pics go here, or read my recap below.

After a little cup of miso-tarragon consomme to whet our appetites, the first course delivered a salty punch in the form of “Fish and Chips” made with juicy escolar and topped with malt vinegar jam and jalapeno salt. (Don't worry, the serving of escolar was small, not enough to cause, um, problems) The malt vinegar and the spicy-saltiness of the dish complemented the beer pairing, a malty, hoppy White Hawk IPA.

The second course was listed on the menu as “Burgundy Escargot” with the subtitle, Snyder Pretzel consomme, dunnhill gel, sous vide rutabaga. We were puzzled about what a ‘dunnhill’ was until we asked, and found out that the tiny cubes of gel were in fact infused with the smoky essence of Dunnhill cigars.

Unlike the first course, these flavors played much more subtly, for example, the pretzel flavor (we expected yeasty or buttery) was very light, not a really significant note in the dish, and the various textures brought most of the interest to the dish, which was complemented by a smooth, dark Warsteiner Dunkel:

This play in textures came followed by a palate cleanser that made us giggle: caramel corn in the form of a cold drink.

I can’t say I wanted any more after that one little glass, which was more watery than starchy, but it was enjoyably interesting anyway.

The third course was beer and cheese soup, made with local cheese (Dancing Ewe’s Caciotta) and Ommegang Witte, and garnished with tempura zest.

The soup was smooth, creamy and delicious, with no ‘sheepy’ flavors, and the zest tied it together with the glass of refreshing Witte, which is brewed with orange peel, among other flavorings.

The fourth course was a Tamworth pork tenderloin, prepared sous vide and served with salted beer nut emulsion and pumpernickel pudding.

This was the table’s favorite dish of the night, because it had the best overall appeal in flavor, texture, and balance. The pork was extremely tender and tasty, though lean and mild, and the savory pumpernickel bread pudding is something I’d definitely try making at home. The emulsion was not too salty, and the richness from the nuts tied the dish to its beer pairing: Anchor Porter.

The dessert course was the weirdest sounding dish on the tasting menu, but it just blew us away: “Pumpkin capsule” with maple crumble, vanilla cake puree, allspice cream, paired with Ommegang’s Three Philosophers.

The capsule was a frozen hollow cylinder, partially filled with a sweet cold allspice cream and pumpkin seeds:

Everyone loved the play on textures and the flavors, which were autumnal yet somehow also light and breezy on the palate. We love 3 Philosophers at home as a dessert on its own or with a Green and Black’s Hazelnut-Currant Chocolate Bar, but the cherry notes in the beer were somehow not absolutely perfect for me with this dish, so I drank the beer and ate the dessert separately. It was a terrific end to the meal.

Tasting menus at JT Bakers run on the pricey side for most people, but they’re running a “Recession Special” dinner for two, which is great at only $50. Greenwich is a cute little town, and with the price of gas coming down, the deal looks even more attractive. Of course, once you get there, you may be tempted to order a longer tasting menu. So, just go prepared with an excuse, such as something to celebrate (like a new political era!)