Sounds like my kind of night. You too? WHO wouldn't love the opportunity to have a FIVE, yes FIVE course chocolate dinner? So I decided before the epic decadence commenced, to sip on a Saison DuPont and gaze out into the California sunshine-filled afternoon. You know, keep it light before the onslaught of darkness.....
As I sat enjoying my farmhouse brew, I attempted to surmise what the direction of the tasting might be...How would this play out? My initial thought for the beers was, Okay, Chocolate and Imperial stouts, fruit Lambics, and perhaps a Biere de Champagne. Seems standard, right? To my surprise, and admitted delight, there was no such pairing. After all, what was I thinking? This is Dr. Bill here! So when I saw the menu, I became excited with the prospects of this avant-garde style of pairing.
In other words, instead of doing the obligatory Framboise paired with a dark chocolate cake with raspberry coulis (nothing wrong with that!), Dr. Bill threw a series of brilliant curveballs that had us all happily wondering and guessing through each course. The obscure entree names were no help (Le Cirque Cacoao for instance), so we all waited with anticipation like children on Christmas morning to see what our next offering would be.
I can summarize the food in just one word: exquisite. But I don't want to use only one word, because I would be far selling it short. Chef Andrew Higgins is a culinary genius. How do I know this? Well, first ask ANYONE who has tried his desserts, but moreover, he creates the kind of jaw-dropping, knee-weakening type of decadent delights that surpass some of the most famous pastry chefs in the world. He spoke of Turkish truffles, toasted anise seeds, candied kumquats, and drunken cherries......and I sat there in wonderment of how a person could devise such incredibly innovative and mouth-watering culinary treats. Standing O for Andrew.
How did these two come up with such inventive and ultimately delicious combinations? You've got me, but it was without a doubt, one of the most incredible chocolate/beer experiences of my life. But then again, it's not every day you have a 5 course chocolate meal paired with beers either...
Amuse-bouche: Cikolata Visne paired with Oaked Arrogant Bastard
The beer: Definite meaty aromas greet the nose. It is my first and strongest initial impression of the beer. And as you all know, with my ardent love of meaty, spicy, peppery, bacon fat aromas from Rhone wines, I was instantly a happy girl. What I found especially pleasing about this beer was its hoppy finish, which cleansed the palate and made you want more. Great complexity.
The pairing: A truffle atop a bed of sea salt. I absolutely adore the use of chocolate and salt. It is the tingle my tongue craves, while simultaneously satisfying my indecisive "I want sweet, no, I want salty" palate. The truffles, of Turkish origin, were made using a bit of kirsch, for that seductive hint of cherry lingering within the density of the chocolate.
The oak, masked by the more primal, meaty aromas readily emerges after a bite of the truffle. Suddenly, the bacon, cured meat aspect seamlessly mingles with the chocolate. Which might be why I have heard that bacon and chocolate are an incredible combination....
The beer: Dark, brooding notes of coffee, charred wood, and the darkest, bitter chocolate known to man.
The pairing: There is a distinct tree bark note to this unusual offering. A woody aroma, I would describe as Gum Tree or Ash. A clean, organic palate, but with a sweet, minty aspect. Thus, it highlights that darker woodiness of the beer...think of a maple tree, with its sap. And the coffee notes burst forth with new fervor, that is if a brooding note can ever have fervency. Monie, the lovely beer lover across the table held her glass up and exclaimed "I'm happy." Well said.
2nd Course:Trios de Chocolat Creme Glacee paired with Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen
The beer: I feel like I am standing in a smokehouse...from the 18th century! I am instantly transported back in time, to a farm in the countryside, motionless in a pastoral sea of aromatic delight with roughly hewn wood planks on every side.
The nose is intense...of bacon, and aged meats. Pepper and spice, with a slight sweet note, that is buried just beneath the surface of the spice
The pairing: A beautiful Egyptian red-cracked earth pyramid with a volcanic eruption of chocolate. Lots of clove and cardamon notes, prevalent on the palate. Also some cherry/kirsch notes...aha! Drunken cherries in a blackberry fig sauce! The base has a gingersnap spiciness to it, which brings out parallel notes of spiciness in the beer.
Now for those who have had Rauchbier, what I am about to say might come as a surprise. But I promise, it is true. This dessert made the acute, in-your-face smokiness seem almost elegant. Yes, elegant. The potent profile of the clove and cardamon offset the intensity of the smoke, and brought out the subtleties of the beer (the spice), and its smoothness. This was my favorite pairing of the evening. Incredible, surprising, and spot on.
3rd Course: Salad de Chocolat paired with Tripel Karmeliet
The beer: Light and vibrant,with notes of white pepper and ripe tree fruit. I get distinct grassy notes, but trodden grass, like at an outdoor carnival. Which also brings in another aspect of this beer, hay. With its use of wheat, oat, and barley, these aromas are no surprise.
The pairing: Wonderfully meshed. The white pepper emerges and is drawn out by the peppery aspect of the arugula and bitterness of the radicchio. A citrus, lemony note arises, which before was non-existent, and gives a vibrancy to offset the chocolate.
4th Course:Brulee de Creme au Chocolat Blanc paired with Malheur 12
The beer: Sweet dried fruit of fig and plum, as if in its own reduction sauce. Rich and aromatic. Mmm, comforting.
The pairing: What an incredible variation on the classic creme brulee. Absolutely marvelous, and a perfect following to the lightness (in a matter of speaking) of the salad. Absolutely perfect in consistency, it brought out almond notes in the Malheur. While the beer has its malty sweetness, the dessert derives its sweetness from fennel slowly cooked down. Amazing! Thus, the richness of the beer is juxtaposed with the delicacy of the creamy custard.
5th Course: Le Cirque Caocao paired with Victory V-12
The beer: This one has a nose you can call out instantly. Peaches and stone fruits. Right up front, no façades. There is an interesting and welcome hop bitterness on the finish, one that reminds me of black tea, and wine grape tannin. Way more than I expected, and I like it, because it is unique.
The pairing: Oh my chocolate goodness. One of the MOST intense desserts I have ever tasted. Well just look at the picture. A chocolate tower enrobed in chocolate ganache, with a creme anglaise center, gold leaf topping and a pastry spoon. Are you serious?? After slowly pulling the decadence from your happy lips, you sip on the beer...and wonderful flavors of caramel and nougat emerge. Incredible.
My thought as I left? I won't sleep for 4 days with this much chocolate in my system. But it was ALL worth it. One of the most decadent, gastronomically satisfying evenings in memory. Thank you Dr. Bill and Andrew!
For ALL of those people who live in the area, you MUST, I repeat, so hear me now, MUST attend one of Dr. Bill and Stone chefs pairings. They are brilliant, eye-opening, and palate thrilling. You will thank me, I promise.