Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks--And That Was Just Course Three
Beer. With a side of contented smiles and blissful sighs rarely heard outside of an orgy.
I had the immense (in both sheer volume and taste-a-liciousness) pleasure to enjoy the first Beer Dinner at Hollister Brewing this evening since chef Dylan Fultineer paked up his knives and went from Hungry Cat to Hollister. The dish laid out above was merely course 2 of 4, and the evening opened with a "welcome beer" (I always welcome beer, myself), the High Water Helles brewer Eric Rose has been offering of late, a lovely light (not lite) beer that approaches the goodness of the best lager of all, Craftsman 1903. And that was just the appeti-beer-zer.
The first course was a crispy carnitas pizza with roasted garlic sauce, spring onions, Gioia fresh mozzarella, and chopped whole-leaf hops. Those hops were the direct bridge to the HIPA (I assume Hollister IPA, but it could be Heck of an IPA or Hooray! IPA, I'm not sure) served with. Of course, that lovely clipped bitterness of hops did the trick to cut the cheesy richness of the pizza, too, which made its clever play on Southern California site-specific sausage pizza with the carnitas (all done in house, evidently--and when will carnitas be a special, please?).
The second course, described in this entry's opening, was a riot of flavor tamed to one purpose. Each element was brilliant on its own--ah asapargus, oh artichoke--and then the barley, supposedly cooked risotto-style in the Fairview Farmhouse Ale it was served with, reminded us beer started as this very grain. Anyone who had had Fultineer's fine fare at Hungry Cat wasn't surprised at his skill with fish. But while at HC one might have had some wine to wash it down, here the Farmhouse made a perfect match--not as sour as some saisons, indeed a bit surprisingly malty sweet, but utterly delicious with the complex dish.
Pause here now to realize what we all had to do--there were still two courses yet to come.
As for the ambience, there is the unforgiving Hollister problem--it's in a strip mall, the room is big and tall, and it's dominated by all those TV screens. To defeat that a bit, they wisely set up tables in two long rows, leading everyone to become fast, beery friends as the evening proceeded. Besides, we all had our love of Hollister in common--how terrible could any of us be? Indeed, after many a toast, and many shared nods that we were the smartest people in Goleta for an evening even couting those Nobel winners out UCSB way, there's no doubt the meal didn't just please, it made friends.
Especially upon course three, an elegant embodiment of hoof and snout cooking: mustard braised veal cheeks and crispy sweetbreads with braised cabbage, baby turnips, and local cherries. Put your knife away for this tender wonder. Brewer Rose joked they were popping the fried sweetbreads in the build up to the meal as if they were chicken nuggets, although culinary gold nuggets might be a more apt term for them. The veal cheeks had that melt in your mouth (not in the calf's--sorry, just ruined the mood there, didn't I?) deliciousness. Each adornment served its purpose--the turnips a base, the cabbage a cut to the richness, the cherries a sweet accent and some deeper color. A magnificent dish, especially as accompanied by The J. Which isn't the old J, by the way. Now it's a lager, more like a rauchbier, although the German purity laws of 1516 probably didn't include smoked hemp seed (or maybe they were supposed to, but then everyone had the beer and forgot). The smokiness added one more note to the course, a lovely top flavor, almost like a few contrasting clouds scudding across an otherwise precisely blue sky.
Then it rained dessert of two sorts upon our table. First came one of Rose's prize projects, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose was so rich with vanilla it almost bought you a ticket to Tahiti. The flavor was deep and instantly pleasing. It would have been plenty as all of dessert. But Fultineer had something brilliant cooked up, and not just because it was slathered with bourbon butter (which I want on waffles really really bad). He made steamed gingerbread pudding, surprisingly light in texture not gingeriness, and topped that with the butter and placed a quenelle of vanilla ice cream aside (hiding a bit of nut crunch cleverly underneath, for more texture, flavor, flat out fun). Again, the pairs echoed and mirrored and deepened and and-ed--they just kept pleasing themselves and the person consuming them.
Yes, I am raving here. They will do this again. Everyone must be there. But leave two spots for Amy and me.