Like a Sturgeon
This go-round we even got 5 courses, and not just four and a welcome beer, as the evening kicked off with oysters and a vibrant champagne mignonette. And, as you know, oysters are aphrodisiacs, for I certainly loved the rest of the meal. If you're looking for a perfect bivalve, turns out Beausoleils from New Brunswick (Canada, not New Jersey, of course) will certainly do the trick. Alongside the oysters we enjoyed Sands Session Cream Ale, itself sharing that smooth champagne mouth feel, but it is not the Champagne of Beers as that is copyrighted and sucks besides.
We moved from the northern Atlantic to very close to home for the next two courses. A local halibut was served ceviche-style--we later learned it just got a quick shot of lime juice and a bit of that Cream Ale (there were a bunch of clever course to course bridges like that, those sneaky devils) and then set off with an unlikely yet brilliant mix of Tom's Shepherd's ambrosia melon sliced very thin, vivid watermelon radishes, also thin, watercress, and sesame seed cracker. Turns out halibut makes a fine sub in for something hammy in the old melon and prosciutto pair that underlines, as ever, you need some salt with your sweet (just wait till we get to dessert). Then there was the radish-y crunch, the cress's pepper. Ah, it was a fine plate of goodness that only made the delicate fresh halibut halibutier. That came with the Fairview Farmhouse that again provided just the right lift. Next time you think you must pinot grigio just say no for beer is the way to go.
Course three featured beer in prep and alongside, different brews, though. Local mussels, just the right, small, flavor-packed, untough size (keep those ginormous green-lippers away from my bowl), were braised in the Belgian Country Pale, and served alongside toasted ciabatta slathered with a house-made harissa aioli. I am dreaming of how to live in a giant bowl of these for a weekend someday. Rose and Fultineer thought they'd serve this with the beer they cooked with, but it turns out that was just too much, too bitter. So, instead, they went with the softer Hollister Hefeweizen, which I admit I don't drink much, but it transformed to something elegant and apt after the first mussel was consumed. This pairing thing is sort of a science, after all.
The fourth course was a true treat, sturgeon. I'm a huge fan of this fish, although I don't get it much beyond at Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, where I eat maybe every 4 years if I'm lucky. Full of flavor and texture, it's a bit like swordfish without that density and those icky worms Tony Bourdain warned us all about. Fultineer wood grilled it (some oak, some apple) with a micro-crust of toasted Marcona almonds and evidently a lot of smashed anchovy and then set it in a plate of perfection--both slow-cooked romano beans and Hilltop & Canyon shell beans and a sofrito of cooked down deliciousness starting with smoked peppers and tomatoes from Windrose Farm. There was many a request for bread to sop up every last sofrito drop. Along with this killer course we had an Irish Red, itself a bit smoky like the grilled fish, itself full of flavors and notes like that sofrito. Sure, it would have been very good by itself. But why?
And then onto dessert, as if we weren't all stuffed to the gills already. (Get it? A seafood dinner?) Not that anyone didn't finish dessert, though. It began with an olive oil cake that made me kick myself for never trying to make that one in the Babbo Cookbook. Moistness, thy name is olive oil cake. Atop that was a creme fraiche ice cream, just tart enough. And atop that was, of all things, American sturgeon caviar. (Which came first, the sturgeon or the roe? Now we know.) The exploding salt inevitable of the caviar against the sweet, but not too, of the creme fraiche, all in icy, creamy loveliness. And then the cake. Washing that down was a 540 Apricot Wheat, again, with just enough fruit to add a dimension and not overpower.
Afterward our group opted to try to go look at the Perseids, and while we saw some, the best stars of the evening were clearly at Hollister.