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Review Sat Mar 07 2009
The first time I met Unibroue cultural attaché Jim Javenkoski was the first time I had Éphémère, a beer that instantly became one of my favorites. I've since gone on to try and enjoy almost everything the Québécois brewery makes. Their Belgian-style, malt- and spice-forward beers are a lovely contrast to the resinous, floral quality of hop-monster brews, and I prefer to pair maltier beers with most winter meals. Therefore, I was excited to spend Thursday evening with Mr. Javenkoski (previously the subject of a Drive-Thru feature) at C-House's beer dinner, the first Unibroue dinner where beer was used in the preparation of every dish. I showed up because of Unibroue, but by the end of the evening, I had also been charmed by the food.
The few dozen guests were seated communally in the back of C-House's dining room, where the usual decor (dark wood contrasting white walls and nautical prints done in cool colors, copper light fixtures bathing the room in a warm glow) was accented with large mock-ups of the artwork used on each beer's label, which Mr. Javenkoski explained at the beginning of each course. The waitstaff began pouring us Blanche de Chambly immediately, and refilled our glasses with the crisp white ale through the end of the first course. Also, at the center of each table there was a large copper pot where guests could dump any beer they didn't wish to drink (we kept the same glass all night, and then took them home as souvenirs). By the end of the first course (an oyster trio featuring oyster mushroom soup, a fried oyster mini-sandwich, and a sweet, tiny single oyster) someone at our table had overturned the container in protest of letting any beer go to waste. (It may have also been used as a bongo a few times during the evening. I always end up at the rowdy table.)
The soup course featured dumplings filled with pork and mussles floating in a clarified, parmesan-infused La Fin du Monde broth. There were also small clams floating in the soup; they were a bit tough in texture and seemed to be an unnecessary addition to the soup. However, the perfectly clear yet cheesy broth matched with the pork very nicely, and had me doing mental calculations about what Unibroue beer would work best in the Beer Cheese Soup recipe Cinnamon wrote about last year, with the sweet but hop-balanced La Fin du Monde used in this course winning my internal debate.
When a chef asked our table what we had thought of the next dish, a skate and oxtail course, "more oxtail!" was the response. The rest of the dish--a piece of skate, sneakily spicy kimchi gnocchi, a broccoli puree that was termed "gourmet baby food" in a completely approving way, and a spicy consomme--were wonderful, and worked well together in the fairly busy presentation. But the oxtail and cabbage dumpling was a delicious highlight; while the one was fabulous, having a few more would've been even better. The accoutrements may have actually overwhelmed the skate, which was the centerpiece of the dish, but everything was delicious. The Don de Dieu was hearty enough to work with the heft and spice of this dish. It's the only triple wheat ale I've ever seen, and it is truly a sledgehammer of a wheat beer, which seems more appropriate for Christmastime than for summer in the beer garden.
The next course, suckling pig paired with Éphémère, was the highlight of the evening. I love a well-prepared piece of pork, and this certainly qualified. Under the crispy skin of the pork shoulder, there was around a centimeter of fat, and the flesh was well-seasoned. The pork was served atop an apple-and-grain mash, which matched nicely with the apple-based Éphémère. The simple presentation of this dish was a nice change after the more complex plating of the skate and oxtail.
By the time the cheese course came around, I was eating very slowly, picking at the blue cheese smoked over hazelnut shells, nibbling on the accompanying fig turnover, and savoring the Trois Pistoles and honey reduction (which I would happily drizzle on top of french toast, sweet as it was). We were sent home with Trois Pistoles chocolate bars, which were stacked next to C-House's adorable candy bar. The next morning, at work, I enjoyed the combination of salty pretzel, caramel, marshmallow, and dark chocolate. If this is the food that results from actually cooking with Unibroue beers, I hope future beer dinners continue C-House's trend.