Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Great White Smelt Redux

Smelts are fucking delicious.  I've been eating them my entire life.  Nature's fish stick as I think of them.  You can get them a couple of different times of the year, either in winter when they are much larger and can be caught ice fishing (see my old post The Great Smelt Hunt) or in early spring and are much smaller.  Typically they are served fried whole and consumed with a dipping sauce.  Since my mom loves to hook me up with whatever her hunter/fisher friends pass off to her, I came into possession of a shit load of the little spring smelts.  With so many of them, I decided not to simply fry all of them when I wanted fish sticks.  Instead I wanted to do something a little bit more interesting.  Since the smaller smelts seem very similar to anchovies, and white anchovies are delicious, I figured I'd make white smelts.

The process is very simple.  Gut and remove the head of the smelts and rinse them out first.  I learned this the hard way.  The curing itself requires that you salt the hell out of  them and cover in vinegar.  I used apple cider since it was the only kind I had on hand when I did this but I think a champagne vinegar would be better for the next time I use them.  After doing that, cover them and let them sit for 12-24 hours.  I let them sit for about 18 hours.
Oh hey guys, hows that salt and vinegar feel in the wound?
The next step I had to take was much more of a pain in the ass than it needed to be.  See, I got cocky and didn't clean the smelts cause normally when they're this small you don't need to cause you're just going to fry them and eat them whole.  If they're going to be like white anchovies though, you don't need or want the guts and spine in there.  So what should have been as simple as pulling the spine out after it was cured because the whole process will make that fairly easy to do, I had to clean them and then pull out the spine, a long and annoying process.  If I had cleaned them before, I could have rinsed them in the sink but after curing them, I didn't want to wash away all the salt and vinegar flavors so it had to be done the hard way.
I shit you not this took hours.
Now that that pain in the ass was done, the next step was easy.  I placed the smelts in a single layer in a container and liberally covered each layer in parsley and garlic.  Then I gave the container a slight side to side shake just to release any air trapped in there, not like its a fucking martini.  I didn't layer those smelts for nothing.  I let my white smelts sit for a whole day to really meld all those flavors of the fish, salt, vinegar, parsley, garlic and olive oil together.  Now I had a bunch of white smelts.  What the fuck do I do with white smelts?

Hey lil guys, aren't you just the tastiest?
 A couple of things.  The first and principal use I had for them was with bruschetta.  I used the recipe I linked back around Easter for a simple heirloom tomato bruschetta.  Since I didn't have a dinner planned where this would make a delicious appetizer, I decided to treat my co-workers who are mostly as in love with food as I am.

So after getting out of a morning shift at the bar I recruited my "twin sister" Lexy to help me make this happen since we both love making delicious foods.

Molto bene and shit.
First we made the bruschetta.  Not really that hard.  Chopping tomatoes pretty much.  But instead of using the fresh bread, I fried off the bread into crostini using some of the oil from the smelts.  Since frying bread happens pretty fucking fast and it has to since I don't want goddamn oil soaked shit slices, Lexy's role was plating it all.  First a smelt went down on the crostini, then a nice heaping spoonful of the bruschetta.
T-lex hands.  So tiny...
These fucking things disappeared as fast as Lexy and I could plate them.  Even the few less adventurous eaters of the staff loved them.  Why? Because white smelts, same as white anchovies, are goddamn delicious and not super fishy like everyone thinks.  Do they taste like fish? A little bit, because they are fucking fish.  But they also taste like the other ingredients and the curing process cuts down on the fishiness quite a bit.
We only got a picture with this many on the plate cause everyone was full.
Making the bruschetta used up a majority of the white smelts but I still had some left and wanted to use them for another delicious purpose: puttanesca.

So there are more than a few ways to make puttanesca, the one I decided to make was using Mario Batali's recipe.  While not all recipes for the sauce call for anchovies, I think its smart that this one does.   You can pretty much add white anchovies (and thusly white smelts) so almost any dressing or sauce to add a layer of complexity and flavor that most people won't even know that its there.  I followed it exactly and didn't fuck up anything so there isn't much to say other than gather the ingredients...
gratuitous ingredient shot.
 And follow the recipe.
I mean, I guess it kind of smells like a whore... and by that I mean delicious.
 Puttanesca is a pretty versatile red sauce.  Plus it literally means "whores sauce".  Who doesn't love whores?  Mankind's oldest profession! You don't just have to throw it over pasta, it can be used to pour over a pork chop or any number of other dishes that you want to dress up a bit.  I ended up freezing most of it for another day.  I think theres actually still a container in the freezer if I haven't already drunkenly cooked all of it.

So there you have it.  A different way of using smelts and a couple of ways to use them.  I might make some more for an antipasti plate and just serve them along side of some marcona almonds and whole green olives for a nice summer party appetizer.  Or I'll just horde it all myself.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Maine of Thrones

So it's been a bit.  After a long, busy summer at the Bar, slacking, my computer dying and finally the fucking holidays, I'm back bitches.  I've got a few backlog posts to write but most notably:

Maine of Thrones: You Eat or You Die.

So I'm a huge nerd.  Game of Thrones is easily the best fantasy series written in a long time and I devoured the books over the summer.  One thing about said series is that there is a lot of talk about food, in addition to the merciless slaughtering of major characters.  This put in my head to do a Lord's style feast for a bunch of friends.  11 people, 9 courses w/ pairings, 2 chef/servers and a whole lot of fun.  What made it even better was that Hurricane Sandy 'hit' Maine when dinner was served, giving us a great reason to stay inside and get fat like Lord Manderly.

Despite the utter nerdiness of this dinner's origins, there would be no cosplay, no watching the show, no medieval music (actually it was Stevie Wonder pandora).  The idea was to make it so those who hadn't read the series enjoyed a nice dinner and the real nerds would be able to geek the fuck out over the references.  The only other nerdy part was seating.  I had to steal a fold out table from work to make enough room and my dining room table is much taller so we sat Lady Blackstone (who did some baking) with Joel and I at the head of the table, raised above everyone else like in the books.

After several days of securing all the ingredients, my chef friend and roommate Joel would be the professional help I would need to pull this shit off.  The night before the dinner we spent the entire day doing as much prepping as we feasibly could.  This meant preparing sauces and stuffings, making stews and just generally doing as much as we could in advance so that the next day wouldn't be as insane.  The general idea was to not be locked in the kitchen during the dinner.

 By the end of day 1 we had accomplished a lot.  We managed to get everything done so that all we needed to do was stuff pasties, finish cooking the birds, reheat stews and prepare salads and vegetables, all things that could be done on the fly in the heat of battle.  At the end we asked for enough money to cover the costs of all ingredients, about $35 per person.  Not too shabby for 9 courses plus booze.  After day 1 the fridge was stuffed to capacity and looked pretty fucking awesome.
Like I said, fucking awesome.
So the next day, a couple people dropped out but a couple people asked if they could come so we managed to keep the original number of 9 friends plus Joel and I.  Once everyone arrived it was time to get down to business.  Parchment paper on the plates meant we didn't have to wash in between courses.  So heres the menu.

1st - Winterpoint Oysters w/ a Shallot/Cava Mignonette paired w/ 1+1=3 Cava

All men must die.
This course was inspired by a character's journey to Braavos.  This exile ends up causing the person to sell oysters from a cart on the streets and fuck me, who doesn't like oysters?  A simple preparation is all one needs and bubbles make a great start to any meal.

2nd - Cersei's Peaches and Honey w/ Humboldt Fog Cheese paired w/ 1+1=3 Cava
Cersei is a huge whore.  Peaches are a great innuendo for pussy.  As is honey.  As is some tangy goat cheese (luls).  So theres a lot of joking going on here but that Lannister bitch is easily one of the best characters in the series simply because you just fucking hate her so much and as far as I've seen, bitch ain't get hers yet.  The pairing remained mostly because taking down a single oyster doesn't usually require a whole glass of bubbly and the flavors still worked together in different ways.

3rd - The Red Wedding salad paired w/ Clos Normand cidre
A salad made from blanched green beans, roasted beets, shaved fennel and orange segments. Simple but delicious and actually taken straight out of the books.  If you haven't read the books than fucking get on it because the Red Wedding is seriously one of the most shocking, badass, "Holy Fuck, Did That Just Happen?" moments in the whole series.  X dies, and so does X.  And X.  Its fucking insane.  We drizzled a little bit of olive oil over the dish since we decided against a dressing and the acidity of the oranges and fattiness of the oil would create enough of a 'vinaigrette'.  The earthy, farmy, dryness of the cider offset the sweeter flavors of the salad while the green beans and fennel gave it the texture a good dish needs.

4th - Iron Islands Stuffed Squid paired w/ De Ranke Kriek

The Kraken is the symbol of House Greyjoy so we needed a squid dish for sure.  I picked up a stuffed baby squid recipe in Italy a few years ago that called for stuffing baby squid with ground pork, spices and milk soaked bread crumbs.  I was only able to get adult squid that I then stuffed with locally made Sujuk sausage, fennel seed, dried mango, and Miller High Life soaked breadcrumbs.  The whole stuffed squid were then roasted in the oven.  Afterwards we coined them, and served with julienned orange and red bell peppers.  The acidity of the Kriek helped cut through both the flavor of the squid and the fattiness of the pork while the cherry flavors offset the stuffing nicely.  Probably my favorite pairing of the dinner.

5th - Westeros Eel Pie paired w/ Terre di Chienti Pecorino
 Far and above the most experiemental and difficult dish for the dinner.  Originally, I wanted to use unagi to stuff a Cornish style pasty.  Joel convinced me that because he had access to a shitload of boquerones (white anchovies) that we should use those.  Since he seemed to have a better grasp of how we could do this, I left this dish in his hands.  Joel's a talented chef and even this dish intimidated him a bit.

He ended up making a bechamel sauce with dill and peas, adding the boquerones into it.  During prep day it tasted too fishy.  Tweaking the seasoning a bit helped.  By the time we served them, it actually turned out pretty good as the fillo dough's butteriness cut the fishiness down and last minute Joel decided that each needed to get drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  He was right as it turns out the dish just really needed some acid.  If we were to do this dish again we agreed that it would be best served by leaving the boquerones out of the sauce and laying a single one into each pasty.  Also, using a balsamic reduction as opposed to straight balsamic would have been nice too.  In the end, it turned out pretty good but I consider it the 'weakest' of the courses.

I still think unagi would have been tastier. 

6th - Sister's Stew paired w/ Allagash Black

Someone's still drinking the fucking white wine in this.  Slacker.
Sister's stew is another Iron Islands dish but it allowed me to do a good old chowdah for the dinner.  If I was not such a fan of Joel's eel pies, than this was most certainly his redemption.  I'll say this, for a guy from Arizona, he makes one fucking hell of a New England haddock chowder.  Since neither of us are skilled bakers we enlisted the help of my friend Emily Blackstone who made a nice rustic oatmeal bread for a later course but since I only needed the ends of the bread, I decided to use the middles for "trenchers" on this course.

It was served by cooking off littleneck clams and opening them up.  On one side a small 'salad' of shaved carrot, leek and crab meat was stuffed opposite the clam and then a good ladle of the chowder went over it.  Seafood and stouts tend to work beautifully together so the pairing was a natural choice.

7th - Kings Landing Hen w/ Farro, Kale, Mushroom, & Cranberry Stuffing paired w/ Smuttynose Old Brown Dog.

This picture sucks.
So yeah, the photo is awful and makes a delicious dish look undercooked and awful.  Fuck you.  Anyways, stuffed birds are pretty common in a lot of the series' feasts and was definitely our largest course consisting of 1/2 a Cornish game hen with the stuffing.  We used farro since is just Italian barley.  I called it the King's Landing Hen because of Robert's utter gluttony and the pairing "old brown Hound".  This course really worked well beyond the flavors in that all the other courses were pretty small and this one made sure everyone would be comfortably full by the end, if not a little stuffed.  See what I did there?

8th - Baratheon Beef and Barley stew on a trencher paired w/ mulled red wine.

Winter is coming.  Bitches.
So this course was my 2nd favorite after the Sister's stew in terms of flavors, nerdiness and pairing.  I made a beef and barley stew with carrots and mushrooms, substituting barley for farro once again.  Very simple but very delicious.  Originally I had wanted to do venison and barley in honor of the Baratheon House symbol but it didn't work out that I could get any venison so local beef was the next best thing.  Robert Baratheon, who is a huge catalyst for many different aspects of the entire series, was the inspiration for this dish.  Just as easily though I could have called it the Stark's of Winterfell beef and barley as its rich, hearty, and perfect for the Fall since "Winter is coming".

Mulled red wine was a fantastic pairing for this dish since its spiced qualities offset the rich, simple, savory flavors of the stew.  This is the dish I asked Lady Blackstone to make the bread for.  As you can see in the photo, my "trencher" was a hollowed out half of the end of the bread.  I placed a large spoonful of the stew inside, topped with a piece of beef and a mushroom on top.  Serving a small portion of such a hearty dish made a nice followup to the previously large course.

9th - Sansa's Lemon Cakes paired w/ Maine Mead Works Lavender Mead

Nom nom nom.
The final course prepared by Lady Blackstone (her names Emily but with a last name like that it just demands to have Lady put in front).  Since Joel and I have no fucking clue how to bake and Emily has brought numerous baked goods in to the Bar, I originally only asked her to make this course.  She brought me in two versions, of which I picked the qualities I liked most.  I think this dish is one of the most iconic foods from Game of Thrones.  Largely in part that Sansa is the only innocent character in such in a brutal series, that quality makes her a very important one.

The cakes themselves were fluffy and light with candied lemon slices on top.  Lavender mead is an amazing offset to the citric acid and reinforces the sweeter qualities, playing off each other nicely.  Furthermore, feeding a bunch of already drunk people (pairings-wise, everyone had had about a bottle and a half to two bottles of wine roughly) some mead is always a great idea.  Sometimes people need to get in touch with their inner viking.

From here we decided to wander in the inclement weather down to the Crow bar for a few drinks.  Every plate was cleared, every drink drank.  99 plates and a bitch ain't one.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Gang Invades Europe Day 3: Westvleteren, De Dolle, De Garre

"Jeff! Wake the fuck up! We have 4 minutes to get out of here!" was my awakening after the debauchery that was caused by our chef Noly's challenge that we were pussies.  Did I mention the weird softcore BDSM porn we saw while playing dice at 4 a.m the night before? Moving on.  Shahin woke me up because all of us had overslept.  I literally sat up and swiped my arm across the nightstand next to me, sweeping all of my shit into my suitcase.  The next ten minutes of our day was spent running around, putting on dirty clothes, still drunk, trying to make the place half way decent and get the fuck out.  We were chased out of there by a very angry Nazi cleaning person who threatened to call the cops if we didn't give him the keys.  We told him to go fuck himself.  Eric, after learning about this, went and complained to management because he'd stayed there numerous times and had never had anything like that. 
Lexy wanted more sleep and looked like we all felt.  Sorry Lex.
After loading our shit into the cars, we had some time to kill and wandered around getting coffees and attempting to sober up and not hate our lives.  I can't honestly say I felt better until I had some beers at Westvleteren.  I figured knowing what I know about alcohol, your body craves sugar in a huge way, especially after getting that drunk.  So I attempted to fix myself by getting a Belgian waffle slathered in nutella and whipped cream.  It didn't really help but it did fucking taste awesome.
Thanks buddy!
We rallied the troops after a little bit and then headed back to Moeder Lambic's 2nd location for a quick beer and to face the same.  Going back to the bar you got fucked up at the previous night is always a horrible experience.  It's sort of like waking up next to a hideous girl that you vaguely recall doing terrible things with.  A mixture of shame, disgust, self loathing and excitement fueled by the taboo.  I had to order one more Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus before we left this wonderful beer playground.
Am I wrong in thinking I'm looking very French here?
Russ, Tony, Shahin and I end up leaving later than everyone else who pretty much smoke a cig, pound a beer and hit the road.  We end up wandering around for a bit when I hit a Belgian comic store and purchase a super cool version of Alice in Wonderland in French with very creepy yet gorgeous artwork.  Shortly thereafter we hit the road towards Brugse.  Our stops on the way consist of Westvleteren and De Dolle.

I'm in and out of a hangover stupor most of the way.  I wake up in the parking lot of the cafe next to the monastery.  Visitors are not really allowed on the monastery grounds but the cafe next door that sells the bottles is packed with tourists from around the world.  Their menu is simple; pate, cheese, salad or croque monsieur.  I order the croque monsieur and in my confusion of being hungover (still), hunger and barely awake I think that when the server asks if I'd like salad I think he means having the sammich as a salad so I decline.  What he actually meant was if I'd like the side salad.  Now, I have not had any fresh vegetables in days and been drinking my ass off.  I would trade my firstborn at this point for some greens.  Luckily Kim didn't want hers and I was able to sate my desire for something to help my shits be less like a shotgun blast to a pile of dry leaves.  Hows that for a mental image?

Now, obviously I had to buy beers here.  They came in 4 packs of 2 blondes, 1 Westy 8 and a Westy 12.  In my confused state of mind and general excitement after purchasing my bottles and some truffles, I end up walking behind the bar back to our table.  Now a word on that.  I fucking hate you assholes who think its okay to come behind the bar.  If you are behind the bar, you are in the fucking way.  Plain and simple.  And now I'm that guy.  Thankfully I realized it quickly and scurried out of the way.  Stupid American.  Furthermore they have all three of those beers on draught. Thirsty, our table is fucking littered with them.  Sam and I are double fisting an 8 and a 12.
We seek out the finest beverages in the world... and abuse them.
We fuck around on the playground outside for a bit where Lexy tempts fate with some rope walking and we all gather on the back patio for a group shot.  Mind you, we've been drinking 8% - 12% beers in the cafe.  We are no longer sober with the exception of the drivers.
Back on the road, Team Ghostride is bumping Bassnectar and Danny Brown through the scenic Belgian country side.  And also drinking our Westy Blondes warm for road sodas.  Eat it nerds.

Cause I fucking can.
We roll into De Dolle around dusk and there is a family consisting of three generations in the bar.  The owner Kris' wife greets us warmly from behind the bar and Eric talks to her for a moment.  We wait around for a minute until Kris comes in from the brewery wearing a rainboots and a very uncertain look on his face.  He shows us around his brewery including their koelschip and his barrel aging room.
Drinking wort from a beaker.
 He doesn't seem very happy to be showing around this many Americans but I think we win him over by being very attentive and respectful of what he has to say and his place.  Either way he is still polite and gracious with a slight sternness to him.  De Dolle, in addition to making great beer, also has an interesting, playful artistic style.  Kris himself is a fantastic artist and his passion for art seems to rival his ability to make great beer.  All the labels are his own art.

After the tour, we hunker down to drink some of these fantastic beers.  De Dolle Oerbier Reserva has a very special place in my heart.  It was the first beer Eric ever drank with me when I was first hired at the bar.  Prior to that experience, I'd only ever had a Rodenbach Grand Cru for a Flemish sour brown.  No offense to Rodenbach but De Dolle blows that shit out of the water.  There are several children running around playing soccer.  We settle on playing foozball.  I think the moment we really began to win Kris over was when Weetie and I sat there looking at one of his pieces and asking him about it.  I can't recall the entirety of the piece but it was little pigs going to school, then college then building some technology to help keep the little pigs safe.
Lexy beat all of us.
After a couple of beers, we need to hit the road again to make it to our hotel in Brugse, which is about a 45 minutes away.  However, before we go we hear the story of one of the most famous pictures from De Dolle.  The family has a rule that when you are old enough to hold the glass on your own, you can have your first taste of beer.  With all the kids running around, the playfulness of the art and this photo, it is obvious that family is of utmost importance to these people as it has been at almost nearly every stop.  Instead of a bunch of brewers, it is friends and family that make all these places work.
So close lil buddy!
We say good bye and leave all feeling very warm and fuzzy from not only the wholesomeness of this place but also the delicious beers.  Arriving in Brugse we drop our shit off, park the cars, and go out to take in the beautiful medieval city but also in search of tasty brews.

Eric has a couple of bars in mind and unfortunately the Brugse Bear and De Garre can't fit a party of 15 at that time so we end up in this super cool basement bar t'Poartergat.  The opening is a stone stepped storm door.  A couple more games of foozball and beers and people are fading.  The crowd inside is young and very euro-hipster.  I'm just chilling and quiet, nursing a De Rank XX bitter.  One hilarious moment ensues after Lexy breaks three glasses in a row and ends up going home to go to bed.  Shortly after  Erika grabs what she thinks is Weetie's ass at the top of the stairs.  Turns out its a local.  Which illicits a lot of laughs from all parties involved, though the local girl looked rather worried.
We grabbin' asses all over Europe.
Most of our crew wanders off to go get some sleep but I'm of the belief that I'll sleep when I'm dead.  Or entirely too drunk to carry on.  And I am not that drunk yet.  Eric, Julie, Erika, Noly and myself head out to De Garre after ditching everyone else who is still around.  De Garre is a huge influence on the way The Bar was set up and you can see it in the place.  Its two floors, exposed brick and serves cheese, sausages, and a handful of beers.  The most important of which is De Garre's tripel.  A stupidly smooth 11.2% beer that tastes of honey buttered bread. A few of these and we're all laughing and spending the remainder of our night in this peaceful place tucked down a winding little alleyway.  You'd be hard pressed to just stumble across De Garre.  You need to know what to look for.  But if you can find it, fucking do it.  Just be sure to not be a loud American tourist asshole, like we were the next night.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Barleywine Breakfast

Barleywine... for breakfast.  Certainly a great way to get fucked up around noon.  I love that my friends Link and Lexy actually were the brains behind this idea.  Over the last few weeks we brain stormed a ridiculous menu with a ridiculous lineup of vertical tastings of barleywines and breakfast stouts.  In about 2 weeks we rallied the troops, rounded up the beers and procured the provisions.  Now in my mind, this is a barleywine brunch but since Link demanded it be called Barleywine Breakfast and it was his idea, so it is.  Ladies and Gents, here we go day drinking.

Initially, Lexy and I had a grandiose food menu including every thing we actually cooked and then some.  We had visions of our previously amazing cornmeal waffles with maple braised pork belly, scotch eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy.  None of which unfortunately appeared but its a good idea right?

In the end, we  decided to go for items with a lot less prep and that would be easier to prepare for potentially masses of people as we had the potential for 20+ people including ourselves showing up.  We settled on a simpler menu of:

Mango/Kiwi/Strawberry & Mint Fruit Salad
Mom's Home Fries
Bacon, Chocolate, Chocolate Stout Pancakes w/ Fresh Whipped Cream
Apt. Made Smoked Salmon w/ Hollandaise (?), Capers, Onions & Green Beans
Goat Cheese, Broccoli & Garlic Marinated Tomato Frittata
Toasted Coconut Scones
Biscuits (apparently Lexy was under the impression I was going to make a sausage gravy... oh well, they were bangin' with butter and jam anyways)

Which looks like this... GO PATS!

 My contributions to breakfast were the home fries and a vertical tasting of Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout of '08, '09, '10, '11 and of course the infamous and elusive '72.  KBS as it's known is in my opinion the greatest of all the breakfast beers.  Its an oatmeal stout with chocolate and coffee aged in bourbon barrels.  What the fuck else do I want for breakfast?
Oh... yeah... I do want that for breakfast...
 I brought several bottles of '11 so everyone could have a good pour unlike the other years since its hard to get a 12 oz bottle to go very far.  Now the vertical tasting could have been bullshit since I got it through a beer trade with marker years written on them.  However, it seems legit enough as the '08 has the original label on it before the State of Kentucky sued Founder's for some douche bag reason. As I learned, Founder's used twist off caps prior to 2010 as the '09 had the new KBS label but was a twist off bottle.  Thanks dude from Beer Advocate that didn't fuck me over!
Founder's didn't exist in '72 in case you're that stupid...
The night before I boiled off my potatoes and was reminded of my first restaurant job when I was 14 and the massive amount of fucking potatoes I had to cut up for brunch... and I still fucking love potatoes.  The recipe I used comes from none other than my dear ole Mom.  When I was younger she would cook thick cut bacon in a cast iron skillet on a wood stove until it was halfway done then pull it from the pan and set aside.  She'd then add canned sliced white potatoes, a shitload of Italian seasoning, paprika, garlic and onion powder.  Then as the potatoes and spices got good and crispy, she'd scrape all the shit from the bottom of the pan, re-add the bacon to finish cooking and serve it with ketchup.

As I've learned to cook I do things a little differently but the basic idea is the same.  I use Yukon golds, cut into 1/2" pieces, but I also add red peppers and onions half way through them being done.  I cut the bacon into 1" pieces so its easier to eat and I cut back a little on the seasonings, but not much.  I generally serve it with an egg over easy on top and call it breakfast.

So I rolled over to Lexy's with a backpack full of ingredients, a pot full of potatoes and while I stood there in the slight drizzle of rain waiting for my cab remembered I didn't fucking grab the beer.  Did I mention I'm a terrible morning person?  That's why I sleep til 1.  So making the poor bastard wait while I run to my basement and grab the selected brews, I waddle to the cab with an arm full of beer with loaded backpack.  I load the beers into my backpack in the cab.  This is pre-coffee just so you know.

Getting to Lexy's thankfully I'm offered coffee and a Head Topper IPA and I get crackin' on the homefries as they need a solid hour or more from cooking bacon to finish.  My 3lbs of potatoes is entirely too much for any one pan, so I used 2 massive skillets and made the stove my fucking bitch.  Which it's fortunate Link had the pancake batter ready for a moments notice and I could use the whole stove.  Tom and Mariah, Link and Lexy's new neighbors and long time friends, joined us and thankfully didn't need to do more than hard boil eggs and blanch green beans.

  Tom contributed something to the effect of blanched green beans with the classic bagel with lox fixings.  Now I listed it as a hollandaise on the menu but I'm not sure what he dressed it with honestly.  Some sort of delicious creamy, eggy awesomeness.  He hot smoked the Salmon so it wasn't a proper lox or anything but it was fucking delicious.  As we all know, delicious is the only thing that matters when it comes to cooking.  The homefries got closer to done, people started arriving and the fridge started filling up with beer...
Didn't realize my camera was capable of taking drunk vision photos.
All and all there's a ridiculous amount of beer and not a single one is under 8% except the 4 Left Hand Milk Stouts I brought.  We had 4 Firestone Walker Anni 14's, 2 Deschutes Mirror Mirror, a 4 bottle vertical of East End's Gratitude (750's of barleywine, those sick fucks), a Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, Mikkeller Beer Hop Brunch, amongst other ridiculous shit I can't remember for some reason... Oh wait thats right, I drank Imperial Stouts and Barleywine all morning.

So the home fries are finally fucking done cause I'm sick of turning them.  So I transfer them to a dish and hand the stove over to Link who gets to work.
I'm not not cooking drunkenly...
Meanwhile, the rest of us start drinking some of the single bottles.  We pop the Mirror Mirrors first which is a deliciously smooth barleywine that has some brettanomyces wild yeast to it.  Not sure if the brewery wanted that in there but even if they didn't they turned out fucking delicious and also allowed me to take this amazingly wholesome photo while we drank at noon time...
If that doesn't warm your soul, you probably don't have one...
By now everyone has arrived and everyone has eaten.  So now we start in on the vertical tastings while we can still think.  The KBS tasting is wonderful and the first to go since Eric and Julie have leave shortly to go do work and I assume get their daughter Maelle the hell out of there before we descend into a proper Bacchanalian madness.  The coffee in the beer holds up in most of the brews but the alcohol really mellows out making it a stupidly smooth drink for 11.2% abv.  Link starts popping the East End's Gratitudes which unfortunately I only had sips out of being so fixated on drinking everything else.  We're all starting to feel a good glow come on.
And Russ is starting to feel bad ass.
Now that our fancy schmancy tastings are over, we move out doors to the patio to keep drinking heavily and smoke cigarettes to assuage our full bellies.  We bring a handful of the remaining beers outside to drink including the two Mikkeller's, which are fucking delicious, particularly the Beer Hop Breakfast.  We sat out there on a nice misty afternoon drinking the rest of the beers and day away.  Oh and I shared my beer with a dog because I'm a generous bad human being.  Not much of an ending I suppose but really, I don't remember that much of my day from then on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Gang Invades Europe Day 2 Part 2: De La Senne, Dinner & Moeder Lambic

So leaving Cantillon, Eric attempted to lead us on a small tour of Brussels as it would be pretty much our only chance to see some of the more touristy sights.  This meant lugging 9 bottles of Cantillon and other loot around for hours.  Not super fun but thats what I get for being a complete swag whore.  The attempt somewhat failed as we got a bit turned around trying to find the Grand Place by way of passing the Manneken Pis.  While trying to navigate our way there we made a quick stop for some of our party that needed to use a bathroom.  We accidentally took off without Erika.  When we realized we had ditched her, Tony immediately took off to attempt to find her.  Eric then took off to find both of them while Julie lead us to the Grand Place, giving up on the Mannaken Pis, which we saw somewhere along the way anyways.  Its a lot smaller than any photo has made it look.  Traveling with 13 other people is a lot like herding cats.

Ooohh so purdy.
Anyways, Erika managed to find her own way to the Grand Place and Tony was still AWOL.  Julie offered to let us leave our swag with her and go find something to eat and just generally look around the Grand Place, which is beautiful.   But I don't know if it was totally worth the hassle of getting there lugging that much shit around.  But I do enjoy taking in the architecture of a European country.  The United States really has very little to compare in this regard.

 We probably lingered in the area for about an hour until Eric showed up with Tony in tow who insisted he was never lost but rather knew exactly where he was.  When Eric asked him where he was he replied "right here". Bwuahaha.  That ladies and gentlemen is whats called being a Man.  Yes, capital M.  In the mean time, Weetie, Noly and I wandered down the side streets.  I would like to say we were taking in the sights and culture but really we just were looking for a doner kebab shop.  Which was rather difficult to find in this area.  Apparently other tourists want nice restaurants instead of dirty lamb deliciousness.  Losers.
Where... are... the... fucking.... doners?!
Troops rallied, we headed back to our hotel, dropped off our shit and got ready for the rest of the night.  Running a bit late we had to hurry to get to De La Senne.  Which didn't really work either.  GPS devices are still kind of annoyingly stupid.  1st world problem.  Moving on.  De La Senne is easily my favorite Belgian brewery.  Their Belgian "IPA" Taras Boulba is one of the best beers in the world if you ask me.  Crisp, flavorful, light, perfectly hopped for its light body, I could drink this beer forever and having it super fresh makes me very happy.

We were greeted at De La Senne by Yvan.  Their brewery has only been in its current location for a short amount of time.  Their tasting area is half finished but good enough.  Basically a converted warehouse, its ceilings extremely high and it is incredibly spacious.  Yvan treated us to a few beers before giving us a quick tour of their facility.  I started with their beer Brussels Calling since I had never had it before.  The beer itself is a Belgian pale ale of sorts, lightly bitter and pretty easy to drink.
 Having been to more than a couple breweries with The Bar since I've worked there, the format is always the same but you begin to notice the differences which are where it truly counts.  With De La Senne and Yvan, it was talking about the yeast.  Yvan spoke of yeast in a personified, reverential way.  Their fermenting tanks are specifically designed in order to place the least amount of stress on the yeast.  As Yvan said with a slight laugh "She does the hardest work, so we like to think that this tank ought to be a swimming pool to make her the most comfortable, because the hardest work is not ours, its hers"

And hes right.  Overworked and stress yeast will not ferment as well as it could and will leave off flavors in the beer.  In order to get the best beer possible, the environment the yeast is in needs to be considered carefully.  Not too hot, not too cold, etc.  It is this sort of respect that I feel is probably why De La Senne is such an amazing brewery, if they care that much about a microbe then the rest of their brewing is sure to be carefully considered with a gentle passion.

The stop at De La Senne was brief because we had been so late getting there that it was great of Yvan to take the time to show us around and talk to us.  He seemed pretty excited too when we immediately began washing all of our glassware and putting away bottles.  Bartenders make good guests I like to think.

After De La Senne we headed to some upscale restaurant that I couldn't tell you the name of.  Something with Chapelle in it.  Yeah, sorry, not exactly helpful.  Regardless, the restaurant was a very traditional French style.  A bunch of loud, grimy ass Americans tend to draw attention where ever we go, but they didn't seem to mind us too terribly.  The head chef was described to us as "A bit of a jerk but a nice guy overall, and please tell him I said that but leave out the nice guy part" by Yvan.  The description was basically true.  A bit of a dick but in a joking fashion, I'd have a hell of a time condemning him for being like that since thats pretty much who I am.  It is my sincere belief that I don't give a flying fuck if the chef is a personable guy or a complete prick.  If he makes good food, thats all I need.  I'm not there to make friends, I'm there to eat some good fucking food.

Mmmm... Brains...
Thankfully they had menu's in English and we all ordered about 2 courses and once again Erika hated what she ordered.  Some poached skate I believe.  I myself chose shimp coquettes again and vol au vent for dinner.  The coquettes were delicious and the best ones I had on the trip.  Noly started with calf's brains which were pretty tasty, a bit oniony and a little overcooked but a ridiculously sized portion.  More brain than a fucking zombie might want to eat.

Main courses are where this experience really came together.  The food overall was very good but not as mind blowing as the price would have suggested.  What really make this place shine was the service that accompanied the food.  For instance, my vol au vent.  What was brought out was a single square puff pastry on a plate.  A server then followed with the sweetbreads, mushrooms, chicken, and gravy in a pot and ladled that on top of the puff pastry.  Following this was what looked like an aioli/mayonaise dolloped on top of the filling.  Yet another server came over and placed another square puff pastry on top.  Finally a server came around with a pot of french fries and put some on my plate, perfectly ruining what was such a beautiful culinary creation with fucking steak fries.
I still ate the fries but what the fuck, seriously?  You got nothing else?
Tony did not however share my disdain for the french fries.  When the server placed a bunch of fries on his massive plate of hand cut to order steak tartare, he squealed with such delight that the entire table shared a laugh and felt warm and fuzzy.  I think the quote was something like "YOU MEAN I GET FRENCH FRIES TOO?!" Tony does what Tony wants.

Eric and Julie both got what I think were my next favorite dishes, a simple scallop dish and a braised veal cheek dish that was so incredibly flavorful and tender.
 After we'd feasted and enjoyed our experience, it was time to get dirty drunk at the second Moeder Lambic location. I think walking there is when we passed by the Manneken Pis.  I'm not sure.  Anyways.  The second Moeder location reminded me a lot of The Bar in some ways.  Completely different in decor, both of these bars push the standard of beer drinking forward.  Five different Cantillon beers permanently on cask.  On this particular night it was the release of De La Senne's Band of Brothers, a delicious hoppy ale.
Almost immediately Jean and Nasim offered to show us the keg room and explain how their system works to us.  Most of the staff chose to stay upstairs drinking so it was really just Eric, Shahin, Russ and myself down stairs learning how they run their bar and getting ideas on how to upgrade/fine tune our keg lines and possibly switch to a quick connect system for ease of changing kegs and adjustment of carbonation levels. 
Moeder Lambic's bottle cooler/keg room.  The important stuff.

 Afterwards it was time to get dirty.  Tony and Cole had made friends with a guy in the park across from the patio and were smoking a joint.  I quickly joined in.  Turns out, this super friendly awesome guy is the delivery driver for De La Senne.  Joining us was a rep from Lagunitas brewery and his wife.  Who also smoked a bunch of weed with us.  This is one of those moments where you realize, maybe, just maybe, Europe does it better than us.  No one gave a flying shit that we were drinking beers off the patio or smoking a joint right by the entrance.  Every one was just chill.  A lot of times I wish I didn't have to enforce stupid rules like "you can have your beer here, but not here" but I do so that my boss doesn't lose his liquor license if the 5-0 roll up.  Obviously don't be a jack ass and don't wander down the street with your beer but if you did, it didn't really matter.

So while hanging out, people keep wandering off.  I don't know who discovered it, I think it was Sammy, Weetie and Erika, but down the street a little bit they found a super ghetto shot bar bumping American club music.  We invaded asjust about the only white people in the place and ordered 10 tequila shot boards one after the other and got down to some dirty fuckin dancin.

Look at the girls faces in the background.
So this debauchery continues for hours until we're all shitfaced and its time to round up the mob and head back to the apartment.  Noly remarks at this point that he thinks we're a bunch of pussies and how we have all these legendary stories of our drinking but thus far is unimpressed.  Challenge accepted.  On our walk back, somehow, somewhere a fifth of Johnny Walker Red is procured in addition to beers and bottles of cider.  We parade down the street towards the apartment, passing that bottle around.  Weetie resists heading back and persists in talking to every sketchy person on the street because shes just a friendly little wasted peach.  She finally caves when I point out that we all have to go back together because theres only one key but she can go back out after.  Just as we reach the apartment we start 'parcouring' and doing drunken handstands.  Since its harder to describe what actually happened that night, we'll end with a bunch of photos that need no explanation.  Photos that are missing are: The Gang Drinking In a Pile of Trash, Weetie Drops A Coffee Mug 3 Stories, The Gang Watches A Weird Belgian S+M Porno.
Thats a doner in my pocket.

Don't ask
Get it Tony!