I’ve been looking forward to this dinner for several weeks. The pairings were worked out by chef Evan Hennessey, who has a background working in several well-known Portsmouth restaurants. Stages at One Washington’s main goal is to create ‘dining experiences’ through special events. They’ve held several wine paring and other food events, but this is their first beer-centric pairing dinner. Choosing Throwback for this honor was a great match – for those not familiar with Throwback Brewing, they are a Hampton, NH based brewery that opened a little over a year ago. I had the pleasure of interviewing them for a piece in NH Magazine a while back, and their locally-sourced brew have been a hit in New England. (Bonus: My review of their chocolate peanut butter beer, Fat Alberta)
Stages at One Washington is tucked away in an old garment mill in Dover NH. After meandering up creaky stairs, we arrived at the room that featured an open dining area, with the simple elegance of growlers acting as vases for barley on the family-style table, and folded paper windmills accenting the walls. Small touches – like hops hanging from the ceiling and a set of Throwback beer labels nicely framed over a side table – made the atmosphere feel special. A couple of guests commented that the decorations were inspired, with Nicole from Throwback Brewing exclaiming, “We should just let these guys loose to decorate our new tasting room!” I’d be inclined to agree.
Before each course, Nicole would go into a little bit of detail about the featured beer, and we were served sampling glasses (~4oz) of the beer in question. The servers were professional and flawless – and the timing was great. We’d eat, chat, and then the second we’d start thinking about the next course it would arrive.
Before the meal began, we were given a beer ‘shot.’ This was a trick – it was really made out of vegetable stock and was a fabulous “amuse bouche” that looked just like a little glass of beer. Lemony and savory, it was a great way to open what was going to be a fun evening.
The first course was a bit of a mind bender. Slices of rhubarb and compressed apricot were laid out on a plate to resemble sushi, with the foam on top simulating the rice. Very, very interesting presentation. The Rhubarb Wit, by itself, was great. I hadn’t gotten a chance to catch this beer before, and I enjoyed it a lot. If you like rhubarb, you will love this beer. The rhubarb comes right in at the end, and is present, without being so tart as to be obnoxious. I could drink it all summer long. With the dish, it went very well, though I admit that my favorite part of this course was the apricot and the coriander “soil” that it was laying on. Delicious.
The second course was a favorite of the crowd, and it featured canneloni filled with several different cheeses, as well as two pieces of amazing brie (Blythedale brie from Vermont) on the side. I could have eaten an entire plate of just the brie without thinking. It was creamy and velvety and just right. Together, the dish had a lot of interesting pieces that melded together quite well. Paired with the Honey Basil Saison, I didn’t think the two elevated each other, but each were unique on their own. The saison was lifted to a brightness by the basil. Not earthy, but light and cold, like mint or another palate cleanser. Very nice.
The third course was my favorite pairing of the night. First of all, how do you create a jalepenio infused beer that tastes so amazing on its own? Carefully. Spicy Bohemian varies from batch to batch depending on the hotness of that batch of peppers. So, naturally, I was expecting something latin to accompany this beer. Nope. The haddock was oil-poached, which was a new technique to me. The haddock just had this amazingly smooth and buttery texture, and just fell apart when pushed with fork tines. The corn on top and the cucumber noodles beneath just made the dish sublime. Loved it. Then I tried it with the Spicy Bohemian. Oh. My. God. The spiciness cut through some of the oily richness, and just made it the tastiest bite of fish and beer that’s ever been in my mouth. Perfect. I think this really demonstrates that the chef knows what he’s doing. I would never have thought – and I doubt there are beer/food people out there that would have – that this fish would be so amazing with this beer. Amazing.
The fourth course, a veal cheek, was cooked to perfection, and featured a fun bonus of pickled carrots on the plate. While this was not my favorite of the evening, it did complement Oma’s Tribute well – the smokiness in each played off each other well. I was also pleased with this course that there was actually a good amount of food on the plate (sometimes I wonder if I go to fancy dinners if I’ll end up with postage-stamp-sized portions) so as not to leave anyone wanting.
The fifth course was another tromp l’oeil. Appearing to be a milkshake, french fries and a burger, this dessert was far from it. The burger was made out of a doughnut (complete with sesame seeds) and filled with chocolate mousse. There was even a slice of “cheese” made out of gelatinized passion fruit. The fries were made out of funnel cake dough, and the milkshake was a combination of the Maple Kissed Wheat Porter and vanilla ice cream. Wow. We all had our phones out taking pictures of that one. What a fun way to end the evening!
I have to thank the staff at Flavor Concepts, and at Stages at One Washington (including chef Evan) for a fabulous time. I was really happy to see this chef take some risks with beer pairing, and treat it with the same level of respect, dignity and fun that beer deserves.
(Also – special thanks to Erin O. for her excellent photos!)