Last night, we ate at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. We don’t generally like to go out on Monday nights, but this was the night Rustic Canyon was having their seasonal beer pairing dinner. And it was worth it.

The dinner pairs six beers with four savory courses and a dessert. Here’s the set menu.

The first beer was basically a lambic, but brewed in the US, and without fruit: Jolly Pumpkin from Oro de Calabasa. Despite the name of the beer and the brewery, there was, thankfully, no squash involved. It was light, and served alone. This was pretty good – nice and fresh, and, as described by the beer sommelier, Christina, a good palate cleanser.

Then the food started. The bacon en croute looked very small and unassuming. But biting in made all the difference. Imagine a juicy chunk of soft bacon surrounded with flaky, moist dough, with rough salt on top. My friend Joe likened it to a high-end pig in a blanket. It was basically a juicy bite of bacon goodness. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture.

The bacon en croute was served with Black Orchard Wit from The Bruery. This was a dark wheat beer apparently, brewed in Upland. Frankly, although I like other beers from The Bruery, this one didn’t really do anything for me. It did a nice job of standing up to the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon without competing, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for it. I’d had the Orchard White before (at Father’s Office) and I liked it a lot, so I’m game for more from the Bruery – I might need to take a field trip down there.

The second food course was the persimmon, fig and fennel salad. I’m just recently starting to like persimmon, but this wasn’t like anything I’d had before. It was sliced thin and it was crunchy, almost like a green papaya salad at a Thai restaurant. In any event, the salad was very unexpected and delicious. But even better, the beer with this was from Browerij Bosteels in Belgium. It was their Tripel Karmeliet, and the information from Rustic Canyon said it was voted the best ale in some London tasting recently. It was amazing. I had three glasses. Monks don’t brew it anymore, apparently, but the recipe is 400 years old. This was the best beer of the bunch – similar to a Chimay Tripel (which seems to be part of the same brewery, maybe?) but better.

Then came the pumpkin ravioli, bathed in a brown butter sage sauce. Heavenly. And pretty good with the beer, even though the beer was, frankly, a little one dimensional. The Green Flash Nut Brown Ale was better than, say, Newcastle, but in the same ballpark. For this course, it was all about the pasta. For homemade dough, it was surprisingly rigid and really kept its form and had a nice bite. And it’s hard to not like pasta swimming in good butter.

So then came the main course – the duck confit. Crispy skin, juicy, fatty meat. Really incredible. I had a duck confit over at Comme Ca recently and it didn’t hold a candle to this. The veggies with it were fine, but the duck itself here was sensational. And the beer with this course was a winner also: Reserve, from Abbaye Binchoise (can’t find a link for the brewery). So maybe I have a weakness for Belgian beer, but this was another great one.

OK, so how do you finish a beer pairing menu with a dessert beer? You might think a chocolate beer would be the ticket, but Rustic Canyon went a different direction and finished with a chocolate cake, a plate of cookies (really good ones – gingerbread, shortbread, and lemon squares) and a beer that was finished in Jim Beam casks to give it a whisky-like flavor. That worked surprisingly well – and I had doubles of this one. The beer was Curieux from a brewery in Maine called Allagash.

I’m trying to figure out where to buy some of these beers in LA. The three I’m interested in are the two Belgians and the Allagash. They really floored me.

So after eating lots of wine pairing menus over the years, I finally found a beer menu. As much as I like wine, I’m not generally bowled over by how well it pairs with certain foods, nor am I really able to identify flavors as carefully as many. It’s not that I don’t like wine with food – quite the contrary – it’s just that I don’t usually recognize as much of a symbiosis between wine and food as I did last night with beer and food. And I feel like the range of wines typical in pairings like this just doesn’t go nearly as far as this went. Usually, you get some white, some red, and some sparkling wine. The breadth of different flavors in these beers just went further – and clearly, there are a lot more possibilities out there. And one of my least favorite types of beer – IPA – was totally absent.

I’ll definitely be going back to Rustic Canyon for another beer pairing menu. It sounds like they have one each season, but the winter one might be a bit late since the woman in charge, Christina, has a book coming out, and that’s taking up her time. But, if I can get four of these a year, one in each season, I’ll be there.

4 Responses to “Autumn Beer Pairing Dinner at Rustic Canyon”

  1. 1Jason on Nov 19, 2008 at 7:00 am:

    Sounds like an amazing meal! How much beer would you say you had?

  2. 2Michael on Nov 19, 2008 at 7:05 am:

    That guy was actually at the table next to us. He was wearing a shirt with vertical stripes, and had some facial hair. So he looked slim, actually.

  3. 3joel on Jan 16, 2009 at 1:49 am:

    Excellent writing, mike. I agree with your observations about wine lacking the depth of some beer…and I’d go further to say that I almost always prefer beer to wine — with food or without.

    frankly, it feels right to drink beer.
    I’m dissapointed you don’t care for most ipas. I’m not am ultrahops kind of guy,though. This extreme beer thing is annoying. But also, I’ve been avoiding the belgium ales for a while…something in the finish I don’t find as clean. Like teaming flavors that won’t let you up for air. The only beer I do like that teams with flavor in the finish is…dark wheat beer. I love Schneiderweiss with a slice of lemon.

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