As a food writer, I often receive requests to mention some product or event on my blog. Happily, I'm able to manage most such solicitations with the single click of a mouse. Occasionally, however, I find something very appealing in my electronic mailbox. For instance, a recent invitation to a soirée that included gourmet food, artisanal beer, and a membership to a unique dining club, was a food blogging perquisite I couldn't resist.
The event, held at Hell's Kitchen's Albert Hall Tavern, featured eight tasting-sized courses, each paired with a different libation. Its purpose was to introduce me and like-minded food enthusiasts to [exploration] dining, a members-only community that offers 50% discounts at some of New York's "secrets to be discovered." Affording various additional benefits, the club "offers New Yorkers a reason to go out and explore their city," explained its founder and CEO Alex Bartosch. Let the exploration begin …
Let's kick off our dining exploration with a review of the evening's comestibles, beer, and tequila. Tequila? ¡Sí! Our tasting commenced with a raw bar, comprising Malpaques and Blue Points (from the nearby Sea Breeze Fish Market), paired with a sample of Patrón Silver and a subsequent taste of the triple-distilled, slightly aged Gran Patrón Platinum. (Were you aware that a co-founder of Paul Mitchell Systems—John Paul DeJoria—was also one of the founders of The Patrón Spirits Company?) Produced from 100% Weber blue agave, both tequilas are smooth and sweet, and have a peppery finish. With oysters, they're a potent alternative to Chablis, and a marvelous way to start an evening!
Deep-fried oysters followed the raw variety. The spicy-hot Screaming Oysters from Hell is one of Albert Hall Tavern's signature appetizers. Executive chef Bill Seleno kindles an insidious fire with Sambal Oelek, and presents his infernal [s]hellfish atop slices of sweet pineapple to produce an underworldly flavor sensation. If this is hell, I'm liable to commit many additional sins. The mollusks were paired with Stone Pale Ale, Stone Brewing Company's "Southern California interpretation of the classic British pale ale style." Light and hoppy, this ale kept the oysters' flames under control.
It was back to raw for our next course, Tuna Tartare with Quail Egg. Though perhaps a bit salty, this dish was absolutely delicious. (I should admit, however, to being very partial to tuna.) It was accompanied by Estrella Galicia, a somewhat light lager, considered by some to be northern Spain's equivalent of Coors. Regardless of comparisons with Rocky Mountain brews, it goes great with fish.
Next, the Deviled Braised Short Rib with Horseradish and Mustard Seed added some meat to the menu. Served on toast, its tangy and spicy flavors were enhanced by the sweetness of Brouwerij Bosteels's Tripel Karmeliet, a three-grain (wheat, oats, and barley) Belgian beer, brewed using a 17th-century recipe. Gentle on the palate, it adds body to any dish it accompanies.
We returned to the sea for our next course. To be honest, the Pickled Sardines with Fennel Pollen Meyer Lemon Cream was my least favorite dish of the evening. I'm not fond of fennel, and I didn't find these sardines particularly compelling. Overall, this sample from the bar menu wasn't bad, but I'd probably not order it on a future visit. Nevertheless, Gaffel Kölsch from Cologne, Germany was the perfect foil for this preparation. The Becker Brothers brew is rich, somewhat light, yet slightly bitter at the same time. It's another fine beer to pair with fish.
Our salad arrived next. I could readily taste the garlic in the Grilled Radicchio with Trifoline Cheese and Butternut Squash Carpaccio. Chef Seleno's combination of the foregoing elements yielded a harmonious mix of flavors. The sweetness of the butternut squash partnered well with that of La Brasserie de St-Sylvestre's Gavroche French Red Ale. The fruity sweetness of this Bière sur Lie (beer on its lees) comes from a special top-fermenting yeast that produces a re-fermentation in the bottle.
I should like to introduce the next course by mentioning that I typically have little inclination to order mussels. But oh, those garlic aromas wafting from Chef Seleno's Steamed Mussels with Charred Rosemary and Black Garlic! Perhaps owing to the dominance of the fermented (black) garlic, I found these mollusks to be exceptionally flavorful. (I made good use of the crusty bread to finish whatever broth remained.) Appropriately, they were paired with a German Pilsner that did not attempt to make any powerful statements. Radeberger, a highly effervescent pale golden lager with a hoppy bitterness, is a very good palate cleanser that could also serve as a fine companion to German Würste.
Executive Chef Bill Seleno's Pièce de Résistance
Our final course, Roasted Suckling Pig with Maple Rum, was the evening's pièce de résistance. It was tender, succulent, and flavorful—everything I'd expect from a suckling pig. Any initial concerns over the sweetness of the maple rum were dispelled with my first bite. As delicious as it was, however, I found that just the lightest sprinkle of salt added the perfect finishing touch.
What beer to serve with such an exquisite dish? Something with strong flavors of hops? Should it be sweet or dry? The answers appeared in a bottle of Hop Rod Rye from California's Bear Republic. This hoppy Healdsburg IPA is brewed with 18% rye malt to give it a dry spiciness that is delicious with or without food. What a marvelous beer with which to finish!
Albert Hall Tavern
508 Ninth Avenue (between 38th & 39th Sts),
Hell's Kitchen (Clinton), Manhattan (map)
By bus: M11, M16, M104
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