Despite the fact that craft beer continues to surge in sales and consumer popularity, there is still one place where it is shockingly difficult to find great craft beer: fine dining restaurants.
While some high-end establishments recognize that the craft beer "trend" is actually permanent and have adjusted their drink menus accordingly, far too many places lag behind the times. Wine is still the dominant pairing partner in much of the scene, and while that's not likely to change any time soon, more restaurants should be offering a beer pairing menu for those who want the complex flavors of a well-crafted beer matching their meal.
French brasserie Cafe D'Alsace embraced this idea six years ago when it opened with a full-time beer sommelier on staff; someone to expertly pair the hearty, elegant flavors of the Alsatian cuisine that Chef Philippe Roussel, a third-generation chef from Brittany, prepares. Located in Manhattan's Upper East Side, the restaurant does offer a traditional wine list, but the emphasis is on the 125-plus beer offerings, many of which are even aged in an impressive cellar. Broken down by beer style, the menu also states the beer's country of origin, and a separate menu lists the day's draft-line beer.
Guiding diners through the pairing adventure is beer sommelier Gianni Cavicchi. Cavicchi has always impressed me with not only his unsurpassed beer and pairing knowledge, but also for his ability to stay abreast of trends happening within the craft beer world. Evidence of this can be seen by some of the events he has organized for the restaurant: Bastille Day Pig Roast (a celebration of French craft beers); Flying Dog Firkin Friday, in which he tapped what was at the time a brand new unfiltered American IPA from the brewery; and his newest event, Sausage, Cider and Beer Week, going on right now at the restaurant night, which is not just a nifty homage to Oktoberfest, but proof that the cider market is officially #trending towards resurgence.
The keynote cider for the week has been Doc's Draft Wet Hopped Harvest Cider, a liquid Cavicchi created himself in collaboration with Doc's Draft Hard Cider, located in Warwick, New York. The cider is produced with apples from Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery (owner of Doc's), and is highlighted by fresh Nugget hops, which give the lively, tannic cider a floral aroma and herbal note.
Sausage, Cider and Beer Week is also taking place at the Tour de France restaurant group's eight other establishments: French Roast Uptown and Downtown, L'Express, Maison, Marseille, Nice Matin, Le Monde and Pigalle. Cavicchi, who is also the restaurant group's beer director, says each of the places have kegs of his cider, and they will be serving it under the name Tour de France Cider.
My appetizer was a plate of chanterelle mushrooms from France sauteed in garlic and butter, which was complemented well by a glass of Doc's Draft Wet Hopped Harvest cider. I was then poured a flute of Goussin Cider Heritage 1900 from France, a superb cider pressed at a 100-year-old orchard between Champagne and Burgundy.
Following that was a succulent duck sausage, wrapped in a puff pastry and served sliced on a bed of frisee drizzled in aged Port wine sauce. Paired with Ommegang Take the Black stout, the newest of the brewery's Game of Throne series, the duck sausage flavor ramps up to another level. I also ate a classic cassoulet of white bean casserole, duck sausage, duck leg confit, garlic sausage, foie gras, braised lamb shoulder and natural duck jus, which matched nicely with a Gisberga porter from Spain. Tarte tatin with creme fraiche was my dessert, paired with Aaron Burr Homestead Pear. The Homestead Pear cider is made from real perry-pears, a notoriously fickle fruit that yields a treasured, juicy bounty if harvested and pressed correctly. This one is, and the soft, tannic mouthfeel brought out more depth from the tarte tatin and received a sweet lift in return.
It goes without saying that the food and drink combinations were spectacular, and when paired with the energetic space and well-designed art deco interior, create an evening one soon won't forget.