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Ithaca Pairing Dinner At The Owl House
Beer pairing dinners are one of our favorite ways to spend an evening. We've been to several, the vast majority of which were hosted at Tap and Mallet. Our love for The Owl House has been well documented on the site. When an opportunity to see how they handle a pairing dinner during Rochester Real Beer Week came up, we had to take advantage.

In a strange coincidence, the dinner took place one day after our three-year wedding anniversary and it was a nice way to celebrate. Stranger still, the featured brewery of the pairing was Ithaca Beer Company, the same brewer that we featured in our beer selection at our wedding. The menu featured four courses and six beers. They also did two seatings, at 6pm and 8pm. We opted for the later one which was interesting. We got the impression that the kitchen and wait staff may have gotten some of the kinks worked out. Sadly, the Ithaca representative did not stay for our seating so we didn't get any nice introductions to the beer or food.

The evening kicked off with easily the most exciting beer of the night. We each received a small pour of LeBleu. LeBleu is a wild ale brewed with blueberries and brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is a type of yeast that imparts a tart flavor and is used in many traditional Belgian beers. It makes this particular beer taste like an amazing combination of blueberries and bleu cheese. It's one of Heather's and my absolute favorites and we've been lucky enough to enjoy it on multiple occasions. Our waiter seemed almost uncomfortable as he distributed the drink, talking about how rare it was. We knew exactly what we were getting and we were very excited. This particular beer was unpaired, instead being treated as an aperitif (a drink served to stimulate the appetite).

The first food course was a sun gold tomato gazpacho. It was an eye opening, acidic dish. The best parts of it were the tarragon and single, nicely pickled slice of radish. The anise-flavor of the tarragon made the bites that included it completely different from the rest and quite a bit better. Overall, we both really enjoyed it but by the end were pointing out just how acidic it was.

The gazpacho was paired with Ground Break, Ithaca's spring seasonal. It's a strong example of the saison style and saisons seem to always pair well with food. The herbiness of the beer went nicely with the herbiness of the soup.

The Owl House is known for being vegetarian and vegan friendly and each course that featured meat came with an alternative option. The second course featured seared scallops and the vegetarian option was roasted king oyster mushrooms. Heather has never been the biggest scallop fan so she decided to go with the mushrooms and it was interesting to see how they composed an otherwise similar dish. The caramelization on my scallops was possibly the best of any scallop I've ever had. It gave them a great sweetness and texture note that left me longing for more. The scallops themselves were actually quite small and I'm not sure why.

The rest of the dish was amazing as well. It featured braised chard, golden raisins, and pine nuts. Every bite I got that had some raisins and pine nuts in it was wonderful. This was easily my absolute favorite dish of the entire meal. Prior to our seating, the bartender let us know that some of the ideas in the dinner may make their way to the menu. Here's to hoping this dish gets a home so I can have it again.

The beer served with the course was White Gold, a beer from Ithaca's higher end Excelsior series. It's an interesting beer, described as Belgo-American ale. It comes off as a smooth and dry Beligan-style beer. It's nice, but a bit unremarkable.

The third course (and final savory course) was braised beef short ribs served over orzo pasta. The vegetarian option for this course was seitan, something that Heather and I were not going to choose. Beef all the way! It's always a little weird eating an orzo pasta dish like this. It's served in a way that, at first glance, is easy to assume that it is meat and sauce over rice. Even when I know it's orzo and not rice, the distinct texture difference still takes me by surprise and I like it. As we ate it we discussed wanting to do more with orzo in our home meals.

The rest of the dish was a little confusing too. It featured what seemed like two sauces, the bbq sauce on the beef itself and another sauce called a rhubarb puree on the menu. I wasn't sure if it should all be eaten together or what. I tried it in all sorts of different ways and it was really good but the flavor of the two sauces definitely overpowered everything else.

This course was paired with another beer from Ithaca's Excelsior series, their 14th Anniversary Ale. It's a hoppy black ale which went pretty well with the short ribs. Ithaca has been doing anniversary ales annually for several years now and this is one of their best and most unique.

The dessert course for the meal sounded wonderful, a chocolate cashew cream cake with a cocoa pecan crust and Belgian quadrupel poached figs. I don't remember why exactly, but Heather and I had just been talking about how much we liked figs, so seeing this on the menu was quite exciting. We had pictured an entire half of fig plunked on top of the cake with a sweet coating. Instead we got two smaller slices. They still tasted good but it just wasn't quite the quantity we were hoping for. The cake itself was interesting. It didn't have that chocolate decadence that its appearance would lead you to believe and this is most likely because it was done in a vegan-friendly way. As a result, it wasn't really a homerun for us. We enjoyed it, but probably wouldn't order it again if it was a menu item.

They served two beers with dessert, their 12th Anniversary Ale and the year-round Nut Brown. The 12th Anniversary is a Belgian Quad which is one of our favorite styles. It's a nice, potent sipping beer that fit the dessert course well. While initially I wasn't that excited about seeing Nut Brown on the list, it was a pleasant surprise for both of us and paired well. I'm fairly confident the last time we had had Nut Brown was at our wedding three years prior. We've learned a lot about beer in those three years and I think our increased appreciation for English-style brown ales made Nut Brown especially exciting. It was a great way to reminisce as the evening ended.

The evening was a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how The Owl House handled the event. Diners came in at all different times so while we were eating the third course, others were just receiving their first. This had to have been more difficult on the kitchen staff but it gave the whole meal a more personal feel to it as our dishes were brought out specifically for us. Food wise, the meal definitely played true to what The Owl House's menu has always been about and that was nice as well. I hope they do more of these pairings as the different feel to the meal was appreciated.
By Mike on July 2, 2012 at 7:26pm EDT Topic(s): events pairing the owl house restaurants beer ithaca beer company scallops short ribs le bleu

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