California Cafe’ Brewmasters’ Dinners Remain in Good Hands

Dessert of Glazed Plums, Pine Nut-Prune Chutney, Honey-Cinnamon Sabayon
paired with Firehouse’s  Hardly Thomas Barley Wine

When I heard Chef Todd Yamanaka was replacing departing Chef Mark Pettyjohn at Palo Alto’s California Cafe’, that proverbial sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record echod in my mind.  After all, Mark Pettyjohn was clearly a driving force behind the California Cafe’s Brewmaster series, with his enthusiasm for both the breweries and pairing their beers with creative plates.  In fact, Yamanaka only assumed his post as Executive Chef at California Cafe’s Palo Alto location barely one week.  If that wasn’t enough, things fell through with the previously scheduled brewery for April, and so Steve Donohue of Firehouse Brewing came in to pinch hit with just a couple weeks notice before the next dinner held this past April 26th.   Considering the amount of time and effort that goes into these things, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Except it didn’t.  Sure, for some of the courses, I’d have to admit some of the beer and food pairings were not as cohesively integrated as in dinners past.   But there was this comfortable spontaneity  and “let’s just try this” to the whole affair, both in the food and in Donohue’s brews, especially his experimental Barley Wine and Sour Ale, that couldn’t be duplicated with the weeks of preparation Pettyjohn usually took.  I should add the penultimate course of Coffee Crusted Angus Ribeye and Wild Mushroom Risotto paired with the uber coffee roastiness of Firehouse’s Brendan’s Irish Stout hit it out of the park with its warm, earthy comforting character.  Otherwise, I’m not going to go into a culinary breakdown of the evening, since I’m not good at that stuff, especially since my esteemed beer blogging colleague Peter Estaniel was there that evening, and he is good at that stuff, and I expect he’ll post something soon.

Yamanaka may not be a hard core beer geek, but in talking with him he clearly appreciates beer, and the man can clearly cook.  With all the announcements of $100 plate beer dinners in out of the way places in San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Counties, and it’s reassuring for rest of us that one at half the cost can be found in Palo Alto and it’s future looks at lot stronger than it did a week ago.

Next up, Devil’s Canyon Brewing from my home town of Belmont May 31st.   By then, Chef Yamanaka will have time to breathe, get his sea legs, and whatever other cliches you want to add by then.  It ought to be interesting. 

Firehouse Brewing featured at California Cafe Beer Dinner Thursday

The South Bay’s Firehouse Brewing is featured this Thursday in another one of California Cafe in Palo Alto Brewmasters Dinners.  The festivities start at 6:30 am this April 26th.  I’ve said it before, California Cafe does an awesome job in this series, and my reservations were made almost as soon as I heard about it.

What’s on the menu?  It hasn’t been released yet but frankly, I don’t give a damn about it.  The California Cafe always puts on a great dinner and if you don’t believe me when I tell you Firehouse brews great beer, maybe all their Great American Beer Festival awards will convince you.  Wanting to know the menu in this collaboration is like hearing Martin Scorsese is doing a mob flick with Robert DeNiro and wanting to know the plot.  If you know great things will happen, does knowing what form they will take really matter?

If you insist on checking out the menu, you probably find it eventually on California Cafe’s events page, and recent tweet from California Cafe’ suggests will see it tomorrow.  Whatever.  I’ll see you there!

Beer of the Month: OTIS by Firehouse Brewery

The name “Otis” has long been associated with excellence in elevators, or just “sittin’ on the dock of the bay”.  And we can now add “Imperial Stout” to this list of excellent Otis’s, thanks to Firehouse Brewing.

OTIS is actually an acronym for One Tun Imperial Stout, as it takes literally one ton of malt in the mash tun to brew.   After looking for a bottle of OTIS in the San Mateo area without success, I finally broke down and went to the source at Firehouse’s Grill and Brewery in East Palo Alto.   They didn’t have it on tap or even listed on their beer list above the bar.  But I asked the waitress about it, and discovered they did have it in 22 ounce bottles.  Now sitting down for lunch with 22 ounces of an Imperial Stout and a pizza is  a perilous act.   Even just 8-10 ounces of a good Imperial Stout can fees pretty heavy in your stomach, and create a mouth feel similar sandpaper, but such was not the case with OTIS.

It’s surprising smooth for an Imperial Stout, with plenty of roasty flavors of dark chocolate, with a slight sweetness, a barely noticeable alcohol heat, and a grassy herbal hop finish underneath all that bitter chocolatey goodness.  A liquid dark chocolate brownie if you will.  An amazingly drinkable Imperial Stout at 11% abv at a surprisingly high 70 IBU.

But then, if you’re familiar with the work of Steve Donohue, Firehouse’s Master Brewer, this shouldn’t surprise you.  After all, he’s won a bunch of Great American Beer Festival medals brewing traditional styles such as his Baltic Porter, or with his more contemperary beers such as the Belgian IPA Pete’s Support.   And if you’ve read this great interview of him, you already know that.

OTIS elevates the Imperial Stout style, and it’s March’s Beer of the Month.