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Brewing Up the Perfect Pairing

By Wendy Lemlin
Photography By noushin nourizadeh

San Diegans love their beer. And why shouldn’t they? Known as the “Craft Beer Capitol of America,” San Diego County is home to at least 90 craft breweries and brewpubs, and San Diego beers are consistently sweeping the medals in prestigious competitions throughout the world. Like wine, beer can bring out nuances of flavor in food, or can add an exciting contrasting zing, so it’s no wonder that beer pairings are the new wine pairings for both casual fare and fine cuisine at the top restaurants in town.

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The Marine Room

One of the most popular dishes at The Marine Room recently has been Chef Bernard Guillas’ Heirloom Bacon-Wrapped Monkfish with Honey Spice Faro, Ruby Grapefruit and Absinthe Infusion. Monkfish has a sweet, rich flavor and dense texture similar to lobster tail. The fish is enhanced by the smokiness of the bacon, and complemented by the farro grain, prepared with a palate extravaganza of shallots, garlic, mascarpone, orange zest, honey, cumin and parmesan. Marine Room Sommelier Lisa Redwine likes to pair the dish with a Mission Brewery Blonde because “the beer has the richness of ale and stands up to the bacon, without overwhelming the fish.” Chef Bernard explains the popularity of beer and cuisine pairings by noting that “Today’s craft beers have so many complex flavor characteristics that the possibilities of pairings seem almost endless. That also makes it an amazing ingredient of choice for infusing taste into dishes, in poaching, braising, and in batters and sauces.”

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KITCHEN 1540

At KITCHEN 1540, the signature restaurant at L’Auberge Del Mar, Executive Chef Brandon Fortune recently noted that “Beer’s popularity definitely has taken on legs, and they are off and running! I’d say San Diego has become the Napa Valley of the craft beer world.” He suggests complementing his Charred Swordfish Carpaccio with a Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA. Why would Fortune choose this particular pairing for the new-to-the-winter-menu dish whose elements include a citrus relish, uni aioli, nori and black garlic chip, petit mustard frill, and toasted sesame? “The richness of the swordfish and uni aioli, and the citrus of the relish harmonize with the freshness of the grapefruit notes in the IPA, while the sesame and nori chips extract the floral and earthy tones of the hops we’ve come to love in San Diego IPAs.”

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La Valencia Hotel’s The Med

Winner of the “People’s Choice Award” at the 2014 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting event, La Valencia Hotel’s Chef James Montejano has noticed that at both of the hotel’s restaurants, The Med and Café la Rue, diners are becoming much more open to enjoying beer with their meals, rather than limiting themselves to wine. In a pairing of his Grilled Octopus with a Green Flash Hophead Red, Montejano takes into account how both the dish and the beer will enhance each other. The charred octopus shares the plate with a collection of oven-roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and maitake mushrooms set off by a spicy Middle Eastern muhammara pepper sauce, accentuated with daubs of fig and olive vinaigrette, and each component is like a port of call on a cruise around the Mediterranean. “The smoky flavor of the octopus and the saltiness of the olives stand up to the robustness of the beer,” he describes, “and the full flavored caramel-and-malt-based beer goes well with the spiciness of the muhammara and the umami of the mushrooms, and brings out a depth of flavor in the dish as a whole.”

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Bella Vista Social Club & Caffe

Amanda Caniglia, beer aficionado and co-owner with her husband of Bella Vista Social Club & Caffe, also calls San Diego the “epicenter of craft beer,” and notes that the new wave of beer pairings is “fun because it is unexplored territory. What makes it special is that we actually know the people who make the beer; they’re local and we work with them and collaborate.” As for brew/culinary collaborations, Amanda chooses Green Flash Brewery’s Saison San Diego to complement Bella Vista’s Risotto Pescatore, a celebration of all things seafood. Loaded with an abundance of tender calamari, shrimp, clams and mussels on a bed of rice with a light red marinara sauce, the bowl is redolent of saffron and the sea. “The Saison has wild and rustic notes, and just the right nuances of lemon and pepper to add to the flavor of the risotto, without taking over the seafood,” she adds.

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The Fishery

“San Diego has such great breweries,” notes The Fishery’s Chef Paul Arias, “that here in Pacific Beach we’re seeing more people who, in the past, would have ordered wine with their meal, now choosing beer instead. It seems that there is a beer that works with almost any dish.” St. Archer White Ale is Arias’ choice to accompany his Spiced Seared Local Yellowtail, a beautiful appetizer of the thinly sliced fish, barely seared around the coriander and fennel seed-crusted edges. Beneath the yellowtail, the juicy sweetness of Satsuma tangerine slices work with the slight bite of the creamy cilantro and Serrano chile emulsification, while paper-thin slices of watermelon radish add a pleasant, peppery crunch. “I like the white ale with this,” Chef Paul explains, “because it has some spice and citrus notes that make total sense with the dish. Yes, it’s a light flavor beer, but with a complex flavor profile that contrasts with the spice from the serrano to create a nice flair.”

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Table 926

Also in north Pacific Beach, Table 926 has been serving Alesmith beers since the day chef/owner Matt Richman opened the tucked-away restaurant’s doors. Chef Matt particularly recommends that brewery’s Nautical Nut Brown Ale, always a popular selection with his customers, as a great match with his juicy Grilled Herb-Rubbed Lambchops, and the dish’s accompanying savory components of sweet potato gnocchi, roasted sunchokes, piquillo peppers, sage and rutabaga puree. “Grilled meats go well with American-style brown ale, in general, and the wintery flavors of the rutabaga and sweet potato work so well with the sweet
undertones of the beer,” he comments. “We’ve done several multi-course beer pairing dinners, and they are always fun and a great way to develop a ‘beer palate’.