Today, two champions met in the Redding heat for battle beer week. Savory Spoon. Wildcard Brewing Company. The judges have spoken, and the winner is: us!
Upon our arrival, our group of six was quickly seated in a nice spot in the middle of the restaurant and we were each provided with an attractive, and informative, pairing menu created specifically for the evening. We were soon greeted by the always kind and cheerful Sunnie from Wildcard. Sunnie was enthusiastic about the paring menu and anxious to start talking about the one thing we’ve been celebrating all week, THE BEER.
When our server arrived, all six of us ordered from the pairing menu - four courses designed to go specifically with the beers at hand. Flights of frosty brews soon began filling the table in the classic wooden Wildcard flight holders and 5oz tasting glasses. Before the food arrived, our server, Sunnie, took the time to talk about each beer individually, was knowledgeable about each brew’s role in the Wildcard lineup, and provided some extra tidbits about their origin.
Within a few minutes, the food began to arrive and I wondered, why the heck isn’t everyone doing this?! You show up, you sit down, and all the work is done for you. A chef and a brewer have already collaborated, done the legwork, and crafted an incredible meal. They even give you the right brews to drink with it! No, the idea is not new, but tasting menus are typically absent from the Redding dining scene. It’s refreshing to have the opportunity to enjoy many options, with the right sized portions, and with a beverage that enhances the food, and vice versa.
The first course was a perfectly golden brown wild Dungeness crab cake over fresh greens covered in just enough roasted garlic, cilantro and lime sauce. The crab was excellent on its own, and much like a nice white wine might pair well with seafood, Wildcard’s 530 Hometown Ale’s bright fruity nose, mild hops, and dry finish stood in like an understudy waiting for the main character to break a leg (literally). The two paired perfectly, both a little sweet, and the greens added a little bitterness to play off of the ale.
The second course was my favorite, Croque Monsieur, which roughly translates to a baked ham and cheese sandwich, but this was no sandwich, it was a masterpiece! A sliced baguette layered with delicious and salty ham, house mustard, and smothered in a mornay of aged cheddar made with Wildcard’s Text Book Pale Ale. The sauce was rich and decadent and paired well with the more earthy and bitter notes of the clean and refreshing Text Book Pale Ale. The pale ale took the richness off your palate, preparing your taste buds for another onslaught of deliciousness. Eat. Drink. Repeat. And contemplate ordering another tasting to have this dish again!
The third course was well thought out, and like the second course, the third was also cooked WITH beer, creating a deeper level to the pairing and beer integration. The spicy braised pork was cooked, and later paired, with Wildcard’s Fresh Hop Double IPA and peaches then served with a chipotle peach BBQ sauce with locally made R&K Orchard Nectarine Jam, over a parsnip mash. The combination of the BBQ sauce and parsnip mash was sweet and earthy and the Fresh Hop balanced the sweetness while emphasizing the earthy notes. The Fresh Hop’s hop aroma was pleasantly intense and raised the experience of the course to a new level. The brew is as solid a representation of a West Coast DIPA as any I’ve had. So fresh! If I had to say one thing, the savory pork was somewhat muted by the BBQ sauce’s stronger flavors and I found myself seeking out the individual bites of pork to enjoy separately.
The final course of Chocolate Lovers Cheesecake was a special end to a special meal. The roasted chocolate and coffee notes of Wildcard’s Shot in the Dark Oatmeal Porter paired exceptionally well with the oatmeal cookie and coffee crust as well as the decadent chocolate cheesecake sitting on top of it. The smooth porter’s roastiness was only amplified by the sweet, and slightly bitter, chocolate cheesecake giving it the feel of a great cup of coffee. The greatness of this dessert combination cannot be over stated.
As I finished my final bite, I found a renewed pride in Redding. A great event like beer week is bringing unique local resources like Wildcard and Savory Spoon together to collaborate on something truly special and we all have the chance to get out and enjoy our hometown. This was a happy meal, no toy necessary.