|April 6, 2008|
On Sunday, beginning at 11:30 a.m., I sat down with 80 or so beer lovers at the Toronado in San Francisco for a Belgian beer lunch, a blunch? The Toronado has been putting on this mostly word-of-mouth event, which sells out every time, for a number of years, but this was the first year the food was done by Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef. This was actually my first time, too. Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, picked me up on their way down from Santa Rosa, and it was nice not to have to worry about driving (or parking) on Haight Street. The blunch lasted almost six hours through a total of eleven separate courses and at least sixteen Belgian beers (plus a few more American ones). We all agreed that Sean Paxton is a mad man, a culinary alchemist.
The Toronado itself was closed until four, the expected end of the lunch, but as you can see things ran a little long.
The bar was set up to accommodate diners.
As were the tables along the wall.
And the middle back room, too.
In the very back room I found Sean Paxton getting everything ready for the lunch to begin.
We started with a tiny Amuse Bouch, a Foie Gras Torchon, which te menu described as a Flemish Red Ale Marinated Foie Gras on Potato Bread Toast, Mache Leaf, Chardonnay Barrel Smoked Salt and Duchesse De Bourgogne Foam. Take note, this was our first specially made salt. It was amazing how many different flavors were packed into this little piece of toast.
Sean came out before each course change to explain what we were eating.
I was seated at a great table, front and center, with Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo and Matt Bryndilson, from Firestone Walker Brewing.
The first course was a Charcuturie Platter, described as Homemade Duck Rillettes Infused with Saucerful of Secrets Soaked Dried Figs, Cashew ‘Samaranth’ Urthel ‘Cheese’, Spicked Cornichons, Homemade St. Bernardus Abt 12 60th SE Mustard, Cantillon Iris 2005 Jelly and Homemade Crackers and Local Breads. This panoply of flavors was paired with Saucerful of Secrets, a homebrewed beer that Sean Paxton made at Firestone Walker with Matt Bryndilson. The real stand-out from this course was the Jelly made with Cantillon Iris. The flavors from the beer came out in amazing ways and were unmistakable. We tried to get some to take home, but sadly Sean had none leftover. Our second beer with this course was Oude Lambic from Oud Beersel.
Our host Dave Keene with the homebrew chef, Sean Paxton.
Our second course was a Frisee Salad of Home Cured Dark Candi Syrup Bacon, Brioche Croutons, Endive and Fresh Herbs and a Poached Egg Tossed in a Boon Oude Geuze Vinaigrette, paired with Avec les bons Vœux, from Brasserie Dupont, and Boon’s Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait Single Cask #52.
Sean, knowing my love of bippity, boppity bacon, brought around a bowl of his hand-made bacon, before serving our third course, a Potato Leek and Wit Shot.
Our neighbor table: Dave and Honoria Suurballe, Jen Garris and Rich.
The fourth course of Duck Braised in Hansens Oude Kriek, described as Slowly cooked Duck Legs with Leeks. Shallots, Thyme, Dried Montmorency Cherries Topped with a Duck Kriek Demi-Glace on a Bed of Celery Root Potato Puree with Milk Poached White Asparagus. This was paired with three beers: Russian River Brewing’s Toronado 20th Anniversary Ale, Duchesse De Bourgogne and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.
Before our fifth course arrived, we got the next beer, Chimay 2001 Grand Reserve.
The fifth was a quick palate cleasner of Hop Shoots, actually Blanched Hop Shoots from Moonlight “Farms” with Delirium Tremens Sabayon and Micro Herbs. I was surprised at how good these were. I’d heard of hop shoots—which were common in Pliny the Elder’s time—were making a comeback in fine cuisine circles, especially in Europe, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to try them before.
While we waited for the halfway point, course six, Dave Keene stopped by our table for a visit.
For course six, each table got a plate with an assortment of six cheeses.
- Chimay Vieux, a Trappist Style, Aged 8 Months, Cows Milk
- Orval, a Trappist Style, Med. Soft, Cows Milk
- La Ramee, Rind Washing in La Ramee Beer, Cows Milk
- Echte Loo, anotehr Trappist Type, Med. Hard, Cows Milk
- Pere Joseph, Cave Aged, Med., Cows Milk
- Wijnendale, Full Cream, Med. Soft, Cows Milk
In addition, the plate also contained Beatification Marinated Pearl Onions, Easter Egg Radishes, Flemish Style Roasted Pistachios and Fig Wood Smoked Celery Salt. Note, salt number two. Although I can’t recall where (or what) the other two salts were, Sean told me that he used four different salts, all of which he made or created (or whatever you do with salt) by hand. That alone, I found remarkable, but I should confess at this point that I am a salt lover and will often dip my food into a pile of salt.
Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo posing with the cheese plate.
The cheese landscape. In addition to the Chimay, the cheeses were also paired with Orval and Saison D’Erpe-Mere.
Then we took a break from the regularly scheduled courses for an Intermezzo.
Where Sean used liquid nitrogen to make a Cantillon Saint Lamvinus Sorbet.
Dave reaches in to try the first spoonful.
But I think the nitrogen may be part laughing gas.
A close-up of the sorbet.
Dave Suurballe gives me his best death-stare before sampling the Cantillon sorbet.
After which we resumed with course seven, a Lobster and Morel Mushroom Waterzooi, described as containing Lobster Stock, Local Cream, Avec les bons Voeux, Leeks, Rainbow Carrots and Baby Fennel, Purple Potatoes and Lobster Meat. This was paired with Fantôme Saison.
And Duvel from a 6-liter bottle.
During dessert, Sean relaxes with a Pliny the Elder and Jen Garris. The eighth course consisted of Rodenbach Grand Cru Panna Cotta, Drizzled with a Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek Syrup and Fresh Raspberries along with some Nibbles, specifically some Bière Biscotti, Flanders Spiced Cookies, and Rochefort 8 Bottle Cap Candies. These were paired with Westvleteren Abt 12, Van Honsebrouck Bacchus and Malheur Brut Noir.
While we enjoyed the ninth, and final, course of Rochefort 10 Espresso Espuma, Vinnie opened a special bottle of his Damnation.
And poured our final beer of an exquisite and decadent afternoon.