Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
Back in May, I reported El Bizcocho, the fine dining spot at Rancho Bernardo Inn, was closing in order to undergo a two million-dollar renovation and return as a completely different restaurant. But before that happens, El Biz will play host a fun tradition one last time—the Beer Vs. Wine Dinner.
Established by Stone Brewing Company CEO and co-founder Greg Koch in 2007, the Beer Vs. Wine Dinner has taken place at El Biz on an annual basis. I attended the 2010 edition and was wowed by the quality of it from food and libations to environment and showmanship. The RBI staff does it up right. This year’s event, which will take place on Friday, October 5, looks—on paper, at least—like it just may be the best Beer Vs. Wine Dinner yet.
A big reason has to do with the contenders on the vino side—R&R Wine Marketing. That company is equipped with a wide-ranging portfolio of wines from the Pacific Coast, Europe, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. In the past, Stone has gone up against individual wineries while maintaining the right to pull beer pairings from other breweries. This should level the playing field nicely.
The menu has been developed by RBI executive chef, Nic Bour, and distributed to Stone Craft Beer Ambassador and certified Cicerone (the beer industry equivalent of sommelier) Bill Sysak and R&R’s Steve Frederick. Both have picked out the beverages they’ll pair each of the five courses with, but those will remain a secret until the event. The full food menu is public, however, and is as follows:
First Course: Royal Red Shrimp “Ceviche” with blood orange, Haas avocados, and coriander salad Second Course: “Faux Gras” Chicken Liver Mousse with black truffles, pickled local cherries and peaches, and Muscadine jelly Third Course: Seared Local Halibut with sea beans, heirloom tomato confit, lobster-stuffed zucchini flower, and sauce vert Fourth Course: Grilled Black Buck Antelope with pear and cabbage fondue, and huckleberry compote Fifth Course: Spicy Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème with macadamia, and sea salt brittle
Frederick is approaching his pairings in a very logical way—looking at the ingredients and cooking styles of each dish and selecting wines that lean toward their regions of origin. His wine pairing for the first course will be a prime example of that MO. He’s also paying attention to the progression of the wines, and nixed a sweet wine for the second course. Such a pairing is a no-brainer for a mousse, but doesn’t fall pleasantly in line between his first and third wine.
In the other corner, when asked about which beer pairing he is most exciting to present, Sysak pointed to the halibut dish, saying the beer he’s selected will play off that course's components in interesting ways. A veteran of many beer dinners over his 30-plus years as a food-and-beverage expert, Sysak says the conditions under which this event has been planned—with the chef creating a menu without pairing as a consideration—are ideal. This way, everything is composed and the chef doesn’t need to try to adjust his ingredients or his way of doing things to suit any preconceived notions in terms of edible-quaffable symbiosis.
A variety of Beer Vs. Wine Dinner packages are available via RBI’s website. They include special room rates in consideration of the large amount of alcohol that will be served. In a county where beer dinners seem to occur on a nightly basis, this one is a consistent standout.