I have had the pleasure to experience three beer dinners with Jonathan Jones in the kitchen. I can’t pick a favorite- it’s too hard. Like the beers, the food has all been so different, complimentary in its own right, which is precisely the point. Formerly of Max’s Wine Dive, Xuco Xicana and Beaver’s, his new restaurant at the former Ocean’s space, Concepción, opens full-time this week.
The first beer dinner, dubbed the Petrol-Beaver Dinner because of the collaboration with Ben Fullelove of the Petrol Station, was such a success that they collaborated on a second round just a few months later, and most recently, the clandestine beer dinner during Houston Beer Week 2011. So this, yet-to-be-named beer dinner, makes four.
This beer dinner was different; instead of Ben acquiring the beers and helping JJ pair them with food, it was Kyle White. Kyle is a good friend of mine, one of the most knowledgeable beer people I know, and works for Duff Beer Distribution. Also in the kitchen were three other chefs, Randy Rucker of the now defunct Conāt, and previously of Bootsie’s and Rainbow Lodge, Alvin Schultz from Season 2 of MasterChef, and Troy Witherspoon from Petrol Station. Definitely a treat to have so much talent in the house, and for $85 it was worth it to me.
Jester King La Petite Prince (Gravity Keg) paired with Fried Hominy, Popcorn with grapefruit zest, pepper and cumin, a mason jar of Ling Confit, and a jar pickles
To start, we had a gravity keg of La Petit Prince, a Farmhouse Table Beer by Jester kIng. Aptly named, as it is only 2.9% ABV, but full of flavor as most Jester king beers are. Troy dusted bowls of popcorn with grapefruit zest, pepper, cumin and a few other things I don’t remember, but it was addicting, as was the fried hominy. The small group of 33 or 34 hung out on the enormous patio enjoying the warm evening, until dinner started around 8.
At the table inside, before the first course, there were mason jars with two different little treats. The first was Ling fish confit with cauliflower and other vegetables and the second was pickles, prepared by Troy Witherspoon. I love pickles, so that was a no-brainer, plus Troy is very adept at the art of pickling. I got some pickled raspberries to go! The fish confit was a bit weird at first, but was very rich and salty, a great compliment to beer.
Baird Brewing Carpenter’s Mikan Ale paired with Ceviche: Salmon, Ling, Citrus, Chile & Herb
The beer in the first course is the only beer from the dinner I hadn’t had yet, the Carpenter’s Mikan Ale by Baird Brewing in Japan. This beer is brewed with the Japanese fruit of the same name. Mikan is like a tangerine, and it was reflected well in the slightly sweet and tangy beer with a hint of citrus hops. Mikan Ale is dry hopped with Cascade, which I wouldn’t normally like, but the extra citrus flavor went so well with the ceviche. The ceviche was such a good mix of tangy and hot, with good texture contrast between the smooth fish and crunchy radish slivers. JJ is known for his ceviches, and it’s almost required on his menus.
Brasserie Fantôme Saison paired with Arugula Salad, Carnitas, Pepitas, Grapefruit-Pequin Vinaigrette, Citrus Segments, Grilled Queso Fresco
The peppery arugula with its tangy-hot vinaigrette worked well with the slightly acidic, peppery Fantôme Saison. The carnitas were almost unnecessary, but who turns down pork? I sure don’t. The fatty, delicious pork did help cut the acid and spices from the beer and the rest of the salad.
The Alchemist Heady Topper paired with Seared Diver Scallops, Peruvian Wheat Risotto, Grilled Tomato Jus
Heady Topper was my least favorite beer of the night, to be expected though, as it is a double IPA. Admittedly, not my favorite style. The scallops, however, were so phenomenal. Rich and creamy with a perfect sear, and portioned well especially for me, I tend to like smaller pieces of scallop. The Peruvian wheat risotto was creamy and definitely new to me but was a great vehicle for the grilled tomato jus. I’m sure Heady Topper was a great pairing, but the bitter hop flavor was too much for me, I gave it away to an excited hophead.
New Belgium Lips of Faith Cocoa Mole paired with Anticuchos: Black Hill Ranch Lamb Heart, Sweet Potato, Ancho Chile
I really like Cocoa Mole, it’s chocolatey and spiced up with cinnamon, and ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers. This beer complimented the creamy sweet potatoes, spicy ancho chile sauce and rich, melt-in-your-mouth lamb heart medallions. Neither the beer nor dish was lost against the other, each were big enough to stand alone, but definitely paired well together. I’m really enjoying trying different animal hearts lately, most recently the signature dish at brand-new Oxheart. The heart is so decadent, tender and silky in texture with a great lamb taste. This came in for 2nd place for me among the dishes of the dinner.
Jester King/ Mikkeller Beer Geek Rodeo paired with Tablas and Birria: Braised Short Ribs, Black Hill Goat, Roasted Beets, Guajillo Chile
This dish was prepared by both Randy Rucker and Jonathan Jones and was paired with the newest collaboration beer between Jester King and gypsy brewer, Mikkeller. This Imperial Oatmeal Stout brewed with smoked malt, chipotle peppers and Vietnamese coffee is big in terms of ABV and flavor. It has a big body that is supported with pepper, dark chocolate, coffee and roasted malt notes. The beer was definitely the star of this pairing, but the goat was tender and the chile sauce bridged the gap between the beer and the meat. The braised short ribs were a little dry for me, but the roasted beets and chile sauce gave it some necessary moisture.
New Glarus Raspberry Tart paired with Smoked Blue Cheese Ice Cream, Granola, Berries
I can’t even tell you how my heart sang at the idea of a cheese dessert, I even got seconds. The smoked bleu cheese ice cream was creamy, tangy and had an extra layer of richness with the smoke. The contrast in texture and flavor from the crunchy granola and berries helped balance out the decadence of the ice cream. Plus, pairing it with a crisp, tart raspberry beer made it my favorite pairing of the meal, by far. New Glarus makes amazing fruit beers, like the Cranbic and the Wisconsin Belgian Red. They only distribute in Wisconsin, so this was definitely a nice final beer.
I really hope JJ does more beer dinners at Concepción, because this was stellar. Granted, half the beers are unavailable in the Texas but I’m still interested to see what he can do with more local, Texas beers. The pairings were well executed, and while some dishes were a bit adventurous they were still approachable. Kudos to Kyle on his first beer dinner and job well done by JJ, yet again.