Thursday, January 27, 2011

Social Safeway, DC & Bastille, Alexandria

Last night was an unexpected adventure. The best kind if you ask me. 

My intention was to plan to go but not actually go to the "Social" Safeway event in Georgetown, but instead go home and go to bed. I have been sick for 3 weeks and my cough shows NO signs of letting up. Luckily, though I feel like death, my stomach and oral accoutrements have suffered not. I am having no trouble tasting and smelling, mostly.

Just before I finished at work I texted my friend Christine, who is always up for a good meal, to see if she could join me... basically be an excuse for me to have a fun night. 

Meet Christine:

Case in point. Christine likes food. And so do all of her friends. (p.s. Sorry for the lack of photos. I am snowed in away from my own computer so I can only get photos I have available online.)

So... she said yes, and also invited me to join her and a friend for dinner in Old Town, Alexandria. I trust Christine's taste buds so I agreed without a thought to the location.

First up was "Social" Safeway. Basically it sounded like a beer and cheese pairing event... in a Safeway. I was skeptical for a zillion reasons, not least of all being traffic, parking, Georgetown, sleepiness, and the fact that it was an event inside a Safeway. But how bad can can beer and cheese be?  I went and I am so glad I did. 

It turns out that my old coworker from my cheese training days at Tastings Gourmet Market, Treva Stose is Madame Fromager at Safeway and she is the hostess with the mostess. Seriously, she has beer, AND cheese! GOOD beer and GOOD cheese. 

Christine and I made our way through three tables of 6 cheeses, 6 beers, and a surprise! Plus we ran into a friend who, surprisingly enough, was GROCERY shopping. He heard an announcement about free beer and cheese over the loud speaker, and decided to join in for happy hour. Talk about a good shopping experience. 

First up was Flying Dog, a local brewery from Frederick, MD.

Their Snake Eyes was paired up with a lusciously delectable oozing piece of Bonne Bouche. I had never had Snake Eyes so a new beer always impresses me. Snake Eyes I am told, is named after Hunter S. Thompson's (one of the brewery's founders) coke dealer. It is the same recipe as their Raging Bitch, an American IPA, with a Belgian east strain added in, then dry hopped with Amarillo. For the Snake Eyes, its just an American IPA. Bonne Bouche is from Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. and is a bloomy ash covered goat's milk cheese. 

We also had the Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale with a piece of Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar from Fiscalini Farmstead in California. I am a big fan of all bandaged cheddars because of the inherent qualities of a bandage wrapped cheese. That is to say, cheeses are bandage wrapped to protect them from contaminates, and allow them to age longer by creating a semi-permeable barrier for air to pass through, coated in lard. The longer the cheddar ages, the more the proteins crystalize and the more caramelly it tastes.  Plus, adding lard to anything makes it better. This is the type of cheddar I love. You may remember prior ravings about the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar I used in my Mac and Cheese at Thanksgiving. Ahhh. The Pale Ale was a nice contrast with the big citrusy Cascade Hops. 

Up next was the Sam Adams table, which I considered skipping altogether. But new beer is new beer, and they were showcasing their Imperial Series, which I had never seen before. The first paring was Pico, a bloomy rind goat cheese from France, with Imperial White. I am happy to admit that Boston Beer Company surprised me. I have never liked the Sam Adams Seasonals, or their classics. They just don't have a lot of flavor or character to me. But I am supportive of them because they are the largest American craft brewery...

"This was a big reason for the recent change in the Brewers Association rules; an increase from 2 million barrels to 6 million barrels when designating what is a 'craft brewery'.  It will allow Boston Beer Company to continue to be considered a craft brewery (with current annual sales of 1.8 million barrels and climbing) once they hit the 2 million barrel mark.  That will prevent the statistics of craft vs. crap from being skewed... essentially keeping the divisions of market share accurate." - quote from Chris @ BEERsimple

Anyway, they poured two beers from their Imperial Series, and I had anice taste while chatting with the Safeway Account Manager, Patrick O'Laughlin. The White was medium bodied with a flavorful sweetness. Patrick also had a cool little surprise. To get the tasters' tongues wagging, he brought along little cartons of the 5 varities of noble hops. He told me that Sam Adams uses only Noble (German) hops in their beer, a strange fact considering the Patriotic face of their company. I always assumed they used American hops.  Second at the Sam table was a taste of the Imperial Stout with Petit Sapin. Petit Sapin is a godly cheese that I can't imagine living without. I absoultely reccomend it. Problem with it is it is VERY mild so you should really eat it by itself, if you ask me. It is a brie style cheese wrapped in a piece of spruce bark. The spruce imparts a delicious, slightly smoky flavor that is obvious yet subtle at once, and it's exciting to taste. I felt that its slight sweetness overpowered the subltetlies of the smoke.

Patrick also told me that Sam Adams will be releasing a new beer in Ferbruary and revamping their packaging again to help battle some people's misconception that Sam Adams is a 'big' beer company like Anheuser or Miller, rather than a craft brewery.

When we made it to the Clipper City table, after 10 minutes of rushing from one cheese to the next, two beatiful beers were awaiting. The friendly Baltimorian "bartender" poured these from a bottle while we perused the cheese and tried to trick him into larger pours. We began with Lambchopper and the Lager from the Clipper Original Fleet. The Lambchopper tasted better than I remember. It's a vegetarian friendly sheep's milk cheese from Cypress Grove, another great California cheesemaker. 

The last beer on the table was the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, a triple hopped brew, with epoisse. This beer contrasted the epoisse's stinky wash-rind bruitishness pretty well.  I love epoisse and this specimen was no let down. I still remember the day Treva decided to sauté the epoisse in a pan of liquor, maybe whiskey, I don't recall. Whatever it was, it was incredible.

We found that if we were nice enough to the pouring person at Clipper City/Heavy Seas, we got to try a third, 'secret' beer; their newest seasonal release, Black Cannon, a black IPA made with chocolate malts. Black Cannon had a beautiful and balanced, smoky, chocolatey bitter punch.

After that we ran out the door and booked it to Old Town for dinner at Bastille.

I had never heard of Bastille before but it was amazing. It was a perfect date night. I was too excited about beer to pay much attention to the pricey wine list at the restaurant but I easily found a glass of red to satisfy me.

We all did out best to order different items off the $35 Restaurant Week menu.

My appetizer of mixed duck charcuterie wasn't all that impressive with the exception of the duck confit, which was great. I didn't feel there was a bright or strong flavor to pick up from the fat.

Christine had the paté with lentils that were herbed to perfectly complement each other.

Ally ordered the Rock Shrimp Beignets which had a great mayo dip and a pop of spice which I loved.

For entrées, Ally ordered the Free Range Chicken because she had heard it was good. I judge restaurants based on their chicken and dessert. You should NEVER make chicken if it isnt going to be delicious, and believe me this was. It was served in a Riesling creme fraiche sauce with glazed shallots, carrots, and cabbage.

I ordered the special butter bacon flavored scallops with a turnip purée. This isn't the real title, but these scallops just tasted sweet buttery and bacony... like happiness. I was in love.

Christine had the pan-seared salmon with red wine beet sauce and more yummy lentils. The salmon was a bit dry, and I had a small portion, but I was so focused on my scallops I could hardly look up from the plate. I only know what Christine's looked like because my entrée came to the table a moment later than the other two ladies.

Of course, we shared the cheese course... a "French blue", the VA local, Grayson, and I can't recall the third. I love Grayson, but it was't the most exciting cheese course after all we had earlier in the evening.

For DESSERT... Ally and I had the apple tatin and Christine had the creme caramel. I actually preferred Christine's because the pastry on mine was too thin and rubbery, and the apple too thick. No complaints on flavor, however.

Either way, I definitely recommend Bastille. It was a nice, relaxing and enjoyable meal.

That's all for tonight. I am off to enjoy the snow and research clam chowder recipes for tomorrow. I've never made it before. Wish me luck.


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