UniBroue Beer Dinner: cozy, hearty food and brew!

The Tenant returns…and as I wrap up my last preparations for the Christmas holiday, I can’t help but be warmed by fond memories of last week’s UniBroue Beer Dinner at the Bistro, which served up wintertime comfort food French Canadian style–along with a selection of intriguing beers courtesy of Quebec’s UniBroue brewery. As our expert of the evening, Greg from Cavalier Beer Distributing, explained, UniBroue specializes in Belgian-style brews–slightly sweeter beers made from Belgian yeast strains and conditioned with the yeast staying in the bottle–which made fine accompaniments to the hearty courses served up alongside.

I’ve traveled to many parts of Canada many times, but I must confess that in all the times I’ve visited, I have yet to try what’s more or less the national snack: poutine, a French Canadian concoction of French fries piled with cheese curds and topped with gravy. While you can find poutine on Canadian menus everywhere, even the fast-food counters (especially the fast-food counters!), I had yet to try it. For this reason, I was all the more curious to experience it as the first course in this dinner. And the fries for this version wouldn’t be just any fries, but fries cooked in duck fat. This, along with the hand-cut slenderness of the frites and the green-onion garnish, elevated the poutine served here from fast-food snack to true Bistro-level fare. And was it delicious! The frites were oh-so-crispy, the gravy rich with a slight touch of cinnamon, and the cheese an intriguing contrast. Our beer served with the course was La Fin du Monde, a Belgian-style Triple Ale, which Greg explained actually was a term referring to its 9% alcohol level rather than any actual “triple” process followed in the brewing. I liked its light, airy feel and mild sweetness.

Our second course was one I’d gladly enjoy as a holiday meal, at Christmastime or anytime! In Quebec they’re fond of cooking meat with one of the products for which they’re well known–maple syrup–and while that kind of cooking can be cloying in less than a practiced hand, Chef Ruth knows how to do it just right. The Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin had just enough sweetness to complement the utterly tender meat and gently glaze the roasted, caramelized Brussels sprouts surrounding it, along with the chunks of bacon (whose smokiness contrasted delightfully with the sweet maple) and pecans. Amazing!

The beer for this course had an old French Canadian folktale behind it, according to Greg: the kind of folktale whose plot seemed to have a fairly consistent pattern after we’d heard a few of them. Maudite, which means “damned,” makes reference to a story of long-ago lumberjacks, impatient to get home, who make a deal with the Devil to fly their canoe quickly back to Montreal by air. Unfortunately, one of them makes the mistake of mentioning God during the trip, which displeases the Devil and condemns them all. (There are many versions of this story, but that’s one. We learned that there seem to be many French Canadian legends connected to men who make deals with the Devil, only to their regret.) Maudite, the beer, is a quite pleasant one by contrast, darker than La Fin du Monde, very effervescent. It went well with this dish indeed.

The salad course, a French White Salad, was a pleasant change of pace. Very much a contrast from the warm, smoky dish preceding, this was a cool combination of chopped Granny Smith apples, white asparagus, mushrooms and leeks, in a lightly sweet dressing, garnished with a few crunchy pomegranate seeds and accompanied by a crispy toasted baguette slice. Its accompanying beer, too, was white: Blanche de Chambly, a traditional white ale of half grain, half barley, with a touch of citrus and coriander, and a slightly lower alcoholic content (5%) versus the first two beers (the Maudite ranks at about 7%).

It was back to stick-to-your-ribs fare for the next course, a Deconstructed Cassoulet. This plate assembled a crispy leg of duck confit atop a bed of white beans and braised sauerkraut with a smoky slice of sausage alongside. It was absolutely savory and rich and a delight. In keeping with the hearty nature of the dish, the beer for the course, Trois Pistoles (which actually refers to coins, not pistols, as Greg explained to us), was darker in color but still had a light, sparkly feel.

Dessert concluded the meal with quintessential Frenchness: a Chocolate Creme Brulee garnished with raspberries and served with the final beer, Terrible (pronounced the French way). Terrible was not at all terrible, but quite pleasant–a hoppier, darker beer, with some cocoa notes to play off the flavor of the dessert very nicely.

All in all, this dinner was a treat for anyone who loves Belgian-style beer and/or the sturdy, satisfying cuisine of our northern neighbors. Beer fans, especially, will want to stay alert for the next opportunity to experience this kind of feast.

For those who prefer their bubbly more in the form of wine–your chance to indulge is coming soon. I hope to see you at the Bistro on the 28th as we say goodbye to 2011 by floating away on a river of champagne and incredible edibles. In the meantime, have a terrific holiday season!


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