BEER TASTE, CHAMPAGNE BUDGET: Special dinners at Oscar's in the Waldorf-Astoria raise beer drinking to a new level.
Anyone who assumes beer drinkers aren't a refined lot has never attended a beer aficionado's dinner at Oscar's, an American brasserie in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The highlight of the most recent $70 fourcourse gourmet meal was a chance to taste the world's oldest beer, a modern version of Chateau Jiahu, brewed from a recipe found in a 9,000-year-old tomb in China.
Warren Fondu, a food and beverage manager at the hotel, says the events help raise the profile of beer. "It gives us an opportunity to hit a certain market niche," he explains. Besides reaching out to beer lovers, the dinners showcase ways to pair food with complementary brews.
"Most people think wine is the best thing to match up with food, but I don't think they are aware of how many beers are out there with certain characteristics that go well with food; we try to relay that message," Fondu explains.
At the most recent dinner, guests dined on an appetizer of grilled gulf shrimp with apricot-curry glaze, preserved lemon and pine nut couscous; an entree of braised venison with chili-chocolate sauce and creamy coconut-ginger risotto; a goat cheese creme brulee cheese course; and for dessert, milk chocolate rice crispy praline crunch with tangerine cream and orange confit.The group washed down each course with selected beers from Dogfish Head, a Delaware craft brewery.
For those who didn't study beer-food pairing in culinary school, how easy is it to develop a palate for what matches what? "It's no different than pairing food with wine," says Michael Bourquin, chef de cuisine at Oscar's. "You taste the beer and find out its characteristics—is it fruity or floral?—then figure out what foods go with those."
While the menus at the tasting dinners stray from Oscar's regular menu—it's a threemeal restaurant that needs to satisfy a variety of audiences— the events offer a chance to obtain valuable feedback on dishes Bourquin might want to introduce.
Beer is always a focus at Oscar's; at any time the choices include 12 microbrews, four of them on tap, along with six national brands.
The dinners, scheduled roughly every quarter and sometimes tied to seasonal events such as Oktoberfest, attract 75-150 guests. The restaurant markets to beer lovers in the tristate area surrounding New York City as well as to hotel guests.
"It's certainly a good way for us to introduce ourselves to people," Fondu says.
Dallas-based Wingstop's mainstay—wings—provides an ideal foil for beer. But not just any beer, says Frederick "Fritz" W. Rahr Jr. of Fort Worth's Rahr & Sons Brewing Company. The beer expert sampled all nine of the chain's flavors to determine the ideal beverage choice. Among his insights and suggested pairings: