At OTC, Brickell's go-to spot for casual fare with upscale flavors, beer is an important part of the menu.
This past weekend, Michael Sullivan welcomed diners to a beer-pairing dinner that may be the first of many. Wynwood Brewing Company's locally brewed crafts were matched with dishes that have never been offered before, cooked up specifically for the event at $65 per person.
Wynwood Brewing's son-and-pop duo Luis C. and Luis G. Brignoni welcomed us to the family. Their wives as well as brewmaster Nik Mebane and his girlfriend Val were also in attendance. As we waited for the food, we sipped on something to take the edge off -- a Pop's Porter, which is poppa Luis' favorite brew. Hints of coffee helped cleanse and open up the palate for the meal to come.
To kick things off, Anaya cooked up some Okinawan sweet potatoes croquettes with rendered pork belly and fontina cheese. The potatoes hail from the southern most Japanese Island of Okinawa. "I first fell in love with these potatoes when I went to Hawaii," said Anaya.
Who wouldn't fall in love with these vibrant purple potatoes? Nobody at the table even realized just how beautiful they were till we snapped a shot and the flash went off, at which point we were all in awe. The potatoes were served alongside a perfectly fluff goat cheese foam and pineapple jam. Altogether, it was a celebration of texture and flavor. Pairing with the bready and sweet tasting La Rubia blonde ale, it was a wonderful marriage.
La Rubia is WBC's biggest seller, which makes sense since it was specifically brewed for our sweltering climate. To honor it properly, Anaya dedicated the first two appetizers to this beer. We continued with a shrimp toast, which Anaya came across while traveling through Asia. Putting a local spin on it using Florida shrimp and sandwiching it with a light Spam espuma and Swiss chard sprouts created a perfectly light bite to pair with La Rubia. "La Rubia and seafood are meant for each other," says Luis G. "The beer's crispness makes it an obvious and excellent pairing with the shrimp, but the inventive use of spam takes it to another level." It was actually the first time his wife Sandra tried Spam in her entire life. She is now a believer.
The dinner wasn't just fun and games -- we learned a few things about properly tasting beer, too. Brewmaster Nik Mebane taught us that to get the most profound taste from a brew, you should push your tongue up to the roof of your mouth and let it act like a film, seeping out through the sides. We tried this and it actually added a whole new element to beer drinking.
"Flavors of the Sun" was Anaya bringing together California and Florida. A tartare of oranges and blood oranges with a yuzu citrus vinaigrette and lemon zest for all fundamentals of citrus was a lot of citrus to swallow. But with a gulp of WBC's BTM wheat it completely balanced the dish. When we dabbed the oranges in with the Greek yogurt and Japanese cucumber it too brought out auxiliary flavors. This was Luis C.'s favorite dish/beer pairing of the night.
"I guess it's risotto," said Anaya when presenting this next dish -- squid ink Spanish rice. "This dish is all about the robust flavor of onions." Anaya cooked onions till dark and then pureed them. You can spot the puree inside the grilled calamari, which by the way has been poached in white wine. There's also pickled onion, onion soil, onion gel, green onion threads and light-smoked onion broth. Not only was this dish our favorite, but its beer counterpart paired brilliantly. WBC took their Magic City and dry hopped it with citra, which just means more hops are added to the tanks for aroma and, in this case, citrus. The rice and beer are both very rich and decadent in taste, but then they hit you with sweetness because of all the citrus. It brought out those saccharine flavors without overpowering or making them overly shocking.
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Dessert proved that beer is always a suitable sidekick to any dish, especially when it is infused with Panther Coffee. Cup of Joe was paired with an ice cream sundae -- but not just any ice cream sundae. This one had a cherry jam. The cherries were smoked and cooked in one of OTC's IPA for added notes. There was brownie, lots of chocolate, the same pineapple jam from the croquettes (because why not?), hazelnut brittle, and sprinkles, of course. After every bite Luis G. took, he proved to be in absolute bliss. He was enjoying dessert for both Sandra and he, since she gave up sweets for Lent. "It's hard and it's only Sunday. You don't realize how much sugar there is in everything, including beer," said Sandra. Lucky for her, then, that she's not the drinker in the family. "I don't drink too much. Besides, I can't keep up with him," she says. So just how many beers does it take the founder of Wynwood Brewing Company to start getting tipsy? About eight.
Maybe OTC will give us an eight-course pairing in the near future. A girl can only dream.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha