Okay. . . I’ve learned something important in the last few years, and that’s if the Junior League of Sarasota hosts a food related event . . . GO!
Their most recent event was their second annual Gourmet Beer Dinner, taking place this year in the party room of Mattison’s 41, and featured the brilliant food of local celebrity Chef Paul Mattison pared with a select group of craft beers from Widmer Brothers Brewery out of Portland,Oregon.
Mattison’s has a special place in my heart, because I met my sweetheart and future SarasotaFoodie, Mart Solu, at Mattison’s City Grille location 6 years ago. The City Grille’s downtown location on Main Street offers an outdoor dining experience, known for their delicious pizza, pasta and always lively live music scene at night. Mattison’s 41 is more laid back, a warm, cozy location with a Mediterranean flair and understated elegance.
And that’s where this evening’s foodie excursion began. Chef Paul Mattison and Widmer Brother’s district sales manager, Curt Uhde, presented a seamless showcase of craft beers that complimented the feature dishes from Mattison’s kitchen, created especially for the evenings festivities.
As we entered the private dining room, Mattison’s friendly staff greeted each of us with an ice cold glass of Widmer’s Omission Lager, creating that “first taste’ that leaves beer lovers wanting for more. Omission Lager is a gluten free beer. which I found intriguing. As someone who often feels “full” after drinking a beer or two, I found Omissions to offer a refreshing change and a great choice for the night.
Following Curt Ulde’s lead, we were all encouraged to first taste each beer. . . the taste the beer again with the food, and then taste the beer a third time without a bite of food, suggesting that the food would alter the taste of the beer, and noting that craft beers are meant to be tasted, talked about and enjoyed.
The first dish Mattison’s introduced was a fennel crusted sea scallop with lemon risotto, grilled artichoke and tarragon butter sauce. Pared with Widmer’s Drifter Pale Ale, the scallop dish and beer couldn’t have been better. Curt was right in directing us to sip, then taste with food, and then sip again! The taste of the beer changed with each bite of this amazingly yummy appetiser. It had one note going for it when tasted with a bite of the big juicy scallop, and a different note when sipped after a bite or two of the artichoke drenched in the butter sauce. Kind of like an alchemy experiment in your mouth!
What initially appeared to be a simple salad course turned into a delight to pretty much everyone in the room. Mattison’s pared a local heirloom tomato salad with goats milk feta and basil sorbet with Widmer’s Hefeweizen — the wheat beer that put Widmer on the map. After a bite or two, even our beer meister was amazed. “I don’t know what just happened there,” Curt said, “because the salad, especially the basil sorbet, seemed to explode with flavor!” This paring was an absolute WOW!
Mattison’s main course is something Paul simply MUST (must, must, must) put on the menu exactly as served that night! A perfectly cooked Kurabuta pork tenderloin took center stage with roasted Brussels sprouts, crispy pork belly, blue cheesy fingerling potatoes and a balsamic fig gastrique. You know a dish is a hit when a room of 60 or so people gets suddenly quiet as every single plate in the room was almost licked clean! Everyone just raved about this dish, including a few guests near me who said they’d never liked Brussels sprouts, but would have had seconds or thirds of Mattison’s, if they could.
Along with the Kurobuta Pork was another big hit in the beer parings; Widmer Brother’s Barrel Aged Brrrbon II Seasonal Ale. Get this . . . (it’s so brilliant) Following the initial brewing process, Widmer Brothers gives their Brrr beer a fresh charge of hops, then ages it in Kentucky Bourbon barrels for four months. After barrel aging, the beer was allowed a tertiary fermentation for final conditioning before release. The end result is a smooth winter beer with a light taste of bourbon, carmel and spice. Seconds, please! Please?
The room was still buzzing about the Brrrbon Ale when Curt stepped up to introduce the final beer of the night, a Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout that was so new, even he hadn’t tasted it. So, at his request, everyone raised their glass and we all enjoyed our first taste together! That doesn’t happen every day.
Paul Mattison admitted that he was responsible for setting this particular paring, as he wanted it to be the most ‘awakening’ of the evening. Coupled with Mattison’s chocolate mousse with cocoa nibs, the stout beer held its own — creating more of a change in taste note of the mousse, than the mousse had on the beer. Interesting and delightful.
With the evening wrapping up, Junior League’s Valerie Dorr, organizer of the event, took a few moments to thank the attendees and award the raffle prizes, each a different basket of beer, containing not only Widmer micro brews, but some contained Budweiser’s newly introduced Black Crown Beer, which isn’t even available for purchase! (Budweiser will premier Black Crown during the Super Bowl) Big thanks to Valerie and our good friends at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing. . . who, naturally, had the inside track on that!
As we left for home, we ran into Chef Mattison, who explained that beer and wine paring dinners are a real treat for him, as they create opportunities to try out new entrees and dishes that aren’t on his regular menu.
“But Chef! You simply HAVE to add everything you showcased tonight to your regular menu!” I said, with great Foodie enthusiasm.
And how did he respond? “I’ll think about it.” Really? Really??? Now your SarasotaFoodies will have to haunt Mattison’s on a regular basis to see if this night’s delicious meal makes their standard menu. Maybe that’s what Paul intended all along?
Not a bad plan . . . To quote a famous actor, and pretty much everyone at the Gourmet Beer Dinner, “I’ll be Baaack!”