Dinner at the Monk: In-Sir-Zhay Beer Pairing Dinner
@ The Bearded Monk
We’re back with everyone’s favorite food content in town: beer pairings. Local catering company In-Sir-Zhay–the name being a phonetic spelling of the French word meaning "to rebel or to rise up"–was on the scene to provide their patented vision of “guerilla dining” to the community. Executive chef Brook Ray brings both simple, quality preparation to the table, as well as a host of traditional foods from all over the world. Aided by sous chef Erin Ferguson and Bearded Monk owner Ben Esely, this delightful pairing went off without a hitch, and with plenty of enlightening craft and culinary information. Although this dinner has come and gone, let this review remind you not to miss out on the next opportunity for just such an experience–whether it be at the Monk, with In-Sir-Zhay, or at one of many upcoming beer dinners in the area.
First Course: Three Flavors of Pannenkoeken (Dutch Pancakes): Marinara with Parmesan and Parsley, Mushroom with Caramelized Onion, Salmon with Dill Cream Cheese + Avery’s White Rascal
Having spent some time in the Netherlands, chef Brook Ray opened this dinner with a traditional Dutch offering: Pannenkoeken, a type of filled pancake that’s often eaten as a “hair-of-the-dog” hangover cure the morning after a night out. Traditionally, the filling is left open to the consumer; similarly, attendees were offered three different fillings, to simulate the buffet-style consumption that the Dutch enjoy.
Avery’s White Rascal is a Belgian white ale, with all the signature sweetness often found in Belgian malts. There’s a touch candy sugar, a touch bright citrus. It’s a perfect starter to the night: not a high ABV, nor a heavy body, but bright and full of flavor nonetheless. It doesn’t dominate the palate, so the food itself can shine through.
Our three pannenkoeken each present different arrays of flavor: the marinara with parmesan and parsley is a meatball sub sans the meatball, as well as an elevation of every child’s favorite use of some garlic bread or Texas toast: wiping up the leftover sauce from the end of a plate of spaghetti. The marinara soaks into the pancake; the citrus in the beer pairs like an Italian cream soda to the tangy marinara. The mushroom and onion cake provides good contrast with great synthesis: slow, cast-iron cooked onions make for a mellow but flavorful bite. The mushroom is the perfect earthbound counterpart to the sweetness of the onions and the cake. That same sweetness of onions blends into the sweet citrus of the beer, while the mushroom melds with the floral, earthy malts. And finally, the salmon and dill cream cheese is the true delicacy of this course: a bold, creamy, offering, reminiscent of a breakfast of bagel and lox with a nice pulp-less orange juice to pair. Herbal, piney, funky dill cuts into the beer’s dance with the dish: whereas the other flavors take a turn with the White Rascal, this pancake takes center stage, yielding to none; even to the sweetness of the beer. If anything, the saccharine Belgian make the cream cheese all the sweeter, and tempers the savory, smoky salmon.
Main Course: Spiced smoked and grilled steak with a zingy mustard sauce, w/ Creamed Spinach, Potato Gratin, and Sesame Carrots + Martin House’s Bockslider
We start the main course with an offering from Martin House: their Bockslider. It’s a classic bock, featuring prominent notes of ground oat with a slightly roasty tone, but not so dark in flavor or body as to overwhelm.
The steak is a Portuguese steak: by the chef’s own testimony, there are no bad cuts of meat in Portugal, and this steak bears witness to that. After a long smoking period, the steak was rested and then seared on a blazing hot pan. It’s perfectly cooked and cut into perfect bites; think burnt ends, with all the tenderness and none of the char. It’s chewy with a slight resistance that gives way to a buttery-smooth mouthful. The sauce is bold, with that patent mustard tang that kicks the affair into gear. Taken with the Bockslider, each bite evokes traditional German fare–a lightly nutty, session-able lager melded with that festive staple of pretzel and mustard, taking the pleasantly pastoral and turning it into a celebration of traditional flavor pairings.
The sides are no sideshow, however; the Potato Gratin has every bit of the creaminess of that Southern BBQ staple, mac and cheese. It’s delectable in its silken cheese and the perfect snap to the chew, yielding a chip-like resistance. This is the dessert of the plate: treat that you either devour helplessly, or ration the savoring of until the end. With the sort of dark/lightly smoked oat flavor of the beer, the cheese of the gratin is emboldened, filled out - like a bass note gives a kick to the bright melody of the guitar. The Sesame Carrots have that nice sesame and soy flavor combination that evokes a stir fry: a filling, umami offering, with every component having soaked in the flavors of every other ingredient. The smoky tang of the mustard topped steak harmonizes beautifully with the parallel flavors of the carrots–again, working together like meat and veggies in a wok. The creamed spinach features a topping of parmesan, romano, and asiago, the likes of which provide creaminess as opposed to an actual cream. It’s reminiscent of a kale chip, with the earthy, dark, buttery notes that one expects from sautéed leafy greens. The cheese adds both a creamy feel and a nice textural alteration to the soft spinach, the whole of which is a nice deviation from the meaty steak and potatoes.
Dessert: Apple Rosemary Galette + Lakewoood’s French Quarter Temptress
This French farmer’s pie is an absolute delight, especially in combination with Lakewood’s French Quarter variant of the inimitable Temptress. Made with coffee and a touch of chicory - which gives the bourbon barrel aged coffee a nice Creole kick - it’s the perfect digestif to pair with the final offering of the dinner, and to follow three courses of pastoral comfort food. It’s silky-smooth as one might expect from a milk stout, but with the energizing bitterness of coffee and the added chicory spice, it becomes a multi-flavored wonder, adding a dark chocolate note that cuts through the bitterness, opening up the palate to a litany of flavors beyond the standard stout offerings.
The tart itself is made with rosemary, honeycrisp apple, brown butter, and musgrove sugar. Don’t be pretentious, now: the farmers eat it with their hands, dipping into the whipped cream, like a cookie in milk, and we found this to be the best way to enjoy every element of the course. The crispy crust lends itself to this dipping: unlike your average pie, the crust can hold the weight of the tart-like gallette with ease, and hasn’t become soggy from the filling. Like a giant graham cracker cookie with a caramel apple topping, the galette retains an air of lightness encapsulated in a stout body. The beer in combination with this course really hammers home a sort of late night diner vibe: a slice of the house pie with a cup of joe, dark as a moonless night, and enough to keep you going until the sun rises and breakfast is on the table.
And with that, the guests in attendance were free to their own devices: to peruse the Monk’s selection, while helping themselves to remainders of the buffet-style food; to stay and chat with their peers while languorously finishing their plates; to thank the chefs, close their tabs, get their brewery swag. and wander off into the night–waiting, just as we are, for the next dream-like night of singular flavors and creative pairings.
Header image design by Clarissa Baniecki