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Stone Brewing Menu at C-House

Matt Tunnell

Frisbee player, beer lover

      Rohit and I recently had the good fortune to meet Executive Chef Nicole Pederson of C-house and to taste her June beer menu, which featured pairings from Stone brewing.  By talking to her during the meal I was impressed by both her knowledge of beer and her efforts to incorporate it into the C-House menu.  These beer menus have gone up every month since November, featuring a different brewery each month including, in the past, Three Floyds and Founders which is impressive given the lack of an available draft system for the pairing beers (everything has to be available in bottles).  The move to a brewery farther afield for June was prompted by the restaurants new wine manager who used to work for Stone.  As for the future, she teased us with the possibility of a Michigan beer menu showcasing three different Michigan breweries, which would allow her to feature one of her (and our!) favorite breweries, Jolly Pumpkin.
     Our meal began with an amuse-bouche of sliced mango and raw tuna with sea salt, cocoa nibs and micro watercress.  The sea salt accentuated the savory aspect of the mango while the earthy nibs and peppery watercress finished the bite.  The flavor of the tuna was lost in the shuffle, but it provided an interesting smooth textural foil tot he slightly chewy mango.  There was no beer pairing for the amuse.
     The first course offered us two choices to pair with Stone's Pale Ale:  Edward's Country Ham with sour cherry mostarda and a salt cod brandade with pickled green tomatoes and fried squash blossoms.  The pairing beer also played a role as ingredient n both of these dishes.  A portion of salt cod was cooked in the beer to provide a bit of bitterness in the brandade.  The mostarda was a reduction of sour cherries, cherry juice and a hint of pale ale with mustard and whole mustard seeds.
     Of the two pairings, I found the country ham to be better, though the brandade was also successful.  The pale ale matched the mostarda on every front; its hoppiness itting the same intensity as the mustard's sting.  The cherries really brought out the estery/fruity profile of the beer.  All the while, the salty, smokey ham shone through, leading to the sense that I was tasting every one of the flavors in harmony.
     In the other dish the fried squash blossoms echoed the floral notes of the pale ale quite nicely but I didn't notice a true affinity between the brandade and the beer.  A brandade is an emulsion of cod in olive oil that usually comes out quite creamy.  The carbonation and hoppy bitterness of the beer helped cut through this creaminess and made for a pleasant eating experience, but I was not blown away.  Finally, I was disappointed that the pickled green tomatoes ended up being a non-entity in the dish since they were so small.
     Both options for the second course were constructed around the idea that Stone's Smoked Porter could be an alternate source of smoke flavor for dishes in which it would be appropriate.  A dish of homemade pappardelle pasta with sardines, baby squash and chili de arbol reinterpreted the well known relationship of smoke and sardines.  The slighty smoky porter added a delicious complexity to the sardines without overwhelming their own flavor (which can be quite overwhelming itself, and was held in check by the maltiness of the beer). The result making the sardines almost subtle and finishing with a refreshing spicy tingle from the chili de arbol.  This pairing really changed the way I think  about sardines, and I won't approach them with trepidation in the future.  The pasta was also excellent; well-cooked and delightfully toothsome.
     Short ribs braised in the smoked porter over a grilled polenta cake with mustard greens and smoked almond romesco made up the other option.  The roasty malts of the porter complemented the meatiness of the ribs and some smoke flavor carried over from the braise.  At the same time, the porter was also light enough with a slight bitterness to cut through the unctuous nearly melting meat.  The other portions of this dish proved an admirable support to the ribs, especially the smoked almond romesco, which is one of the best things I've eaten recently.  Without the option to share, I personally would have opted for the pasta, but it's impossible to go wrong with either of the entree options.
     There was no choice in the final course, but I was definitely okay with that.  It consisted of sandwiches of dark chocolate and Swedish gjetost cheese between slices of griddles sourdough bread which were accompanied by fromage blanc ice cream and spiced pecans. The gjetost was salty, funky, and sweet, making it a great match for the caramelized flavors of Stone's Oaked Arrogant Bastard.  The flavors of the sandwich were big enough to stand up to the beer but the beer's astringency and bitterness from the oak and the hops  help cut through the richness of the sandwich and the ice cream.  I felt that the dessert sturck a balance between sweet and savory similar to the balance between sweet and bitter achieved in the beer, resulting in a very nice match in intensity.
      The dining experience was enhanced by attentive but not obsequious service and the ambiance of the restaurant, dominated by coppers, tans and browns, was relaxing.  I would say that this is the best beer dinner I've had yet and though I haven't attended many, I anticipate this one being hard to top.  This menu is a great deal at $39/diner which includes beer but not tax or tip.  If you haven't made plans for Father's Day yet, you can also take advantage of a discount on Sunday and get the whole menu for $34, whether you're a father or not.

166 East Superior Street
Chicago, IL 60611-2924
(312) 523-0923



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