Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let's Go To the Hop

The infallible Smith chef Eliot Guthrie last night joined with the formidable brewers from Schooner Exact to unveil a new exclusive-to-Smith beer; and, at the same time, feed about 20 brewing aficionados course after course of delicious food.

We lucky diners sat at the beautifully set communal table in the middle of the house, jealously observed by the "regulars" in booths and tables arrayed around us. Preston and I were lucky enough to be sat directly next to the Schooner Exact team: Heather McClung (The Boss); Matt McClung (Alchemist); and, Marcus Connery (Minister of Propaganda). They explained to me how the company began by brewing one batch at a time, testing different ingredients, until they settled on their current offerings (an IPA, a Pale Ale, a Hefeweizen and a seasonal Winter Ale) and began to market their wares. In addition to Smith, Schooner Exact products are poured at dozens of regional pubs. As an IPA lover, I heartily recommend their version; it's hoppy and bold as it should be, but doesn't blister the inside of your mouth with obscene hoppiness as some other local IPAs do.

Back to the food...

The first course, served with the IPA, was paper cones of french fries and assorted marinated olives.

Next came a beautiful orange and white pumpkin soup, so rich and flavorful that it seemed like Autumn in a bowl (did I taste roasted parsnips in there, too?). Following that was a salad of frisée, chilled steamed green beans and cauliflower on a paste of Kombucha squash. These were served with Schooner's Pale Ale.

Then Eliot fired the big guns: house-ground lamb-pork sausage the size of zeppelins and just-pink in the middle, on a bed of slow-cooked haricot beans and sauerkraut -- pretty much a cassoulet without the bread crumbs -- and a glorious ratatouille. The sausages were so mild they allowed the earthy beans and sweet tang of sauerkraut to assert themselves, and the perfectly cooked ratatouille showcased the consistent freshness of Smith's vegetables. Speaking of which, the very fun Gloria Wu, of Frank's Quality Produce, was seated to my left and we had a lot of fun discussing produce sales, romanesco, torn up napkins and other topics.

Quite rightly, this course featured the new Smith beer, of which I am pleased to provide a world premier review: from an ESB-style base, the brewers added special malts, rye, wheat and the crucial and inspired sweet orange peel to produce the perfect compliment to Smith's meat-forward menu. Abundant spice with just the right amount of citric sweetness and a pleasant balance in its effervescence...wow! I can't wait for the beer to make it to Smith full-time. Watch this space!

The final course, accompanied by a sweet Belgian Trappist Ale, was a frozen yoghurt huckleberry sorbetto. And if there had been one "wafer thin mint" offered in addition, I would have exploded.

Schooner Exact impressed me, not only with their beers but with the passion and commitment that the owners so clearly feel for their business. I wish them every success. And, once again, Eliot Guthrie made it all happen. Is there a better young chef in Seattle? You're really going to have to convince me otherwise. We're living in a special time in local culinary history...get to Smith and take a bite of it.

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