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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beer Dinner at Safari Bar and Grill: Guest Writer Duncan Rowland

The following post was written by guest writer Duncan Rowland who has previously written a profile on this blog about the The Olde Angel Inn in Niagara on the Lake. Enjoy!

On Thursday April 10 I attended a beer & food pairing dinner at the Safari Bar & Grill (1749 Avenue Road). The official title was “European Beer Dinner”; however all of the beers save one were from Belgium. No big deal really; they had to call it something.

The food was provided by the local butcher Ken McDonald, proprietor of The Friendly Butcher at 3269 Yonge St., and the beer was courtesy of two brokers, McClelland Premium Imports and Wine Guy Imports. With the event hosted by Roger Mittag, of the website, I had no doubt that it would be a pleasant evening; the fact that the event was a 10 minute walk from my house made attendance pretty much mandatory.

The event was attended by 16 locals, including the Friendly Butcher himself. Steve the owner of the Safari did the introductions.

The first beer was a Deus Brut des Flandres, a Belgian that, per the pamphlet provided, “undergoes a lengthy, costly maturation in the Champagne region of France.” In greater detail, the beer is fermented in Belgium, then subject to the bottle turning and yeast removal process that makes champagne unique. The beer was served in a tulip glass and to be honest, looked and smelled a bit like ginger ale. But, I stress to add that it really did have a unique taste and was quite pleasant and fulfilling. At 11.5%, it was easily the strongest beer I’ve had, and one glass was fine for me, but I had two all the same.

The appetizer course was seared yellow fin tuna, which was excellent and went very well with accompanying beer, the Austrian Stiegl Lager. Although the Stiegl was the simplest beer on offer, it was the most satisfying, with a very full body. I would recommend trying this if you see it on tap or at the LCBO. I can picture it matching well with barbecued lamb or other red meats.

The main course was a roasted pork chop the size of a baseball glove, served with squash, sautéed onions, asparagus and pears. The pears seemed like a novelty, but they went really well with the meat. The paired beer was the Affligem Abbey Beer. It’s not a popular sentiment, but I really don’t seek out many Belgian beers, and this was no exception. As with many of the Belgians I’ve sampled, there’s too much of a taste of spice to enable it to be a really pleasant drink.

The last food course was a chocolate torte with strawberry ganache, paired with, not surprisingly, a fruity wheat beer, in this case the Friuli Strawberry Wheat. This pairing worked very well, and I was only too willing to take over my neighbour’s serving when she declined to drink hers.

By this point, the party was in full swing and in a very un-Toronto fashion people were talking with their neighbours and exchanging business cards and opinions on the Montreal – Boston game and the first round of the Masters’. Steven then announced that there would be a bonus round of another beer imported by the Wine Guys importers. I have to confess that I can’t recall the name of the beer (I’m going with “Tripel Karmeleit”), but it was served from the most enormous bottles I’ve seen. They had to have been at least 100 ounces. I have some pictures taken with my phone, but the lighting is too poor, so it looks like the server is holding a giant tuna or oversized fire extinguisher in his arms. I’d like to tell you what it tasted like, but I can’t really recall. It was fizzy.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Wine Guys then brought out bottles of Pauwel Kwak, a beer served in the traditional “coachman’s glass.” Again, it is a bit of a stretch to describe it beyond stating that it was a fairly smooth, easy drinking beer.

By this time I was enjoying the atmosphere, listening more than talking (which is the opposite of what usually happens), and trying to learn more about the importing business. I’ll close by stating that the event was thoroughly enjoyable and a success from my point of view. I certainly hope that it was a success for Roger, Ken the Friendly Butcher, the Safari, and the two importers. Their combined efforts made the evening a lot of fun. I’d like to see this event repeated in the future, especially at a location 10 minutes’ walk from my home.

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