There's a New Supper Club in Town

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't get me wrong, my heart still belongs to Brassica, but it was very exciting last night to have an opportunity to branch out into another underground dining club. Mission Gastroclub is normally not a vegan event, but since my husband and I happen to be friends with its proprietor and brewmaster, Eric, we were honored with a plant-based meal last night.

The head chef for the club is named Neil, and I'm not allowed to disclose where his "day job" is, but he's a chef at a prominent Napa restaurant. His training was evident in some of the techniques and creativity used to prepare our meal.

The appetizer course was fried cauliflower with ketchup made fresh from the tomatoes scored from this weekend's trip to Mariquita Farms. Eric selects a beer pairing for each course. The first was and ESB that he brewed at home. It's a British style beer to go along with our fried pub-style food.

Next up was the salad, which actually may have been my favorite part as it combined so many unique ingredients. The base was dandelion greens, topped with green beans, cara cara oranges, cranberry beans and sous vide fennel. I'd heard of the sous vide technique before but I'm not sure I've had anything prepared that way. It involves vacuum-sealing the food and then generally boiling it, which allows it to cook without turning to mush and creating an interesting texture. Also, apparently I love cranberry beans! Who knew? The salad was paired with a Saison beer from The Bruery in Orange County.
The main course was a homemade vegan sausage over polenta with pepper slaw and tomato confit. I was a little nervous about the sausage after Eric's attempt to smoke silken tofu to put in it. Luckily he scrapped that idea and went with a more "traditional" wheat-gluten based sausage. It went great with the polenta and the whole course really gelled, particularly with the beer pairing, another homebrew -- this time a porter. I tend to shy away from dark beers but this one had a really rich, smoky flavor.

Lastly dessert was a vanilla panna cotta with strawberries, sous vide pineapple and agave syrup. I'm not usually a fan of gelatinous desserts (made with agar agar in this case) but this was unlike anything I've ever had before. It was my husband's favorite part of the meal. It was paired with an 1809 Berliner Weisse which was a little sour, a nice complement to the sweet dessert, and my favorite of the beers.

I was very curious to see how a chef who doesn't normally cook vegan food would stack up, and Neil proved that a good chef brings imagination to their dishes, whatever style the cuisine may be. My husband and I were the only vegans among the group, and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal as much as us. Perhaps I can convince these guys to do a vegan meal more often...

Click here for additional photos of our meal.