Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mission Cheese, Week 1

In addition to bicycles and beer, there's a pretty big list of things that are always on my mind. If I devoted half as much brain power to the energy crisis or climate control as I do to figuring out where in my apartment would be ideal to hang pancetta, I feel like I'd have that Nobel prize in my hands within a matter of weeks. It came as little surprise to me when four people emailed me within the same day reminding me that Mission Cheese was opening.

The Mission has a handful of good cheese options already. The selection at Bi-Rite is top notch, and a shocking number of neighborhood markets carry great, local cheeses. The Mission Cheese motto is different - they're a cheese shop, sure, and you can absolutely walk in and grab half a pound of whatever suits your fancy to take home, but that's not really the point. When you walk in the door, there are smiling faces greeting you behind the bar, and barstools on the other side so you can sit and chat. This is a place where questions are far beyond okay, they're encouraged. I talk a lot about the intimidation factor of food, beer and wine - looking at a giant list of options you don't understand can be really hard to handle. Mission Cheese seeks to alleviate that, and it does so stunningly. Don't know what something is? They do. And at $4 per generous taste, you can afford to find a whole slew of new favorites.

I came with a group of five, and we assembled a collection of randomly chosen cheeses to try. We chose to make our own, but there are also themed boards pre-determined if you'd like to sample without going through the whole list on your own. Going with friends certainly encourages the sense of community (and enables you to steal their cheese), but I think it would be equally fun to sit at a barstool and pester all the lovely employees with way too many questions. Yes, I've got my next trip planned.

The cheese menu alone is reason to go, but I've heard that their sandwiches are top notch as well. News on the block today was that their beer and wine license finally came through, so you should expect to see me as a regular fixture there within a couple of weeks.

When I started writing today, I IMed a friend saying "I'm trying to write a blog post about Mission Cheese and it's real difficult to come up with words beyond CHEESE SIX BLOCKS FROM MY PLACE, Y'ALL." And that's pretty much what it comes down to for me - this is a great neighborhood spot. Grab something to go to take to the park, sit and enjoy a beer with a cheese board, sit on the patio with friends on a nice day. Whatever you do, just make sure you go there soon. Because if you don't, I promise you, I will do everything I can to eat all of the cheese before you arrive.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Summit/Beer & Nosh Tasting Dinner

You know how it goes, right? First there's SF Beer Week, when you do really well for seven days, but then you get The Plague or something and you're sick for a week. Then you go to Vegas. Then you're employed again for the first time in five weeks. Then your boyfriend's mom comes to visit, then your friend moves in with you while she finds an apartment, then your mom comes to stay with you for 11 days, then it's your birthday. Then it's April, nearly two months after you've had one of the best dinners of your life, and even though you call yourself a "beer blogger", you never had the common decency to talk about it.

No? Just me? Well, try to imagine.

I missed Jesse's SF Beer Week dinner the year before. God only knows why. After seeing the pictures, I vowed that I wouldn't miss whatever he was doing this year. Our budget restricted us to choosing one of the two instead of going to both (the other dinner was at Flour+Water). The Summit's dinner fell on Valentine's Day, solving the "How to be romantic AND participate in seven straight days of beer" issue - we were set.

Don't let the words "Tasting Menu" fool you; this was a lot of food. I'm pretty sure we were there for at least three hours. Beer dinners like this are my absolute favorite format - each of these beers had a representative there to talk about where the beer came from, how it was made, what it was inspired by. It's an opportunity to educate everyone about what they're drinking, whether someone is a seasoned beer consumer or just willing to try new things. I firmly believe that education can do nothing but help in the world of beer and food. My beer life changed dramatically when I shifted from just buying six packs and instead going to visit breweries, trying to meet people, and really committing to the idea of how a bunch of grains turn into something roasty, or hoppy, or floral.

I have to say, I was most excited about trying the Almanac Summer 2010 Blackberry Ale. I had a small barrel sample months and months ago out of a squeezy plastic bottle at City Beer Store when Jesse dropped by to share samples; even warm and flat it was clear that this was going to become an outstanding beer. I arrived too late to try it at the Gala, but was mildly comforted by knowing I'd have access to it at the dinner. This was the first beer of the night and while it's hard to choose favorites, it came in very high on my list.

Other standout beers for me were the always excellent Drake's Brett Butler and the SF Brewers Guild California Common - but I can't reinforce enough that I have no complaints about the beer list. The Firehouse Brewing Belgian IPA, inspired by Houblon Chouffe, is a lovely take on Belgian yeast with a California twist, and I've never had a variation of Speakeasy's Payback Porter that I didn't like.

Its pairing was a Scallop and Citrus Ceviche. Those big orange pieces on the plate? That's ale carbonated citrus. How is it possible, if science allows such a thing, that all citrus doesn't come ale carbonated? Travesty. The carbonation lightens the texture and once you bite into it, it's sort of a gentler Pop Rocks for adults. I can come up with silly descriptions all night, folks, but just know that it was delightful.

My table highly enjoyed the "Edible Garden" of espresso mole and pancetta. The pancetta was divine, and while the dry mole was a little disorienting to me, I really enjoyed the flavor.

Despite an adventurous palate and a love for everything that's within a degree or two of "edible", there is no denying that I'm a midwestern girl from a meat town, and when I see braised ANYTHING on a menu, I get excited. The vadouvan braised shortrib course was a huge hit for me. The lentils and carrots had a nice balance of sweetness and earthiness, and paired with the falling-apart shortrib, this was probably the hit of the night for me.

It had stiff competition, of course, from a pastry filled with Tallegio cheese, paired with a Double IPA.

The foie torchon was a little too much for me. A very, very generous serving of foie gras, served on a round of brioche and drizzled with a duck egg sabayon. The flavor was divine, but a little rich for my tastes. Paired very smartly with the Belgian IPA, however, which had the right amount of hoppy and sweet to cut through the decadent fullness of the foie.

I didn't make it over to Humphrey Slocombe this year to try the beer ice creams, so it was a special treat to know I was going to be having a beer float made with one of my favorite beers. I also had the pleasure of having Jake and Emily, who were responsible for making the ice cream, as my dinner companions for the night. The espresso and the balsamic in the ice cream, combined with the TCHO-infused Speakeasy Porter, just knocked this dish out of the park for me. I could have eaten my serving and everyone else's at the table. I'm not ashamed to admit there was bowl-licking.

It is truly embarrassing that it took me so long to get this dinner written about, but it is a testament to the strength of the menu and the beer list that these memories are still so vivid for me so many weeks later. Jesse's SF Beer Week dinners are always a standout, and it was a particular treat to enjoy his beer at one of them. Cheers to the chef, the brewers, and the many volunteers that made this night possible - it was a perfect way to spend Valentine's Day.

Also see Jesse's very good writeup with far superior photos here.