I attended and wrote about the first in the monthly Beer Dinner series at the Whole Foods Market Post Oak location, where the WFM Brewery is located. WFM Brewmaster Dave Ohmer and Post Oak Executive Chef Josh Shobe collaborated for a five-course meal of food and beer pairings, and I enjoyed it enough that I jumped when offered the opportunity to attend the April dinner as well. (Dinners take place the first Thursday of every month, if you're interested in attending.)
While other of the Beer Dinners will have Ohmer selecting beers from local breweries, the two I attended featured the WFM lineup of Ohmer's own creations, to which Shobe created menu items for pairing.
I continue to be impressed with WFM Brewery's output. Only two months later, Ohmer has a completely different lineup of beers from the February dinner, and he continues to not only keep up the quality but in some cases improve on previous recipes. Shobe's choices of dishes, quality and presentation were up to the standards set by the first dinner, as well. Once again, both the beers and the food were well-made and the pairings well-chosen.
The entire five-course meal and pairings:
- A caramelized pear and gorgonzola salad with spiced candied walnuts on butter lettuce, paired with the Smoking Monk, a Belgian Strong Ale made with smoked organic pears from WFM;
- A green curry with lime, shrimp and clam over rice noodles with lobster cream, paired with the Got Lemons?, a Belgian blond ale made with lemon zest;
- Orange glazed duck breast over shredded duck confit hash with pickled scallion and a side of greens with tarragon yogurt, paired with the Post Oak Pale Ale;
- A cucumber goat cheese fritter topped with smoked salmon and served with a caper white balsamic vinaigrette, paired with the Daily Grind saison;
- For dessert, a brown butter French toast with a dark cherry compote, fresh peach reduction, and lemon curd whipped cream was paired with the Delegator doppelbock.
My favorite pairing was the first course-- while individually they weren't my favorite items (though they were good), the pears in the salad did more to accentuate the pears in the beer than any other individual element of flavor in any other combination of food and beverage. The gorgonzola also set off the smoky finish of the beer well. While all the pairings were well-considered and went well with their dishes, this was the ideal: a dish and beer that genuinely made each other better. (I should also mention I really enjoyed the salad's variety of textures, from the soft gorgonzola to the slightly firm pears to the crunchy walnuts.)
My favorite individual food item, though, was the duck hash-- cooked in duck fat, it maintained the crispy texture of well-made hash, while being rich in smoky duck flavor. Associate Team Leader and pastry chef Katie Rangel's dessert also merits mention-- "French toast" like I've never had it, perfectly crispy on the outside while being fluffy on the inside. (I probably would have been a bigger fan of French toast all these years if I had had it like this, rather than too many times having it soft and bordering on soggy.) The lemon curd whipped cream was also a standout, with just the right amount of lemon being a delightful accent to the whipped texture.
If I had to drink just one of the beers regularly, it would probably be the Daily Grind. Ohmer described the Saison as being fruit-forward, with lemon and lime notes, followed by hints of white peppercorn, and it was exactly that. The fruit flavor was refreshing, and the hints of spice at the end made for an intriguing finish that is an effective prompt to have more.
With all that said: I didn't taste a bad item in either the food or beverage section. Every course was well-chosen, well-presented, and enjoyable-- if you had been there, your answers to your favorite parts of the meal probably would have depended on personal taste as much as anything.
Now, the dinner wasn't perfect. A source told me that the previous dinners had been capped at 17, and they were trying for 30 this time around. I think this led to a couple of problems that, while not unsolvable at the larger size, seem to have been in part caused by it.
First, by the time the hot dishes were served, they were lukewarm-- particularly noticeable with the curry. It simply took too long to get the food from the kitchen, to the dining area, and then set for everyone. My guess is either WFM didn't add enough servers for the number of diners-- a guess buoyed by the fact that Ohmer and Shobe were helping to serve drinks and plates-- or because the space was too small for the proper number of servers to navigate quickly enough to serve everything in a timely fashion. (It was held in the same space as the first dinner, but, again, 30 people require more seating, and thus fewer open lanes for traffic, than 17 people.)
The second problem was that a group of about half a dozen of the dinner's participants seemed oblivious to their surroundings: While I'd be a hypocrite to judge anyone for general rowdiness, this group frequently continued loud conversations while Ohmer and Shobe were attempting to explain each course, and they couldn't be heard over the revelers.
Now, guest behavior is largely out of WFM's hands, certainly in terms of being predictable beforehand. Nonetheless, it's conduct that doesn't befit the occasion, and if people are behaving out of line or affecting the experience for others, someone on staff has to let them know, rather than just trying to plow through and speak over them.
Even with the bumps in the road, I still heartily recommend the Beer Dinner Series. The pairings are always thoughtfully chosen and the quality of both food and drink is high enough to merit the cost of the experience.