Deschutes Brewery has developed a well-deserved reputation not only for its beers, but also for its classic, well-executed pub food. But a few times a year, Deschutes offers a dining experience at the brewery's Mountain Room that goes beyond burgers and IPAs. The most indulgent of these events, the Chocolate Beer Dinner, sounds like a grown kid's ultimate fantasy.
For four years running, Deschutes has offered a prix-fixe dinner, featuring chocolate as an ingredient in every course. The chefs pair the dishes with specialty brews from the Deschutes Brewery and Public House. In the past, the Chocolate Beer Dinner has played to sweet tooths. Last year, for example, the dinner featured white chocolate cream ale and sugar-rimmed glasses.
While I'm not a dessert-for-dinner kind of person, I was intrigued to see what Mountain Room chef Katrina Spatrisano would pull out of her hat. I wondered, too, how the dishes would pair with pub brewer Paul Arney's small-batch ales. What I found was that chocolate is far more versatile than I thought. Instead of cooking with traditional sugary bars and chips, Spatrisano used cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, unsweetened chocolate, and, of course, some of the sweet stuff to create a six-course dinner that proved chocolate is much more than an after-dinner treat.
The night began with two appetizers: a goat cheese "truffle" and ancho cocoa pan-seared scallops. In both cases, chocolate added to the savory flavor of the dish. The "truffle" was a tongue-and-cheek play on a chocolate bon-bon. Dusted in cocoa powder, the dish looked like a sweet treat, but was instead a savory mixture of goat cheese, hazelnuts and unsweetened cocoa powder. The scallops, too, were dusted in cocoa powder, adding depth and color to the shellfish.
The seated appetizer was one of the most creative - a chocolate gnocchi with braised pears and a crispy wheel of pancetta (Italian bacon) served with gorgonzola cream sauce. Again with the gnocchi, the chocolate added a depth of flavor to the potato pasta.
The salad course utilized chocolate nibs as a bacon bit-like condiment. Chocolate nibs, said Arney, "are to chocolate what grain is to beer." The cocoa bean is reduced to a crunchy nib, which is then ground into a paste with sugar and fat to create chocolate. Spatrisano utilized the nibs in the salad, providing a satisfying heartiness and crush to the greens.
The main course was a caveman's dream - an enormous lamb shank, braised with Obsidian stout and unsweetened chocolate.
"Last year, we did a lot of aromas, foams, sugar-rimmed glasses. I felt it took away from the beer a little bit," said Spatrisano. "This year, I tried hard not to turn everything into a chocolate bar."
The beer, of course, was integral to the night, and Arney didn't disappoint, pairing his concoctions perfectly with each dish. The only beer that did not involve chocolate was a cherryweiss, a tart, refreshing sour beer. The other brews included an Irish chocolate stout, the Aphrodite chocolate fig stout, and the Black Butte XXI - loaded with chocolate nibs and Bellatazza coffee and aged in whiskey barrels.
The XXI, with its port wine density, paired elegantly with the dessert course, a maple bread pudding with chocolate bacon toffee gelato. According to Spatrisano, she made many friends around Bend the week she was testing her chocolate bacon toffee recipe. "There's a lot of love in it," she said.
While Deschutes Brewery doesn't need to prove that they can put out a great product, events like the Chocolate Beer Dinner give brewers and chefs an opportunity to put their best dishes and beers on display. But more than that, the Chocolate Beer Dinner proved that chocolate can be used in more than just desserts - and after eating and drinking chocolate all night, I'm now convinced that chocolate really does go with everything.
For a full list of Deschutes Brewery's Mountain Room Beer Dinners, visit Deschutesbrewery.com.