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Thai Beer Dinner

March, 2002

By Bobby Bush

The concept was interesting, a dining experience pairing traditional Thai food with beer. An email newsletter presented the notion, though repeated calls and faxes to the Boston restaurant responsible did not elicit a response. With the perfect Thai food in mind, we foraged onward without a guide.

The restaurant was a lifetime dream for Tia, a strong enough dream that she quit her job to fulfill this passion to become a restaurateur. With support and assistance from family and friends, Tia's Asian Restaurant opened on Springs Road in northeast Hickory in November 2000. With a menu that ranges from mild to scorching, from soup to noodle and rice dishes, beef to tofu, by word-of-mouth alone Tia's has become one of the best eating establishments in the area.

So it was with no doubt in her ability that we approached the challenge of pairing Tia's delicious food with a carefully selected array of ales and lagers. Six courses, Carolyn and I decided, would provide an opportunity to sample both beer and food. It was all pre-arranged. Twenty-one people, a private party, a fix meal on a Sunday afternoon in late March in the tiny restaurant. After a welcoming cordial of light French-brewed Belgian-style ale, the real program began.

Pairing food and beer is an art with three disciplines. Complement, contrast and cleanse is the doctrine we followed. An appetizer of crispy fried tofu with peanut sauce offered an unusual start. Matched with Singha Thai Lager, a typical German light lager with low hops, the thin beer offered little flavor competition (cleansing) for the crunchy texture of the fry-like tofu. Course two was Tia's Special Pork Noodle Soup, an off-menu creation that was delicious but perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the crisp hoppiness of Czech-brewed Pilsner Urquel.

Three small entrees ensued with wonderful gastronomical results. Shrimp Rad Nar, comprised of stir fried rice noodles with broccoli, carrots and scallions, was creamy accompaniment to the mild, suggestively sweet flavor of North Coast California Pale Ale, a mild pale ale indeed. Brewer Jamie Bartholomaus was on hand to enjoy his Olde Hickory Scotch Ale paired with savory Chicken Bamboo. Stir fried in Thai Sauce with sliced bamboo, straw mushrooms, red sweet peppers and scallions, this small portion entree was served over hot steamed rice. Course five was the only spicy selection. Made with onions, pineapple, sweet potatoes and bamboo shoots in curry with coconut milk, the aggressive Masaman Curry with Beef was complemented by an equally aggressive beer. Boasting 7.2% alcohol and hop bitterness that won't stop, Stone Brewing's obnoxious Arrogant Bastard Ale was easily the hit of the afternoon.

To cool things down a bit, dessert featured a choice of Tia's homemade ice creams. Both the Coconut and Durian (stinky fruit) frozen concoctions were sinful. Homebrewed Chocolate Stout (enhanced with chocolate liqueur) worked deliciously as a topping or sipped as a thick dessert beer. The combination was eye-opening to many in attendance.

After the tables were cleared of all except partially filled beer glasses, Tia and her staff appeared to appreciative applause. A job well done. A dinner well prepared. A beer dinner of gluttonous pleasure and extraordinary success.

This was the first of what we hope is a series of beer dinners at various restaurants in the Hickory area. Affiliated with, though not sponsored by Catawba Lager and Ales Sampling Society (CLASS), the local homebrewers club, the beer dinners are open to everyone. Designated drivers tickets are available at a reduced price.

Our next outing is scheduled for June 18. This food and beer pairing will feature the Italian creations of Da Vinci's Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria and a selection of complimentary beer chosen by yours truly. For more information contact bobby@twave.net.

Yes, Hickory, there's more to fine food than wine. Sign up for the Italian Beer Dinner and find out what beer is all about.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

Bobby Bush

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