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Italian Beer Dinner

June, 2002

By Bobby Bush

So successful and enjoyable was our last beer dinner, at Tia's Asian restaurant, that we were inspired to do it again at a different locale. Jumping gastronomical oceans from peppy Thai cuisine to hefty Italian fare, 22 people gathered at Da Vinci's Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria on the eve of Tuesday, June 18. Though we didn't quite fill the back room, it made for a cozy dining experience nonetheless.

As the group arrived, we began with a pre-dinner "cocktail" of the only Italian beer that I've found that has flavor. (Moretti and Peroni are just light German lager knockoffs). Brewed in Merano, Italy, Forst Sixtus is a dopplebock of some substance. Strong and sweet, this dark amber lager is reminiscent of many Belgian ales.

Italian food is almost synonymous with wine. We were determined to prove that that relationship is not monogamous. With advice from proprietors Tony and Frank Poppante, the menu was carefully planned to match light food with complementary light(ish) beer, bold food with bolder beer, with a few change-ups thrown in for fun. The challenge was not as difficult as I had imagined.

Course one, the appetizer, was a delicious spinach roll, heavy on garlic, and a slice of mild, but flavorful veggie pizza. To combat the garlic onslaught, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the standard for all American Pale Ales, was the chosen soldier. Great beer and a great start to a filling dinner. Da Vinci's garden salad with a pungent house vinegrette dressing was course two. To allow the tasty dressing to shine, a traditional German unfiltered wheat was the select beverage. Maisel Weiss, cloudy gold with tones of citrus and clove, played the part well.

And now for the real food. The first of two "small" entrees (unfortunately, small is not in Da Vinci's vocabulary), Sausage & Peppers (sausage, fresh garlic, sautéed with bell peppers) served with penne pasta comprised course number three. Somewhat spicy, this big burst of flavor met the equally strong - in taste and alcohol - Arrogant Bastard Ale. Brewed in San Marcos, California by micro Stone Brewing, this obnoxious beer was the only repeat from the previous dinner. Regrettably, I accidentally did not bring enough for the entire dinner party. Some had to settled for the rarer, seasonal Stone Imperial Stout (same box, similar bottle, mistaken identity), a potent Americanized in-your-face stout. Brewed only once each year, my mistake worked in stout lovers' favor.

Chicken Pizzaiola (chicken sautéed with white wine, fresh garlic, tomato, olives, capers and fresh herbs) served over linguini pasta was the fourth course. Scrumptious chicken and mild John Courage Amber, an England-brewed Scottish lager, made a satisfying combination, though many now-near-full patrons chose to box this course to go. Of course, the beer had to stay.

For our fifth and final course, an ample portion of the world famous Italian dessert, Tiramisu, was accompanied by bottles of La Trappe Dubbel and La Trappe Tripel. These sweet, robust ales, brewed by Belgian monks, bolstered the mocha chocolate effect of our enticing dessert. For many in the group, this was their first taste of Belgium. Not a beer you'd want to drink many of at any one sitting, these traditional sipping dessert beers served as a fitting finale to another wondrous evening of food and beer.

We're not sure what or where, but another beer dinner will happen this coming September or October (2002). If you are interested in joining us, please let me know at bobby@twave.net. Suggestions are also welcomed.

Consensus held that wine is not the only drink that goes with fine foods. Great beer and great food is not an oxymoron.

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

© Bobby Bush

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