WaterCourse Foods, at 837 East 17th Avenue, joined the dozens of other restaurants participating in Denver Beer Fest and offered up a beer dinner last Friday -- four courses, six beers and one damn fine cup of coffee for just $35.
Here's a look at the spread:
First dish: Mongolian barbecued tempeh speared on a sugar-cane skewer. It came with a shiso leaf (a relative of the mint and basil family also known as perilla, and pictured on the plate) and a coarse-ground beer mustard, which enhanced the flavor of the slightly spicy tempeh; wrapping everything in the shiso made it taste delightfully fresh. This dish was paired with the Wynkoop Brewing Company's Tut's Royal Gold, and the honey tones nicely complemented the spice, going down cold and smooth. If you haven't tried the Tut's yet, get yourself a pint ASAP; this small-batch beer might be gone for good once the third batch has been sipped up.
(An aside: When diners were seated, they were asked if they were vegan and whether they wanted beer with the food pairings. Vegans would have had to skip the Tut's Royal Gold, though, since it contains honey -- and WaterCourse was very careful to follow its guests' dietary restrictions.)
The second course was a grilled watermelon caprese salad with house-made mozzarella and lime oil-and-herb foam, along with a napa cabbage slaw (the vegan version removed the cheese), served with Great Divide's Rumble Oak IPA. As good as the first course had been, this was even better: The grilling offset the watermelon's sweetness, resulting in blackened areas that retained the smoky flavor of the grill as well as a faint bitterness enhanced by the hops in the IPA. The mozzarella held together well, providing a neutral backdrop for the watermelon and lime oil-and-herb "foam." The napa cabbage was fresh, but there was nothing but the finely grated cabbage to this slaw; it made a lovely plate garnish, but only added texture to the dish.
WaterCourse thoughtfully provided a palate cleanser between the second and third courses: two dehydrated, candied mint leaves served with the Wynkoop's Two Guns Pilsner. After the hoppy flavors of the Rumble-Oak Aged IPA, the mint cleanser helped prepare the palate for the smooth maltiness in the pilsner. And it was delicious on its own: slightly crunchy, sweet and refreshing.
For the entree, guests were served a Carolina-style barbecue pulled portobello mushroom on a blueberry hushpuppy with haricot vert casserole and red onion jam. The portobello was unbelievably barbecue-like, tasting like it had been slow-smoked and pulled in the finest Carolina style. Combined with the hushpuppy, which had whole blueberries rolled inside of it for surprising bursts of sweetness, and red-onion jam, which added just the right amount of tart, this mushroom saved the reputation of an item that's all too often just a slimey meat substitute. The haricot vert casserole was the real star, though: The fresh green beans, smothered in a gravy that would make any Southern housewife proud, squeaked across the teeth.
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There was still one more course to go. Dessert brought a toasted coconut panna cotta on a bed of cacao nibs with bruleed bananas and a caramel spoon, as well as three beverages: the Wynkoop's Coconut Milk Stout, the Great Divide's 16th Anniversary Ale and a few sips of organic Mexican Chiapas coffee from Pablo's. The panna cotta was sweet and creamy with a few delicate shreds of coconut for texture; combined with the sweet caramel, slightly bitter (but decadent) cacao nibs and the banana, it was spectacular. The 16th Anniversary Ale didn't pair very well with this dessert -- it was much too hoppy, and the bitterness didn't blend with the sweet goodness of the panna cotta -- but the coconut stout was an ideal companion, thick and smooth and delicious. And Pablo's made one of the best cups of coffee imaginable: served piping hot and superbly blended for a rich, smooth taste, it needed no milk or sugar.
Overall, WaterCourse did a fantastic job with this beer dinner. Next year, though, it might want to offer the meal through the entire week of Beer Fest, rather than on just one night. Think about it, WaterCourse: If you serve it, they will come.