I was pretty excited to hear that Rustico was planning a craft beer dinner. It had been years since I attended beer dinners (2006-2007?) at their original Alexandria location. Those dinners were exciting and experimental. Like the frozen Lambic pops (which were deemed illegal) of the time, the chef would come out of the kitchen and say, “Well, I needed something to stand up to the DFH 120, so I…” It was best guess. Let’s see how this works. The dinners had a great energy and allowed me to meet Larry Bell, Sam Caligione and Eric Wallace. It was a chance to be one on one with these maverick brewers. Those events took a lot of preparation and must have been hell on the kitchen. Reputations were built and the craft electricity continued to spread through the air.
Here we are in 2015 at Rustico Arlington. An extremely talented Alissa Jeffrey has the ability to whip up fantastic creations, making it seem easy (while there’s a tremendous amount of focus and attention on her part). Instead of a somnambulist circuit around the restaurant, you’ll see her delivering food, checking on tables and pulling together the talents of her staff. More than just an interesting spring menu, she’s put together a dinner from the heart and brain, a German/Scandinavian dinner of some of her favorite family gatherings/table offerings, balanced by traditional German foods.
First: Greeted by a refreshing unfiltered wheat beer, a smorgasbord was placed in front of us. Unsure of how to approach the round brown flatbread (think a wheat tortilla but 10x better) and spreads, we nibbled, bit into pickled radishes and wrapped the textured bread around the soft meats. Trout mousse was incredibly light; not fishy with a delightful smoky sweet aftertaste. The texture was very enjoyable. The trout was transformed, not beat into oblivion. Pork was happily muted, tasty and a great pairing with the tart and refreshing turnip cabbage (or German turnip).
Second: Succulent breaded veal, concise. Delightfully, coloring within the lines. Nothing was outrageous. Nothing without merit. Cabbage (and just the right amount rhubbarb) dressed with infused vinegar hinted at the mix of flavors. A German guest exclaimed, “I don’t eat schnitzel,” making the face of a child who doesn’t want to eat broccoli. Following a few bites she blurted, “I’m going to ask my mom to make this next time I go home.” Ladies and gentlemen, the vinegar on this ‘slaw’ was off the chain. Cardamom infusion gave it the flavor of rosemary and time with the subtle spice of a chutney.
The weizenbock was a crowd favorite. As if the plate couldn’t get any better, the notes of bubble gum, banana and clove in the beer brought everyone a lot of joy.
Third: This fastenbier immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. “It smells….like meat tastes…?” This unfiltered smokebeer was a walk on the wild side for my table. In a few moments we got to try it with the food. A most tender and delicate pork was amazing. I’ve never had pork that was soft like a white t shirt. Mustard pan sauce completely complimented without distracting while mustard greens that were peeking out from under the swine, stood up to the fastenbier. I imagined it like a crazy episode of VeggieTales.
“According to the principle “liquida non frangunt ieiunium” (liquids do not break the fast), the monks in the middle-age monasteries would brew a stronger, more nourishing beer for the time of lent to stay in shape for the daily labor.” schlenkerla.de
Atomic palate cleanser: won ooohs and ahhs from the table. I kept hearing, “These go so well together.” But the consensus was that no one would be trying the Gose on its own. (Many of the staff at Rustico enjoy gose as a lightly sour refreshing beer.) Super tangy tangerine sorbet bombed the palate with this beer brewed with cilantro and salt. The result was refreshing. This was the only part of the dinner that I thought was overkill. After such a thoughtful and balanced dinner, I felt like I was, ‘On top of the world’s highest ski jump, preparing to go for the Gold!’ -remember those 1980’s York Peppermint Pattie commercials? The biggest disappointment of the evening was finding out that Gozer the Gozerian wouldn’t be able to make it. Something about a work visa. Ghostbusters IS my favorite movie of all time.
Dessert: I’m going for the phonetics here, because I am a 13 year old in spirit, crem caka; cardamom smoked barley rice cake covered in sugar and cinnamon, and a cookie with very light mousse. The crem caka, as Alissa pronounced it (hee-hee-hee) was a crumby chocolate cone. The smoked barley (noticing a them here?) is a sort of Norwegian rice pudding. The doppelbock was a dark sweet beer that brought out the flavors of the barley rommegrot and paired with the (bet you though I was was gonna say, hee-hee, crem caka) chocolate cookie. This was a very thoughtful, delicate dinner that was enjoyable, balanced and (sound the trumpets) filling.
Hey Rustico, yo! Way to be very Washingtonian, classy and elegant.
Conversation: File this under, you didn’t ask, but…At my table, to break the ice, we talked about a crew of bandits who hijacked a 50 foot trailer filled with $500,000 of cigarettes. They had dug a gigantic hole on the side of the road to bury the truck and return later. Their plan was foiled, but it’s good to know that criminals are thinking outside the box. Shark’s with lazers. I shared the story of how someone found a Ferrari buried in their back yard.
Having just watched a CBS Sunday Morning piece on craft beer in Germany I brought up the fact that Greg Koch and Stone were opening a $25 million brew facility in an old ironworks in Germany. It would be modeled after their runaway success nature-meets-beer adult playground beer garden in Escondido, CA. The reaction was, “Craft beer is new in Germany, so people will like it.” Not the most profound or in depth answer, but maybe that’s what visit to Germany is for 😉
PS You notice the menu says Part 1? To be continued…