Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Happy Gnome Cider Dinner!

As an early celebration of my wife's birthday I drove us to The Happy Gnome in St. Paul for the first cider dinner they have done.  The founder of Crispin was there and they brought some pretty cool things to try!  Usually Sj drives me to these dinners, but since she is such a cider fiend I let her have the fun this time...

As usual some of our friends, Carol, Kevin and Emily were there, and we got to meet a very sweet newer member of the Gnome's staff who was getting to actually eat at the dinner rather than serve.  A huge part of the fun at these things is hanging out and talking about beer, life, etc and this was one was no exception for us.  Emily had just been married, so had lots of fun stories to keep us entertained.

The Gnome used to be an old firehouse, and the upstairs area is called the Firehouse Room because of that.  When you head up the stairs you are greeted by Catherine the GM and can head over to the smaller upstairs bar for your meet and greet beer.  In this case the m&g beer was a cider: the Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear cider, which was quite nice.  Not too sweet, but certainly fruity.  From about 6-7 you talk and socialize, working up an appetite for the coming dinner.  Prior to the first course the main Minnesota distributor gave a talk about the company and went over each cider.  The usual way of doing this would be to discuss one or two at a time, but this guy kind of blew his wad by doing all the talking at once.  He was young and hasn't done one of these before, so we'll leave him alone!  The company started here in Minnesota, but the current cidery is in California, and houses Crispin and Fox Barrel.  Fox Barrel is all pear cider (perry) with some of the versions blended with fruits.

First Course!
Crab and scallop ceviche with lemon vinaigrette and wasabi oil.  This was very nice and worked well with the sweet Crispin Honey Crisp cider.  I'm not much of a sea food fan, but done at the Gnome, I'll always finish my plate!  The cider is really interesting and includes some honey in the recipe that really comes out in the final flavor.  It was the first specialty cider that Crispin came out with nearly 4 years ago when they started and was supposed to be a one-off experiment, and obviously has had some staying power.

Second Course!
Steel head trout atop a fried risotto cake and Swiss chard with side of corn panna cotta.  Yum!  Also fish, also tasty.  Paired with one of Crispin's more interesting ciders called Stagger Lee which is made with Gravenstein apples and aged for 6 months in rye whiskey barrels.  Not super alcoholic, but has a nice boozy tang to the end and is pretty tart.  I had this earlier in the year at home and wasn't sure about it, but the age has mellowed it out quite a bit.  There may be a few on shelves still, but they are done making it for the year.  They are soon coming out with a bourbon barrel aged limited release that they wouldn't tell us more about yet! 

Third Course!
Veal en crepinette.  Veal atop white beans, baby carrots, endive, and turnips with a veal demi-glace.  And topped with bacon.  Almost like a stew, this was really a hearty and filling dish, perhaps better for wintertime.  I pretend I don't know what veal is so I can still enjoy it.  The pairing on this course was the best in my opinion.  The Lansdowne cider is made with an Irish ale yeast and leaves a bit of the buttery character you see in Irish Reds.  There is also a good amount of molasses which gives this cider a darker, more complex flavor than the others.  I'm not sure I love the cider on its own, but with this hearty dish it was really perfect.  We were getting fairly full by this time, and two more courses to come!

Cheese Course!
Camembert cheese with balsamic reduction and a freaking amazing herbed cracker served with smurf-sized champagne grapes.  Being lactose intolerant sucks.  But the cracker was The Bomb.  I really liked the Browns Lane cider, my favorite of the night.  This one is made for Crispin by a small cidery in England and uses old-school English bitter cider apples.  It has a hint of carmelized sugar, but ends pretty dry compared to all the others we tried tonight.  Look for it!

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!"
Warm almond torte with rhubarb confit and a cider coulis.  Also had some crazy molecular gastronomy red spheres that looked like grapes, but burst in the mouth to release strawberry flavored liquid.  Very cool technique and I wanted more of those!  Very nice pairing with the sweet/tart Fox Barrel Rhubarb and Elderberry pear cider.  That one is worth a try as well. 

A fantastic night for all!  They also let us keep both the Crispin and Fox Barrel glasses, which is awesome.  After experiencing this event from an "I have to drive us back to Waconia" standpoint, I respect Sj's driving me to all those beer dinners far more than I have in the past.  Thanks sweetie!  And happy early birthday!  September beer dinner is Stone Brewing--be there!


Brady said...

Nice. Last cider I had was from fox barrel. The directions to drink were to actually warm it on the stove before consuming. Very tasty!

Paul Mills said...

The food looks fantastic and the cider sounds great.... slightly jealous.

Eric Wentling said...

I'm a big fan of the food and the cider. They had a hand-out with beer/cider coctails to try and I might mess around with those for a future brewclub meeting...