The first time I met Gunnar Planter, he was tableside, dressed in chef’s whites and describing a cavalcade of beautifully-plated dishes at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s fine-dining restaurant, Morada. I was there on a fact-finding mission as part of my food writing and, in preparation for my visit, Planter had conducted a thorough Internet search to find out what I’m all about — beer. He brought up that bailiwick along with the fact a chef-friend and former colleague from nearby gourmet gem Mille Fleurs was opening a brewery in Del Mar. I asked him if it was Viewpoint Brewing Company, he confirmed, and soon we were gabbing over the topic like a couple of beer nerds. It was a welcomed surprise, as was his announcement to me via a follow-up email that he was moving on from Morada to become executive chef at Viewpoint.
Being deep into beer and food, I was eager to learn more about Planter and Viewpoint founder Charles Koll’s vision for the business, especially when I discovered they were bringing on a third culinary professional, former pastry chef and Bear Roots Brewing brewer Moe Katomski, to serve as head brewer. That’s a great deal of gastronomic firepower, and they intended to put it all to use from the get-go at their high-profile brewpub on the banks of San Dieguito Lagoon directly across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. That spot opened in July and has impressed behind a menu stocked with dishes that are a cut above more common brewpub offerings without coming across as stuffy or pretentious.
Pork belly “bites” are dressed with a molasses gastrique while a honeyed balsamic reduction adds sweet-and-sour zing to a salad of watermelon and feta cheese. Jidori chicken receives added savoriness from a jus infused with a house porter and hanger steak is bolstered by both pink peppercorns and a fresh chimichurri sauce. Even chicken wings are more exotic, coated in a dry-rub flavored with black limes or coated in a “Buffalo” sauce made with mild Calabrian chilies.
In my opinion, the most impressive differentiator at Viewpoint is implementation of a first for San Diego brewpubs—a food-and-beer tasting flight. Three beers served with three small-bite offerings designed specifically to pair with each ale. It’s the sort of idea so simple and smart one wonders how it doesn’t already exist. And now it does. Planter’s mode of conveyance for interchangeable flavors and ingredients is a brilliant pretzel bao bun. Viewpoint’s initial tasting flight paired a Mandarina Bavaria pale ale with salt-and-pepper shrimp, bacon jam and daikon relish; a red-rye India pale ale with pork belly, apples and kimchi; and a single-malt-and-single-hop (SMASH) saison with oxtail, pickled peppers and coconut hoisin sauce. It’s thoughtful, high-level pairing made better by a trio of chef minds.
The recipe for the house bao buns is rightfully well-guarded, but Planter did divulge a couple recipes for those looking to see things from his culinary point of view: mussels that includes nduja, a spreadable Italian-style pork sausage (which can be substituted with easier-to-find Mexican-style chorizo in a pinch) and shishito peppers in a German wheat ale broth. That’s followed by a popular vegetarian entrée from Viewpoint’s menu, roasted Romanesco cauliflower served over quinoa with roasted baby vegetables and heirloom tomato gazpacho. Get cooking… or simply make a visit to Viewpoint.
The holidays are great, but beer makes everything better, including December’s most iconic condiment
When it comes to familial gatherings during the holidays, many see the helix strains of DNA as the ties that bind…but not me. I say our winter comings, goings, catch-ups and throw-downs are bound by two mighty forces—alcohol and gravy. The former makes everything better—or at least far more tolerable—including the latter. With Thanksgiving in our near-horizon rear-view and the yuletide fast approaching, this seems the perfect time to share a base recipe for beer-infused gravy as well as several fun variations and preparations for it.
Many believe you need to have the drippings from a large roast beast or buxom fowl to construct authentically delicious gravy. I am not arguing the glories of starting with the rendered fat and juices of a slow-cooked behemoth, but gravy on the fly can be made using just about any form of fat desired. It all depends on your ultimate saucing goal.
If you’re looking for a really meaty or smoky gravy, but aren’t starting with a meaty, smoky hunk of protein, the best way to go is sausage. But know your links (or patties). Breakfast sausage is a nice midpoint. It generally exhibits big pork flavor, plenty of salt and a touch of black-pepper spice, making it ideal for the “sawmill gravy” used to smother biscuits across the South. That dish sees crumbled breakfast sausage rendered in a cast-iron skillet, followed by a sprinkle of flour (typically Wondra, a super-fine variety easily found in supermarkets) and the addition of whole milk and more pepper. Other forms of sausage can be used in this preparation, most notably loose, Mexican-style beer or pork chorizo, which adds plenty of garlic and paprika flavor to the finished product. But given its high fat content, you may need to actually remove some of the abundant (and abundantly tasty) orange oil slick that results during rendering.
Getting back on the holiday-accoutrement track, Italian sausage rendered in olive oil provides nice flavors for turkey gravy, as do the giblets (the heart, kidneys, liver and neck packaged inside a frozen turkey’s cavity), though the latter lends flavor sans fat. With turkey and beef gravy, it’s not as important to extract flavors from fat so long as you use stock. One can make their own stock by simmering bones or the aforementioned giblets along with aromatic vegetables (generally, carrots, onions and celery), but store-bought versions have come a long way over the years. When utilizing them, it’s recommended to go with low-sodium or unsalted varieties so you can control the amount of seasoning in your gravy.
When it comes to incorporating beer, it’s important to select the right type for the dish that you are adding the gravy to. For beefy gravies, reach for ales with rich, roasted-malt character—brown ales, porters, stouts, Belgian dubbels and quadrupels. Even coffee beers can work, especially when making “red-eye gravy”, which typically incorporates black coffee and is served over country ham. For lighter gravies served over poultry, it’s best to stay on the lower-bodied, gold-to-blonde side of the SRM scale, opting for beers with floral, herbal or vegetal character—helles, Kölsch, Belgian blonde ales, witbiers, table beers or saisons. The nuances of Belgian ales, in particular, create a flavor bridge for herbs like sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary. In the case of any gravy, it’s highly recommended that hoppy beers be avoided altogether.
Some of my favorite beer-gravy dishes during the holidays include herbed saison gravy with turkey and brown ale beef gravy with steak of any kind. Either work well over mashed potatoes, especially if they have goat cheese whipped into them along with whatever herbs are used in the gravy. And a dish that holds a special place in my heart 365 days a year is something I affectionately call Debu-Tots. It gets its name from the main ingredient—The Debutante, a Belgian-style amber ale made at my nine-to-five, Societe Brewing. That, bacon fat and beef stock form the basis for a gravy that is ladled over tater tots that are then adorned with cheese curds (if you can get them…queso Oaxaca or queso fresco if you can’t). It’s a modern, beery take on poutine that benefits greatly from the depth of malty, spicy flavor in the base beer. I’ve included the recipe so that you can enjoy it now, into the New Year and beyond!
with Bacon, Cheese Curds & Belgian Amber Beer Gravy
Yield: 4 servings
Add the bacon to a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook until it is crispy and its fat has fully rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and, if necessary, remove some of the fat so that there is ¼ cup remaining in the skillet. Whisk in the flour until it is fully incorporated with the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the stock, beer and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the rosemary and cook until a gravy consistency is reached 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Strain the mixture into a gravy boat and set aside.
To serve, divide the tater tots into serving bowls. Place the cheese over the tater tots and ladle with warm gravy. Garnish with the reserved bacon and scallions. Serve immediately.
With a name like Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), one might think it a bit of a standoffish operation and think twice about attending its “family dinner” events. But taking part in one of these affairs is actually rather sweet. Company co-founder Bill Warnke was a professional chef for many years before getting into the beer-biz. Not only does all that experience mean he has chops in the kitchen. It also means he has a vast number of friends in kitchens all over San Diego County. It’s these very taste buds that help make Bitter Brothers’ Family Dinner series so special. Read more »
When one goes out to dine on Convoy Street, they come expecting fantastic dishes hailing from nearly every culinary culture throughout eastern Asia. It’s what this Kearny Mesa thoroughfare is best known for, and rightfully so. No other microbial section of San Diego boasts such a dense and impressive concentration of Asian eateries. I’m used to coming across everything there, from kung pao, kanpachi and kimchee to jellyfish, frog’s legs and chicken intestines. But recently I stumbled upon something undoubtedly American—in fact, I’m relatively certain this satiating wonder could only ever happen in this country—that I immediately knew I needed in my life. Enter the chicken-fried cheeseburger.
Hopefully that paragraph-break provided you sufficient time to pull yourself up from the floor. Just reading those words floored me. It was one of those moments where you wonder how something like that doesn’t already exist. This instinctual query seldom fails to predict a good thing and that was certainly the case with this delicacy, a product of the kitchen team at Common Theory Public House (4805 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa). It was crispy on the outside while retaining all the juicy, meaty mammal-appeal one desires in a traditional burger. Throw on some fun toppings—scallions, horseradish-accented Havarti cheese and an herbed bacon aioli—and epic-status was achieved.
“Our whole approach on food is to create delicious pub-fare with an upscale twist, while providing emphasis on making the dishes pair-able with our craft beers,” says Common Theory co-owner Cris Liang. “The idea behind this dish was to fulfill the craving for a delicious chicken-fried steak, so our twist on this authentic Southern-style cuisine was to create a burger version that could be enjoyed in the palm of your hands. Southern comfort-food and a refreshing beer. What else do you need?”
On the beer-front, there’s plenty to choose from. The beer was actually what led me to check out Common Theory in the first place. (Have I ever mentioned I’m pretty into beer?) I found Thorn St. Brewery’s Got Nelson? India pale ale a great brew for cutting through the richness of the burger, but there were dozens of other beers on-tap that would have fit the bill.
Recent visitors to Convoy have probably noticed that craft-beer has crept its way into the equation for many restaurants, new-and-old. So much that, each month, a promotional event called the Convoy Flight takes place, where a selected guest brewery will put numerous beers from its portfolio on tap at four designated businesses—Common Theory, Dumpling Inn’s Shanghai Saloon, O’Brien’s Pub and SoHo—so guests can enjoy ever-changing pub-crawl experiences.
Craft is big-business on Convoy now, but it actually wasn’t part of the equation for Cris and business partner Joon Lee when they decided to go into the hospitality business.
“Now, everyone knows and feels how important craft beer is, even the non-craft drinkers and the craft beer haters…who will soon be converted anyway,” Cris says with a chuckle. “After a year-and-a-half of searching for a location for a hospitality business, and going through multiple concepts and business plans, a light-bulb went on in my head. My friends and I were always searching for and drinking craft beers, constantly buying different bottles to try at home, spending every weekend visiting breweries. We loved craft beer, craft beer drinking was on the rise, and a space good enough finally became available, so we dove in head-first and here we are celebrating more than two years in business.”
I’m glad they took the plunge into Convoy’s rising pool of quality ales and lagers. More craft beer and a most-decadent and inventive take on the almighty burger are good things .So good that I’ve been thinking about that deep-fried gem ever since having it. Now it’s time to share the dish with all of you—along with the recipe thanks to the generosity of Common Theory. Give it a whirl or roll down Convoy and indulge in the genuine article. Either way, you’ll want to do it with a beer, of course.