Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Beer Bistro: Fresh Market Beer Cuisine in Toronto

There exists in the heart of downtown Toronto, steps from the financial district and minutes from the St Lawrence Market, a place that’s just a little bit different. Part bar and part restaurant, it’s where beer isn't only respected but also celebrated, and where ales and lagers belong not just at the bar but at the table and, most importantly, in the kitchen. This place is beerbistro. Cooking with beer is often considered the domain of drunken bachelors who, in a flash of inspiration, dump a can of Guinness into their chili pot. Since 2003, however, restaurateur Stephen Beaumont and chef Brian Morin, have been trying to change that attitude with beerbistro, the upscale downtown Toronto eatery they founded, where everything from the burgers to ice cream is made with brew. A culinary tribute to beer, the creative menu at beerbistro incorporates its star ingredient into every dish, but in subtle and clever ways without causing a malted-flavour overload. 

The colourful dining room of beerbistro

Aside from a carefully chosen selection of 120 ales and lagers, the kitchen, now run by head chef Michelle Usprech, who graduated from George Brown College and spent time cooking under the wing of Chef Morin before he left last year, infuses, pitches, cures, marinates, poaches and stews beer in most of its imaginative fresh market cuisine. Some start the hoppy journey at beerbistro with a Taster Flight of three draft beers, chosen from almost 20 options, arranged from mild to bold. Follow that with a shared selection of starters such as the enormously flavourful Potato Truffle Perogies with oyster mushrooms and mennonite sheep’s milk cheese topped with caramelized red onions and crème fraîche, Blanche de Chambly Cured Smoked Salmon on crispy potato latkes topped with lemon goat cheese, red onion and fried capers or beer-bread Hog Wild Pizza made with berkshire pulled pork, smoked sausage, beer cured bacon, oregano, mozzarella and garlic confit. 

BeerBistro open concept kitchen

A gallery of oversized french drinks-themed lithograph reproductions line the walls

BeerBistro lunch menu features a selection of appetizers and small plates, 
salads, pizzas, sandwiches, mussels and mains

There's also Lobster Grilled Cheese, Jamaican Goat Curry, Grilled Organic Salmon, Steak Frites and also a selection of five different types of Steamed Mussels including Spicy Red Thai, Harvest Pumpkin and El Diablo with chorizo, cilantro, tomato, duvel, smoked paprika and crème fraîche. To finish, there are even beer-flavoured desserts such as Dragon Stout and Skor Ice Cream, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Flourless Chocolate Stout Cake made with oatmeal stout and finished with a crown of whipped cream. The warm, modern interior includes a huge angled mirror on the wall above the kitchen, which allows a sneak peek into the heart of the restaurant. The patio is popular in the summer, but the warm colourful interior and friendly staff make beerbistro a pleasant break on a cold snowy weekend afternoon.

A cool, full flavoured and refreshing Czechvar pilsner from the Czech Republic, 
known to the rest of the world as Budweiser Budvar

Potato Truffle Perogies with oyster mushrooms and mennonite sheep’s milk cheese 
topped with caramelized red onions and crème fraîche

Blanche de Chambly Cured Smoked Salmon on crispy potato latkes topped with 
lemon goat cheese, red onion and fried capers

Blonde Aale Pakoras with roasted pineapple raita

The beerbistro cookbook, is sold on site at the restaurant or online at Amazon

With the growing popularity of craft and specialty brews, people are beginning to see beer in a whole new light. Based on the menu from their acclaimed restaurant, writer Stephen Beaumont and chef Brian Morin's "The beerbistro Cookbook" shows how to take those humble hops to a new culinary level, using beer in food in every conceivable way: marinades, for curing, dressings, grilling, as poaching, steaming and sautéing liquid, for creating sauce, in stew, in batter, even in desserts — and not just one or two. Nor are any of these novelty recipes. For the most part, these are solid, elegant, well researched and executed additions to the cuisine. But be warned, this book is pure food and beer porn. Recipes include Butternut Squash and Ale Hummus, Drunken Portobello Mushroom Sandwich, Beer-Steamed Mussels, Apple Ale Back Ribs, Maudite Onion Confit, Beer Butter Tarts, Stout Macadamia Nut Brownies, and more. Informative sidebars provide tips and hints from everything from how to pour beer to what glassware to pour it into. Color photos show readers exactly how Morin and Beaumont's mouth-watering dishes are made.

New England-Style Mussels
Makes 4 appetizer or 2 main servings
Recipe courtesy of BeerBistro Cookbook

2 lb mussels, rinsed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup diced bacon
1/4 cup diced leeks, white part only
1 small new potato, boiled, sliced
6 tbsp lager beer, preferably Vienna-style
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp grated cheddar cheese
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges
Crusty bread

To check for dead mussels, lightly rap any open specimens against counter. If they don’t close, discard.
In large pot, heat butter over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add bacon, leeks and potatoes. Cook, stirring, until leeks are soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in mussels and raise heat to high. Add beer, cream and cheddar. Cover and cook, shaking pan occasionally, 3 minutes. Add parsley, cover and cook until mussels have opened, about 2 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Stout Brownies
Makes 24 2-inch brownies
Recipe courtesy of BeerBistro Cookbook

2 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 oz  unsweetened cocoa butter
3 large eggs
8 oz  granulated sugar
4 oz all-purpose flour
1/2 oz cornstarch
pinch salt
1/3 cup oatmeal stout
½ cup macadamia nuts
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 12-inch square cake pan. In the top of a double boiler over medium heat or in a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, then stir in cocoa powder. Remove from heat and, if using a double boiler, transfer chocolate mixture to a mixing bowl and let cool.

In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar together until thick and fluffy. Gently fold in chocolate mixture. In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add chocolate mixture to flour, mixing until well incorporated, then add beer, nuts, and chocolate chips. Stir until everything is well mixed. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Make sure the centre is still a little loose to ensure the brownies remain moist.