Monday, September 1, 2014

Something New: Pairing Craft Beers

Last Saturday was exhausting.

Customers had been doing some serious wine-buying all day then Susan and Travis showed up at the store ready to go out to dinner. I was exhausted and none of our favorite places had any appeal. They all sounded just as tired as I felt. Thoughts were trending Vietnamese when I thought of a place we'd never been.

Mot Hai Ba was started by Jeana Johnson and Colleen O'Hare , the same two women who started Good to Go Tacos which we love. After GTGT had been such a great success, they went on a motorcycle trek through North Vietnam and came back to Dallas and opened a Vietnamese restaurant to great acclaim. Not only did most Dallas reviewers name it one of the top new Dallas restaurants in 2013, the Zagat review put it in their top 25 most significant openings in the country. So we decided to check it out.

It was getting late when we arrived, but a number of tables were still occupied. We were greeted and seated immediately. I scanned the menu, immediately flipped it over and looked for something to drink. All I could see was the beer list. I was too tired to read about cocktails and didn't see any wines. Now I know they have a great looking wine list, all French, how could I have missed that? All I had been doing all day was selling French wine! BUT the beer list was GREAT!

To start, we ordered a Green Papaya Salad and a bottle of Cherry Funk Sour Ale from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Tulsa. What a great beginning! The salad was delicious, light and crisp. The ale was a perfect aperitif. The sour cherry flavor was precise and defined, balanced by the malty funk on the finish and everything was kept light and bright by the acidity and carbonation. Plus there was enough alcohol to do the job, always an important function of the proper aperitif. The salad and the 17 ounce bottle were perfect for 3 people to share.

Next came a second salad, this time a Banana Flower Salad followed by our main dish, a flash-fried whole Branzino and sides of grilled baby bok-choi and vermicelli. The fish was filleted tableside and was delicious. We chose another ale to accompany the fish, Trellis Garden Ale by Odell, out of Colorado, a substantial ale infused with locally grown herbs and spices. The effects of the botanicals was very subtle, but kept the flavors surprisingly light and balanced. At 8.7%, it is a strong ale, but it paired wonderfully with the fish. The 25 oz. bottle let us each have several glasses. We ended the meal by finishing our second salad along with our last glass of ale.

What a great dinner! Delicious food paired with delicious beers, chosen from a wonderfully curated list of beers. Some, especially Asian brands, are beers that would be normally expected. But they also offer a good selection of bottled specialty craft beers, some of which are extremely limited. Mot Hai Ba provides a tremendous opportunity to pair these complex flavors with expertly prepared foods. The larger format bottles are perfect for sharing and several different beers can be served during the meal.

Frankly, wine prices are so jacked up in most restaurants that several large bottles of beer are cheaper than one bottle of wine. I always find it nerve wracking to pay $40-50 for a mediocre bottle of sauvignon blanc, it's one reason we don't go to fine dining restaurants. So it was a great relief to feel free to order anything I wanted and be able to pay for it.

All in all it was a great evening. The restaurant staff was very professional, but also low-key and friendly at the same time. Chef Johnson gave it the personal touch with a nice visit at the end of the meal. She remembered us from the first taco stand. We felt very relaxed and at home at the end of the evening.

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