I am Canadian, but I can't drink beer. Too much of the stuff during one summer of my misspent youth was enough for a lifetime. Knowing this about me, my pals wonder why I am eager to visit beerbistro.
The reason is owner/chef Brian Morin. I've been a fan of his cooking for over a decade, and I enjoy his appreciation of aggressive flavours as well as his generosity in portioning. "This is what I've been working toward all my life," says Morin, a young James Beard look-alike. Now he's teamed u
p with Stephen Beaumont, the country's most renowned beer maven, writer and taster, and they've created a happy/ hoppy partnership. It's only in North America that advertising has placed beer into a lesser category than wine and whiskey. In Europe, Asia and India, for example, beer gets much more respect and is seen as a peerless accompaniment to food.
A first timer at beerbistro will find it hard to believe that this was the home of Zoom, a restaurant of overwhelming glitz, glass and avant garde fusion cuisine. The glitz is gone, but the good bones of the place have been left intact. In the front, with floor to ceiling windows on King St., there is a fair sized bar and a number of grazing tables. Like moths to a flame, the young downtown beer drinkers take off their jackets, loosen their ties and forget the stresses of office politics. Up a few stairs is the dining room, separated from the bar by gracefully curved iron railings. The kitchen at the rear is semi-visible, and a huge angled mirror on the wall above it let's us get a peek into the heart of the restaurant.
From corner table number 305, we can see the whole room, including the arrival of prominent restaurateurs who ask to sit where they can see the kitchen.
First, a flight of beer, three 3 oz. tasting glasses, includes Konig Pilsener, Hacker Pschorr Edelhell and Granite Best Bitter which my pal drinks in order of mild to bold. A hint to keep in mind: when pairing beer with food, we're told, we should treat ale as we would red wine and lager as we would white wine. Our waiter certainly knows his beer.
But our mission tonight is to eat. Glorious frites cradled in a white cloth napkin come with the kitchens own smoky oven roasted tomato ketchup. Flat beer breads (read pizza) are made with Oatmeal Stout dough, hand stretched and topped, for example, with Bison pepperoni, Buffalo style mozzarella, tomato sauce. Not quite ready to walk on the wild side, we stick with Tomato Basil pizza, with zesty, firm, Creemore marinated artichokes, goat cheese, garlic and roasted pear tomatoes, which we both agree is one of the best pizzas we've had in ages. Some things keep me awake at night: does flat beer bread mean bread that is flat or bread that is made with flat beer, or both.
Each dish uses beer as an ingredient and recommends beer as a drink. Plump, creamy white, P.E.I. mussels, are steamed in a rich and robust sauce made of Hacker-Schorr Edelhall, tarragon, garlic, red onions and tomatoes. My usual policy is to leave a dish unfinished unless it is just too delicious-suffice to say, I scoop up every drop of sauce with fresh crusty bread. Maudite beef stew is a main course of chunks of steak, slowly braised in La Maudite to melting tenderness with pearl onions, roasted vegetables and potatoes, each morsel firm and flavourful. The chef pan-fries catfish and pairs it with black-eyed peas and orzo cooked with Pilsner, and yummy roasted root vegetables. The unusual and rich flavour of the beurre blanc is best bitter. We are drunk, not with beer, but with the vibrant profusion of flavours we've eaten. Chocolate fondue (Callibaut) with a platter of fresh fruit is a simple and perfect ending.
Next visit I've got my heart set on a bottle of Mill Street Tankhouse Ale with a Belgian Beer Burger.