Good news for beer and food lovers in the Sunset District and all over the Bay Area. The beer dinners that former Brewmaster Rich Higgins initiated at Social Kitchen have returned under the guidance of Chef Chris Wong and Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant (pictured carrying a case of Oud Brune). Even better news is that Social Kitchen’s owners seem to have complete faith in this dynamic and talented duo, and it seems to be paying off. The brewpub was bustling even on a Tuesday night.
If craft beer is going to rise to the next level, it will be through intelligent pairing with fine food, similar to the way gourmets have learned to accentuate the flavors of food through wine. When it works well, the food and beverage elevate one another to heights that neither would have achieved on its own.
Even though Sturdavant and Wong have only been working together for a few months, they seem to have already developed a symbiotic empathy, and each seems to be nudging the other to raise his game.
The appetizer course kicking off the Brewmaster’s Dinner, titled “An End of Summer Celebration,” featured brochettes of yellow peach, pork belly and mission fig with apricot gastrique paired with Sturdavant’s German-style SKB Pilsner.
Most breweries and brewpubs stay away from making pilsners, largely because they take a long time to brew because unlike ales, they need to be lagered (German for “storage”). Pilsners are also a challenge for brewers, since any mistake will be readily apparent and will render the beer undrinkable. Proper German or Czech pilsners bear no resemblance to the insipid mass-produced swill from industrial brewers. And imported lagers are often subject to spoilage in transit or go "off" due to improper storage. Pilsners are meant to be drunk fresh.
We in the Bay Area are fortunate to have access to excellent lagers from Moonlight Brewing and Trumer, and Sturdavant’s SKB Pilsner deserves a place in that heady company. I’d visit Social Kitchen just to drink the pilsner.The pairing with the brochettes worked out quite well. Chef Wong is a master with pork and slow cooking, and the combination of the salty pork belly and the sweet peach and fig worked nicely with the dry, crisp pilsner, fragrant with noble hops.
The first course paired Salmon Rillettes on brioche toast with Irving Street Pale Ale, an American-style pale ale that was simple yet satisfying. Sturdavant’s beers demonstrate that an ale doesn’t have to be big, bold and intimidating to be tasty.
The second course pitted rosemary roasted spareribs, slow cooked for several hours, against The Smell IPA. The Smell on its own is a formidable brew, loaded with hops, but Wong’s spareribs overwhelmed the hop bitterness.
Perhaps the best pairing of the night was the dessert course, olive oil plum cake with Red Beauty plums, blackberry sauce and Framboise caramel, paired with Social Kitchen’s Anniversary Oud Brune, a hoppy Belgian brown ale bottle-aged for four months.
As always, the service was friendly, professional and unobtrusive.
If all of this is making you hungry, you’re in luck. Social Kitchen will be holding pairing dinners every month, and for $45, they might be one of the best dining bargains in town, considering the high quality of the food and the beer.
But you don’t have to wait a whole month. Stop in for Social Kitchen’s regular dinners or better yet, for its outstanding Sunday brunch. Wong’s pork belly fried rice is quickly achieving legendary status in the Inner Sunset.