The dining room theme at elegant Social Restaurant + Wine Bar on East Bay Street shifted from vino to ale last night (Jan. 13) as the restaurant and Lee Distributors hosted a four-course Dogfish Head dinner. Chef Brad Ball included five selections from the Delaware-based microbrwery: 90–Minute Imperial IPA, Pangea, Palo Santo, Chicory Stout, and Midas Touch.
Dogfish Head made a splash in Charleston this fall with the release of these five unusual beers, most of which incorporate a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, and woods into the brewing and aging processes. Several representatives from the brewery and the local distribution company strolled from table to table in Social's cozy back dining area, offering bits of info about each ale and answering questions. There was no formal speech or announcement at the dinner's casual start.
Seated alongside local marketing agent Emily Coleman (Obviouslee Marketing) and local writer Brian Wilder (TheDigitel.com), the first course ended up being our favorite of the evening: a velvety smooth sweet potato and leek soup topped with candied chopped pecans, a ginger creme faiche, and smoked maple syrup. The sugary nuttiness and ginger flavors of the dish overlapped delicate sweetness and citrus notes in the Dogfish Pangaea (7 percent a.b.v.) the lightest-colored the five beers ("brewed with ingredients from every continent").
Next up, a saffron-poached halibut arrived in a large bowl of tangy broth, topped with a ribbon-cut radish fennel salad. Flaky, tender, and a little cold, the halibut's delicate flavor was overpowered by the bright taste of the broth and fennel, but the fruity, earthy character of the accompanying Midas Touch ale cleansed the palate nicely. A Midas Touch foam was supposedly part of the configuration, but seemed like a puckery, buttery broth to us. Clearly, the ale stole the show with this course.
A hearty two-part duck dish arrived as the main course. A sliced, seared duck breast with endive and fig reduction took one side of the plate, and duck leg confit with endive gratin and fig chutney occupied the other side. Both were delicious, and similarly rich in flavor (especially the sweetness of the figs), but the texture differed greatly. The staff served the double-duck dish with two very different strong ales — the intensely hoppy and citrusy 90 Minute Imperial IPA (9 percent a.b.v.), and the dark, oak-aged Palo Santo Ale (12 percent a.b.v.). I considered asking for a tall pint glass to pour my own, potent Dogfish "black and tan" from the two samples.
The final course featured a beautifully-arranged dessert of small-sized brown butter beignet (minus the powdered sugar) with roasted almonds, a sticky almond créme, and decadently dark chocolate espresso ganache. The pleasant bitterness and malty flavor or Dogfish's roasty, chocolate-accented Chicory Stout nicely complemented the flavors of the course.
Social might like to boast of a impressive selection of wines, but pared with its heartiest cuisine, it might just lure more than a few beer enthusiasts with fine beer dinners like this, and it might just convert some ardent wine fans too.