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BEER WEEK: Trattoria Acqua's First-Ever Beer Dinner


Trattoria Acqua's first beer dinner.
Photo by Heather Hernandez

Many restaurants offered beer-pairing events during San Diego Beer Week. The menus presented are vastly different and extensions of the perceptions, palates and pairing principles of the chefs. Last week, Damaso Lee, executive chef at La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua, presented a multi-course menu paired with exotic brews from The Lost Abbey. It was a first for Lee, who is used to building recipes to pair with his restaurant’s voluminous selection of quality wines.

But he embraced the challenge with open arms.

“It’s good to get out of our comfort zone; to break the wine traditions to adapt to the beer and bring it to the next level,” says Lee, who shared his modus operandi for developing Tuesday’s menu.

The first step was meeting with Tomme Arthur, head brewer of The Lost Abbey, to taste the beers and discuss their flavor profiles.

It was decided that, since The Lost Abbey Carnevale saison (a Belgian farmhouse ale) is more an aperitif, thanks to its champagne-esque character, it would go best with Lee’s canapés—a lump crab cake, Humboldt fog goat cheese soufflé and slow-cooked carnitas in a pastry shell.

The first course, a duck confit spring, was a new interpretation of a pairing Arthur had fond memories of, while its condiment, a sweet Bing cherry sauce, was built to marry with the cherry notes of the Cuvée de Tomme (or as Arthur refers to it, “The Cuvée de Me”) Flemish sour the dish was paired with.

A second saison, Red Barn Ale, was tabbed for the second course.

“When I tasted Red Barn, it was crisp and refreshing like white wine, and I thought it would be good with fish,” says Lee, who served up white sea bass with a rich butter sauce for the beer to cut with its acidity. He also played off that acidity via roasted baby heirloom pear tomatoes that burst in unison with the ale.

A rare protein, pheasant breast, was the star of the dinner’s main course, which was served with Lost and Found, a garnet-hued abbey-style ale.

“Since it’s heavier, I felt I needed something that was elegant, but could stand up to the beer,” says Lee.

The entrée’s accoutrements included a risotto of barley, which Lee selected over traditional Arborio rice, due to barley’s role as a component in beer, and a pomegranate reduction to draw out the beer’s raisiny elements.

Dessert was borne of a suggestion from Arthur for his lavish bourbon barrel-aged Angel’s Share strong ale—butterscotch. Lee evolved that single word into a decadent duet of butterscotch crème brûlée and chocolate cookie-crusted caramel cheesecake. Both featured deep, rich browned sugar sweetness that meshed well with the oaky, alcohol-rich sweetness of the Angel’s Share, a digestif-like brew with a coating mouthfeel similar to dessert wine.

Trattoria Acqua is celebrating its 15th year of operation, yet this was the restaurant’s first beer dinner. “But it won’t be our last,” says proprietor Michael McGeath. “We promise.”

Details »
  • City: La Jolla
  • Phone: 858-454-0709
  • Name: Trattoria Acqua
  • Address: 1298 Prospect Street