Friday, September 26, 2014

Recap: Great Raft Beer Dinner at Restaurant Cotton

Great Raft and Restaurant Cotton made a dangerous combination
In honor of Louisiana Craft Brewers Week I felt it would be a good idea to post about a beer dinner featuring a brewery that couldn't make it to New Orleans for Wednesday's Louisiana Brewers Bash. Great Raft Brewing out of Shreveport, Louisiana recently announced their southward movement into the New Orleans market set for this November with Baton Rouge to follow in 2015. However, they are currently only available in north Louisiana, and during this past May's American Craft Beer Week, I had the opportunity to attend a Great Raft beer dinner at Restaurant Cotton, home kitchen of Chef Cory Bahr. With a six course tasting menu expertly paired with six unique brews, it easily proved to be worth the drive to Monroe for the bite and booze spectacle. I arrived early so as to have a couple extra brews at the bar and chat with a few people before we dined, then I headed upstairs to claim my spot at the table. Restaurant Cotton is a can't miss in the Monroe dining landscape. The food represents the region but with a unique contemporary twist. The old building has been beautifully redesigned into an open seating area and bar on the bottom floor with private dining and banquet space on the second floor.

Grilled Watermelon, Radish, Cress, Lime, Pink Pepper

Our dinner started boldly with the Make Believer Session IPA accompanied by grilled watermelon in a salad with thinly sliced radish, leaves of cress, a squeeze of lime juice, and crushed pink peppercorns. The compressed watermelon presented a unique texture while its inherent sweetness matched the acidity of the lime juice and the potency of the pink pepper. The mildly hoped and very drinkable IPA added some fruit and floral notes of its own to create a beautiful medley in my mouth.

Ipswich Scallop, Turnip, Vanilla, Grapefruit, Salsa Verde

The second course of the evening featured succulent seared scallops with turnips, vanilla grapefruit foam, and salsa verde partnered with the Commotion Pale Ale. The modern technique in the foam matched the precision in the textbook seared scallops. The flavors were interesting and resounding, creating a lasting flavor that somehow worked despite their perceived contradiction.

Pecan Smoked Pork Belly, Pickled Chioggia Beets,
Sweet Potato Puree, Root Beer Syrup

The third plate presented pecan smoked pork belly. Nothing else would be necessary. Still, Chef Bahr decided to partner that with house pickled beets, sweet potato puree, and a root beer syrup then pair the course with Great Raft's Disaster Proof. The earthy flavors highlighted each bite as the pork belly melted in my mouth and melded with the sugary and acidic notes of the accouterments. The Disaster Proof, a special release rye lager with floral New Zealand hops worked marvelously well as the beer cut through the fat of the belly while playing with the subtle herbaceous of the root beer syrup.

Venison Schnitzel, Stewed White Beans, Fried Carrots,
Bacon Beer Mustard Jus

Next up came the dish I most eagerly anticipated. Pounded out, battered, and fried venison rested atop a slathering of white beans with fried carrots and a jus teeming with bacon, beer, and mustard. The rustic and hearty dish put a smile on my face as it elevated my childhood deer camp memories to a new level. Paired with Nobody's Darling, an imperial Schwarzbier brewed in collaboration with Bluejacket, the schnitzel popped even more. The beer, a generously hopped black lager, contained all of the right flavors to both pair with roastiness and toastiness as well as contrast with the appropriately delicate bitterness.

Braised Rabbit, Sweet Peas, Gnocchi, Smoked Mushrooms, Parmesan

Our final entree course brought another rustic yet still incredibly contemporary dish. Chef Bahr went back to the game with braised rabbit served in a medley of gnocchi, sweet peas, smoked mushrooms and a little shaved parmesan. It is a hard to argue with a dish like this. Impeccable execution of every element on the plate made it hard to put the fork down even to get a swallow of the Southern Drawl beer from Great Raft which accompanied the course.

LA Strawberry Gelato, Cured LA Strawberries, Torn Lemon Cake,
Buttermilk Crumbs, Basil Seeds, Dill

All good meals end with something sweet. In this case, diners enjoyed a strawberry delight served alongside one of Great Raft's flagship brews. Reasonably Corrupt, the dark lager with a malty sweetness and notes of coffee and chocolate, provided the necessary counter balance to the fruity sweetness in the dessert. Strawberry gelato accompanied cured Louisiana strawberries, lemon cake, buttermilk crumbs, basil seeds, and a garnish of fresh dill. The deconstructed strawberry shortcake set my stomach right to end the evening in a magical way. Content with pure gastronomic glee, all I could do was tip my cap to Chef Bahr and to the great folks at Great Raft.

Cotton on Urbanspoon

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