Dining with Topa Topa and Barbareño

The Central Coast Beer Week just wrapped up and with it came a successful beer dinner hosted on Sunday, March 26th, by Barbareño and Topa Topa Brewing Co. Since 2015 Barbareño has been bringing central coast cuisine to the area with a dedication to local ingredients, history, and modern cooking techniques. With dishes like Channel Sea Urchin with Squid Ink Capellini, Eggamuffins (inspired by a popular fast food item), and Eucalyptus Ice Cream, their food plays with classic dishes in a way that is both novel and elegant. The chefs focus on the seasonality of ingredients and dishes will come and go with the weather and what is in season. Topa Topa Brewing Co. comes from a similar ilk with a focus on hop-centric brews done in a clean, balanced and bright style that makes these two a perfect pairing for a beer dinner.

Attendees were welcomed by Barbareño owner Jesse Gaddy and Beer Director Doug Boring alongside a pint of Chief Peak IPA. The Chief Peak is hopped with Simcoe, Citra, and Ella and has a brush of honey malts with an aroma of green mango that ripens on the palate. As the guests mingled they snacked on a Beercuterie Board featuring a selection of freshly baked bread, cured pork, cheeses, pickled goodies and slices of fried pigs head. The conversation simmered amid candlelight and the modern, warm wooden interior of the restaurant while guests continued to enter.

As people settled into their seats, Topa Topa founder Jack Dyer and Barbareño Chef Justin Snyder took the stage and introduced each course. Every dish incorporated one of Topa Topa’s beers into the ingredients and the beer used was never the beer paired with the dish, which is a unique angle for a beer dinner. For the first main course, a California Tagliatelle was paired with Flatlands Saison. The tagliatelle pasta was crafted from acorn flour and had a coarse nuttiness that complemented the savory chanterelle mushrooms and broth made from Topa Topa’s Cali Common. Red oak smoked yolks and asparagus pieces added a dash of hickory and bitterness to the dish. The Flatlands Saison uses a French saison yeast and has a cookie dough maltiness with a floral nose and a well placed clove character. The beer subdued the smokiness of the dish, bringing out more of its fruity esters and restraining its spicy phenolic flavors.

The second course consisted of a Cubano sandwich paired with Howler Coffee IPA. This fruit-forward IPA is brewed with Citra and Lemon Drop hops and incorporates an Ethiopian roast into its bright flavors. It has a lemon-orange aroma that is sharpened by its coffee character. For the Cubano, a toasted brioche was layered with pork belly confit, bacon and fresh lettuce. The savory sandwich was brightened by a kiss of acidity coming from the pickle and a mustard made from Huckster Double IPA. The coffee notes in the brew highlighted the smoky bacon and accented the pork belly with a touch of roast that made for a hearty, satisfying sandwich.

The next dish was inspired by beer can chicken and was composed of a pair of tacos matched with Weekender Session IPA. The chicken was cooked with Level Line Pale Ale and was enriched by a High West Bourbon barrel smoke. The filling was served atop a Tapatío tortilla which gave the tacos a light spicy-cumin snap that accented the chicken and melded with the topping of braised fennel and fresh greens. Many session IPAs can taste like hop water however the Weekender has a nice body that is accompanied by an aroma of lemon peel, wet earth and fresh flowers coming from the Mosaic and Lemon Drop hops used in the brew. With it combination of subtle spiciness and layered flavors, this dish was a personal favorite and exhibited the playful approach that Chef Justin has for food.

No beer dinner is complete without dessert and for the last course, Topa Topa’s Tux Nitro Stout was paired with a Black Wing Sundae. Tux has a luscious vanilla cake flavor accented by a chocolate liqueur note and a silky body from the nitrogen carbonation. The dessert had an explosion of flavors and textures with a chocolate cake surrounded by soft, fluffy whipped cream, chocolate beerscotch and topped with bits of toasted hop chocolate ganache. The decadent character of the beer laced a lavish mocha note to the dish. The rich dessert was an elegant end to the evening and as the conversations drifted off the night came to a close. One of the common topics of the waning chatter was a hope that Barbareño would do more beer dinners. Here’s hoping.

Photo by Misty Orman

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, April 5, 2017

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