During one of the last, ridiculous, trying snowstorms of April, a group of diners found shelter in the cozy confines of Nightingale. With the shades pulled down to block the wintery view of Lyndale Avenue, attention turned to the glorious promises of spring.
These winter-worn foodies had come to enjoy the fruits of a partnership between Nightingale and Boom Island Brewing. The restaurant and brewery teamed up to present a four-course beer dinner, focusing on spring fare and Belgian brews. Nightingale owner and head chef Carrie McCabe-Johnston and her sous chef Dan Berger designed the menu, spotlighting such local purveyors as Shepherd Song Farm. To accompany the cuisine, Kevin Welch of Minneapolis-based Boom Island offered up four of his Belgian-style beers, perfect for spring sipping.
The unique fun of pairing dinners is the extra layer of intention – why did the chef pair smoked salmon with a Belgian Strong? Each course contains a puzzle, a challenge to the diner to figure out the echoing flavors and complementary tastes. At our candlelit booth, small resonances became revelatory: a sweep of burnt orange alongside scallop crudo rhymed with the toasty bitterness of the Silvius Pale Ale. Aha!
Some of the pairings were logical – the strong, malty Hoodoo Dubbel matched well with savory braised lamb and tangy ramps. Others were surprising: the strength of the big Brimstone Tripel brought character to the smooth creaminess of chilled pea soup. Throughout the courses, the delicately layered nature of Belgian-style brews shone a spotlight on the subtle tastes of spring. This element was especially evident in the dessert course, where the soft florals in the Witness Witbier harmonized with an elegant brown butter cake and orange blossom poached rhubarb.
Beyond the spring tastes and smells, the dinner above all showcased a pairing of passionate individuals. McCabe-Johnston’s care for the cuisine was evident, with beautiful garnishes of watercress and pickled ramps, delightful touches like silver tea service for pouring the soup, and lovely treatment of spring tastes like asparagus. Welch’s passion was also on display, from his opening speech about the influence of a pilgrimage to Belgium to learn under the experts – “Belgian brewers care so much about what they’re brewing,” he emphasized – to his willingness to sit down with diners and chat about the importance of fresh yeast. The combination of these enthusiastic hosts imbued the night with a sense of energy and potential.
The Twin Cities is a ripe canvas for these sorts of match-ups, full of vibrant people ardent about their craft. Hopefully more pairings will occur beyond this spring treat.