The Public House in The Venetian has many reasons to celebrate, and allowed them to culminate in the popular form of a course pairing dinner showdown. Reason One to celebrate: The grand old time that is the Nightclub and Bar Show was in town, a thing that to liquor professionals is like a week-long bacchanalia. Reason Two: Grant Grill of San Diego Mixologist Jeff Josenhans was in town for the NCB Show, and a friendly competition with hometown-hero Cicerone Russell Gardner seemed like the natural thing to do. Reason Three: Do we really need a reason?It sounds amazing! After the little knot of other food writers said their hellos, the staff wasted no time in getting starting this off right.
The first course was their crispy duck egg roll, with a little bit of apricot jam. This was paired with a truly great beer by Jolly Pumpkin, Bam Bier. The white pepper tastes and funky tartness from their famous wild yeast cut the richness and the oil of the fried roll. Jeff’s cocktail, the Asian Cowboy Sour, did a great job contrasting by using High West White Whiskey, pressed Meyer lemon, purple basil and Cointreau. Right into the second course was a Public House favorite, and a running item in all of Anthony Meidenbauer’s menus, grilled octopus salad. The light salad and sweet charred octopus was paired with a kind of yeast-forward and slightly bitter Grimbergen Blonde Belgian ale and a cocktail called the “Venetian Arrangement.” It was made with Sarpa Di Poli Grappa Moscato, Antica Carpano Sweet Vermouth, a sweet aromatic wine from the barachetto grape, Fee Brother’s Lavender Water, pressed Genoa lemon and muddled rosemary. The cocktail was so complex and so unique, but its execution came off perfectly. It was aromatic, floral, and balanced against the dish perfectly.
The “main” course was a braised short rib, cooked and reduced in Deschutes Black Butte Porter, with a side of English pea mashed potatoes. Now, being braised in a rather smoky porter, both the mixologist and the cicerone went in the direction of smoke. Russell went for something of a wildcard with Aect Ochlenferla Urbock Rauchbier. Smoked beers are often heavy-bodied and semi-sweet, but this kept the smoke but was more clean and crisp, like an urbock lager usually is. Jeff created a cocktail called “Spirit Grocer’s Soiree” using Templeton Rye, smoked dark muscovado simple syrup, Fee Brother’s Old Fashioned Bitters, and a Guinness foam topped with just a touch of smoked paprika. The whole course was smoke-central, and both had their own distinctive qualities towards the dish.
This next course was somewhat obtuse in the description, “Beer, Cheese and Booze Trio.” What it actually was is a trio of cheeses, each one paired with one beer and one small cocktail. The first cheese/beer/booze bite was a St. Andre triple cream, a soft rind buttery cow’s milk cheese, paired with a citrusy trippel-Anchorage Brewing Co.’s The Tide and Its Takers, and a “Little Jig” of Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, tangerine champagne and cardamom. The aged English cheddar went with a nice malty Firestone DBA and a Beefeater Gin, Graham’s Tawny Port, bruised parsley, lime and Luxardo Syrup Cocktail. Lastly was a slightly salty and in-your-face American style blue cheese, Roquefort Blue, paired with a very American-style Sculpin IPA, and a cocktail of Pusser’s 15 Rum, a sauternes wine, and fresh pressed pineapple juice. The realization that the mixologist went for the classic pairing of wine and cheese, but using wine-centric cocktails, was quite stunning. This one cheese course was like a meal in itself, but there was still dessert to go.
The final course was a dark chocolate mini-tart with a little layer of crumbled peppered bacon. Both masters of pairings went top-notch with the finale, with Russell choosing the very heavy bodied and complex Firestone 16, full of toffee, bourbon, and especially chocolate notes. Jeff went with a cocktail called “Smooth Criminal,” a mix of Breaking and Entering St.George Bourbon, white creme de cacao, Funkin Raspberry Puree, and cinnamon-infused whipped cream. Honestly, dinners like these only have one winner: the diners. Both Russell Gardner the Cicerone and Jeff Josenhans the Mixologist did an amazing job of not only creating a wonderful dinner of libations, but showing to everyone how true masters of their respective crafts operate.