For New Year’s Eve, I wanted to eat a series of delicious little dishes and drink some excellent beer with friends, without going out to a crowded restaurant.
So four of us hung out at an apartment in the Mission and shared the Osechi (New Year’s Bento) made by Peko Peko Catering*, a mix of traditional Japanese foods and California interpretations with local ingredients. We also each brought some special beer, and spent plenty of time geeking out over what beer went well with each course (it wasn’t always what we expected, so at times we’d have three half-glasses of different beer, trying them with each new dish). It was a great evening.
The three-level cedar box (handmade by the chef/owner) and menu:
Even the cold packs it came surrounded by when I picked it up were wrapped in an elegant paper that looked almost like a corn husk, to shield the ugly plastic packs from our eyes. Below are a few more quick cell phone photos and notes– I’ll edit in my friend’s better photos when I get them.
We of course had to open the box up and see every level side-by-side. Beautiful! On the left is a special bonus– a box of hand-made mochi along with three jellied candies brought back from the 400-year-old Toraya Confectionary.
Oh, did I mention the beer? Here’s the selection we had to draw from:
We jumped ahead and stated with the Dungeness crab: excellent and understated (a theme for the whole meal) — with minimal sauce, just a bit of citrus (yuzu), and served with a scarlet turnip, pickled tokyo turnips, and permission at just that right stage of ripeness (after crunchy and before rotten). We’d started the evening with the Mikkeller-I-liked-but-don’t-remember. With the crab, we opened the Stone Vertical Epic 11, which was quite good (spice/clove/citrus?) and a decent match to the crab.
After jumping to the end with the crab, we started back at the top of the box:
Clockwise from top right were: tiny dry candied fish with a satisfying crunch (already eaten by the time I took this photo), cured herring roe next to steelhead roe served in a yuzu cup (tied for my favorite part of the dinner, and everyone agreed these were amazing and the citrus was inspired), gobo root in sesame, grilled black cod marinated in miso (this was my other favorite, and probably the best cod I’ve ever had), kombu rolls wrapped around cooked salmon, and tamago, a folded egg omelet.
We tried a JW Lees Harvest ale aged in Calvados casks next– a fantastic beer I’d never had. It was a great balance to the candied fish, even subduing the sweetness a bit. But it was too much for the light roe, so we skipped it for now and opened up an Almanac Farmhouse Pale (bottle-aged with plums), which was one of our more versatile food-pairing beers of the night, especially with the light and citrus-flavored dishes.
Moving on to the middle and final layer of the box:
From upper right: chestnut and sweet potato dumplings (maybe that’s a misnomer– no wrapper, just sweet potato and chestnut in a ball, in a two-tone presentation where you could see separate sweet potato and chestnut regions), cod cake with a wasabi root we grated ourselves, large sweet black beans, and chicken in marmalade (nice pieces of chicken with plenty of fat and skin around the outside).
With the sweet potato and chestnut we had a Westvleteren 12 (one of my favorite beers from Belgium, not officially distributed, but thanks to the magic of eBay and international shipping…), and the dark, rich, somewhat herbal taste was a good pairing. We also had a L’Ultima Luna (barleywine aged in calvados casks), which I think I remember was good with the sweetness and fat on the chicken. The Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (2007, aged in bourbon casks) went well with the sweet black beans. Cod with wasabi wasn’t something I expected any beer to go well with (maybe a light lager?)– not even the farmhouse pale.
Quite a feast!
And after spending several leisurely hours eating this and taking a break, we then went to a house party with local cooks making noodles, dumplings, and whole snapper with ginger. A great way to wrap up one of my best years in food.
* See also a recent NYtimes interactive feature about Peko Peko, with photos and an audio clip of Sylvan Brackett talking about his inspirations.