Most of us have been to a wine-paired dinner, and likely fewer of us to beer paired dinners.
Now cocktail-paired dinners—though far from a trend—are increasingly more common in larger restaurant markets. This past Monday, La Chasse restaurant and Copper & Kings American Brandy took their shot at bringing such an event to the Highlands.
It wasn’t the first cocktail paired dinner I’ve been to in Louisville, but it was the most remarkable. Meta owner Jeremy Johnson did a guest mixologist stint with Griffin Paulin, then-executive chef at Over the Nine, about a year ago. Excellent in every respect. Same for a Michter’s American Whiskeys event during this spring’s Bourbon Affair. Harvest chef Patrick Roney commanded the kitchen, and four of the city’s best bartenders—the aforementioned Johnson, Beth Burrows (then of Down One Bourbon Bar, now at Jim Beam), Eric Wentworth from The Hub and Proof on Main bartender, Damien Cooke (now at Red Hog Butcher) managed the cocktails. All of it was splendid.
But the cocktail-paired meal created by La Chasse owner and mixologist, Isaac Fox, and executive chef Alex Dulaney, was nothing short of mind-blowing. As perfect a paired meal as I’ve ever enjoyed. Both men are incredibly skilled in their particular areas of the restaurant (Fox has won several local cocktail competitions), yet it appears the two have an exceptional connection when it comes to flavors. Speaking only for myself, there were no misses, no wishes for more or less seasoning, no regrets that a particular cocktail wasn’t as “spirit forward” as I hoped.
In fact, the meal was so good, so engrossing (lots of fun conversations, too), that I forgot to take a single picture. If you weren’t among the fortunate 60 people there, feel free to call me unprofessional. Guilty as charged for that two-hour stretch. But if you were, I’m sure you know why taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. In fact, I’ve checked the Facebook pages of four friends who were there, and none of them took pics either. So maybe we were all in the “too blown away to shoot pics” mode.
Here’s the evening’s menu, along with a few of my comments:
- First course: Grilled Quail with Drambuie and pear glaze, frisee, black pepper and tea spiced quail egg. (The flavors on the grilled quail from Dulaney’s wood-fired grill show his love of smoke and skill at using it.)
- Paired with: Lavender 75— Copper and Kings Absinthe, lemon, lavender bitters, dash of Scotch and champagne. (I don’t care for absinthe, yet Fox made me like it here. Starters usually aren’t so complex, but somehow it came off exceptionally refreshing.)
- Second course: Evergreen Smoked Mussels with garlic and lemon cream sauce
- Paired with: Rosemary Tonic— Copper and Kings Alley Cat Gin, Giffard Blackberry Liqueur, lemon, muddled rosemary and Boylan’s Tonic. (Seeing lots of rosemary and blackberry in drinks lately, and I love it. Both work exceptionally well with this gin. And as far as my palate is concerned, gin works with about everything.)
- Third course: Roasted spiced Butternut Squash Salad with sherry and maple reduction, Reggiano Parmesan curls, arugula, walnuts and cranberries. (I like salads just fine, but I’ve never dubbed one my favorite course in a meal. That changed Monday night. This was the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Let’s see it on the menu, Mr. Dulaney!)
- Paired with: Sage Advice— Copper and Kings Immature Brandy, roasted pear syrup, muddled sage, lemon and bitters (This was the evening’s most electric pairing. Yes, a salad and a cocktail, an ideal and ironic dietary juxtaposition. Fox and Dulaney must have been side by side when they concocted this one. The drink was the most spirit-forward drink of the night, which is doubly good since I love C&K’s Immature Brandy. [The Butchertown Mule made with this blows away a standard Moscow mule.])
- Fourth course: Braised Veal Breast with apple-wood smoked bacon, sweet onions and thyme, roasted red potatoes, sautéed spinach. (Unbelievably tender, so freaky French.)
- Paired with: The King’s Manhattan— Copper and Kings Aged Brandy, Sfumato Rubarbara, Hietz Ink Grade Port, Blackstrap Bitters. (The original menu called for Carpano Antico vermouth and Angostura Bitters, but Fox bumped those off in favor of the port. What an amazing call: sweet port versus slightly tangy-sour Carpano. Definitely try that at home, folks.)
- Fifth course: Parisian Apple Tart with cardamom Chantilly cream
- Paired with: Tasting of Copper and Kings “Three Maralenas” Apple Brandy. (If you love tequila, you really should get this apple brandy, which was aged in tequila barrels. Fox’s call to let this stand alone rather than blended in a cocktail made for a nice ending. [Perhaps the spirit is too subtle for mixing? Not sure. Don’t care. It worked.])
Several friends I talked to as we left shared the same closing thought: We all hope to see more cocktail-paired dinners in Louisville. Heaven knows the cooking and mixology skills to create them are here, and there’s no lack of good spirits flowing about.
Just be forewarned: Team La Chasse set a high, high bar Monday night.