Downtown Raleigh's Oro was the site Thursday of the first of four dinners in which Executive Chef and Owner Chris Hylton will pair a four-course tasting menu with selections from one of the Triangle's many breweries.
The two Raleigh businesses already had a strong relationship – Oro serves Raleigh Brewing options on tap on a regular basis – when the idea to mark NC Beer Month with a paired dinner came up.
Three of the featured beers -- Moravian Rhapsody, a Czech pilsner, Belgian Hell Yes Ma'am, and House of Clay, a rye IPA – were already available at Oro. For the dinner, Raleigh Brewing rep Billy Rutherford offered up the spring seasonal, The Big Squeeze, a wheat ale that incorporates blood oranges.
Hylton said the collaboration happened quickly without much back and forth. Oro's General Manager Maresa Pratt and Rutherford presented him with the lineup and let him decide what to serve.
"I have a pretty good palate," he said.
Rutherford allowed that Hylton is the food expert, and that Raleigh Brewing didn't seek much input into the dishes served.
"I'm just here to eat," he said with a laugh.
Rutherford held court at the bar before dinner, explaining the short history of Raleigh Brewing and some of the stories behind the beers.
One of Raleigh Brewing's most famous offerings to date is named for the preferences of owner Kristie Nystedt. As the staff planned selections, Nystedt would ask over and over, "Where's my Belgian," Rutherford said, until it became an inside joke. She'd ask if there would be a Belgian beer selection and, inevitably, the answer would be "Yes, Ma'am." When that beer needed a name, Rutherford said, it only made sense to call it "Hell Yes Ma'am."
The four courses demonstrated Hylton and his staff's versatility.
First was grilled grouper over lobster risotto with corn and yuzu butter sauce. Pratt explained that yuzu is a citrus fruit native to Asia. It added just a touch of tang to an otherwise lush and buttery dish and paired nicely with the pilsner, Moravian Rhapsody.
The second course was the only one to include beer in the recipe. Tempura for tofu was prepared with Hell Yes Ma'am in the batter, Hylton said. He stuffed the tofu squares with apricot and sent them out alongside small lamb chops.
The third course was arguably the most adventurous. Braised veal cheeks sat on pureed cauliflower, and each plate included a hunk of bone with a small spoon to dish out the marrow. It was the first experience with bone marrow for most of the guests at my table, and all agreed it was decadent, fatty and best enjoyed when mixed with the fork-tender veal. The powerful dish was enough to stand up to Raleigh Brewing's House of Clay IPA.
Dessert featured Raleigh Brewing's spring seasonal, The Big Squeeze, a wheat ale with blood oranges in the mix. On the plate, we enjoyed crepes filled with mint-infused whipped cream and topped with berries.
Oro will host four beer dinners in April, NC Beer Month. Upcoming events will feature brews from Lonerider, Gizmo and Crank Arm.