Hey beer nerds: this post's for you.
By now, after attending many beer-themed dinners, wherein a chef sets up a menu with beer pairings selected by a cicerone, you've realized the power of matching beer with food. The residual sugars present in all beer play nicely with sugar-containing components of food, including proteins and starch. Effervescence acts as a palate scrubber, washing your taste buds clean between bites. And flavor components like hops, malts and toasted grains provide and endless number of flavor components to match with food.
"Beer is also a better value," Matt Quenette told me, comparing the cost of high quality beer to that of high quality wine. The beer director at the Meddlesome Moth, Quenette sets beer pairings for each of the dishes offered on their gastropub menu.
I approached Quenette after talking with Greg Engert, who dined with me at the Moth after teaching a beer class at Central Market. Greg and I were discussing the differences between dining in Washington D.C. and Dallas. I brought up BYOB, which isn't an option under beverage laws out there but is relatively common here.
Enter My Lan: a BYOB Vietnamese restaurant in Garland and the subject of this week's review. I'd just visited the restaurant earlier that week and was dismayed that I had to hunt down my own beer to swill while chomping on egg rolls. But then Engert told me about Mekong, a small restaurant in Richmond, Virginia that serves craft and Belgian beer with Vietnamese food. Engert said the pairings made perfect sense: Beer works well with spicy, bold and robust food. Now I wasn't dismayed; I was excited to explore what was essentially a limitless beer pairing opportunity.
Most Vietnamese restaurants that serve beer offer standard Asian brews like Sapporo, Tsing Tao and Tiger beer. With a BYOB, the entire selection at any beer store is available. I called in Quenette, gave him My Lan's menu and asked him what beers he would pair with a few of my favorite dishes.
We started with the grilled pork that comes with the rice wrapper and is also served on the vermicelli bowl.
MQ: This is a somewhat tricky one because of the soy and fish sauce, which is delicious but can be very strong if not careful. I would say you would want to come strong with this dish. Ska Decadent comes to mind. Amazing sweet caramel malt to harmonize with the grilled sugars of the pork and the bombastic citrus and pine hop aromas, plus bitterness to wipe that slate clean after every bite. Comes in 22 oz. bombers which would be an awesome share bottle. Most double IPA's would do just fine. Dogfish Head 90 Minute comes to mind too.
Up next, the shrimp paste: a salty shrimp forcemeat formed into cakes, fried and served just like the grilled pork.
MQ: I'm thinking a pilsner on this one -- Victory Prima Pils is one classic American version with a delicate malt recipe that would not overpower a delicate protein and has just enough floral and herbal aromatics to enhance the shrimp in a new way. Again, it has that hop bitterness for the ever important cleanse of the mouth.
And finally the pho. My Lan's version has a rich fatty beefy stock, with cardamom, star anise and cinnamon.
MQ: Avery Salvation -- A Belgian-style golden ale that has spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Being a golden ale, it is still has lighter body than most full Belgian-style flavor beers of similar intensity such as dubbels or quads. Golden ales are also known for their carbonation which would cleanse the palate of all that fatty beef flavor and have you craving more beef rather than getting bogged down.
There's a theme to Quenette's choices: They're are all light in body, strong in character, have good effervescence and provide a cleansing bitterness. All of these beers are affordable and available and in Texas, and at least one of them should be riding shotgun on your next trip to Garland.