Mexican Cuisine Loves Beer
A special six-course menu from Puesto highlights the beauty of pairing simple, fresh ingredients with great craft beer
Puesto hosted a six-course beer dinner with Ballast Point in their special upstairs event space. | Photo: Bruce Glassman
One of the world’s greatest craft beer cities is a next-door neighbor to Mexico; is it a total coincidence, then, that beer and Mexican food work so well together?
Coincidence or not, we San Diegans are fortunate to have tons of truly authentic Mexican fare widely available to us, and an almost infinite variety of great craft beer options to go with it.
I recently attended a lovely six-course beer dinner created by chef Katy Smith at Puesto, downtown. Katy worked in conjunction with a team from Ballast Point to develop a menu that not only highlighted the classic flavors and ingredients of Mexico, but also complemented a selection of super-tasty Ballast Point beers.
The evening started off with a wonderfully light and refreshing course of raw scallops in lime with Meyer lemon caviar, cilantro, radishes, avocado emulsion, and black garlic chile oil. The acidity from the lime and lemon were perfect matches for the Bonito Blonde, which—typical of a light lager style—had soft bready and melon notes and offered just a hint of sweetness on the finish.
The second plate not only paired a tangy mix of garlic green beans and pickled strawberries with Sour Wench Blackberry Ale, Chef Katy also incorporated the Berliner-weisse-style beer into the vinaigrette she used to dress the ingredients, which were accompanied by a layer of housemade requesón (kind of a lighter version of ricotta). Crisp and acidic with bright berry flavors, the beer echoed the zing of the pickled strawberries and provided a palate-cleansing effervescence that balanced wonderfully with the fatty, mouth-coating cheese.
The third course riffed on the classic tacos al pastor, featuring achiote-marinated pork, fresh avocado, and grilled pineapple. Pineapple Sculpin was the partner for this dish, with its tropical hoppiness and acidity counterbalancing the richness of the pork and the pineapple notes echoing the fresh pineapple on the plate.
The fourth course, which highlighted Ballast Point’s Oktoberfest beer, Dead Ringer, also celebrated the versatility of cooking with beer. Soft tacos were filled with oxtail that had been braised in Dead Ringer and pasilla chiles; they were then finished in a rich, dark sauce made purely from a Dead Ringer reduction. Roasty, malty, and spicy flavors from both the beer and the oxtail made for a delicious marriage that delivered a truly satisfying umami blast with every bite.
The final savory plate combined a crispy-topped, simply prepared fresh black cod with ayocote beans and a green chile sauce that came alive when paired with the citrus, grapefruit, mango, and passionfruit flavors of Manta Ray Double IPA. Many double IPAs are too overpowering for food—especially food as subtly flavored as this—but Manta Ray is one of the most accessible and well balanced IIPAs out there. Truly food friendly!
Alas, everything wonderful must—at some point—come to an end. The final plate of the evening was called El Coco, a name that paid homage to the enduring allure of chocolate. A dark chocolate ganache shell was filled with a coconut crema and accented with Tajín and crunchy little pieces of chocolate crumble. “Traditional but reliably delicious” was the beer-pairing strategy for this dessert: Victory at Sea Imperial Porter with Coffee & Vanilla. Needless to say, this beer (which can be a dessert by itself) is one of the few things that can actually make chocolate even better than it is on its own. And that’s no small feat.
There are a wide variety of restaurants that consistently do all kinds of beer pairings and special dinners in town these days. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to experience a beer dinner designed by folks who truly know craft. If it’s done right, the pairings will foster a new appreciation of the aromas and flavors you can find in beer and will also open your eyes to how great beer can elevate the food on your plate in a truly exciting way.