Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Brasserie V

Brasserie V doesn’t necessarily represent something entirely novel or innovative but it is something cohesive, interesting, and polished. From the chalk boards noting the specials to the distressed wood floors, it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving the Midwest but, instead, like a place I could linger at for hours.

Of course, if I had my way, I would be doing my drinking at home and perhaps cooking. Invariably, Katie does not much care for my attitude, and, quite frequently, I find myself actually having to interact with society.  In this case, however, Brasserie V was a place I had read about for some time before moving here and passing it up would have been a huge mistake.

Brasserie V is a Belgian restaurant on Monroe Street on Madison’s near west side.  Built into a strip of commercial enterprises, it sits in the heart of the community a few blocks from Camp Randall.  The food is local and the beer is plentiful, with the menu listing options well into the hundreds.  Getting there early on a Saturday is a must if you want to eat. And eat you should.

We are seated at the first table in from the door. The wood floors and deep mahogany bar drip with invitation to stay, talk and slowly digest every morsel of sight and smell. The tap selection is robust with Belgians and my wife orders a SaisonDupont.  Drinking Belgian on a summer day is an easy decision, but I can’t ignore a special release and go with a Sixpoint Nugget IPA from their Spice of Life series, which is something I might not get a chance to try otherwise.  The Nugget is served in a proper snifter, with the cloudy gold and orange popping from the dark corner of our table.  The hops (nugget, from whence the beer’s name comes) here are primarily for bittering. Grapefruit on the nose with a touch of harshness on the tongue from significant spice notes.  A solid beer even if not my favorite, but where it shined was on the first course.

Beer and food are often talked about as being a great combination, but, much like with wine, only rarely do great pairings come together.  We go with a cheese course: blue, 10 year old cheddar, and a creamy cheese that was something like a harder brie. The Nuggets shined with the cheddar.   Allowing the cheddar to slowly melt and coat the palate with rich fat is the best way to sample the beer.  The hop bitterness subdues, shifting the flavor profile to the citrus grapefruit and wiping clean the remains of the nutty cheese.

And in case you were wondering, the Saison Dupont was exceptional.  Served in a proper Dupont glass the banana, apple and pear shine through. Saison Dupont never disappoints but this was the first time I had a draft version. As a rule, Dupont is recommended for any novice beer drinker looking to impress a snob but still actually enjoy the contents in the bottle.

My next beer was a Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. An unblended lambic fitting the profile of a Flemish red. I won’t attempt to pretend that more than two flavors exist here: cherries and sour.  Deep rich cherry sitting in something akin to balsamic vinegar. Outside of a Cantillon, this is as sour a beer as I’ve ever had.  Absolutely superb and perhaps the only beer to truly make me pucker like I was biting into a lemon.  While this may sound odd for a beer, the sourness is a result of wild fermentation that’s as traditional as beer itself and difficult to emulate.  Months of aging are required to truly develop the flavor of a yeast strain called brettanomyces (brett).

The beer perfectly matched the rich meat of duck confit sitting on a bed of swiss chard with bits of rhubarb.  The duck confit was perfectly crisp and moist.  The sourness of the beer cutting through the oily fat and recharging the palate.

Brasserie V is doing everything right.  The food is fresh and simple but executed exceptionally well.   The beer is served properly and tasted phenomenal.  

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