Wild Durham: A Local Beer Collaboration

Featured image is an original photo by 8-bit Photography as part of the Wild Durham collaboration.

Presenting Wild Durham, a local beer collaboration with Fullsteam Brewery. Building on their existing partnership through hosting The Beat Market, Durham Beat’s monthly local art market, Durham Beat and Fullsteam Brewery worked together over the course of several months to create a very special Durham-inspired beer. Between crafting a recipe, foraging for ingredients, brewing the beer, and making a video, this collaboration spanned the creative spectrum. The result? An Urban Forage Modern IPA called Wild Durham.

Brewed with local grain, locally foraged ingredients like persimmon, rosemary, redbud, and henbit, Wild Durham is a beer quite literally made with the wild growth in and around this city. Juicy, herbal, and aromatic, Wild Durham is a beer like no other. Throughout our collaboration, we documented our creative process through photography and video. We are proud to present the fruits our labor to you with this original short documentary created by Raven Media House, in partnership with Durham Beat, 8-bit Photography, Raund Haus, OG SENPAiii, and of course, our brew master friends at Fullsteam.

VIDEO: Wild Durham, filmed and edited by Raven Media House

PHOTO SERIES: Foraging for ingredients (Original Photography by 8-bit Photography)

PHOTO SERIES: Brewing Day (Original Photography by 8-bit Photography)

PHOTO SERIES: Canning the beer & interviews (Original Photography by 8-bit Photography)

Local Eats: Ajisai

I like raw food. When I was young growing up in Massachusetts, my parents took me to an oyster bar somewhere in Boston. I was probably about 7 years old. The time had come for my first New England culinary rite of passage: eating a raw oyster. I still remember looking at the slimey, gooey thing in the half-shell that had been put in front of me, trying to decide if I was going to be “brave” and eat it. I remember the fellas behind the oyster bar taking bets on whether I would do it. Only one of the guys thought I would. And I did. He won the bet and I discovered a whole new world of culinary delight. It was a pretty good day for both of us, I think. Later that year, my parents would unveil the world of sushi to me and for the following decade, my family and I would go for a big sushi dinner every year on my birthday, right up until I left for college anyway. It’s been more than a decade since then now, and a big sushi dinner on my birthday is still kind of a thing.

Following a bold 12-hour adventure to attend an album release show in Boston the night before my birthday this year, I returned to my Durham home at 9AM on the day of my birthday and slept for several hours. My daytime power nap left me feeling awfully hungry, as the last thing I had eaten was a sad breakfast sandwich from Dunkin at Logan Airport sometime around 4AM. I changed into my esteemed birthday attire and headed to Raleigh to one of my favorite restaurants in the Triangle: Ajisai.

Located in Cameron Village, Ajisai is an “Japanese Fusion” restaurant with a tremendous sushi bar. A consistently high-quality and often decadent dining experience, I began my wholly exquisite birthday meal with two of their infamous oyster shots. The $8 savory shot features a raw kumamoto oyster, a splash of house sake, a splash of ponzu sauce, a sprinkling of ikura (salmon roe), a sliver of uni (sea urchin), a dash of tobiko (flying fish roe), all topped with a raw quail egg and a bit of chopped scallion. The flavor combination is–as you might imagine–outrageous. Briney, certainly, with a touch of sweetness, and the subtle suggestion of sake, this shot is a layered and robust way to stimulate your taste buds at the start of a meal.

After the oyster shots, I mulled over the sake selection before finally settling on the 300ml bottle of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori, a cold, unfiltered sake, easy to drink, and definitely not overly sweet (I don’t like sweet drinks), and priced at $15 for the bottle. One of the most bang-for-buck options on the sake menu, this bottle has never disappointed me since I was first introduced to it last year by a certain local fashion artist many of you know and adore.

While enjoying the first few sips of the Nigori, I spent some time examining the specials board. Ajisai specializes in sashimi and their specials board often features very unique dishes, like their Aji (Japanese Horse Mackerel) Special. This dish makes use of the whole fish. The chef will sashimi the entire fish, then batter and fry the entire skeleton into an edible garnish. If like me you tend to be a bit daring in your culinary pursuits, then I highly recommend giving this dish a whirl. The Aji has been so popular in fact, that it is now a fixture on their regular menu.

For my next course, I elected to partake in their live scallop special. Like the Aji, this dish uses the whole fish, from the familiar meaty center to the fleshy outer scraps. The chef slices the scallop while it’s still attached to its shell, then in one smooth cutting gesture, removes it, and serves it as several pieces, each one separated by a sliver of lime. The outer scraps of the scallop are chopped and added a ponzu sauce sprinkled with tobiko and served on the side along with a little pile of fresh wasabi. In raw form, scallops have an even more buttery taste. Combined with the hint of lime and the ponzu-tobiko sauce, each bite is a balanced blend of savory and citrus. Easily one of my favorite dishes, the live scallop alone is reason enough to visit Ajisai for any sashimi lover.

Continuing on my daring trend, I ordered a piece of the California Uni (sea urchin) from the specials board. Uni is not exactly the prettiest looking fish. Mustard-colored and a little odorous, uni can sometimes be off-putting to a more reserved sushi patron. But if you can overcome its ugly duckling appearance, then you will discover the true taste and texture of lusciousness in the world of seafood. A soft texture, so much so that it quite literally melts on your tongue, uni is a smooth, savory-intense burst of flavor. Finding myself in a state of immediate withdrawal after eating the last bite, I ordered another one and eagerly partook as soon as the sparkly blue-lighted dish it was served on was placed in front of me.

The time had now come for the culminating moment of my oh-so-delightful birthday meal. I ordered a small selection of sashimi (baby yellowtail and mackerel), a single serving of ikura (salmon roe), and another oyster shot… because, you know, birthday. In a slightly unusual step for me, I also ordered one of their specialty rolls, the Tomo. In all these years of dining on raw things, I don’t often spring for the rolls, as I trend heavily toward the simplicity of just the fish. But, I had been drinking sake all evening and knew I would need something carby to carry me through the rest of the night. With great effort and determined to eat everything I had paid for, I finished everything I had ordered, even the sake.

Knowing that it was my birthday, the head chef shared a few shots of sake with me, seemingly delaying my departure on purpose. Then I realized why. From the kitchen emerged the woman who had taken care of me all night as I blissfully consumed my solo birthday dinner at the sushi bar. She was carrying a plate and I discerned a candle. Tempura-fried birthday cheesecake. They even sang to me, “Happy birthday sweetie!” After making a wish and blowing out the candle, I attempted to eat what was the first birthday cake I’d had since being a teenager. Stuffed to the gills already with what had been a perfectly timed, totally delicious, and (considering it was a birthday splurge dinner) very reasonably priced meal, I made my best effort to consume as much of the cake as possible. Afterwards, I gleefully moseyed back to my car and headed back to Durham for a late night end-of-birthday hang with a good friend and creative partner of mine. It was a quiet end to a whirlwind 36-hour birthday adventure, from the 12-hour trip to Boston, to the glamorous and delectable birthday dinner.

Even if you’re not celebrating anything, the experience of dining at Ajisai is well worth it. Whether you choose to partake in their amazing $12 lunch special (3 rolls for $12 + soup and salad), or if you decide to do the dinner thing, this restaurant will not disappoint.

Head over to our Instagram to see the full photo series from The Editor’s birthday dinner.

Bands & Cans

Words by Stephen Mullaney
Photos by Christine Fantini

Durham is a city that has produced amazing art, theater, and music. The people who make your coffee, fix your computer, serve your beer, and believe it or not, teach your kids are producing some of the best music in the country.

Music has been fueling Durham since forever. Its makers are as diverse as the sounds they create and are a major part of what makes Durham a haven for creators.

There are so many bands in Durham you haven’t heard of, while there are others who have been adopted as hometown heroes only after they have exploded beyond the Bull City.

In the not too distant past, Durham was producer of tobacco products and carcinogens that were inhaled internationally. While for some this may not necessarily be something to be proud of, the tobacco industry did construct many buildings in Durham while employing countless people and keeping those families in homes and eating.

Nowadays it is livers everywhere that we are sending products to… beer, cider, and distilled products are now a major industry and export of our Durham city and North Carolina home. As so many of you are aware, alcohol and music can sometimes make for a beautiful match that will lead you into the deepest corners of hell or the farthest reaches of heaven.

As summer weather pushed us into Fall, and now Fall into Winter, I chose IPA’s to ease the pain. In the spirit of pairing alcohol and beer, here is a look at three bands and three cans that go well together.

Let’s go take a ride! Strap on a helmet, hold on tight and enjoy!

The Band

The Muslims
Whatever you choose to drink while listening to The Muslims, here is what I suggest: Honor the music. Pull out the first can or bottle and spill or smash it on the ground. Maybe knock a lamp over. If this is going to be an outdoor experience, then go sit on the tracks or perhaps gather a few friends and pull down a monument to racism and intolerance!

This band’s talent runs deep… The music, the lyrics, the delivery… So Fucking Good!

The Muslims hit hard, channeling the energies reminiscent of late 80’s punk. Take it to the edge of falling apart only to tighten up and hit again. Pixies? No punches pulled, in your face. The Stooges? You tell me.

A David Barrett-like production is spot on, bringing out the talent without taking away from the live energy.

My plan: stick a can in the water bottle holder of my bike, make my way to a rooftop and celebrate the music.

The Can

“Something so Sincere” by Casita Cerveceria. Double IPA, not a sneak up and get you IPA. You know your shit is getting shook when you crack the can. Amazing flavor, brewed in Farmville by the same people who bring you Duck Rabbit beers. Load up the van with The Muslims, a trunk full of “Something so Sincere”, and storm the white house.

The Band

Cosmic Punk
Happy, bike riding, lay in the grass on a warm Fall day. Take a walk or go for a ride while listening to Cosmic Punk. No matter what is going on in the world, you feel it will all be all right. At times, the music feels like rollercoaster ride, up and down, and then slides seamlessly back to dreamy pop.

I found a live performance of Cosmic Punk that altered my bleary-eyed Sunday.

The Can

Burial “Surf Wax” IPA. The can reads “the human spirit is still alive” and that spirit is what binds the beer and the band. That and the surfy/pop/summer vibe. Burial says each cans label art is a story of the beer.


The Band

The Tan and Sober Gentlemen
It would be easy to dismiss the songs of Tan and Sober Gentlemen as Pogues or Dropkick Murphys-like music. The ability to play this style, “backcountry Celtic”, with a high level of expertise and emotion is hard as hell.

Fast, free, NC Celtic that would be right at home in the streets of Boston. We need a band like this in our state. The music can deliver fun and send a message. Working class music is still alive and well even if many forget the working class is what keeps our everyday running smoothly.

The Can

“Trophy Wife” by Trophy Brewing. This is a crisp, clean, fast drinking IPA that can be enjoyed by the can or by the dozen. I want to see The Tan and Sober Gentlemen share the stage with a mariachi band on the streets of Durham during the Pride Parade. Then I will feel like, for a blink of an eye, all is well in the world.

Local Beer: Whip-Poor-Will Wit, Fonta Flora Brewery

Beer: Whip-Poor-Will (Witbier, brewed with organic oranges, coriander and Earl Gray tea)
Brewery: Fonta Flora (Morganton, NC)
ABV: 4.5%

I often avoid witbier. Actually, that’s dishonest. More accurately, I struggle with the question, will wit wit again?

Before Whip-Poor-Will, Witbier and I had a thing–long and full of love and heartbreak. Our love sprouted in the Allagash White days of summer visits to Brooklyn, then blossomed into Blanche de Bruxelles days where I had found something that made even my most macro-loving friends appreciate how craft was worth the additional two smacks over a Blue Moon. It grew from affection to infatuation when Wittekerke Wit showed up in packaging that could join me by the pool. This chapter would come to an abrupt close when a tattooed dive bar barman physically yanked a bottle of Hoegaarden from my hands and unceremoniously dumped the entire thing into a non-hexagonal glass that I was (and still am) unsure of whether it was frozen or actually just cold and fucking filthy. You’re damned right I’m still pissed about the whole thing. There is, in fact, a diagram on the label that explains HOW to pour this beer. Yet he managed to fuck it up WHILE mansplaining. I digress…

I guess if you’ve read this far, you see that Wit and I have a history. It is lengthy and joyful, while also full of longing and well-intentioned mistakes. As North Carolina craft beer makers open more taprooms in places as metropolitan and sofauxticated as Charlotte, and as humble and far flung as Ocracoke, brewers and beertenders are asked mind-numbingly often, “What do you have like a Blue Moon?”

Any business that gives 3.14 fucks will attempt to give the people what they want. Increasingly, bigger malt bills, more adjuncts, and more fruit got into wits. When Imperial Wit made its appearance, face planted into a barrel, rolled around in kumquats, then soured, I bid the style a wistful “Boy, bye.”

But DAMN, do I LOVE tea. I suffer from caffeine sensitivity, so I avoid coffee like anyone with any sense would avoid a racing heartbeat and the other side effects of a natural laxative. But a perfectly steeped Earl Grey, a first flush darjeeling, or pretty much any oolong and I’m here for it. So when I saw Fonta Flora drop a tea witbier, I HAD to put it in my mouth.

The big perfume on the nose made me nervous to start. Beers as floral as this one bring back memories of my grandmother’s garden, full of forced labor and brambles in your unmentionables with just the reward of a few wet, crumpled ones and an even wetter, but still somehow sticky, kiss. The first sip of Whip-Poor-Will, however, told me THIS beer would be like the fun kind of day where you chase a few butterflies, get cookies, and maybe even find a new kitten.

Despite adding Earl Grey, Fonta Flora stays true to witbier. Fonta Flora excels at keeping the tea in check so that it doesn’t overwhelm the peppery esters of the yeast and leaves room for the orange and coriander to sit comfortably on both the nose and palate. The hazy straw color is spot on for the style while the lacy head threatens to boop your nose as the aroma pulls it into the glass. Organic orange gives this beer an up front sweetness which then yields to the spiced earthiness of bergamot. Great for tee time or tea time, in Whip-Poor-Will Fonta Flora makes the most of uncommon ingredients to deliver an artful take on a classic style. Lovers of classic styles or the more wild stuff can trust this brewery to always deliver something interesting and well crafted.

Whether you’re just putting your toe into craft, completely over wits that can’t stand up without leaning heavily on a cloying fruit, or a bit under stimulated by your standby Belgian, this interesting blend should hit you in the appropriate feels.

Featured image courtesy of Beer Advocate.

Local Beer: Birdsong Brewing, Jalapeno Pale Ale

Beer: Jalapeno Pale Ale 
Brewery: Birdsong Brewing Company (Charlotte, NC)
ABV: 5.5%

I will readily admit that I’m a punk about spice. I like my wings on mild and my curry on one. Just the other day, a candied jalapeno pepper made me cry in front of my employer, coworkers, server, and my girl–full on tears. I’m a P-U-N-K. So, if you’re wary of spice like myself, then you’re safe with this little glass of hop-forward deliciousness.

Hopped with Columbus, Galena, Williamette and Fuggle varieties, the Jalapeno Pale Ale from Birdsong Brewing Company, jalapeno notwithstanding, would be a solid example of an American Pale Ale. Pepperless, this beer goes by the name Free Will, however, I’d use my powers of choice to go for the pepper version.

What makes this beer particularly unique is that Birdsong puts in the extra effort to pick out the jalapeno seeds and, more importantly, the membrane, and the pesky capsaicin (the natural compound that makes peppers hot) that they bring with them. So, no, this beer won’t cure your aches and pains, but it also won’t make smoke come out of your ears like a Looney Toon. I am not sure HOW they do it exactly, but I hope it includes teeny tiny birds pecking them out with teeny tiny beaks rather than they new guy drawing the short straw. Anyways, without the capsaicin, you get the nimble grassiness of the jalapeno pepper without the tears, poops of fire, and corresponding embarrassment. It’s a great find when you want a simple, clean beer with a touch of excitement.

The consistent, clean production of this beer is yet another reason that Jalapeno Pale Ale stands out of the flock. I strongly recommend Birdsong Jalapeno Pale Ale, but please do NOT confuse this ringing endorsement as an endorsement of all pepper/gourd beers (here’s looking at you pumpkin beers). This style is particularly prone to off flavors, in particular, DMS, which is everything unpleasant about any vegetable ever sloughed onto a melamine cafeteria tray. I don’t eat creamed corn or spinach or creamed anything for a reason, so I certainly see no reason to drink it.

Flutter on little songbirds, flutter on.


Featured image is an original photo by The Editor.

The Post-Show: Free Things Festival 2018

Our tale begins at Hunky Dory. I was shopping for records when I ran into one of the organizers for the Free Things Fest. They pointed to the poster on the wall and personally invited me. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. First, it’s a free event. Second, I love music, but I’m poor and often find it difficult to bridge the two.

Lately, my lovely VW has been having a problem, which I have thrice paid to be fixed, only for it to resurface yet again. Lest my wheel should fall off while driving (which has happened before), I asked a family member if I could borrow their SUV for the day instead. As much of a bummer as it is to drive anything else, I always feel #blessed to have A/C for a change. I drove to Durham to pick up Riley the Photographer and we carpooled to the All Peoples’ Grill. I put on some driving music and Riley commented that ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ is “the ‘Free Bird’ of jazz.” I couldn’t disagree.

Rolling up to the festival, we saw a white concrete shack on the side of the road next to a field. A man in a panama hat was giving very confusing parking directions on the way in, but we were able to snag a front row spot from a car that was leaving. We couldn’t have had better luck, because now we had a direct view of the stage from our vehicle. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we were greeted by the smell of fish fry. There are few smells more welcoming to a Southerner than the smell of a fish fry. Soon we were joined by a mutual friend and we started exploring the grounds.

The woman at the information stand gave us wristbands and encouraged us not to “forget to leave with something from the table, it’s free.” I was unsure why they would give out wristbands at a free festival, but I was more than happy to oblige.

First we stopped at the water cooler for refreshments, then went to the lounge area for some shade. Walking by the food trucks, I noted that the vendors had not inflated their prices for the festival: $3 for cotton candy; $7 for red velvet waffles; $10 for the chicken & waffles special. There were no out-of-town corporate sponsorships. There was no VIP frou-frou. They didn’t even charge for parking. They were just good, honest folks who wanted to bring their community together for the sake of it. It all felt so wholesome.

In the shade, I played a game of horseshoes with Riley, then we walked around the makeshift outdoor gallery, looking at canvases affixed to the trees or just propped against them with a 2×4. Suddenly, a woman appeared out of nowhere and led us to a wooden archway covered in ribbons. She said “Write down a wish and put it in the jaaaar! All wishes made in the fairy forest come truuue!” I looked at my crew, skeptical, but when I turned back, she was gone. My childlike imagination envisioned that she had vanished into a cloud of confetti, but she probably just left for some fried catfish and a smoke.

I opted to make a wish in the fairy forest, but Riley said they would save their wishes for when they really needed them. I grabbed a flower pen from the jar and scrawled “WORLD PEACE”, which, admittedly, was a bit of a throwaway. I should have wished for something more practical, like some bug spray or a joint.

Towards the end of No Parking’s set, we visited the vendor’s table by the side of the stage. She was selling scented candles that she and her wife make at their home in Greensboro. She mentioned that the melted wax can also be used as a moisturizer. Out of all of the scents offered on her table, my favorite candle smelled exactly like Starbursts. It was pure, sugary deliciousness. I couldn’t get enough of that sweet nose candy.

Sarah Summers covered Aretha’s version of “Natural Woman” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. She also performed an original song entitled ‘Part of Me’. The crowd gathered around like flies to honey, like moths to a flame, like ants to a picnic. Everywhere people stopped in their tracks and listened. As she finished her set and was neatly leaving the stage, a distant voice in the field called out “do you wanna do another one??”

The next vendor was from The Microgreenery, and he was selling microgreens! What are microgreens, you say? Plants, after the sprouting stage, expend most of their energy on growth, resulting in a plant that is larger in size but lacking in nutrients. When harvested before the growing stage, they’re called “microgreens”. A plate of salad has few nutritional benefits compared to a cup of microgreens. I sampled a few varieties, and they tasted the same as regular greens, but just… micro. Before you ask, yes, microgreens are just a hipster word for sprouts. The interaction did seem more like a Portlandia sketch than reality, but I’m a vegan who hates salad, so I was sold on idea of having to eat less of it to be healthy.

I could feel a single bead of sweat collect at my nape and start its slow descent down my spine. “Let’s go sit in the shade.” I said to my companions. Riley offered, “Or we could go back to your car and sit in the A/C.” It was a novel idea. As we made our way to the last vendor, Riley was hit by a stray soccer ball. We ran back to the car and sat overlooking Tennis Rodman. I first noticed his energy and the intensity of his performance even in 90-degree heat. He even sampled his cat in his track! “Shoutout to my cat. Any of y’all got cats?” Still in the driver’s seat, I excitedly raised both of my hands for my two cats, but to no avail. Surveying the crowd he praised, “It’s great seeing so many black people here, great having culture supporting culture.”

We stayed until the end of 3AM Sound’s set and decided to call it a day. As easy as getting into the parking spot was, getting out of the parking spot was the opposite. The aisle was too narrow for an SUV to reverse! It took more than a few tries toing and froing, and it annoyed the drivers in the cars behind me whom I was blocking in. Riley asked if they should get out of the car and help me to reverse. My pull-out game was weak, but my fear of failure was stronger than ever. Determined to never admit defeat, I gave it one last try and finally cleared all of the parked cars. Leaving the festival grounds, we made a dash to Heavenly Buffaloes, which, as always, was divine. We congratulated ourselves for making the departure for downtown as night fell around us.

All original photography by Durham Beat’s own Riley the Photographer.

Local Beer: Southern Range Brewing, Now That’s What I Call Juice

Beer: Now That’s What I Call Juice (New England Juicy IPA with Guava Added)
Brewery: Southern Range Brewing Company (Monroe, NC)
ABV: 6.9%

The purple can with hot pink lettering was an instant eye-catcher. The mail order compact disc homage of the name and design made this can an easy, “Why the hell not?” The courteous new staffers at the Quik Shop popped the pull tap, handed me a glass and I shot back outside, taking no care at all to reduce the risk of skunking. It was Sunday Funday and I was off to see the drizzard. You’ll learn the lingo later, just go with me for now.

If you’re a craft beer veteran, then you’ll be an old friend of the luscious pine and citrus rind bitterness of the amber-hued and crystal clear American IPA, a subcategory that came to define the IPA. Like many a-friend, IPA went through a rough patch, where our palates were wrecked and hops tore down whole city blocks during epic battles with fictional komodo dragons. Only the most waxed of our beards stayed. Only the most flannel clad survived.

If you haven’t heard already, the New England Style IPA is none of that stuff. Despite a megadose of hops, these beers don’t fit the casual descriptor “hoppy”. Throw your lumberjack porn IPA away and enter the JUICE BOMB. The style is a great gateway for the craft novice because of the refreshing and juicelike quality, but also because of the lesson it teaches about craft beer: give it a chance. Sometimes styles change meanings in a span of just a few years. The Brits like to blame it on those experimental Americans. Everything comes full circle and craft beer is both a steadfast friend and fickle lover.

The New England Style IPA can sometimes feel soft on the tongue due to the generous dosing of hops, the clumping together of yeast at the bottom of a bottle (known as flocculation), and, in some cases, the addition of oats. Be prepared. The NE IPAs are NOT going to stroke your “crisp” spot. Brewers are going for adjectives like “fluffy”, “soft” and “juicy”.  As for Southern Range’s Now That’s What I Call Juice in particular, it hits the spot for a hot day, where you want a glass of the tropics and a buzz. The guava notes are more of a hint than a driver of the beer, which, I think, makes it more refreshing. Guava tends to the thick cloying side of fruits and can sometimes overpower a mimosa, a cocktail or an OJ. Southern Range did a great job with nuance and sleight of hand to allow guava to play, but not bully. It had a bright fruity aroma and the price was more than approachable in a market where some 16oz cans are upward of $5.99, or $15.99 for a four pack. Even better, I got it pretty darned fresh. I will warn: be wary of this style in low volume shops as they don’t hold up well. I would avoid any New England style IPA after eight weeks of packaging unless you get a great deal.

All in all, if this is what Southern Range has to offer, then Monroe, NC should be very proud.

The Breakfast Shoppe, Swannanoa, June 19, 2018

This past week, we spent some quiet time out in the mountains of western North Carolina in and around Asheville. The Asheville area is well-known for a vibrant and creative food scene. While many meals were enjoyed over the course of the trip, our visit to The Breakfast Shoppe proved to be the favorite. Here is the #livefooding compilation of The Editor’s visit to The Breakfast Shoppe for some perfect pancakes.








All original photos by The Editor.

Local Eats: Mmmmateo

I came to Mateo on a Thursday night. I spent 24 minutes circling the street & garage parking prospects before giving up, pulling over near Surf Club, and spending a few useless minutes on Instagram. On my last swing around, I found a street spot on the inner loop, which I snagged without a moment’s hesitation. I then ambled over to Mateo through the alley near Criterion for a much-desired bite. I had my heart set on their Jarrett Bay oysters, a fixture on their specials board for the last couple of months.

These Jarrett Bay oysters are served raw with a warm crab roe sabayon sauce on top. I know. What the fuck is crab roe sabayon sauce? I had to look it up the first time I tried them. A sabayon sauce is similar to a hollandaise, as it also requires egg yolks, but is instead incorporated with wine, usually a dry white or a sherry. At Mateo, their sabayon sauce is then additionally fortified with crab roe and served atop raw oysters. Oh my. There’s a reason there’s no picture of these oysters to accompany this writeup. I gobbled those up in maybe 2 minutes. Tops. I didn’t realize at this point in my night that I would be writing this piece, so I didn’t think to take a photo. I went to Mateo because I wanted to… it was the first night of my long-planned 4-day vacation and I just had to have these oysters. The combination of the warm savory sauce and the meaty and briny oysters made for a bizarre combination of flavors and textures that ultimately worked together very well. That said, I suspect a less briny oyster might not work with this sauce. That saltiness seems to be key. This dish is indeed a gamble, but one that pays off.

For my next course I continued to ride the specials menu. I elected to try the Blue Crab Cocktail Claws tossed in BBQ butter. Oh yes. This dish is the sex of bar food… at least, depending on your flavor of fuck. If you like messy, then this is the dish for you. Served with the shells removed on a bed of melty BBQ butter, this dish presented me with the much-appreciated opportunity to eat with my hands, napkin be damned. I licked my fingers and sopped up that BBQ butter with some bread and made no apologies. Apologizing for beasting my food with raw enthusiasm didn’t even cross my mind until I saw a well-groomed lady giving me the hairy eyeball across the bar. She didn’t know what to do with me and that’s okay. It happens all the time.

I was in a bit of a surf and turf mood on this night, so for my next course I gave their new “bistec” small plate a try. This dish involves squid ink–which was NOT indicated on the menu, by the way. (I asked the bartender about the dish and he described it to me in detail, including the squid ink.) I don’t like squid ink. I never have. But I decided to overcome that aversion on this night and just go for it. The “bistec” small plate always involves some cut of beef. Most recently, it had been brisket. This new dish, however, was center-cut ribeye served with crispy potatoes (like chips), horseradish creme-fraiche, caviar, and a squid ink & bone marrow sauce. Every bite of this dish tasted like Gatsby-era decadence. You’re damn right I enjoyed it. What better time for decadence than vacation? The combination of bone marrow and squid ink made the squid ink enjoyable for me for the first time in my life. Even though this dish was a small plate, it still took me more than 20 minutes to get through it. Each bite was so full of flavor (and the steak cooked to perfection) that I necessarily took breaks in order to survive the decadence.

At this point in the night I knew I was going to write this thing you’re reading. Much of this was written just after the meal, while I was polishing off a PBR and a Jameson at Criterion and recording my raw thoughts on my mini notepad–my constant companion. You never know when inspiration will strike, but on this night, it was after the beef but before the banana pudding. A Tribe Called Quest was playing on the speakers at Mateo when I whipped out my notebook to record my first thoughts. I let the bartender talk me into dessert. I had worked up a bit of a sweet tooth at this point and decided to not resist the urge.

The banana pudding at Mateo is served in a mason jar with layers of pecan wafers and topped with toasted meringue. It’s quite pretty. It’s quite delicious too. I am particularly fond of banana pudding and Mateo does justice to this dessert. I couldn’t finish it though. It came home with me later that night and was my snack before I hit the road for my vacation. It definitely keeps in the fridge overnight.

I walked out of Mateo that night feeling toasty and inspired. While sometimes I wish I could come to this place more often, I am happy to put a little distance between meals such as this one. True gastronomical bliss is a most precious thing and must be treated so.

All original photos by The Editor (Matia Guardabascio).

Shojin Ryori Omakase at Dashi Izakaya, April 25, 2018

This week’s #livefooding was a bit different than usual. We had tickets to the very special all vegetable omakase dinner at Dashi. Using only seasonal locally-sourced ingredients, Dashi crafted a menu based on “the style of Shojin Ryori cooking,” which was popularized in the 13th century by Buddhist Japanese monks. For this most delectable vegetarian meal, special guest Izzy Rader (and future food contributor to the Beat) joined The Editor at Dashi’s upstairs Izakaya. Here is the compilation of our live review journey through the chef-made 6-course meal.