Sunday, April 29, 2012

California Cafe' Brewmasters' Dinners Remain in Good Hands

Dessert of Glazed Plums, Pine Nut-Prune Chutney, Honey-Cinnamon Sabayon
paired with Firehouse's  Hardly Thomas Barley Wine
When I heard Chef Todd Yamanaka was replacing departing Chef Mark Pettyjohn at Palo Alto's California Cafe', that proverbial sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record echod in my mind.  After all, Mark Pettyjohn was clearly a driving force behind the California Cafe's Brewmaster series, with his enthusiasm for both the breweries and pairing their beers with creative plates.  In fact, Yamanaka only assumed his post as Executive Chef at California Cafe's Palo Alto location barely one week.  If that wasn't enough, things fell through with the previously scheduled brewery for April, and so Steve Donohue of Firehouse Brewing came in to pinch hit with just a couple weeks notice before the next dinner held this past April 26th.   Considering the amount of time and effort that goes into these things, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Except it didn't.  Sure, for some of the courses, I'd have to admit some of the beer and food pairings were not as cohesively integrated as in dinners past.   But there was this comfortable spontaneity  and "let's just try this" to the whole affair, both in the food and in Donohue's brews, especially his experimental Barley Wine and Sour Ale, that couldn't be duplicated with the weeks of preparation Pettyjohn usually took.  I should add the penultimate course of Coffee Crusted Angus Ribeye and Wild Mushroom Risotto paired with the uber coffee roastiness of Firehouse's Brendan’s Irish Stout hit it out of the park with its warm, earthy comforting character.  Otherwise, I'm not going to go into a culinary breakdown of the evening, since I'm not good at that stuff, especially since my esteemed beer blogging colleague Peter Estaniel was there that evening, and he is good at that stuff, and I expect he'll post something soon.

Yamanaka may not be a hard core beer geek, but in talking with him he clearly appreciates beer, and the man can clearly cook.  With all the announcements of $100 plate beer dinners in out of the way places in San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Counties, and it's reassuring for rest of us that one at half the cost can be found in Palo Alto and it's future looks at lot stronger than it did a week ago.

Next up, Devil's Canyon Brewing from my home town of Belmont May 31st.   By then, Chef Yamanaka will have time to breathe, get his sea legs, and whatever other cliches you want to add by then.  It ought to be interesting. 


  1. THANKS DERRICK!!! Glad you had a great time!


  2. Any idea where Chef Pettyjohn went?