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San Diego Restaurant Week has room for more craft beer

A restaurant week entree at Luna Grill with Stone IPA.
A restaurant week entree at Luna Grill with Stone IPA.
Don Ayres

The first half of Restaurant Week is winding down, and it’s really one of the best times of the year in San Diego. There’s no better enticement to explore something new than a three-course prix fixe meal for a fraction of the cost of ordering items individually from the menu. Restaurant Week is big business for the San Diego culinary industry, but could they be missing out by not partnering up with another big San Diego industry?

Home to more than 80 breweries, San Diego’s craft beer scene is one of the largest in the country. Tastes are evolving to the point where gourmands no longer see beer as something to have before the meal, but something that compliments and even enhances the cuisine. Still, with all of the local options available, only two restaurants included craft beer as part of their Restaurant Week plans.

Banker’s Hill restaurant went all-out when it comes to pairing craft beer with their food. Along with their $35 prix fixe menu, they also have an option to pair a beer with each course for an additional $20. “Honestly, we are a Mecca for great beers, and San Diego beer styles are constantly evolving,” said Tiffany Rodriguez, General Manager of Banker's Hill. “One thing I appreciate about the top brewers in Southern California is their respect for classic style, and their ability to amplify a flavor profile or attribute of a beer.”

While not offering pairings, Luna Grill offers a local craft beer as the beverage component of their $20 prix fixe menu at all of their San Diego locations. Options at the Scripps-Poway Luna Grill included Stone IPA, Ballast Point Calico Amber Ale, Saint Archer Blonde Ale and Coronado’s Orange Avenue Wit. Different locations may have different beers on tap.

So why are restaurants reluctant to incorporate craft beer pairings into their restaurant week menu like they do with wine? Ray Daniels, creator of the Cicerone Certification Program –think beer sommelier—says that it may be a logistical issue:

Three BOTTLES of beer would be a lot to serve with one meal. (I remember being served this way once at a fine dining place that was trying to get into beer pairings. The salad course beer was a half liter!) Probably 4-8 oz of beer per course is about what you want. This is certainly workable if you have a big enough draft list, or if you pick your draft selections with an eye to pairing. Few do. Ultimately, big draft beer lists and fine dining don't usually go together.

With wine, you can open a bottle, pour a serving, re-cork it and serve the rest later. Bottled wine is often sold "by the glass" rather than by the bottle, which is rare with beer. Once you open the bottle and serve one serving things change: carbonation declines, oxidation begins, etc. Very few in the industry think about sharing a bottle of beer between tables or checks. It is not impossible, but it is hard and I've never seen anyone do it.”

Stone Brewing believes that food and beer definitely go together. Both Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens locations feature menus with food paired with beer by “Dr.” Bill Sysak, a Certified Cicerone and Stone’s Craft Beer Ambassador. Stone Co-Founder Greg Koch thinks that it’s in the best interest of local restaurants to pair their food with local craft beer:

The advantages of suggesting San Diego craft beer pairings on your menu are numerous. First, a restaurant can easily set itself apart and show creativity and connectivity to our region. True, wine pairings are wonderful way to obfuscate differentiation and signal to the public that a restaurant is going to do the same thing that they did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the decade before that. Craft beer pairings signal very clearly that a restaurant is actively participating in current trends and tastes. Nothing says "thoughtfulness" and shows insights like highlighting San Diego craft beer on a menu.”

With San Diego being a major player on the craft beer scene, tapping into that local industry would be a win-win for restaurants. Restaurant Week is a great way to explore San Diego’s culinary landscape. Partnering up with local breweries can give diners a complete package of local flavor.

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