It was completely on a whim that I even attended this dinner. Normally beer is not a huge draw for me (editor's note: there's an understatement), but in the spirit of education, I agreed to join a group of friends at J.Paul's just hours after receiving the invitation. Sadly (or not), J.Paul's is one of those Georgetown restaurants that I completely ignore for the most part, so for my first--and let's not lie, probably last--time, this was an unusual experience.
J.Paul's is one of Georgetown's institutions. It looks like every other Clyde's knockoff on the M Street Strip, but with a little more window real estate to go with the booths and heavy wood paneling. The bar area is huge, and the bartenders obliging. Plenty of space--just what the area calls for. It's not my cup of tea, but it's totally appropriate for where it is. Even on a Tuesday night there was a full bar and a relatively full restaurant, and everyone was low key and casual, even in business formal. For a chill after work drink I get it.
To start, right after work I needed a martini, and I needed it badly. Luckily the bartender was more than happy to oblige my request for a wash of Grand Marnier, Stol-Bomb (half Stoli vodka, half Bombay Sapphire gin) straight up with a twist. Again, I am not beer's greatest fan so I wanted something I knew I like to start. I love a bartender who will give me exactly what I want without question.
The beer pairing was taking place upstairs where there was actually an interesting little private space. The centerpieces were creative, but poorly executed as the thin stemmed candles couldn't stay lit in the bottles they were held in. Otherwise the intimate setting really worked for this dinner. Executive Chef Tom Crenshaw spoke about the food while a Sam Adams rep commented on not only the flavors of the beer with the food, but the process of tasting and making beer.
The amuse bouche was a grilled peach slice topped with a shrimp with the tail on, bacon and a Banyuls vinaigrette served on an upside down bowl. The presentation was all sorts of wrong--the pile was toppling as the plates were set in front of us and for what should have been a bite or two it was made complicated by having to remove the tail from the shrimp. In theory all these flavors work well together, but the peach was out of season and I am always wary when there's bacon in the first dish of the night. Bacon, like truffle oil despite its glory, can mask anything bad (editor's note: true story--we love bacon here at DCWD), and I really wasn't sure what it was trying to hide. This was "paired" (and I use that phrase lightly here) with the house brew which was frankly a little too bitter with this plate. Not the best start to the meal.
To start we had a caramelized pork belly with braised cabbage with a house-smoked apple cider, an apple and fennel salad with a dijon mustard sauce. Again, great flavors, and this dish was ok, but paired with the Sam Adams Summer Ale, the spiciness turned into a soapy muddled flavor mess. The beer actually made this dish worse than it would have been, and I feel that the chef relied too heavily on the saltiness of the pork to carry the dish.
The second course was what I had been most excited about. It is rare to see dorade on a menu, and I always order it when I do; for those who don't know, it's a small white fish, with a snapper-like flavor. Here it was served with purple potatoes (always hilarious), salsify, jumbo lump crab meat, and blood orange segments and vinaigrette. I think it's a little late in the season for blood orange, and the bitterness was slightly unwelcome. The potatoes didn't really belong with this dish, other than as a starch, but didn't take anythingaway either. This dish was vehemently opposed by one of my dinner mates, and while I though the flavor combination was a little bit aggressive, the dorade was awesome and the crab (another winner along the lines of truffles and bacon) was a nice addition. The beer was a Sam Adams Light--bringing earthy tones that were fine on their own, but with the meal made everything taste dirty. Not a successful pairing, but okay in isolation.
The third course was a Virginia grass-fed strip steak on a yukon potato mash with bacon and a pale ale cheese sauce with haricots verts and carrots. This looked and felt like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for too long. The meat was really good and cooked well, but it was a little tough and cold on a solid mash. I don't fault them for using heat lamps to get this whole meal out at the same time, but you really can tell the difference between something that has been freshly seared and something that's been sitting for a while. The haricot verts were perfectly blanched, and the carrots were an okay accompaniment, but overall there was a little too much salt going on. The Boston Lager brought an interesting pine flavor to the meat that I didn't dislike, but I could have easily done without. And honestly, I couldn't even really taste the cheese sauce, which is unfortunate.
To be honest, I don't remember the beer pairing with the dessert, shame on me because it was the best pairing; I want to say it was the Imperial Stout. I have had stouts with chocolate desserts before, and I do think that they have a nice quality to them, but I'd rather have some port. The dessert was a chocolate and Guinness shooter with whipped cream and cayenne pepper that wasn't too spicy, thankfully. Alongside the shooter was an espresso pot de creme (overly refrigerated) and a beignet. I finished the pot de creme and the shooter, and it was a good ending to the underwhelming, but somewhat informative meal.
J.Pauls's isn't pretending to be anything that it's not, and I respect them for that. I don't have that much to say other than chalking the experience up to the circumstance. That said, I have no plans to return to J.Paul's, but I do think that once they hit their stride (and target audience) for these beer dinners, they will have more success with the pairings. Hopefully some interesting breweries will get on board, because I do think it's a worthwhile endeavor. You're not going to have a horrible meal at J. Paul's, but it will just be a meal, and one that you're likely to forget soon after.
Food Rating: ** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 1 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Frat House
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: If you do really find yourself at J.Paul's, it is the kind of place that you'll want a cigar afterwards. So buy a stogie at Georgetown Tobacco (3144 M St), find a park/scenic vista, and light one up (if your date is into it anyway).