Thursday, April 9, 2015

Meet the Brewers at San Diego’s Cueva Bar

Chef Oz (Osvaldo Blackaller) of Cueva Bar in San Diego
Chef Oz
San Diego County has so many craft breweries you could fill up a year of weekends traipsing around the County visiting them all.   Osvaldo Blackaller, also known as Chef Oz, decided to make it easy for his customers to discover new local breweries by bringing the brewers to them at his centrally located restaurant in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood.  Guests of Chef Oz’s Meet the Brewers series can meet local brewers, try some great local beers, and pair those beers with some phenomenal food.

If you were going to quickly describe Cueva Bar’s cuisine, you would use the term Mexican, but Cueva Bar is not your standard San Diego taco shop.  Chef Oz grew up in Monclova, Mexico, a city in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, where he first gained his love of cooking.  This heritage is apparent in Cueva Bar’s menu, and Chef Oz fuses his Mexican roots with flavors from Argentina, the East Coast, and the South.  The menu includes items like empanadas, flat breads, and tapas.  Chef Oz uses local products as much as possible, getting his meat and vegetables from Specialty Produce and his seafood from Catalina Offshore Products.

Rock Fish Tostada Cueva Bar San Diego
Rock Fish Tostada
We attended Cueva Bar’s first Meet the Brewers event which featured master brewer Simon Lacey from New English Brewing Company.  While guests can order off the regular Saturday lunch menu, Chef Oz puts together a special menu for the event which expertly pairs his dishes with the offerings of the featured brewery.  Guests can also order beer flights.

Meet the Brewers guests actually get to meet the brewers.  Master brewer Simon Lacey sat at the bar with all of us and was available to answer any questions.  Simon Lacey started his brewing career at La Jolla Brewery in 2005 before founding New English Brewing Company in 2007, located in Sorrento Valley.  Simon Lacey is originally from Cheshire in northwest England and his English roots are evident in his beers.  He started by brewing more traditional styles of beer but has since become more experimental.

New English Brewing Company Beer Flight San Diego
New English Brewing Company Beer Flight
The New English Brewing Company beers featured at Cueva Bar’s Meet the Brewers event were Schwarzbier Black Lager, Barrel Aged Brown, Troopers Tipple IPA, Why ? Not American Wheat Beer, Humbly Legit IPA, and Zumbar Imperial Stout.  With so many choices, we decided to go with a beer fight. 

The Schwarzbier Black Lager, a collaboration beer for San Diego’s Blind Lady Ale House, is a great tasting beer with the flavor of coffee and a bitter finish.  I am sometimes leery of barrel-aged beers because they can be too sweet and too strong for my taste.  The Barrel Aged Brown had the perfect balance for me.  While there was an immediate sweet caramel taste, it wasn’t too sweet or too strong.  The Barrel Aged Brown is aged in bourbon barrels, six months in first use barrels or eight months in second use barrels.  IPAs are another style of beer that I’m picky about, but I learned that Simon Lacey doesn’t completely subscribe to the west coast style of IPA, so while the Humbly Legit IPA is definitely an IPA with a bitter hoppy taste, it is not overly strong on the hops and flavors of spice and marmalade are also present.  The Why ? Not American Wheat Beer is a perfect session beer for warm weather with a very clean, crisp taste.

Stone Crab Cake Stuffed Piquillo Peppers Cueva Bar San Diego
Stone Crab Cake Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
We paired our beer flight with two of Chef Oz’s pairing menu items.  This was the second time I had eaten at Cueva Bar, so I had been introduced to Chef Oz’s food before.  Chef Oz is an expert at pairing flavors, so when he presents a dish, all components should be eaten together with a little bit of each flavor in every bite.  His stone crab cake stuffed piquillo peppers are the perfect example.  Piquillo peppers are stuffed with crab cakes (heavy on the crab) and served atop coleslaw, strong with vinegar, and a drizzle of chili oil.  If eaten separately, the coleslaw could be a little too strong and the stuffed peppers could seem almost a little lacking in flavor; but eaten together, as they are meant to be, the flavors are absolutely perfect.  The suggested pairing for the crab-stuffed peppers was the Why ? Not American Wheat Beer.

Pork Belly Chilaquiles Cueva Bar San Diego
Pork Belly Chilaquiles
I’m always on the lookout for my favorite Mexican breakfast item, chilaquiles.  Chef Oz’s pork belly chilaquiles completely satisfied my cravings.  The corn tortilla chips were nice and crunchy with spicy green salsa and melted cheese, and the pork belly was cooked to perfection.  The suggested pairing for the chilaquiles was the Troopers Tipple IPA.

We finished off our meal with a sweet treat, an ice cream float made with New English Brewing Company’s Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout.  This flavorful stout, my favorite of the beers on offer that day, was a collaboration with Zumbar Coffee & Tea, a local boutique coffee roaster.  The Imperial Stout was brewed with a blend of coffee beans roasted by Zumbar as well as Belgian dark chocolate.

New English Brewing Company Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout Ice Cream Float Cueva Bar San Diego
Zumbar Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout Ice Cream Float
The next Meet the Brewers event is scheduled for Saturday, April 11, 2015.  Cerveceria Insurgente from Tijuana will be the featured brewery and beers will be paired with some of Cueva Bar’s favorite tapas.  There will be more Meet the Brewers events in the future, which will be announced on Cueva Bar’s website.

Meet the Brewers Events at Cueva Bar
March 7, 2015 - New English Brewing Company
April 11, 2015 - Cerveceria Insurgente
May 2, 2015 - Rough Draft Brewing Company
June 6, 2015 - Thorn Street Brewery
July 2015 (TBA)

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.