If your an avid beer drinker like I am then you’ve probably heard of The Blue Dog Beer Tavern in Sherman Oaks, CA. But just in case you haven’t let me tell you, it is a must for all beer enthusiasts and foodies alike serving up some of the best burgers, wings, fries, mac & cheese, & salads around (not into burgers, try the veggie patty). Last week I rounded up my GF and a friend from out of town and headed there to grab a frosty beer and some grub. Now I’ve been here several times before and knew what I was getting into, so we grabbed a town car and headed out. When we arrived it was apparent to my GF and buddy why they call this place Blue Dog. The walls of this converted house-turned-tavern are covered with photos of people’s dogs. Now I use the term walls loosely as there are no real walls in this place just Studs were you can see through to every room.
To start, I ordered an Old Speckled Hen. Old Speckled Hen is an English pub Ale that has a rich malty and fruity aroma that translates to a mouth-watering palate. The full body of this beer lingers on and on and finishes with hints of caramel and a slight bitterness that is refreshing. For my GF, a Affligem Blonde which is very light straw in color and has tiny bubbles that dance on the palate, showing subtle hints of bitterness that don’t overpower the rich flowery hops. If I had ordered this, it would have been calling for my bacon mac & cheese. Now, my buddy ordered a Pale Ale I had not seen before, Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale ,in the 16oz. can. This Pale Ale is America’s first hand-canned craft beer. It has ample hops that give way to a smooth balanced malt, not overwhelming but you certainly get the hoppy perfume from the moment it hits your glass all the way through its powerful finish.
While toasting and looking over the menu, my attention was immediately drawn to The Fire Starter, an amazing burger topped with deep-fried jalapenos, crispy onion strings and a slice of Pepper Jack Cheese, served with a mouthwatering side of BACON Mac & Cheese!! (That sealed the deal for me). As for my GF and buddy it was The Athens Salad and the Black ‘N Blue Burger. Now don’t fool yourself, this salad was no joke, baby spinach (a ton of it), black olives, crumbled Feta, cucumbers, red onion, & tomatoes topped with chicken. The Black ’N Blue was topped with blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and BBQ sauce (I might also point out that they grind all of the meat in house). We all got down to business on the mouth watering burgers & salad. As my mouth began to heat up it was time for another round. Taking a look over the Beer Menu I noticed a Canned IPA that I had not tried, Point the Way IPA from Golden Road Brewing Co. Now I’m always skeptical about a canned beer but this flag ship IPA of Golden Road, lower in alcohol than your average IPA still gave all the HOP flavors I have come to expect in a good old American Craft Brew. I call this the little IPA that could as it really surprised me. Sitting around, taking in the lively atmosphere and throwing back a few more we all decided that our thirst was sufficiently quenched and that our bellies were full. What a wonderful place to hang with good friends! The long and short of it is, if you find yourself in Sherman Oaks hungry & thirsty this is the place to be, nice helpful staff, great food, & a awesome beer selection. I don’t always drink beer but when I do i drink a lot of it…stay thirsty my friends!!
After a long, uncomfortable plane ride I arrived in Barcelona. From there we drove another 2 hours to Cambrils, the seafront community of about 33,000 where we were staying for EspaiPriorat, an intensive trade tasting being held in a few tiny villages in Priorat. The purpose of this event is to bring awareness of the region to international buyers, food & wine writers, wine critics, & a few select retail shops.
After checking into the hotel and meeting some new friends, we were off to the races. We started with a buffet style lunch with plenty of wine to pass around, Torres Priorat Salmos 2009, Mas Blanc Pinord Priorat +7 2006, Ferrer Bobet Priorat VV 2008 and a long list of others that I didn’t take notes on. I mean let’s be honest – a long, cramped flight, 3 Estrella Damms at the airport, then a 2 hour drive, I’m lucky to have taken any notes at all. After chatting and eating with a few distributors, food writers, & importers, I decided to grab a few friends and take a walk along the beach. We stopped along the way to enjoy the local beverages, sangria, ice cold beer and the likes.
5-6 drinks later, a large group of us were hanging out on the hotel patio and suddenly realized that dinner was only 45 minutes away. We scattered and scrambled into showers and nice clothes. Dinner was held in a amazing restaurant, Club Nàutic in Cambrils, where we were served a spread of food prepared by four of the region’s finest chefs: Diego Campos (El Rincon de Diego), Joan Bosch, (Can Bosch), Manel Morell (casa Gallau) and Joan Pedrell (Joan Gatell). Diego Campos and Joan Pedrell each boast one Michelin star. To start, we all had a glass of local Cava and a ton of Priorat wines to pass around. As dinner came to a close, everyone looked ready for a good night’s sleep.
The morning brought a huge breakfast buffet followed by an hour and a half long bus ride into Torroja del Priorat. The event at the Cal Compete was an enormous walk around tasting featuring at least 95 wines – a daunting task for even the most experienced taster. We spent most of the day tasting & talking about these wines, which were all new to me. I hadn’t seen many of them in the US. Dinner at El Balcó del Priorat in Morera de Montsant followed. The long drive up the mountain gave way to breathtaking views.
After dinner we were dead tired and ready to sleep till noon. Unfortunately we had to be up at 7 AM to get the day started. After another great breakfast we were on our way to Scala Dei where the last tasting of the event was held. At this tasting were some wineries from the previous day as well a several others that had just joined. 12 rows of 6 foot tables lined the room from end to end, 6 deep. That’s a lot of wine . After tasting through about 25–30, I was ready for a cold beer. Sitting back, watching the sea of tasters, I relaxed till it was time for our final lunch which again featured fresh local products. There were different gazpachos, fresh fish dishes, artisanal cheeses, and a montage of meats. After the closing ceremony we were all off to either the hotel, vineyards for visits, or the airport. As for me I headed to Barcelona for the next leg of my journey…