Originally published in the 2014 July issue of TAPS The Beer Magazine.
Luksus, a 26-seat restaurant that opened in Brooklyn, New York last July, is challenging what we know about beer cuisine – and at the helm is Nova Scotian chef, Daniel Burns.
This February, my husband and I went to taste for ourselves. The seven-course tasting menu began with a series of five delicate snacks: first came a bite-size piece of cod’s head on a crispy cracker of chicken skin, later deep-fried lamb sweetbreads spilled out of a petite, kraftpaper cone, fish n’ chips style, with a hay gribiche for dipping, and finally crispy, hot Æbleskivers (the equivalent of a Dutch timbit), which let out steam when pulled apart, revealing a centre of curry, oyster mushrooms and eggplant.
All five snacks were paired with one beer, Mikeller’s It’s Alive!, a wild ale made just for the restaurant, with earthy, horseblanket funk and a tart rhubarb kick. The 8% ale worked differently with each dish: its vegetal note came to the fore with the cod’s head; its earthy centre shone with the sweetbreads, and its acidity sliced through the rich Æbleskiver.
Forget about beer-braised stew—Luksus is taking food and beer pairing to operatic new heights.
Luksus bleeds Brooklyn hipster haunt; hidden behind the double- doors at the back of Brooklyn’s hottest beer bar, Tørst, sleek Scandinavian wood dominates the sparse décor, with a six-seat bar overlooking a compact, brightly-lit kitchen where Burns and two sous-chefs toil. The fair, floppy-haired 39-year-old with black- rimmed spectacles earned his chef’s whites in Vancouver and Toronto, landing a gig as pastry chef at three-Michelin-star The Fat Duck in London in 2004, then at Noma in Copenhagen, before he was poached by David Chang to head up Momofuku’s R&D lab.
His inventiveness and deft skills earned him the moniker, “the best Canadian chef you’ve never heard of,” by the Globe & Mail in 2012. Burns was looking to hang up his own shingle when he met Jeppe Jarnit- Bjergsø, the New-York-based Danish brewer behind beloved gyspy brewery Evil Twin (a reference to his identical twin, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, of Mikkeller).
Jarnit-Bjergsø, who loves good food, wine and beer, told Burns about his idea for a high-end restaurant that only serves beer, as a way, “to show that beer can do all of it,” when it comes to pairing. Burns, a beer fan, loved the concept. The Canadian chef owns Torst and Luksus, and Jarnit-Bjergsø is a consultant, custom- brewing and selecting a range of sours, saisons and lighter beer styles to match Burns’s vegetable and fish- centric Scandanavian-influenced cuisine.
Dinner at Luksus is a seasonal tasting menu (seven courses, no choices) for $95, optional beer pairings for each are $45. Here, dishes are never cooked with beer, and, like all gastronomic haunts, when it comes to the tasting menu, dishes are not conceived with the beer (or wine) in mind.
Instead, Burns says that each of his dishes are, “inspired by one ingredient. I guess it stems from working at Noma, that Scandinavian approach is all about the cleanliness of the flavours, making it super clean and highly focused,” he says.
Witness the third dish on that night’s menu: Chrysanthemum tea and pork broth with diced rutabaga and smoked egg. The heady floral, peppery and rich pork aroma is so mesmerizing that I just drank it in for a minute before tasting it. It was paired with Stillwater’s As Follows, a Belgian strong ale with grapefruit hops, a sweet bun centre, juicy peaches, white pepper and herbs. The beer seemed to make the broth’s floral, earthy flavours last forever.
To conceive each pairing for his menu (which rotates every few weeks) Burns sends out an email detailing the flavours of the new dishes, “Then Jeppe and the people who lead the beer program here at Torst discuss what beers might work with those flavour components, and three or four different choices are ordered in for each dish. We get together and taste them with the new menu.” The final choice is almost always unanimous, “It’s a matter of having the most people’s eyes on it with a good beer knowledge.”
Luksus shuns classic beer and food pairings because they’re just plain boring, “The classic is chocolate and stout: sweet, sweet… blah blah blah,” says Burns, “It can be more interesting to do something that’s malty and a little bitter to the chocolate instead of being a little sweet. Instead of coinciding with the flavours, the beer can add to the entire experience so that the beer and the food aren’t independent but a harmonized whole.”
Our meal had poetic ebbs and flows—an icy blood orange, ginger and cordial palate cleanser gave way to our final course: a roasted carrot parfait with cumin and pine gel was like a woodsy East Indian creamsicle, but when it met the lush Piedmont-aged, ‘Ryan & the Beaster Bunny’ saison it soared even higher, taking on deeper notes of tomato leaf, peppercorn and grass.
Like me, most people have never tasted food at this level with beer before – and Burns knows it, “We have a great platform for opening people’s eyes with exciting combinations of beer and food – it’s almost a duty to get the pairings right.”
On top of it all, Burns has managed to create an intimate atmosphere. Friendly denim-clad servers are jubilant, Burns scoops broth into bowls at our table, and on our arrival, he quizzed us about the Canada-US hockey rivalry that dominated the Olympic Games that week.
The renegade kitchen at Luksus could go a long way to earning beer its rightful place in white tablecloth establishments—for now, each course is proving that when it comes to pairing food and beer, we’re only at the beginning of what is possible. – CL
Photos by: Signe Bircke