In America, the classic beverage pairing for barbecue is a sweet Belgian-style dubbel. So when chef Adrian Gioia was tasked with creating a dish to pair with his house-made version of the classic European beer, he started there.
“It’s gotta be meaty in one way or another and got to have that sweet and sour salty aspect, maybe some heat,” he says.
Then, his artistic side took over.
While eating dinner at a run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant near his home in the San Fernando Valley, the longtime chef started thinking about General Tso’s Chicken and whether or not it needed to be made with chicken at all. From his decade of experience with French cooking — learned while honing his skills in kitchens around the world — he remembered frog legs, which many say “tastes like chicken.”
The resulting dish is called “General Tso’s other chicken,” and it’s just one of the American Craft Beer Week-inspired courses that Gioia is serving this Wednesday as part of Ladyface Ale Companie’s quarterly brewmaster’s dinner.
“It’s got exactly the same sweet-sour, strangely addictive dish you get from Chinese restaurant, but I’m doing it with buttermilk-soaked, cornmeal-dusted fried frog legs,” Gioia says. “It’s definitely one of the strangest ideas I’ve ever had.”
Gioia has brought some playful, oddball options to Ladyface’s daily specials — such as the Sloppy Jacques, a thick Bolognese with pickled jalapeño on brioche — since he left Scarpetta in Beverly Hills and became executive chef at the Agoura brewpub in 2012. He has also created a lot of permanent dishes, crafted with an Italian mentality but designed to fit Ladyface’s Art Nouveau, French-brasserie aesthetic.
Whereas French cooking relies on elaborate preparations that often hide things with sauce and trick the palate with smoke-and-mirrors (and lots of butter), Italian food, Gioia says, is about everything on the plate having an absolute purpose — and letting each ingredient shine.
“I always come back to my favorite thing to eat: a simple caprese salad,” Gioia says. “There are only four things on the plate, but if all the ingredients are fresh and amazing, it turns into something totally different. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Ladyface opened two years before Gioia arrived, as one of the first new-wave craft breweries in L.A. — but one offering croque madame, steak frites and crepes. Brewmaster David Griffiths’ beers (including La Grisete, a Belgian-style wheat, and Dérailleur, a biere de garde) defied the IPA-and-pale-ale traditions of Southern California breweries. A vine-draped patio with views of commanding Ladyface Mountain evokes the South of France, where owner Cyrena Nouzille’s husband, Jean-Luc, is from.
Gioia’s simple approach to nouveau-French fare fits right in with Ladyface’s rejection of brewpub stereotypes. When he arrived at Ladyface, Gioia didn’t change the menu (which already included a French onion soup made with the brewery’s wort) so much as he gave more attention to individual ingredients.
In addition to altering the way fries are deep fried (“So they’re golden on the outside and soft on the inside,” he says) and creating custom dough for the Alsatian-style tarte flambee flatbread, Gioia also started Ladyface’s house-made sausage and charcuterie programs and crafts multi-course meals every three months for the brewmaster’s dinner.
More than just an excuse to drink beer and eat a meal, the brewmaster’s dinners are intimate 30-person events that let the brewpub’s chef and brewer meld minds on experiments beyond the daily menu. It also presents an opportunity to further Ladyface’s philosophy that craft beer is a more versatile beverage for food pairings than wine.
“I try to keep a sense of humor with things,” Gioia says. “If your ego takes over, that’s when it can go into dark places.”
Ladyface Ale Companie’s American Craft Beer Week Brewmaster’s Dinner, Wednesday, May 13, 6 p.m.; $75; 29281 Agoura Road; Agoura Hills; 818-477-4566; ladyfaceale.com.