Chef Dan Burns and beer sommelier Joey Pepper are sitting together in their new Brooklyn restaurant Luksus, trying some nanobrews with dessert. The dish in front of them – a roasted carrot parfait and yogurt granita with blood-orange gastrique, cumin and pine gel – tastes wild. (David Chang of Momofuku just anointed it “the dish of the year” on Twitter.) It’s even better, apparently, with St. Bretta’s witbier, or a Leipziger Gose that’s been lautered through pine needles.
“It may be surprising for some people to hear that beer goes well with a vegetal dessert,” Burns allows, “but once they taste them together, it makes sense.”
It makes even more sense if Burns is the one making that vegetal dessert. The Halifax-born chef is among the most talented and inventive Canadian chefs of this age – and even though he only opened his first restaurant in June, he’s spent the past decade working in the world’s top kitchens. He ran the pastry section at Noma in Copenhagen from 2006 to 2009. Prior to that, he cooked at both the Fat Duck and St. John in London. After Noma, he oversaw research and development at Momofuku Culinary Lab.
Now he’s putting everything he knows on the line. And Luksus, a tiny 26-seat restaurant located behind the brewpub Torst in rapidly gentrifying Greenpoint, is the ideal showcase for Burns’s prodigious abilities. The concept is simple: Let the chef do what he’s best at. The only way to eat here is to put yourself in his hands. There’s no menu: Dinner is $95 for seven courses. “Zero choice,” Burns declares. “Sometimes that’s nice in life.”
Just as there are no food decisions allowed, there’s no wine pairing offered – let alone any wine. This is the only fine-dining establishment in New York currently offering a beer-only pairing menu. (It costs $45, and all the beer here is served in wine glasses.) Although the strictly-suds focus might seem limiting, in reality it’s refreshingly different, particularly since Burns, Pepper and their colleagues are such deep beer connoisseurs.
Their defiantly omakase-and-IPA stance is in defence of flavours that are far from familiar. Just as Burns’s food is vastly more complex than anything you’ll ever make at home, the beers they showcase are better, and weirder, than any you’ve ever tried before (unless you’ve had a gueuze lambic by Cantillon).
Since opening, Luksus has become a central node in the burgeoning beer-pairing revolution. Over the last few years, the occasional beer pairing has started popping up in serious large-format tasting menus. “You do see some beers sneaking in there,” Burns points out, “which is an acknowledgment from wine people that beer makes sense. Eleven Madison Park is doing that. You’re seeing it in Europe and Scandinavia as well.”
Canada is also joining the movement with its own beer-sommelier certificate program. Pepper is currently studying to become a Certified Cicerone, an American course for professional beer cognoscenti (they prefer the term cicerone to beer sommelier).
Dining at Luksus could be considered an advanced introductory seminar – but there’s nothing stilted about it. The esoteric brews available here complement Burns’s idiosyncratic dishes perfectly, whether it’s radishes with razor clams or roasted little gem lettuce in grilled pea broth with maitake mushroom dressing. “Daniel’s food is super-delicate, so we don’t want to cover up the flavours with beers that taste crazy or are too high in alcohol,” explains Pepper. “Subtle flavours go with subtle beers.”
Each one of Burns’s dishes show off a different facet of his repertoire, whether it be fiddly architectonic Noma-esque haute cuisine, down-home plates of ribeye with rutabaga, off-cuts such as cod head with chicken skin, or ethno-fusion umami-bursts like scallop with sea urchin and bacon dashi. The food manages to combine aesthetically refined, Miro-esque presentations of postmolecular tweezer concoctions with heartily satisfying deliciousness. The cooking is as precise, austere and Nordic Lutheran as it is fun. (Think Ingmar Bergman in Smiles of a Summer Night.) Their paper-thin sunchoke chips dusted with vinegar powder are the sort of snack you might get in Valhalla, especially if partnered with a creamy Belgian Cazeau Tournay Triple.
The craft brews offered to diners here go far beyond the typical, featuring adjuncts like blueberries, coffee, spelt or cacao. The flavour profiles they specialize in are as atypical as orange wines or smoked pickles. Luksus champions North American microbrews and old-school European abbeys. They work with such small quantities that they often run out of a certain batch. That’s especially true in the case of their saisons – limited runs of farmhouse ales made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.