Looking like a boat washed ashore on Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach, Schooner at Sunset isn’t your grandma’s nautically-themed diner & bar. The mini-Statue of Liberty on top beacons visitors from far-away lands such as the beaches of Sunset, Huntington and even the beaches of Long. Inside the main dining room, the vibe is classy Bikini Bottom kitch set to the croon of a live lounge singer. In the bar, don’t be surprised if a local Jack Johnson-y band is bongo-ing in the cove, or a Talking Head’s record is spinning open air without notice.
All of the ambience isn’t without merit. Within seconds of walking into Schooner, thirst for a potent potable turns to lust. Thankfully the bar-bilge pumps all craft beer via twenty taps (plus bottles). Cocktails and wine are also quick to please the saltiest of dogs, the crustiest of surfers, and botox’d of cougars. Needless to say, there’s some epic people watching to be had in Sunset.
The main menu is diner-grub meets gastropub. The selection isn’t huge, but hits on the most common cravings. Alternate menus include “Tiki-Tako Tuesday” and a weekend brunch worthy of a few Bloody Mary’s strong enough to knock the barnacles off your boat.
~~~~~~~~Ballast Point Beer Dinner~~~~~~~~
Like two ships passing in the night, Ballast Point Brewing Co. dropped anchor on a five course beer dinner at Schooner at Sunset. The evening is hosted by the boisterous beer writer Daniel Drennon, Schooner Chef Vasili Tavernakis and Ballast Point Director of brewing ops James Murray. I sit with fork and knife akimbo waiting for a taste of something. Anything.
1. Longfin Lager – meet and greet with the brewer.
What I liked: Swigging a crystal clear sweaty glass of Helles after a long day. I learned Ballast Point imports all malt and hops from Germany, strips the water down (RO) and re-adds minerals to be authentic to the German region. The brewers hate brewing Longfin as they have to manually add 50lb sacks of malt to the mill. At over 3,000 lbs of malt per batch, I can see why they slug it out. The beer is bright, floral and refreshing…oh so worth it.
What could have rocked it: an appetizer in lieu of one of the other courses. Crab cakes? Calamari? Bueller?
2. Sextant Oatmeal Stout (on nitro) with stone fruit salad; mache and frisee greens, citrus vinaigrette, blue velvet apricot, orbit peaches and nectarines.
What I liked: Creaminess of a nitro beer with peaches worked rather well, evoking a ‘peaches and cream’ moment. Big burst of fresh citrus on each bite followed by fresh stone fruit and greens… made me sit up straight and pay attention. Full Popeye/spinach moment! Quote at my table, “A beer dinner isn’t complete until Daniel Drennon gets an epi-pen shot in his ass” – James Murray, Ballast Point.
What could have rocked it: Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat. I see what they were going for with a contrasting/palate cleanse pairing, but in the end, I really liked the salad. Drinking Sextant Stout did its job as described and even offered some nice creaminess/chocolate notes. In the end, I want a fireworks show on my palate, not a mute button. Wahoo Wheat, with its Belgian yeast could have carried the salad to the next level.
3. Thai Chili Lime Wahoo Wheat with seared halibut and grilled shrimp. sticky coconut forbidden rice, mango salsa, sweet and spicy coconut sauce, and micro greens.
What I liked: The dish itself looks like Davy Crockett with a shrimp hat sitting on a pitcher’s mound. Beautifully done. “I want to build a moat around my house with the sticky coconut forbidden rice.” I say to Kevin Leonard, the OC Ballast Point sales rep. It’s addictive, and forbidden. I say “fuck it” and ate it all, then threw my fork in the ceiling like a lumberjack. I’m totally kidding about that part.
What could have rocked it: The beer was “Fear Factor hot” and unfit for human consumption. I use ghost chili pepper hot sauce at home, and this beer was hotter than that. Going with a beer hot enough to strip boat varnish for a food pairing is beyond me. I would have preferred Indra Kunindra Stout with south asian spices (including coconut) to really play with rice. The seared halibut was overdone, but still tasty.
4. Three Sheets Rum Latin Manhattan with Macadamia nut crusted Atlantic Salmon, rum/maple glaze, sweet potato puree, baby heirloom carrots and scallions.
What I liked: This dish could have been the main. Sweet, crusty mapley goodness through and through. Scallions and black pepper balance it out, but found myself streaking my pinkie across the maple syrup/crushed black pepper like Kate Upton in a Carls Jr. commercial. Honey dribbled micro carrots are now apparently a “thing”. I’m not a cocktail guy, but the Latin Manhattan is great. Nose is all pumpkin bread and some raisiny rum barrel action with spices. Nice to finally try a Ballast Point spirit, I can totally get behind this rum.
What could have rocked it: A beer alternative such as the caramely goodness of Ballast Point’s Calico would have had a gay marriage with the dish. (It’s just marriage now, right?) To geek it up a notch, why not add Ballast Point’s Homework Series Batch #1 Hoppy Red Ale? Hops balance out sweet right? I enjoyed the cocktail and the dish immensely, but no comprende on the pairing other than the rum note.
5. Sculpin IPA or Habanero Sculpin with Six day braised pork, charred pineapple bbq, confit fingerling potatoes.
What I liked: Any time you do pork slow and low (for six days!), it’s bound to be great. Charred pineapple with Sculpin had me gulpin. Habanero Sculpin was even better! Ballast Point dialed in the heat, making a the habanero play a role in the intense hop bill of Sculpin.
What could have rocked it: Skipping this dish in favor of an appetizer. It was good, but it was way over the top (fat-wise) to enjoy after the three prior dishes. I didn’t get anything from the duck fat confit potato, other than potato. I guess I’m just a spud boy, looking for that real tomato. Devo quote in a food review? Why not.
6. Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter with strawberry shortcake, homemade pound cake, berries, Victory at Sea chantilly cream, vanilla bean creme anglais.
What I liked: I hate dessert. Give me a beer, okay? FINE, I’ll write about it. The cream dollop on top and the violet colored berry sauce went in my mouth. I sipped beer and ate a few bites. Happy? I really hate dessert. Victory at Sea is actually a great dessert on its own.
What could have rocked it: Victory at Sea had a victory over the dessert. The beer way overpowered the delicate berryness thing going on. Victory is a perfect dessert beer, though. It just needs something with some UMPH to stand up to it. Spotted Dick or Creme Brulee? I don’t know, I rarely eat dessert.
Overall: I have to hand it to Schooner at Sunset Chef Vasili Tavernakis and kitchen staff. Everything was beautifully prepared and full of great aromas and flavors. Some minor tweaks here or there in approach and beverage would have got me pregnant… nine months later, I’d have a baby Schooner.
On the beer side, Ballast Point has some of the best beer in the world and we’re spoiled to drink their beer so fresh. They brought some great company for guests to mingle with; the lovely Amber Crocker (with red shorts), Kevin Leonard, Matt Wilson (best sales rep in America according to Drennon), Jake Wittmann, Skip Stegmair, and James Murray.