Friday, January 15, 2010

Flying Fish Beer Dinner at Chifa: 1/14/2010

How does the savvy beer traveler begin his trip through the Paoli Train Station? Why, of course, by first checking out the tap list at TJs across the street. And, then adjusting the departure time accordingly. In the case of the Chifa/Flying Fish dinner last night in the City, the last reasonable train to arrive in Philly allowed us to make a pit stop at TJs for a glass of Russian River's Pliny the Elder and a glass of Bell's HopSlam. Now, this posting is really not about either of these two beers. So, for the time being, I'll just leave it at this: Very few other places in the country (and only a handful of establishments around the Philadelphia Metro region) are fortunate enough to ever get their lips on Russian River beer...let alone another beer geek cult favorite, HopSlam...and both, fresh, at the same time. Granted, there are way too many very good beers out there to be pursued. This is just one example (two?) of Philadelphia's fortunate access to very good beer.
(Casey Hughes, Jose Garces, Gene Muller)
Moving on...sorry Jose, Gene, and Casey for letting these other guys steal some of your thunder. Because thunder it did on Chestnut Street last night. The dinner was moved to the upstairs dining room which was used to accommodate roughly 75 exuberant diners who came out to eat of the Iron Chef's food and drink of the {let's play Mad Libs here and fill in an adjective} beer from New Jersey.
(the upstairs dining room awaits the Beer Dinner)
With a mutual friend and PR agent in Jen Hatton, it may be of little surprise that Casey Hughes, brewer, from Flying Fish came together with the recently-crowned Iron Chef Jose Garces for a beer dinner that looked great on paper. The key would be the execution. Casey said that only a couple of back-n-forths took place in the planning stages before settling on the final menu. I'd say it worked out pretty well. More on that in a moment. Judging by the Beer Calendar of Events (check out The Brew Lounge's, for example!) January is full of post-holiday beer dinners around the Philly metro area. Question is: Will people come out for these dinners? This was one on my list. Next week, I'll be a guest at McKenzie's first beer dinner (ever, if my sources are correct) in Glen Mills/Chadds Ford/almost Delaware.
(Jose Garces welcomes his guests)
So did they show up? In a word, yup. Did I already say 75? While there was certainly a lot of fan support for the Flying Fish beer from friends and industry folk, I'm betting that there was a certain portion of the dining crowd that was there in anticipation of the cooking of Jose Garces, the Food Network's most recent inductee into Iron Chef brotherhood. In that crowd also was what appeared to be an Iron Hill team meeting. Either that, or it was an unsanctioned meeting of Philadelphia-based IH employees planning to open their own city-based restaurant/brewery if the mother company doesn't do it sooner!
(A table full of Iron Hill, including Paul Rutherford and Chris LaPierre)
(Casey Hughes introduces his beer)
The dinner got off to a slow start with the first course being dropped close to 30 minutes behind schedule. I'm guessing the presence of Mr. Iron Chef in the kitchen may have had something to do with that. No matter, once the dinner got rolling, the courses were nicely paced with full glasses of beer being brought to the tables a few minutes before the food portion of the course. Each beer was a generous portion with some top-offs being offered as well.
(Oh, tender pig cheeks)
I'm going to keep my course-by-course critique to a minimum here since I've got but limited time to get this out to you before I'm moving on to other things that you'll hear about soon enough I'm sure. (And, I should probably apologize yet once again for subpar pictures. No one will ever accuse me of spreading beerfoodporn. Though, the lighting really did have something to do with it...honestly.)
(The 5-course Flying Fish/Chifa Beer Dinner Menu)
In that spirit, I'm going to skip directly to my favorite course and pairing, the Smoked Tuna and the Abbey Dubbel. The combination of the smoked tuna flavor and texture went real nicely with the maltiness of the mildly alcoholic dubbel. I wasn't sure if the beer's malt profile was giving off the slight smokiness that I perceived under the more recognizable fruit flavors or if the tuna preparation was playing tricks on me. Either way, it was a delight.
(Smoked Tuna and Abbey Dubbel)
In a very close second was the ever-so-perfect Exit 4, paired with the lamb chop. The hops, the alcohol, the sweetness of the beer plus the tender cumin-spiced lamb was a melt-in-your-mouth winner. Weighing in at less than 5% ABV, a souvenir glass full of the Belgian Mild was a pleasant interlude between these last two high alcohol beers that I just mentioned. Next to the tender and tasty pig cheek, it was a very nice middle course in the dinner.
(Exit 4 and Lamb Chop)
(Exit 1 and Chocolate Buns for dessert)
This may be the first time that not only did the dessert course not rank as my favorite of the evening, it wasn't even near the top. You might have thought that a stout and a chocolate-based dessert would have done it for me. Not in this case. Sure, they stood well on their own as well as provided for a fine pairing. There just wasn't anything particularly wow-ing about the combination.
(HopFish and Hamachi)
Were there any disappointments? Well, sure...The portion sizes. I rarely, if ever, have left a beer dinner still hungry for more. And, while I wasn't necessarily falling over starving after the dinner, I and Mrs. Brew Lounge certainly had room for something more. This was probably no where more evident than on the plate of the first course, the way-way-wafer thin Hamachi Ceviche, carpachio-like in fact. A very nicely done dish to be sure, especially when paired with the HopFish. But, the slices were so thin, I wondered they'd even qualify has 'melt in your mouth', since there was hardly anything to melt! Perhaps it was meant to show off cutlery skills in the kitchen and presentation than anything else. Listen, we're not greedy or anything. This, in fact, probably was enough was just striking that we both left the dinner saying that we were still hungry. That being said, this was still a wonderful way to spend a Thursday evening. Too often, decadent beer dinners consumed in the earlier part of the week, say Tuesdays most typically, leave me feeling weighed down and dragging to the end of the week after the gastronomical overload that some of these dinners can exact on me. At Chifa last night (a Thursday), even though it wasn't an overwhelmingly filling or drunken meal, the effects of the dinner and the late night only had to be endured for one more business day before the weekend set in.
(Casey Hughes and Gene Muller looking relaxed near the end of the dinner)
Oh, and if you've lasted this long through my recount of last evening, then you've hung around long enough for me to tease you that I stumbled across an exciting piece of news that should have many of you all a-twitter. Now, I just need to determine when and how I may share this with you.
(Exit 4 and Exit 1 battle for favorite turnpike beer)

1 comment:

Greg G. said...

Looks like it was a great dinner Bryan. Looking forward to trying some of those beers and the restaurant when we get back home.