Another invite means another round of amazing food and Leffe beer hosted by Munchies. Do I question why I got invited? No, I just go because I got nothing else to do on a Monday night.
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner hosted by Munchies at Bidwell Restaurant in Union Market. I honestly thought it would be a one-time thing, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity when I got my first invite thanks to Spoon University. I got to meet a number of different people there including chefs in the area as well as other individuals in the food scene, but I didn’t think I’d be invited to another one of these things. I guess dreams do come true. Thank you Munchies.
Ever since it was announced that the next dinner would be held at Bearnaise from Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn, I’ve been waiting in anticipation on whether or not I would have a chance to finally visit his bistro. I’ve been to his two other establishments in Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza (which are literally located on the same block as Bearnaise) and they were awesome. Seriously though, when you’ve got a burger named the Prez Obama loaded with bacon and blue cheese, I know I can trust you.
The Art of the Pour
Literally the first thing I do upon arriving to Bearnaise is grab a drink, and because Leffe was one of the sponsors of the night’s festivities, what better than a nice Belgian beer to get things rolling? To my astonishment, there was a hefty amount of foam suspended in my glass. Not what I’m normally used to, but I’m not one to complain.
Even after being seated for dinner, I kept thinking about that layer of foam. Why was there so much? Was this done intentionally, or was the bartender just being hasty with my drink? The answer came almost immediately when we were given a lesson on how one should properly pour a Belgian beer like Leffe.
For one, there is supposed to be a generous amount of foam present in your glass. So that mystery was solved. In fact our beer sommelier recommended the layer of foam be equivalent to the width of one’s two fingers. The basic gist was that when pouring your beer one should aim to pour into the center of your glass and not off the side of the glass. The foam should accumulate naturally to top off your glass perfectly. You want that foam layer because it provides an added layer of complexity to your beer.
Continuing in our beer lesson was the fact that Leffe was first brewed by abbey monks back in the home country. Not only that, but with each and every beer we drank there would be a portion of the proceeds being donated to said abbeys. No further encouragement needed, drinking glasses upon glasses of beer was now a priority with the intention of supporting the monks. *cough, cough* It’s not like we liked the idea of copious glasses of beer, but now we had to, because it was all for a good cause.
What’s for Dinner?
For apps, we were served chicken liver pâté and crispy pigs’ feet. Both were very adventurous and set the tone for the rest of the meal. The pâté was my personal favorite dish. Not sure if it was because I was so hungry after the Metro ride into DC, but it definitely left an impression on me.
It was a take on the classic liver and onions but elevated to another level. The pâté itself was almost like a mousse; it was velvety smooth and airy but full of liver flavor. I was impressed that it wasn’t at all grainy or gritty in texture. The caramelized onions set it over the top, adding just a little sweetness to the rich pâté.
The crispy pigs’ feet were something I was looking forward to trying immediately after seeing them on the menu. I’m sure a couple of the diners there had never even fathomed trying them, but this was the dish that set the adventurous eaters apart from your standard foodie.
The trotters were braised and then deboned and eventually fried to create that crunchy exterior. Honestly, deep frying anything automatically makes it better. The verdict: They were awesome. The crunchy yet slightly gelatinous pork was accented by a garnish of pickled veggies that balanced the braised leeks. I wanted another round of these, but it was not meant to be.
I didn’t really think the next course was going to be at all interesting, considering it was just a salad. The dish was composed of every type of veg you could imagine, but what put it over the top was the beer vinaigrette. That’s right, they made salad dressing with some Leffe blonde beer. That is some next-level cooking. Not really a salad kind of guy, but if you’re going to eat a salad, why not dress it in a beer vinaigrette?
Onto the main event, the chicken paillard and Dijonnaise sauce with a generous portion of frites. This was a sight for sore eyes if there ever were one. The dish caught me off guard because the portion itself was so large. I was not ready for this after the three previous courses, but I stuck to my guns and ate on.
The chicken was moist and perfectly grilled to give off a little charred flavor, while the frites were crispy and herbaceous. I used every ounce of self-control I had to stop myself from guzzling down the gravy boat of sauce. I would have taken shots of the sauce if it were socially acceptable.
Talking to Chef Spike
I was on my way to the restroom before dessert when I saw Chef Spike just chilling in a booth catching up on work. I didn’t want to disturb him or anything, but I had to at least thank him for hosting the night’s dinner. From that simple thank you led to a pretty awesome conversation. I would never have thought I’d get the chance to talk to him, not to mention the chance to geek out about food with a Top Chef alum. By far, the coolest part of the night.
Being an avid fan of Top Chef, the only thing I knew about Chef Spike was that he liked Asian food, specifically Vietnamese food, which is right in my wheelhouse of food knowledge considering I’m actually Vietnamese. Other than that, the only thing I knew about him was that he had restaurants in DC that I had been to in the past, and I was now being treated to a dinner by the man himself.
The one piece of info that I found to be insanely cool was that he had spent a solid two years in Vietnam and learned a lot about the cuisine just by eating his way through the country. That would be my dream, to just drop everything and learn more about the food and culture of Vietnam by way of my belly.
The thing that really put Chef Spike over the top was that he loves visiting Eden Center, AKA the closest thing to visiting Vietnam in the DC area. I’m always surprised when I talk to people who say they like food but don’t know about this place. It’s basically my second home and definitely a large part of what connects me to my heritage, so knowing that Spike not only knows about this place but loves everything about it automatically makes him one of my favorite chefs.
Last but not least was dessert in the form of profiteroles (that’s just a fancy way of saying cream puffs). Almost missed these while talking to Spike, but luckily I arrived back to my table just in time to see my plate get drizzled with chocolate sauce table-side.
These were not your ordinary cream puffs. They were filled with house-made vanilla custard from Good Stuff Eatery next door. The dark chocolate sauce cut the richness from the sweet custard perfectly. The sensation of cold ice cream and hot chocolate sauce is one of my all-time favorite things in life and was a major highlight of the night.
The dinner was amazing. I was in my element. From everyone Instagramming images of each and every dish to getting to meet Chef Spike, this will definitely go down in the books as one of my favorite meals in recent times.