For the second time in a seemingly short period of time I had the extreme pleasure of attending a Peter Chang and Champion brewery dinner pairing bonanza. If you are unfamiliar with the mystery that is Peter Chang, as I was until moving to Charlottesville, just skim this NY times article and you will understand. Peter Chang, not to be confused with PF Changs, is doing something revelatory in the world of Asian cuisine: he's making authentic Chinese food. True, he does offer the concessional lo mein on his dinner menu, but it pretty much ends there and takes off into foreign Sichuan food territory that is slightly intimidating and amazing beyond expectation. His spice-driven, complex, numbing "homestyle" dishes, predominately recipes from his childhood, go amazingly well with craft beers. This is not terribly surprising, but again it seems the obvious is missed by the masses and capitalized by Mr. Chang and his coconspirator Hunter Smith, founder/brewer of (my favorite bar) Champion Brewing Company.
The night started off casually with six appetizers loaded with sichuan peppers, numbing spice and the 8.5% Ghidorah Belgian Tripel beer. It was like the storm before the storm as they say, and I loved every bite and sip of it. These were some of the most amazing and powerful flavors I have ever experienced and I did not take ONE picture of it because I was fasting all day in preparation for this meal and finished the sichuan noodles before I could think to take a picture. HIGHLIGHTS: The ghost pepper smoked fish was like a hot fish jerky, the shredded tofu was super crunchy and simultaneously hot and sweet, the cold noodles were the asian version of spaghetti marinara, or more likely the originator, and I loved them so much I ate thirds and then asked the table if anyone was going to eat "that last bit" and had fourths between courses.
GHOST PEPPER SMOKED FISH /// HOT AND NUMBING DRY BEEF /// WOOD EAR MUSHROOM SALAD /// SICHUAN COLD NOODLES W/ CHILI SAUCE /// SHREDDED TOFU SKINS IN CHILI SAUCE /// STEAMED PORK BUNS
PRAWNS IN OYSTER SAUCE/// MISSILE IPA
The best part about this dish was the airy texture of the egg batter which blended quite nicely with the tender, sweet shrimp meat. It was also a welcome respite after the wall of heat that was the round of sichuan peppercornucopia appetizers, not that I didn't love it. The IPA also added a nice bitterness in contrast to the oyster sauce's sticky sweetness.
GOLDEN POWDER SPARE RIBS /// KILLER KOLSCH
Ribs, which I assume were pork based on size, cooked with Chinese five spice topped with crunchy top secret "golden powder." The numbing spices from the previous appetizers made the five spice miraculously subtle. The ribs were incredibly moist (gross word) and fell off the bone. The golden powder (panko crumbs and some other stuff? Peter really kept us in the dark) was salty and crunchy and so delicious I left a pile of it on my plate to mix into the next course. No regrets there.
SICHUAN BEEF TENDERLOIN /// STICKIN' IN MY RYE IPA
You know, the official NOFX IPA. That's some hardcore shit. This is one of my favorite beers from Champion, and it was served to us in-can, tall boy style, which is absurd considering the pace at which beer was being consumed. This dish was so pretty (visual points, check) and equally as awesome in terms of flavor profile. Despite the equal ratio of beef to chillies, the dish was not as overwhelmingly spicy as one might expect, in fact the chillies seemed to have a sweetness attained from cooking. The beef was also amazingly tender (tenderloin, duh), like melt in your mouth tender. This is also the first time during the course of the evening where I seriously began to doubt my ability to continue eating and drinking. Continue, I must.
LOTUS ROOT AND FISH BALL IN STONE POT/// a much needed, but brief, break from beer
Topped with cilantro and a quarter inch of hot chili oil, this dish would have been a close first place as my favorite (with the next and final dish) if I wasn't at almost literal max capacity. Texture again was notable; the fish balls were incredibly soft surrounded by a sea of tender lotus root, scallions, ginger and mysteries unknown. Enter the golden powder, to soak up electric pepper oil that floated to the surface of the stew. It should also be noted that the stone pot is VERY hot.
SICHUAN STYLE FISH /// SHOWER BEER
White fish, steamed and served with pickled vegetable, ham, onion, ginger and a bunch of secrets I remain unaware of, including what type of fish this was because, like I said, Peter keeps us in the dark and under the influence. I remember this dish from the last dinner (also served last) though that time it was red snapper, presented whole, with eye balls and flaming red scales. The flavor of this dish was the most complex of all and was the best finale, which is perhaps why it was served last both times. It was sour and sweet in a fermented kind of way and large chunks of ginger were a pleasant surprise in each bite. The shower beer, a concept that all the men at the table seemed to understand completely (with experience), with a bright citrusy flavor was an excellent match to the wild array of flavors of the fish.
WOOD EAR MUSHROOM PUDDING W/ PUMPKIN DUMPLINGS /// CANIS LUPULUS-BOURBON BARREL AGED BARLEY WINE-STYLE ALE
It is with great pleasure that I share with you the homestyle Sichuan dessert that was placed before us...raw quail eggs. JK it's just mushroom pudding. Fortunately, I was too full to enjoy this curious "dessert." The slurp I took reminded me of a chunky, unsweetened bubble tea with oversized tapioca balls. I did however find room to drink the barley wine, which was in fact the perfect to dessert to end this epic meal. It was sweet and a bit heavy on the tongue, and by god I was good and warm and (dare I say) drunk by this point.
Having dined for the Peter Chang X Champion Homestyle dinner twice now, I would consider myself somewhat of an expert, except that I still left so full it hurt and drank way too much for a wednesday night. If there is anything I have learned from these meals it is the following:
- Peter Chang is a King among men.
- Don't ask what's in it, just eat it.
- Pacing yourself is foolish and wasteful.
- There's no such thing as too much of a good thing. There is such a thing as too much beer.