Food and beer shine at Chifa

A beer pairing dinner in Philadelphia showcased the talents of Chifa Restaurant and Brooklyn Brewery. Photo: B.Kolesar/

Last Thursday at Jose Garces’ acclaimed Chifa Restaurant in Philadelphia, Garrett Oliver was in attendance to showcase some of Brooklyn Brewery’s newest brews (Local 2, Dark Matter, Black Ops, and Sorachi Ace) along side of Chifa’s creative kitchen offerings. Sticking out on the menu, though, were two beers that even novice craft beer lovers would likely recognize from Brooklyn library of beers—the East India Pale Ale and the Black Chocolate Stout.

Garrett Oliver came to Brooklyn Brewery as its brewmaster in 1994 and his job offer-clincher was an IPA called East India Pale Ale. More than fifteen years later, this beer continues to stand out as one of the country’s IPA standard-bearers in the category—though, not to be confused with double IPAs, triple IPAs, and other such hop “bombs”.

Oliver’s career—spanning now in to its fourth decade—in developing palate-pleasing flavors has taken him around the world in search of the best that beer and food can present. To that end, he has participated in over 700 beer dinners, searched out the best ingredients, and created relationships with some of the food and beverage industry’s most respected talent.

Garces’ journey through the culinary world is a bit shorter, but certainly no less impressive. In just the past ten years, Garces has navigated his way through the Stephen Starr empire of restaurants in Philadelphia—Garces manned the toque at both Alma de Cuba and El Vez—on to his own family of seven Philadelphia-based restaurants with a few more concepts currently in various stages of development.

Last week, I conducted a question-and-answer of both Garces and Oliver in anticipation of this noteworthy dinner. Many questions about these gentleman’s respective thoughts on food, beer, flavors, and pairings were answered in this interview.

The interview can be found via this link.

During the dinner last week at Chifa, Oliver served as primary emcee for the introduction of each course as it was presented to roughly 180 dining guests in attendance. Garces joined him for most course introductions, kitchen time permitting, of course. Garces and Oliver both demonstrated that they are masters of cool. The two worked the dinner with apparent calm and ease.

Dinner hosts: Jose Garces (Chifa Restaurant), left, and Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery)

Jose glided in and out of the kitchen and Garrett popped up and down from his dining table, both of them speaking to the room and then each walking around table to table personally as time permitted. This was no small feat given that the entire upstairs of the restaurant had been booked for this special sold-out event.

It might have been a mistake not to take the server up on her offer to get us a pre-dinner cocktail, since it took the staff a bit longer than expected to pour out and distribute the first course’s beer, Sorachi Ace. It was a bit of an awkward and delayed start, but once the second course dropped, the dinner could not have proceeded along at any smoother of a pace.

The opening amuse-bouche got the dinner off to a tasty beginning, as the name of the course implies it should. The pleasing texture of the yellowfish morsels was only enhanced by the micro-shaved white chocolate, which in small doses provided just the right amount of pleasing sweetness. Riding shotgun with this dish was one of Brooklyn Brewery’s most successful beers of late, its Brewmaster’s Reserve ‘Sorachi Ace’. With its lemon zestyness and spicy saison-like qualities, it worked as a nice and refreshing accompaniment to the first dish.

Before moving on to the second course, though, General Manager Marc Grika slipped a pleasant surprise in front of my table partners and me: the soon-to-be-unveiled Garces Restaurant Group house beer from Victory. The beer is most like a hefeweizen, but downplays the sometimes stronger signature flavors of the style like banana and clove. Instead, these flavors are more subtle and play a background role as a component to the beer rather than a leading role, thus increasing the chances that the beer will be quite versatile working with many different dishes, particularly fish and ceviche type plates.

The next surprise came in the form of the first course that followed. To the less curious, the buffalo tartare presentation can be disarming as a lump of raw meat with an uncooked quail egg across the top. While, in fact, that is basically what it is, the reward to the more adventurous carnivore is a succulent mouthful of tender meat. Chifa’s distinctive touch to the plate on this night was the inclusion of bitter cacao nibs and spicy pepper swirled into the meaty mixture and a serving of goat cheese crème fraiche on the side.

Imagine taking a small fork of the meat—with alternating flavors of spicy pepper and bitter chocolate bits—and sliding it through a dot of the goat cheese for a shot of slightly tart crème fraiche and you get an idea of how many layers of flavors were bouncing around our palates.

Adding yet another level of flavor was the ‘Local 2’ beer paired with this plate of buffalo tartare. The complex depth of the beer stood up quite well against the strong flavors in the food and helped to usher them away, readying the palate for another bite of this delectable course.

The spices continued to play a significant role in the next course where chorizo and its signature paprika and mustard were rolled inside of quail. Here in this course is where old reliable, the ‘East India Pale Ale’, played an important role. The bitter hoppiness of the beer cut nicely through the spicy heat of the dish. It was difficult to name an absolutely best beer and food pairing of the night, but this was certainly a contender.

second course: quail-wrapped chorizo

One of the main reasons it was so difficult to name a best pairing was because of the course that immediately followed. The oh-so-tender meat on the short ribs that fell off the bone almost by itself was coated in a chocolate barbecue sauce that paired so well with Dark Matter, a brown ale aged for a few months in bourbon and rye barrels with flavors of vanilla, oak, and bourbon. A brown ale alone might have done well with this dish; the Dark Matter nailed it quite nicely.

As the dinner came down the home stretch, there was no doubt we would be going home with a sated appetite. However, before the dessert course, there was yet one more plate full of meaty goodness, spicy heat, and sweet flavors to come. The venison dish worked well with the ‘Black Chocolate Stout’, though this is a beer that I have normally become accustomed to seeing rightfully in a dessert course.

Nonetheless, the ‘Black Ops’ imperial stout played the closer’s role in this beer dinner and did an admirable job. The strong presence of chocolate and the added benefit of vanilla, wood, and bourbon from aging a few months in bourbon barrels made it a suitable companion for pound cake served with chocolate ice cream, frozen bananas, and waffle cone.

Not all restaurants can pull off beer dinners, particularly not ones of such large numbers and to such a creative degree.

The pairing of Chef Jose Garces and Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, both experts in their respective fields, appeared to make obvious sense beforehand. They did, in fact, pull of a successful beer pairing dinner as predicted. With this latest in its string of beer dinners, Chifa is continuing to serve up some of the Philadelphia region’s most interesting and successful beer dinners.

For more pictures and a full menu listing from the dinner event, see The Brew Lounge.

Next appearances: If you want to know more about Jose Garces, he will be appearing this coming Sunday, January 30 on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America. He will be pitted in Kitchen Stadium against friend and fellow Philadelphian Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav, Xochitl, and Percy Street Barbecue.

Garrett Oliver appears regularly at beer dinners around the world. He is rounding out January hosting a dinner at Back Forty in New York City’s East Village. Keep up with Oliver on the company’s blog for where you can find him next.

Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bryan Kolesar

Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

Contact Bryan Kolesar


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