I’m intrigued by anything that’s called a “society“… I recently discovered that the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS) has a Philadelphia Chapter… and better yet, that it still exists! I read about it in a book about James Beard so please forgive me for thinking it sounded antiquated and wondering if it still existed… I was thrilled to find out that… it DOES.
I’m sitting on my patio drinking an OKAY California Chardonnay, and reliving this magical night of food and drink, so please forgive any typos. 🙂
Once I learned of IWFS, I dropped a note through their website to learn a little bit more… I was curious! Fast forward to one of their members reaching out and inviting me as a guest to their June event… you better believe I went! I learned that before you can join, you must attend two dinners as a guest – I imagine so they can sift out any unsavory characters. 😉 Hopefully I passed the test but the jury is still out because I’ve only been to one so far.
Let’s set the stage… or, uh… the table…
The setting: June BYOB – A (modern) French restaurant
The players: Me, and a room of about 30 frighteningly smart people who absolutely LOVE wine and food and know a LOT about it. For additional context of this story and so you can experience it through my eyes, I think it’s important to note that the majority of the room was at least twice (if not three) times my age… for me that just meant extra ripe dad jokes and an even deeper knowledge of the topic at hand: Food and Wine. I loved every minute of it.
The time: A hot summers evening in early June
The dress: Jacket and tie required for gentlemen. (Was this necessary? I’m not totally sure that needs to be a requirement for a hot evening in June, but I felt fancy… and sweaty).
Note: I’ve been told to spend time with people that I want to become like… well… I think I’ve found those people. My brain (metaphorically) drooled listening to the group while my mouth actually drooled (I hope no one noticed) over the actual food and wine.
Five courses, each paired with at least one type of wine, if not two in some cases (at our particular table). According to Steve, the (the gentleman from the membership email who invited me), most dinners for the society are not BYO dinners, but this one was, and I think that gave it a unique feeling because all of these wine enthusiasts brought different wines from their own collections that they thought would pair well, (and be fun conversation topics) based on the expert suggestions. (Side note: my “wine collection” is unspeakably small compared to some of these folks). One thing I wasn’t sure of is whether the chef made the wine suggestions, or someone from the society and the dinner planning committee made the wine suggestions, but if you check out the website, there is a great list of (very detailed) suggestions for what might pair well with each course.
Now, you can find the entire menu and wine suggestions listed on the IWFS Philly Website here, so I will skip listing out everything and share a few highlights.
There were three hors d’oeuvres that were passed while we sipped Champagne. I didn’t manage to get a picture of the bottle but the food in this course was incredible and in my opinion, did more of the heavy lifting than the Champagne (no offense to Champagne, it was lovely). Ranked from my top favorite to least (still loved it) favorite I would say: Sunchoke and Summer Truffle Soup – I’ve never had this kind of soup before and I adored it! This is one thing I walked away from thinking “I must learn to make this!” Second: Escargot – I really liked this but it didn’t give me the magic in my mouth experience that the soup did. Third: Camembert (a brie like cheese) with elderflower honey and baguette. Did I enjoy eating it? Yes. Was I impressed? No, because, I can replicate it at least as good, if not better, in my own kitchen. Pictured below is the Escargot because the soup was not photogenic and I was feeling too shy to snag a picture since it was right at the beginning. Had to feel out the vibe of being that “annoying millennial taking pictures of food”… I think I was discrete until everyone had a few glasses. 😉
1st Course: Seared foie gras, grilled peach, rhubarb, wild spinach, duck jus
This was absolutely splendid! And the plate was just outrageously beautiful. I’ll also note that I am a big sauce guy, and this not only had enough sauce, but didn’t hardly even need it because it was just so melty in my mouthy. I refrained from licking my plate . . . but only because I’m not an official member of the society, yet! (Just kidding, if there are any society members reading this, I won’t lick my plate in public! I promise!). The wine that was paired with this course was a 2008 Ratzenberger Steeger St. Jost Riesling Spätlese trocken and let me tell you, this sent me on a month long journey of falling in love with delicately sweet, German Riesling wines… wow… I’ve even added a few to my “collection” since the dinner!
2nd Course: Roasted Dover sole filet
A fish I really enjoyed! Hard to come by as I am not a lover of FISH (hit me with the shellfish any day though). I thought the dish was very orange flavored (maybe more than the chef intended? Was it a course about fish, or a course about oranges… unclear)… but I’ll tell you what… to me it was a course about WINE. The wine paired with this course stuck out to me in a big way: 2019 Sancerre, Dominique et Janine Crochet.
3rd Course: Pappardelle pasta, morel mushrooms, shaved summer truffle
Another magic moment of Umami was had with this pasta and shavings of summer truffle. The only issue is that I could have eaten three bowls of it (and I can hold my own when it comes to making handmade pasta, that’s something I’m proud of). Truly, when I figure out how to recreate this, I will share it with the world because it was delicious. Also, I have to mention the incredibly dramatic plating which I am OBSESSED with. Hold my glass a moment, I need to go see if I can find these plates on Amazon!
4th Course: Canard à la presse (pressed duck)
If you want to talk about dramatic, let me tell you about the time the chef wheeled an entire table out to the middle of the restaurant, carved a duck, put the remains in a giant, antique DUCK PRESS (does it look like an instrument used for torture? Yes, it does. Did it create some of the most magical sauce I’ve ever tried… also yes). Note to everyone reading this – if you ever get the opportunity to order a table side Canard a la presse – just say yes to the presse! It was such a unique experience that I had never seen in real life.
You can see in the middle photo that one person cranks the wheel which presses everything inside, and another person catches the sauce that pours out (left photo). It’s a team effort!
We drank TWO wines with the duck. The two: A Vonlay-Santenots 1er Cru 1999, and then a 2019 Crozes-Hermitage Rouge (which I brought). Interesting having wines together with a 20 year difference in age, For me, the clear winner between the wines to pair with this dish was the Vonlay-Santenots… that’s just an incredible wine!
Notes on the duck: Flavors were imPECKable (woah, bad duck joke, sorry), the meat was a little undercooked for my personal preference and I probably should have asked them to cook it a little bit more (Larry, the guy across the table from me, who described everything as “outrageous”, and it was, did send it back to the kitchen, but I was too shy, even with the wine flowing).
The experience of the presse and all that drama was great but the actual meat of the duck was one of the less impressive things I consumed during the evening (but a glass of that sauce to sip on with my wine may have been a great idea).
NOTE: At this point in the evening, I had consumed some number of glasses of wine… I am unsure what that number was, so the details might get a little thin from here on out. But I do know that this is when I became a lot more chatty and less intimidated of the atmosphere… hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself. 🙂
5th Course: King Cake, chocolate crème anglaise, candied hazelnuts
Delicious but I didn’t feel like anyone at the table raved about it, nor do I feel the need to recreate it at home. We had a very special wine to pair with it and I would venture to say that everyone at our table probably had more of an emotional experience with the wine rather than the dessert (the chocolate cream was DELICIOUS though).
The wine: Inniskillin Vidal Icewine – a 2016 Ice wine from the Niagara peninsula in Canada. The syrupy sweetness of this only enhanced my imagination of the frozen grapes in Niagara (cue mental image: Niagara falls but it’s all wine instead of water) and deep golden color reminded me while drinking that it might as well be gold. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the dessert needed to be mild so that the wine could be the star for this dinner. A very rich chocolate fudge type of dessert may have cast a shadow on how beautiful this wine was so I think I’m okay with the King Cake. 🙂
Additionally, I had just a bit of a 1985 Guimaraens Vintage Port. The port was great but the Icewine was the star for me. What I did find just great is that the Port was significantly older than me. I drank something older than me! That’s cool!
Dreams came true…
Overall I would give this experience a standing ovation. I want all of my friends to experience food and wine this delightful. I’ve been telling everyone I know about it, whenever conversation allows for me to casually bring up the “International Wine and Food Society Philadelphia Chapter” (read: there is no casual way to bring that up) but as with all food and wine… the atmosphere brings it all together and I have to give major props to the restaurant, June BYOB, and the Society, for creating such an incredible experience, and for allowing this millennial to participate. 🙂
It has been said that the “banquet is in the first bite”, and my brain keeps going back to that Sunchoke and Summer Truffle Soup (I think I had three of them?!)… *big sigh*… what a wonderful evening!
Well, readers – wish me luck! Tuesday I sit down for my WSET (level 1) Wine Exam (I’m quite confident I’ll pass, probably should have gone for level 2 by now but I’ll do that next).