Welcoming the Year of the Horse at Sichuan Jin River: Zhù ni xinnián kuàilè! Happy (Lunar) New Year!February 6, 2014
By Dame de la Chaîne Chelsea Clarke and Judith Mazza, Vice Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
On February 6, The Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C. returned to Sichuan Jin River to celebrate the Year of the Horse and welcome the Chinese New Year. You’ll remember that the Chaîne’s initial visit to Sichuan Jin River in June, 2010, was the first of our beloved Chaine on the Edge events. These special events, held once or twice a year, give our confreres a chance to celebrate the rich cultural and culinary diversity that is “just begging to be explored” in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas. And, judging by this sold out event; we have been prosperous in our endeavors.
I would be remiss if I didn’t first acknowledge the consideration that went into planning this successful and enjoyable event – Mid-Atlantic Chambellan/Bailli Paul Haar and Dame de la Chaîne Xiangnan Haar, Vice Conseiller Culinaire Chef Francois Dionot and Patrice Dionot, and Vice Chargée de Presse Judith Mazza and Chevalier Allan Kam, carefully crafted the evening’s menu during the tasting dinner. Alex Clifford, son of our Vice Echanson, Ellen Kirsh took on the task of arranging for the most interesting beer pairings. What a great job he did! He enlisted local beer expert Brian Kavenaugh to expertly guide us through the craft beer pairings for each course. And, while my favorite part of the evening was joking with Vice Conseiller Culinaire Chef Francois Dionot as he drank his wine from a miniature blue solo cup, I believe the stacks of empty plates that piled high on the Lazy-Susan after each course speaks to the delightful dishes that tickled and tantalized our palate.
Chef Jin Pei and General Manager Yu Pei treated us to a Chinese family-style banquet that followed the traditional harmonization of contrast in taste and texture that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but as the ancient Chinese philosopher Yi Yin theorized, “necessary to maintain balanced health.” As people gathered, we served Prima Pills, German-Style Pilsner, Victory Brewing Company, Downlington, PA as an aperitif. As we found our seats, we were delighted to see small red horses at each place setting which added to the festivities recognizing the Year of the Horse. We imbibed True Believer, Hard Apple Cider, The Standard Cider Company, Long Island, NY as we began the exploration of appetizers. Our appetizers consisted of Sichuan style “Dan Dan” noodles, beef tendon with hot chili sauce, anchovies with roasted peanuts and hot peppers, crispy wood-ear mushrooms and pickled pepper salad, marinated cucumbers, and chicken soup pork dumplings. We were treated to a fascinating trade secret when Chef Jin Pei revealed that the chicken soup was first frozen into cubes and then placed inside each dumpling during the steaming process in order to achieve the rich umami flavor while not allowing the soup to leak out.
Having reacquainted ourselves with our chopsticks, we moved on to our first course. During traditional Chinese banquets, soup is always served with the meal. We began our first course with a light seafood soup with tofu and greens, which was used to stimulate our appetites for the rest of the dinner. The soup was accompanied by a delicate and delicious flounder with black bean sauce, stir-fried snow pea shoots and mixed vegetables fried rice. To continue our beer tasting, this first course was accompanied by Edmund Fitzgerald, American Porter, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio. Bailli Paul Haar used his best English/French-accent-infused Chinese to welcome everyone to the event, and each table introduced themselves and their guests for the evening. The room came alive with conversation as everyone became acquainted and buzzed over our evening’s fare.
Our second course featured Chengdu spicy diced chicken, dry seafood hot pot, tea smoked duck and a side of mixed vegetable fried rice, served with Ruthless Rye, IPA, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California. The real star of this course was the tea smoked duck which was breaded, deep fried and served with a soft bun topped with hoisin sauce. The idea was to be hands-on in making a “sandwich” with the duck, bun and sauce – think Chinese barbeque. The soft bun, crisp duck and sweet sauce were a perfect example of the balance of flavor and texture Chinese culinary artists strive to perfect, and it was finger licking good! (All carefully consumed with pinkies out, of course.)
As the dessert course was served with the final beer pairing of Trőgenator, Dobblebock Trőgs Brewing Company, Hershey, Pennsylvania, we found the strength to make extra room to sample the sweet sticky rice with peanuts and sesame, the pan-fried red bean paste cakes, and the sesame rice balls with rice wine sauce. It was a sweet end to a savory meal, and we were happy to show our appreciation to Chef Jin Pei and his staff with enthusiastic applause! As we asked several questions about the preparation, order in which the food was presented, and Chef Jin Pei’s background Xiangnan Haar patiently served as our translator.
Alas, the evening was coming to an end and as we all began to gather our coats, say our good-byes and settle into our food-comas, it was agreed that Sichuan Jin River, its chef and its staff are true Washington, D.C. treasures – ones we look forward to revisiting in the future.