On Monday night, six women met up in a basement on Capitol Hill. It was decorated with art on the walls, booths marked with place cards and a long table that was set for a party. Upstairs, the small waiting area of Capitol Cider got fuller and fuller, anticipation and hunger building in waves as time ticked toward the 6 o’clock start, then past it. Finally, the thick of people plodded down the stairs to where plates were being wiped, shined and dotted with carefully portioned flourishes. The Sirens & Cider event began.
As the first course of this all-female cheffed dinner was being served, woman cidermaker Nancy Bishop stood and told a bit about the cider pairing from her company, Port Townsend, Washington’s Alpenfire Cider. She mentioned a bit about the company, a little about the pairing. What she didn’t say at first is that her cidery has been in business for 10 years, was one of the first on the West Coast and the first organic cidery in the state. She didn’t mention the many awards they’ve received for their ciders or the fact that she is one of the few women cidermakers in the United States. But perhaps she should have.
Chef Katie Gallego’s apple and chicken consommé was first, with a beautiful plate punctuated by hand-poured broth from a kettle. The Orfeo sous chef discussed her choice and her pairing, but not the fact that she rose through the ranks of the Jason Stratton/Carrie Mashaney empire to eventually become chef at the ill-fated Vespolina before moving to her new Belltown digs. A round of poached chicken sat in the midst of broth and a smear of compote and crisp basket of prosciutto adorned the plate. A pairing of the méthode champenoise rosé Alpenfire Cinders highlighted the crispness of both beverage and bowl.
The second course couldn’t come fast enough for hungry diners, but Mac Jarvis (of Ernest Loves Agnes) was generous in plating with both beauty and portion. She spoke of her mainly woman-run restaurant as diners dove into thick slices of black cod crudo atop mild horseradish cream. Diced apple and miniature greens prettily colored a plate which also featured Meyer lemon dabs holding in place ikura-pearled radish cups. Alpenfire Dungeness Still, a field blend from a single Olympic Peninsula orchard, gave a lasting finish and complexity to a bright and fresh fish, its flavors mixing together light flesh with bursts of unctuous egg flavor.
Emily Young’s smoked foie gras was a meal highlight, with her infusion of flavors from her home restaurant, The Old Sage, the most pronounced. The foie mousse was accented with apple and contrasted well against snappy toasted rice crackers and scrumpy Alpenfire Pirate’s Plank, a bone-dry and traditional English-style cider.
A generous portion of Dungeness crab from Spur’s Bobbie Mollenberg anchored a plate lightheartedly decorated with halves of crab body shells. A sunchoke gratin gave earthy, sour additions to bone dry Alpenfire Spark, a cider apple-based semi-sweet sipper.
Kalena Bliss’ lamb loin was the refined and restrained centerpiece to the meal, and her home restaurant of MistralKitchen would be foolish not to feature it on their menu. Perfectly cooked rare meat was rimmed lightly by a dark ring. Celeriac purée criss-crossed a plate decorated with flavorful jus. Light and pillowy gnocchi had been crisped and generously distributed, and the pairing of the bittersweet, French-style Alpenfire Ember contributed a slight lengthening sweetness to the mild meat.
The exquisite meal wrapped with host chef Sara Harvey’s blueberry and black pepper bread pudding. The lightly sweet dessert got a welcomed gluttonous sidekick in a small pitcher of duck egg anglaise. Incorporated, too, was aged raw cow’s milk cheese from the woman cheesemaker at a dairy nearby the cidery. The Alpenfire Calypso, a blackberry-infused, rum barrel-aged cider, capped off the evening with its complex flavors, rolling from dryness to ripe apple to hints of tropical fruit and back to bittersweet.
A post-meal debrief invited all six chefs to discuss the experience. Most salient to frequent attendees of collaborative dinners was the message that this meal came together because of true communication and planning. Quite simply, the women discussed their dishes and it was evident. Courses complimented and built, instead of competing and jostling one another. Pairings softened and enhanced flavors. It was a dinner accomplished thanks to great vision and teamwork in execution, by women who enjoyed working together and creating something together. And, lucky for diners, it’s the first of four in the Sirens & Cider series.
For future events, watch Capitol Cider’s website and get hungry.